Whether you’re a casual drinker or a beer connoisseur, you will know a little about stout beer. In fact, you’ve probably tried a pint or 10 of Ireland’s most famous alcoholic beverage. However, if – like most people – you’re still a little unsure about what separates a stout from the rest, this guide is just for you.
So, crack open a bottle of your favourite lager; it could be your last for a while.
What is stout beer?
Stout is a type of alcoholic beverage that is commonly characterised as being a dark beer. But, then, you already knew that. It’s quite likely that you additionally know that they are closely linked to the Porter style of beer.
You may also believe that stouts have to be strong, or at least that’s what most people would have you believe. In truth, though, that common knowledge is about as accurate as the Big Bang being an explosion or SUVs being safer than standard-sized cars. The reality is that stouts can range from dry and boasting a high ABV to hoppy and with a low alcohol level.
The key attribute that sets stout apart from other beers is that it is made from using roasted barley that is unmalted and roasted in a kiln. This is in contrast to the use of wheat and rye as used in other types of beer and ale. Stout is also top fermenting whereas lager is characterised by bottom fermenting yeasts.
A stout beer will often carry a coffee-like or dark chocolatey hint due to the way it is brewed. However, as with other types of beer, there are many different tastes and textures. While you may picture Guinness, there are dozens of unique tasting stouts on the market – which will be great news for those that hate the thought of supping a dry, creamy pint while wearing a dopey hat on March 17th.
Despite having varied tastes and dryness levels, stouts are commonly noticeably smoother to drink than lagers. Ultimately, then, if it’s dark (ranging from jet black to a mid or even reddish brown) and smooth, it’s probably a stout.
Or a dark Galaxy bar…
The origins of stout beer
If you are one of those people who previously thought stouts were strong in spite of the fact that Guinness is 4.2% ABV, you’re not an idiot – well, you might be, but you’re certainly not alone in believing that particular false truth.
The term stout was originally coined to describe a beer that was stronger than the traditional British porter beer. Moreover, the fact that the earliest known use of the word can be dated back to 1677 shows that there is a long history of the dark, roast flavoured beer.
Throughout the 18th century, stouts from the Baltic region became very popular. Stout ales and stout porters were commonplace and very popular while the growing range of beers opened these types of beers to a broader audience. In 1817, however, Daniel Wheeler’s malt kiln changed everything, leading brewers to use roasted black malt.
This was soon embraced by Arthur Guinness, who had previously focused on brewing a big bodied 7.5% ABV stout. The company’s XX Extra Stout Porter would soon be shortened to just stout. So, stout as we know it is primarily attributed to the famous Irish brew.
Since then, the variety of stouts (as we know them today) on the market has grown at a rapid rate. In fact, we might not ever get a chance to try them all – although I’m sure we’ll give it a good go!
The best stout beers
Stout, as we know it today, can be split into five definitive styles. While each one is blessed with many different options from different brewers, the defining features ensure that there are generally the five main types.
Fancy taking a closer look before getting your hands on a fresh cold pint? Here’s all you need to know.
Dry or Irish Stout
This is the style that you most likely picture when saying the word stout. It’s dry, dark, and often topped with a creamy head. It’s thick but smooth and takes on a dark appearance like a Guinness. However, Murphy’s and Beamish are two additional brands that bring a distinct taste.
In addition to the rich flavour, the smell of roasted barley – with those hints of chocolate or coffee aromas – is strong while a touch of acidity will often be noticeable too.
Sweet or Milk Stout
As the name suggests, this type of stout essentially covers anything that is considered sweet. They are often referred to as milk stouts due to the lactose sugar is used to give it the distinct sweetness. This can range from a hint of sweetness on top of an almost dry stout or could be a major sugar hit that almost makes the drink taste non-alcoholic.
Oyster stouts and cream stouts also fall under this umbrella, meaning that there is a vast variety of tastes covered by this type of stout beer. The colour is usually a little lighter, but not like a lager.
The addition of oatmeal during the process creates a smooth and silky consistency and a head that will remain for far longer than other styles. The flavour is somewhere between the sweet stouts and the dry Irish stouts, making it an ideal option for dipping your toes – or rather tastebuds – into the world of stout drinking.
A lot of oatmeal stout drinkers also enjoy that the sometimes sharp tastes associated with other stouts don’t seem to be there.
Foreign or Extra Stout
Extra stout is essentially a stout beer that is stronger than the others. In many ways, this makes it closer to the idea of porter beers. The reason that brewers make it extra strong, by using more of the ingredients, was originally to aid the beer in transit. While this is no longer a major concern due to the speed of international deliveries, it is still a flavour that many love.
If you’ve ordered a Guinness while in a foreign land and been given a bottle with Extra written on it. Guess what?…
The stereotype of Eastern Europeans only drinking vodka is massively misleading (thanks Hollywood), and Russian imperial stouts are a great example. The intense flavours and aromas include dark chocolates, fruits, coffees, and burnt grains. Without being overpowering, you will know that this is an alcoholic drink – unlike some of the milk ones.
That’s because the ABV percentages are higher, but not crazy. As your nan would say, it’ll certainly warm the old cockles. Whatever the hell that means.
Famous stout beer brands from around the world
Stout beer has certainly taken on a life of its own over the past few hundred years and is as popular today as it has ever been. Given that most pubs still serve Fosters as one of their chief lagers, it’s probably not that hard to see why.
So, here are seven great brands to try out – one for every day of the week!
Let’s face it; this is the only logical starting place. The brand has been around since 1757 while the iconic stout that we know today has been around for many, many years too. As long as it is poured in the correct fashion – and I don’t mean with the poxy certificate you get on the Dublin factory tour – it can be a very enjoyable drinking experience.
Lava (Olvisholt Brugghus)
The imperial stout certainly packs a punch at 9.4%, so you won’t need too many before you’re up on the dance floor giving it your best Liam Gallagher impression. The Russian imperial drink is actually from Iceland and balances hints of liquorice and smoke with the other flavours you’d expect from a classic stout.
Foothills Sexual Chocolate
It’s certainly chocolate, and the smooth taste is additionally very sexy. The cocoa is strong with every mouthful, counteracting the strong 9.75% ABV. From Winston-Salem, NC, it is easily one of America’s best stouts.
Japanese brand Hitachino Nest has a coffee-infused offering offers a wonderful smell without an overpowering espresso taste. It’s well-balanced, although a slight sweetness is present. The Kiuchi Brewery certainly got it right with this one.
Belgian beers are very popular throughout the world, and Scheldebrougwerij Oesterstout is probably the best offering in the stout market. The 8.5% oyster stout is dark but sweet and is sure to provide a memorable experience. If that doesn’t give you an excuse to take a city break to Bruges, what will?
Le Coq Extra Double Imperial Stout
Despite being heavily influenced by Belgian and Estonian recipes, the 10% tipple is brewed in Lewes, England. It’s rich. Very rich. In fact, we could probably only hack a couple of pints before trying something else. However, those couple of pints will taste incredible. Quality over quantity.
The imperial stout is brewed in Quebec, Canada and has a very strong hint of coffee beans in there. The bitterness of the hops and coffee beans balances nicely with the sweetness of the malts for an exceptional taste. This is the jewel in Dieu Du Ciel’s crown.
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