If you have ever visited a brew pub you have undoubtedly seen someone enjoying a stout beer, even if you weren’t adventurous enough yourself to imbibe in one. The sinister, dark, and mysterious stout beer has long been misunderstood by the average beer drinker. For those of you who are up for it, the team at Cheers All explains what makes a stout a stout and why you might be a stout lover after all.
The History of Stout Beer
Historians can trace the history of beer back at least 5,000 years. The first documented mention of stout beer specifically, however, does not appear until 1677 in a manuscript currently housed in the British Museum. At that time, the term “stout” beer referred to an especially strong beer. That connotation continues to this day despite that fact that stout beers are not necessarily stronger than other beers.
By the turn of the 18th century, dark beers known as “porters” were in style. The strongest porter beers (seven to eight percent alcohol by volume) were referred to as “stout porters.” Stout beer, however, did not come into its own until much later. In fact, probably the most famous of all stout beers – Guinness – was originally referred to as Extra Superior Porter.
What Is a Stout Beer?
While the histories of both porter and stout beers are intertwined, they are distinct styles of beer. Both porters and stouts are dark beers that have long been associated with stronger, heavier beer. That association does not necessarily hold up though. Stout porter once referred to a porter that contained more alcohol by volume than other porters; however, a high alcohol content no longer defines stout beers. Guinness, for example, has an ABV of only 4.2 percent. What does set a stout apart from other beers is the smooth, malty, drinkability and a much lower hop bitterness.
Nevertheless, craft beer enthusiasts continue to debate where to draw the line between porters and stouts. When it comes to brewing, stouts and porters are remarkably similar. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program a Stout is defined as “a very dark, roasty, bitter, creamy ale,” while a Porter is described as “a substantial, malty dark ale with a complex and flavourful character.” Ultimately, the distinction may not matter unless you are planning to start your own craft brewery. If you simply want to enjoy a stout beer, all you need to know is that stouts are rich brews that tend to include flavor profiles with notes of cocoa, espresso, and spices. Think a dark rich cup of coffee or your favorite aged bourbon.
Just like other categories of craft beers, stout beers include several styles within the broader category, including:
- Imperial Stout (or Russian Imperial Stout). These days the term means a big bold stout, full of larger-than-life flavors and a higher-than-average ABV. These are generally sippin’ stouts, made to savor and share. Do not be afraid of these giant beasts, brewers can pack some fantastic flavors in these beers. Common examples include Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, Founders Imperial Stout, and Rogue Imperial Stout.
- Milk Stout (or Sweet Stouts). These are beers made with the lactose from milk, one of the exceptions to the Beer is Vegan rule. The sweetness of the lactose gives a creaminess and a velvety texture to a tall glass of dark brew. Common examples include Left Hand Milk Stout, 3 Floyds Moloko, and Revolution Brewing Mad Cow Milk Stout.
- Smoked Porter. Yes, technically it’s a porter, but remember they are virtually interchangeable. The mild hints of smoke in these beers make them great for a cold winters evening by the fire, as well as the perfect braising liquid of a large pork shoulder. This is my go-to style when braising beef or pork, and also adds a meatiness when cooking chicken or mushrooms. Common examples include Alaskan Smoked Porter, Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean, and Deschutes Imperial Smoked Porter.
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