Beer 501: Stouts

Feb 07 2011 Published by under Beer, Life

So I'm a little late with this one. Sue me. I have better things to do at times than write about beer. Like drinking some.

Okay, stouts. Many will picture a Guinness when they read the word "stout." If that's the limit of your stout knowledge then you've been missing out.

There's some disagreement as to whether stouts and porters are the same thing. They are made from the same basic ingredients and are both dark beers. There is some thought that stouts are stronger (i.e. higher alcohol percentage), and that's certainly true when you get to imperial stouts, but not so much with more "regular" stouts. Today we're just going to deal with beers labeled "stout."

A lot of the variation in flavor among stouts comes from the degree to which the malt is roasted (much like with coffee beans). The darker the roast, generally the more bitter, fuller the flavor. Stouts will sometimes have things added to enhance the flavor or body. Oatmeal most commonly, but sometimes coffee and even chocolate. Interestingly stouts can be brewed to have a distinct coffee flavor without the addition of coffee.

Guinness
Probably the best known worldwide. It's not a bad beer, but compared to many good stouts it's a little... watery. It has that thick creamy head and leaves lace (that lacy pattern of bubbles) on the sides of the glass as it's drunk, both good signs for a stout. Has a slightly bitter, toasty flavor from the roasted malt and perhaps a little coffee flavor (but no coffee is added).

Murphy's Irish Stout
Another common, mass-produced stout. Sweeter than Guinness with a very thick head. Perhaps a slight chocolate taste to it. It's okay - I prefer my stouts a little bitter rather than sweet.

Sierra Nevada Stout
Sometimes billed as the best American stout. I'd have to disagree. Looks like a stout - dark with a creamy head - but tastes like... an IPA! I like IPA's. One of my favorite beer styles. But when I drink a stout I want it to taste like a stout. And to be honest, the IPA flavor of this "stout" isn't wonderful. Not bad, but there are many better. I just find this one to be a schizophrenic drinking experience.

Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
Oatmeal is used in some stouts to give it more body. This is a really, really good oatmeal stout. Dry, slightly bitter, malty, toasty and even a hint of hops. This is one to sit and enjoy in front of an open fire. If only they would drop half the words in the name.

Rogue XS Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial stouts were originally brewed for the czars who wanted a beer of their own, not to be served to the common people. Or so the story goes. These tend to have higher alcohol contents - 7.5% upwards to nearly 20%. The Rogue XS clocks in at 11%. Rich, creamy, strong flavor (from the oats). A hint of coffee and chocolate in the flavor. Good, but pricey - around here a 7oz. bottle goes for about $7.

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti
This is an imperial stout (9.5% alcohol) that has been aged in oak. Beers are typically best drunk fresh, so it's a little odd to talk about aging a beer, but there are some that have been brewed specifically to be aged, usually in oak barrels or with oak chips, but sometimes in used bourbon or gin barrels. The Yeti is currently my favorite imperial stout. Smooth and rich, with a very strong coffee flavor, despite there being no coffee added. Woody overtones from the oak. This is a great one to have with dessert.

Bells Java Stout
This one has a very strong coffee flavor. Not surprising given it's brewed with coffee added. If you don't like strong coffee, don't bother. The flavor is bitter, almost like coffee that has been allowed to "cook" in the pot too long. A glass of this starts well, but the slight "overcooked coffee" flavor builds up towards the end. Not one of Bells' better brews. If you want the coffee flavor you're probably better off with the Yeti above.

That will do for today class. Your assignment this week is to try a stout you've never had before.

Next time: I haven't decided yet. Maybe amber ales. Or barrel aged beers. Or something else.

15 responses so far

  • physioprof says:

    Guinness is good if you want to be pounding stout all night: it has almost no residual sugar, is relatively low in calories, and is low in alcohol.

    • odyssey says:

      'Tis true. A lot of people are surprised that a heavy-looking beer is lower calorie than many light-colored brews.

  • Bashir says:

    Guinness was my first beer. Readily available, better tasting that the usuals (bud, miler), and good for slow sipping.

  • gerty-z says:

    I avoided stouts for a long time because so many that people gave me were overly sweet. But I recently discovered some of the more bitter stouts - I can get on board with that!

    Also, a nice stout makes the best "beer float", IMO

  • proflikesubstance says:

    What about Samuel Smith's! One of my favorite oatmeal stouts. I had the Allagash barrel-aged Interlude last night and that was gooood. Not a stout, but I vote for the next class on barreled beers. You would have the added incentive of being able to describe you namesake beer at Allagash.

  • Materialist says:

    At the local Irish watering holes your choice is usually between Guinness, Murphy's Smithwick's (pronounced Smittick's). Smithwick's is lighter in color, accordingly is has a less-roasted taste, and is preferred by some of the proprietors.

    Also, the Sam Adams chocolate stout in the holiday variety pack this year was definitely worthwhile.

  • Scicurious says:

    Have you ever had Duck Rabbit Milk Stout? One of the best beers I've ever had. Lovely creamy taste.

  • samantha says:

    Mmm, Rogue. While I'm thinking of local Oregon beers, I recommend Deschutes Obsidian Stout, if you haven't tried it.

    Which reminds me, I need to head down to the convenience store...

  • IrishMom says:

    Black Strap Stout, BridgePort Brewing Co, Portland...yum

  • Drugmonkey says:

    Anything that puts "duck" , "rabbit" or "mik" in context with beer cannot possibly be right, sci

  • pinus says:

    duck rabbit beers are incredible.