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What is a stout?

Posted by by Bill Belkin, wine and spirits category manager
Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Only a few short years ago, before the beer explosion that occurred in this country, I would have been musing about Guinness Stout as my quaff of choice for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Back then, we would’ve ordered Murphy’s Stout from our supplier or even some of the utterly delicious and positively hand-crafted Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. That’s really all there was in the world of stouts.

Irish Stout

Who could’ve possibly conceived that in the last 36 months alone, I would add more than three dozen stouts? That’s one a month folks! Who’s making all this “dark beer” noise anyway, and perhaps a better question: why?

Well to answer that, we first have to know what we’re speaking about. Stout is actually a Porter style beer (the stoutest type) and is further defined as a lager style beer that has been crafted using exclusively roasted malt or roasted barley. Typically these brews are a bit higher in alcohol content, too. This type of brewing was originally designed to insulate the beers from spoiling during their excursion from England to its final destination. Irish stout, or “black beer,” always has a coffee-like flavor and aroma to go along with its foamy countenance.

There are in fact many derivations of the “original” Irish stout that comprises the famed Guinness brand and these versions are giving rise to the license that brew masters all over this country and the world are using to stoke the stout flames.

Imperial Stout – Or more correctly Russian Imperial Stout, was brewed in England for the court of Catherine II. It usually has an alcohol content approaching 8-9%. Bells Brewery from Kalamazoo, Michigan makes one of the very best domestic imperial stouts called Expedition Stout. Beware, it’s expensive, but well worth it!

Oatmeal Stout – Uses actual oatmeal in the mash bill – up to 30%, but due to the inclusion of other solids and proteins, does not taste like Quaker Oats. Instead it is viscous and smooth on the palate.

Chocolate Stouts – You can see the addition of actual chocolate to the brew, but most take their pronounced flavor from the use of dark, dark malts that have been roasted until they acquire a chocolate color. Brooklyn, Rogue and Young’s all excel in this bravura brew!

Coffee Stouts – These popular brews are popping up all over and use the darkest malt (black patent malt) to attain their flavors. Incorrectly made, they can have a bitter or astringent taste, but when they work, they are wonders to those of us who love a little “joe” in the morning. The best I have tasted is St. Paul’s Flat Earth and Bell’s. 

There’s even what they call “Milk Style Stouts,” like the wonderful Sheaf from Australia, that are worthy of your attention. More body and a little more sweetness are found in these beers.

As you’re running out to the nearest Lunds or Byerly’s wines and spirits shop for a taste of this stout, you may be asking yourself what to pair with this tasty brew. Well the answer is simple, like most food and wine pairing questions. It’s a matter of flavors and texture. And nothing compliments the heavier soups and stews – the crusty black breads and the savory gravies and pies – the way a stout will.

So for this holiday, hide the lite beer and even if you can’t handle a whole glass, try a stout from either side of the pond. You’ll have good luck all year round!

Tags: beerst. patrick's day

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