Find Your Way in the Dark
A journey through the history of stout beer.
by Michael Dawson
Stout has been a beloved beer style for centuries, but it is by its very nature opaque. Knowing where you’ve been always helps you know where you’re headed – BSG is here to help you find your way through the dark (ale) with this look at stout through the ages.
1700s-1800s: In the beginning there was Stout Porter
While we may never find out if the chicken or the egg came first, we do know that porter came before stout. In fact, it is porter – a dark, medium-bodied beer with a solid dose of hops – that is to thank for the birth of the stout.
Porter became very popular in 18th century England, and – just like today – brewers began to tinker and tweak. Their “stout porter” versions had higher alcohol and more flavor intensity than regular porter. Over time the name was shortened, and stout was born.
Roasted malts and where to find them
The defining ingredient of stout is roasted malt – these dark grains are responsible for stout’s dark color and coffee/chocolate notes. Most roasted malts are made from malted barley: the grains are steeped, germinated, and dried prior to roasting.
- Brown malt is a defining ingredient for historic stouts and brown porter. It gives a definite coffee flavor and darker hue thanks to its ~200°L color.
- Chocolate malt can range from 200 up to 500°L in color and contribute deep, smooth dark chocolate flavor – these are signature ingredients for all kinds of stouts and robust porters.
- Black malt is the darkest of the lot, roasted past 500°L, and makes big impact in high-gravity, imperial, and barrel-aged stouts. Thanks to its high color intensity, black malt can be used in many beer styles at a small percentage to give a lovely copper-to-red hue.
- De-bittered black malt and CaraFa® Special are roasted malts that have undergone the additional step of husk removal, which reduces the astringency. These are ideal for Dunkels, Schwarzbiers, pastry stouts, and other beers where dark color with low bitterness is needed.
Unlike the above examples, roasted barley is made from unmalted barley. Giving lots of color without much mouthfeel or gravity contribution, roasted barley is the signature malt of dry stout.
1980s-1990s: Stout Goes Craft
Porter first came to North America with English colonists but was supplanted by the lager brewing traditions of European immigrants. After a few decades of pale lagers dominating the marketplace, American beer drinkers were once again ready for something dark and roasty.
The first wave of craft brewers in the US introduced new frontiers of flavor and rediscovered the joys of stout. A few examples of the beers that reignited our love affair with big and roasty ale:
- Sierra Nevada Stout
- North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout
- Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
- Redhook Double Black Stout
How roasted malts are made
Roasted malts are made using a drum roaster, which is essentially a rotating cylinder over a heat source, with dampers that can be used to expose the grain to drafts of heated air for an even higher roast temperature.
Even if you’ve never seen a drum roaster in action at a malthouse, you’ve probably seen one at a coffee shop – besides sharing a lot of flavor and aroma notes, roasted malt and coffee are also produced using the same technology and principles.
For both coffee and malt, different flavors and colors emerge at different degrees of roast. Think of brown malt as light roast coffee, while the flavors and aromas chocolate and black patent malt are comparable to French roast or espresso beans.
2000s: Camping out for stout
With the public’s appetite whetted by craft brewing’s pioneers, the stage was set for hype beers: the stouts fans would camp out at breweries for. Releases became miniature festivals and bottles were hoarded, cellared, and traded. Have you ever had a vertical of these?
Meet the family
Oyster – Made with real oysters, oyster stouts capitalize on the saltiness of the oyster to draw out the caramel notes of the malt.
Milk – Smooth and creamy, milk stouts are brewed with unfermentable lactose which gives the beer a soft sweetness that offsets the acidity of roast malt.
Dry – Dry stouts are balanced and dry with a smooth finish, deep color, and a low ABV. Guinness Draught is a classic example.
Oatmeal – By incorporating a percentage of flaked or malted oats in the grist, oatmeal stouts achieve a velvety, silky texture.
Imperial – These high ABV beers carry intense sweetness with coffee, roast, or chocolate/dark chocolate character, and often a high hop rate to boot. Many examples are aged in second-fill spirit barrels for even more layers of flavor.
Tropical – Lager yeast, indigenous grains like sorghum, and dark sugars combine in these full-bodied, fruity, sweet, and smooth stouts brewed from Jamaica to Africa.
Pastry – Making use of everything from Girl Scout cookies to breakfast cereal, lactose, fruit, and cacao nibs, pastry stouts deliver the experience of a liquid confection.