There are beers that are golden, beers that are amber, beers that are red, and then there are the beers as dark as night. For the best in dark, strong beers, it’s a stout.
Stouts are technically, depending on how you see it and who you believe, a specific kind of porter. The word “stout” as we know it today means strong, and this is reflected in the initial definition of a stout beer, which meant it was the strongest of beers. Porters originated in the early eighteenth century in London. When we were earning our freedom from the Brits in 1776, porters made their way to the St. James Gate Brewery in Ireland, where Arthur Guinness began brewing what is now perhaps the world’s most widely known stout, Guinness Draught.
Stouts became darker as the use of black roasted malts became standard by the mid-1800s, but it took some time for the term to apply strictly to strong, dark porters.
There are several kinds of stout, including a standard dry or “Irish” stout like Guinness Draught, chocolate stouts (which we touched upon in the discussion about beer for breakfast), oatmeal stouts, imperial stouts, and milk stouts.
If you’ve had a beer at just about any bar you’ve probably had a Guinness, the quintessential stout. It’s made with God’s ingredients for beer: water, barley, yeast, hops, and in this case a roasted malt, which gives stout its dark color. All the variations of stout that spring from this are built upon the same basic principles.
Perhaps my favorite variation of stout is the oatmeal stout, which has a portion of oats added during the brewing process. They don’t taste like a bowl of Quaker Oats in a glass. In fact, depending upon the brewery, there isn’t a ton of oats in these beers, just enough to impart the thicker, smoother qualities you get from adding the oats.
Perhaps my favorite oatmeal stout comes from Samuel Smith brewery in England. It has that thicker mouthfeel that you get with a stout, is smooth, and dominates the glass with its dark, rich color. Made with water from a well originally dug in 1758 at their old brewery in North Yorkshire, England, this is one hell of a beer. It’s great with some beef and cabbage, or some sausage on a bun with spicy mustard. It’s also good for brunch while you’re reading the paper and eating some eggs and bacon.
Then there is imperial stout or Russian imperial stout, which originated as a beer that could withstand the harsh journey from England to Russia where it was popular with Catherine the Great and her court. It generally has a higher alcohol content than other stouts, but shares the beer’s dark color and other characteristics.
Again, the folks at Samuel Smith make an excellent version of this beer. I also found a great local option from Real Ale Brewing Company here in Austin. Their Commissar adds some American hops, which give it a little hint of citrus, and they kick up the alcohol content to 9.8 percent. Even more “stout” than your usual stout, this is a great glass of beer.
Then there are milk stouts, which get their name from the addition of lactose into the beer. This provides a sweetness you don’t get in many other stouts. The best thing about milk stouts is that they were sold at one point as “healthy” beers, even recommended for nursing mothers. Yeah. That was in England, not here in the United States where tying the ingestion of alcohol in any form to pregnant or nursing mothers is a big no-no.
So when you want a solid, strong beer that really fills your glass, and can even have the satisfaction of a meal, grab a stout. Sure, IPAs are all the rage, but don’t forget the powerful punch of a killer dark beer. Beside, let’s be honest, when the Dark Knight drinks a beer, he’s probably drinking a stout. Cheers!