First produced in Ireland in the 1730’s, stout beer is known for its deep dark color and bitter flavor. The word stout is synonymous with “strong”, and was originally used to refer to any high-alcohol version of porter.

Stouts have an suitably enduring reputation for building endurance. For this reason traditional English sweet stouts infused with lactose or whey during brewing (referred to as “milk” or “cream” stouts) were recommended to nursing mothers by medical professionals as recently as the mid-1900’s.

Stout is brewed with barley and many kinds of malt. Each brewery has its own recipe. Irish stout beers are known for being a little dry, though some, like Oatmeal Stout, are sweeter and more mellow. A good Californian example of this style is Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.

The darkest of the stouts are the coffee or chocolate stouts. Despite the name, they need not be brewed with coffee or chocolate at all. Devout Stout from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company, while composed of only organic barley, hops and water, achieves a pleasing bitter-sweet profile.

Imperial Stout was first developed to slake the exalted thirst of Czarina Catherine the Great of Russia. For export, the brewers of London produced a highly hopped, high alcohol stout designed to survive the long transport to Russia. North Coast Brewing Co.’s  Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout is brewed in this style.

Perhaps the most popular stout is the classic Irish-style Dry Stout made famous by Dublin’s Guinness Brewery. Contrary to its rich, black opaque appearance, this stout is rather light both in body and alcohol. It features a rich creamy head and malty caramel notes that culminate in a pleasant dry-roasted finish. California micro-brewed versions of this style include Mendocino Brewing Co.’s Black Hawk Stout, and Rogue Brewery’s Shakespeare Stout, both which are much hoppier than their Irish counterpart.

For boozy brownies try adding a third of a cup of coffee stout (or two ounces of sweet stout mixed with one ounce of brewed espresso) plus two tablespoons of Bourbon to your next brownie batter. Or may I float this notion? Add two scoops of vanilla ice cream to a chilled pint glass and submerge in Imperial Stout. Serve with shortbread cookies. Stouts can also be used in sauces in place of meat stock!