First produced in Ireland in the 1730’s, Stout beer is descended from Porter, a beer that appeared a few years earlier as a popular alternative to the sweet brown ales popular at the time.
Named for its biggest fans, the street and river porters of London, Porter was made with dark malt and strong hops and over the next century Porter slowly evolved into a variety of Stouts, as brewers experimented with different recipes.
Imperial Stout was developed for Czarina Catherine the Great of Russia. Responding to the constant demand for beer coming from her court, London brewers produced a highly-hopped, high-alcohol stout designed to survive the long trip to Russia. In California, North Coast Brewing Company’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout is brewed in this style.
The darkest of the Stouts are the Coffee Stouts or Chocolate Stouts. Despite the name, they need not actually be brewed with either coffee or chocolate. Devout Stout from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company, is a Chocolate Stout that achieves its pleasing bitter-sweet profile only with organic barley, hops and water.
Milk Stout was invented with nutrition chiefly in mind. Beyond the traditional barley and hops, it is brewed with both whey and sweet unfermentable lactose (both by-products of cheese making). Milk Stout became all the rage when it was first produced in Britain around the turn of the 19th century and aggressively promoted to be as healthy as milk.
Though the lactose did add a delightful milky, burnt-sugar flavor and a round viscous mouthfeel to the beer, the health claims were somewhat exaggerated. In 1946 British authorities actually made it illegal to put the word “milk” on a Stout label as they deemed it to be too misleading. In the U.S, no such restrictions were ever mandated, and its interestingly its now the American brewers who are now inspiring a whole new generation of Milk Stout enthusiasts.
Though most Irish Stouts are known for being dry, a few, like Oatmeal Stout, are sweet and mellow. A nice Californian example of this style is Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.
The Irish produce the world’s most popular dry Stout: Dublin’s classic Guinness. Contrary to its dark hue, this Stout is actually quite light in both in body and alcohol. Famous around the world for its creamy head, delicate notes of malty caramel, an pleasant dry-roasted finish, Guinness has inspired several great Californian micro-brews including Mendocino Brewing Company’s Black Hawk Stout, and Rogue Brewery’s Shakespeare Stout, both of which are much hoppier than their Irish muse.
Finally, Stouts are not just dessert-friendly. Under the right circumstances they can become dessert fodder. For beery brownies try adding a little Coffee Stout (or Stout mixed with espresso) to the batter. Wanna Stout float? Just add two scoops of vanilla ice cream to a chilled pint glass and then drown them both in Imperial Stout.