First produced in Ireland in the 1730’s, Stout beer is a variant of Porter, a beer that had appeared a few years earlier as an alternative to the sweet brown ales that were popular at the time. Named for those who drank it most, the street and river porters of London, Porter was made with dark malt and strong hops. This style of beer evolved over the following century into a group of distinct Stouts, as brewers tried different variations of the basic recipe.
The world-famous Imperial Stout was brewed at the behest of Czarina Catherine the Great of Russia. Responding to the rising demand for beer coming from her court, London brewers conceived a highly-hopped, high-alcohol stout designed to survive the long sea passage to Russia. North Coast Brewing Company’s Old Rasputin is California’s take on Russian Imperial Stout.
Despite the name, Coffee or Chocolate Stout need not actually be brewed with either coffee or chocolate. Devout Stout from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, is a Chocolate Stout that gets its pleasing bitter-sweet chocolate character just from, organic barley, hops, and water.
Milk Stout was originally invented with nutrition in mind. Besides barley and hops it is also brewed with both whey and sweet unfermentable lactose (both by-products of cheese making). Milk Stout became all the rage in the early 20th century Britain after it had been aggressively marketed as a healthy alternative to scarce milk supplies. Though the added lactose does add a milky, burnt-sugar flavor and round viscous mouthfeel, the health benefits of Milk Stout were considerably exaggerated. In fact, in 1946 British authorities actually made it illegal to put the word “milk” on a Stout label in their concdrn that the association would be too misleading.
Most Irish Stouts are known for being dry. But there are a few, like Oatmeal Stout, that are both sweet and mellow. A nice Californian example of this style is Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.
The Irish have long produced the world’s most popular dry Stout. Contrary to its dark hue, Dublin’s classic Guinness Stout is actually light in both in body and alcohol. Beloved around the world for its creamy head, delicate notes of malty caramel, and a 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 significantly hoppier than their Irish progenitor.