The Blackhearts Guide to Stout
There’s something about a pint of dark beer on a gloomy day that has an almost magical ability to elevate one’s mood, but what is it about this iconic beverage that makes it so distinctive? And what makes it so different to other beer styles?
19 May 2021
by The Blackhearts Crew
The onset of winter brings with it many things – sweaters of questionable fashion taste, #takemeback Instagram posts of summer holidays been and gone, and the crushing envy of your friends lapping up the sun in the opposite hemisphere, to name just a few.
Winter is also a chance for us to revel in our beloved creature comforts and, for us at Blackhearts, few things mark the onset of colder weather like the popularity of Stout beers in our stores. There’s something about a pint of dark beer on a gloomy day that has an almost magical ability to elevate one’s mood, but what is it about this iconic beverage that makes it so distinctive? And what makes it so different to other beer styles?
In this article, we’re going to give you the lowdown on all things dark beer so that you can feel a bit more confident when getting aboard the Stout train this winter. We’ll also give you a crash course on the history of this infamous beer style, as well as a rundown on the various types of Stouts you might encounter in our stores. Pour yourself a glass of the good stuff, and let’s get started!
What is a Stout Beer?
Stouts are a type of dark beer that has a rich and robust flavour. They can vary from brown to jet black in colour, and can be dry, sweet, hoppy, and/or high in alcohol. Stouts are essentially a type of Porter, but not all Porters are Stouts. Confusing, huh? Allow us to break it down for you!
In the early 18th Century, dark beers were becoming increasingly popular in London. These beers were typically cheaper, stronger in flavour, and less susceptible to spoilage and heat damage. The beer of the people, if you will! Couriers, or ‘porters’ as they were known back then, took a particular fancy to this beer style and over time the name association stuck.
Stronger forms of Porter, brewed to be aged or transported, began being referred to as ‘stout porters’, and soon enough they were being exclusively referred to as Stouts. These beers were very popular across the British Empire, particularly among the Irish who sought to start local production. One man in particular by the name of Arthur Guinness started brewing Stout at a facility in St James’s Gate in Dublin and – well, we never heard of him again (kidding)!
It was such a success that at one point it was the most widespread style of beer in the world, with its popularity booming across the British Empire as well as in Europe and Russia. Different styles of Stout were defined as people began to experiment with the style, and recipes took on the preferences of the region they were being brewed in. The common thread that united all these styles, however, was the unmistakable dark colour and full, rich body.
Why is Stout Beer Dark in Colour?
In order to talk about the colours of Stout beers, as well as other malt-driven beer styles, we first need to talk about what malt is.
The malting process is a way to access the nutrients and starches inside grains so that they can then be converted to fermentable sugars. Malting can be broken down into the following processes:
- Steeping: Grains (most commonly barley, but other grains can be used) are steeped in water for a period of around two days in order to activate them. The dormant grains begin to soak up water which kickstarts the production of enzymes that are required for modifying the grain’s protein and starch reserves. This is so they can be more readily utilised by yeasts in the fermentation stage to produce alcohol.
- Germination: The grains are sifted out of the steeping tanks and transferred to temperature and humidity-controlled vessels to begin the germination process. In this process, the grains begin to sprout little rootlets called acrospires which, left alone, would otherwise commence the growth of the grain into becoming a seedling. At this stage, the grains are referred to as ‘green malt’.
- Kilning: Before the grains can fully sprout and become seedlings, they are placed inside a kiln and roasted until dry. This halts the germination process and allows the grains to become a shelf-stable product for breweries to use.
The temperature and duration of the kilning process determines the colour and flavour of the beer. Lighter roasts result in pale coloured malts (did someone say pale ale?), and darker roasts result in deep, rich colours with more intense flavours. This is where the infamous colour of dark beers is created! If you’ve ever wondered why so many tasting notes for dark beers mention coffee flavours, it’s because the malted grains have undergone essentially a similar process to coffee roasting (aka a maillard reaction!)
Types of Stouts
So, now that we know how Stouts are made, what are the different types you might find? Here are some common styles that you might encounter:
- Dry Stout: Guinness is the most notable example of this classic style of Stout. These are less sweet, with the emphasis being placed on the savoury, coffee-like flavours from the roasted barley. More hops are generally used as well, resulting in a higher level of bitterness. They can sometimes be labelled as English or Irish Stout, and while they do have slight differences, for all intents and purposes they are very similar in style.
- Milk Stout: A type of Stout that has been sweetened by adding lactose (a type of sugar naturally found in dairy milk) to the beer. The yeasts typically used in brewing beer are unable to metabolise lactose, so the sugars don’t ferment out and instead remain in the beer, resulting in a silky mouthfeel and a sweeter finish. Eg. Exit Brewing Milk Stout “A stellar Milk Stout from the good people at Exit Brewing in suburban Melbourne! Full of rich milk chocolate, vanilla bean, a hint of toffee and a touch of espresso.”
- Oatmeal Stout: This one is kind of self-explanatory: A Stout brewed with oatmeal! Oatmeal Stouts are typically softer and more full-bodied than other stouts, and sometimes have a touch more sweetness. This sweetness does not come from the oats, though – the malt bill is adjusted slightly, and different yeast strains are used to leave some sugar in the beer, whilst the oats are there to give the beer more body and a smooth mouthfeel. Eg. 3 Ravens Black Oatmeal Stout “This silky, oat-infused stout is an absolute delight to senses. Full of espresso, dark chocolate, dried fruit, and a refreshing finish.”
- Imperial Stout: Imperial Stouts are basically a classic Stout, but on steroids. More malt and more hops are added to the mash, creating a richer, fuller-bodied beer with higher ABV and sweetness. These beer styles originated in England in the 18th century and were frequently brewed for export to Russia because – well, one could assume winters were pretty miserable in 18th century Russia. This is why you might see them labelled sometimes as ‘Russian Imperial Stout’. Eg. Hop Nation The Kalash Russian Imperial Stout “This edition of The Kalash saw four months in Bourbon barrels, making for a beautiful take on the Russian Imperial Stout with a rich mouthfeel, and notes of oak, tar, and spice. Just the thing to end a long day of feasting.”
- Oyster Stout: This is probably the style of Stout that divides the room the most. During the 18th century, oysters were a common food item served in taverns across England and were frequently eaten with Stout. The briny oysters paired well with the roasted barley flavours of Stouts, making it a popular pairing. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that a brewery in New Zealand decided to put oysters in a Stout. Although remaining a niche beer style, it gained popularity in England and Ireland, with many breweries brewing their own versions.Eg. Sailor’s Grave Law of Tongue Oyster Stout “One of our favourite special releases from the good people at Sailors Grave - this one uses Wapengo Rocks oysters alongside sunrise limes. Think smoky, salty, and utterly delicious.”
- Nitro Stout: These beers are carbonated with a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is largely insoluble in liquids and creates much smaller bubbles in the beer which leads to the trademark silky head that you see on the top of a Nitro Stout. Again, Guinness is probably the most notable example of this style of Stout – they even helped to pioneer the carbonation method! Eg. Balter Handsome Elvis Nitro Milk Stout “Sweet and velvety with hazelnut, espresso, chocolate, berry, and a nice lil kick of bitterness. This one is nitro-charged, so give it a good shake & pour it into your favourite glass for maximum enjoyment!”
- Dessert Stouts: The world of craft beer is a goldmine of eccentric and creative beer styles! Stouts are a perfect canvas for breweries to experiment with, with many breweries choosing to ramp up the sweetness of Milk Stouts by adding a slew of ingredients that would otherwise find themselves on a dessert menu. Vanilla, toffee, peanut butter, or any fruit you can think of – it’s probably been put into a Stout before! Eg. Big Shed Brewing Golden Stout Time “Just in time for the cooler weather, Big Shed have a delightfully hearty stout loaded up with toffee and honeycomb, and a light smattering of hops - bringing back all of those iconic ice cream memories from your childhood.”**OR Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Stout “Imagine if you could take dark chocolate, peanut butter, and roasted malts, mix them together, and turn them into a beer… imagine no more, because Belching Beaver have already flippin’ done it! Creamy, chocolatey, and full of roasted peanuts.”
And there you have it, folks! There’s a Stout out there for everyone, so when the mercury starts to drop this winter, you’ll always have a friend by your side in a glass of dark beer. You can shop our full range of Stouts on our online store (link to stout category), or pop into your local Blackhearts & Sparrows store and speak to our friendly staff – we’re always happy to geek out about beer with you!