The most popular stout in the world is Guinness; we consume 10 million glasses a day in over one hundred countries. And while we have Guinness to thank for making stout a staple bar pour, there’s much more to this style of beer than meets the eye.
Most of us associate stout with a strong, dark beer and most of us would technically be right. Made from roasted or malted barley (hence the coffee-like flavor), hops, water, and yeast, the term stout was originally used by brewers in the 18th century to describe the strongest style of porter beer. Today, porter and stout are somewhat synonymous. But not all dark beers are heavy, in fact some are refreshing.
Stout beer variations range from oatmeal to oyster to milk (yes, milk—lactose adds sweetness and creaminess). The difference in taste profiles can be significant, something most people don’t realize when shopping for a stout. Karen Wood, owner and self-described Head Beer Geek at Craft Beer Cellar in Amesbury says there are generally six different sub-categories of stouts from Dry Stout to Russian Imperial Stout.
“To introduce someone to a stout, the first thing we would do is talk to them to find out some other things they may like. Do they like dark or milk chocolate? Do they like coffee? Do they enjoy a fuller-bodied beer or a lighter-bodied beer?” With these taste profiles in mind, Wood can find the perfect stout for anyone—even those who share their love of beer with a love of exercise. She says dry stouts like Guinness are a great choice for athletes because of low alcohol content and calories but still full of flavor.
Because stouts are typically hearty, they hold up to experimentation. “We’ve been seeing brewers playing around a lot with different ingredients in stouts such as chili peppers, Indian spices, vanilla beans, and coffee. We’ve also seen brewers aging stouts in second-use spirits barrels, primarily bourbon and other whiskey barrels. Imperial stouts are particularly well suited to barrel aging as the higher alcohol content helps the beer to develop interesting flavors during the aging process,” says Wood.
With all these unique ingredients and roasted malt undertones, stouts pair well with a variety of dishes. Wood likes to use food as a way to introduce people to stout styles. “An oatmeal stout or sweet stout could even be a dessert on its own. If you haven’t tried one with ice cream, you’re missing out!” she says.
Since it opened last summer, Craft Beer Cellar has been a welcome addition to Amesbury and the area’s thriving beer scene. With 25,000 square feet of space, the shelves are packed with hundreds of types of beers—and not just craft beers, but a wide range of both popular and niche brands from around the world. The staff curates their favorite beers all under one roof, so there’s nothing they haven’t tried. It’s like having your own personal beer concierge. Wood says a focus on customer service and a love of beer make her job fun…and delicious.
If you’re looking to make stout a staple in your beer repertoire, start with a few of Wood’s favorites:
Otter Creek Couch Surfer Oatmeal Stout: “A big flavorful stout in a light 5.4 percent ABV package with lots of dark chocolate and espresso notes and a smooth mouthfeel.”