“An Irishman is the only man in the world who will step over the bodies of a dozen naked women to get to a bottle of stout.” — Anonymous
There is probably no beer style more identified with a single country than stout is with Ireland, and no Irish stout is more recognizable than Guinness. Guinness is not only one of the best selling beers in the world; it becomes THE beer for St. Patrick’s Day. However, there is more than one kind of Guinness, and there are many different varieties of stout.
Stout beers arose in London, England in the 17th century, mainly as a stronger, and more full-bodied version of other beers, primarily porter. Hence “stout porters” had more alcohol than regular porters, but stouts could be beer of any colour. Over the centuries, stouts became less about the alcoholic strength and more about the colour, which can be anywhere from a dark reddish-brown to black (although white stouts do exist). To get that colour, brewers use a combination of chocolate, dark and black malts, roasted barley, and other malts, which produces what is usually the darkest beer made by the brewery.
While different styles of stout each have their own unique characteristics, they all have many things in common besides colour. They usually pour with a significant head, and tend to have a chocolate/coffee flavour due to the dark malts. This makes the hop bitterness less apparent, even though some varieties, like Russian Imperial and American stouts, measure well into the 70 to 90s IBU level. What does change are the sweetness, body and mouthfeel of each variety; a consequence of how they are made and what ingredients have been added.
So come this St. Paddy’s Day, maybe celebrate with a different kind of stout. There are many available in Alberta from the UK, USA, the Caribbean and from our own home-grown Canadian brewers. Go on, try a few!
Oatmeal Stout has oatmeal added during the brewing process, which makes for a smooth, chocolate taste. Big Rock includes Steel Cut Oatmeal Raisin in its Barn Burner variety pack, and Wild Rose has Alberta Crude, found only on tap. Also try Howe Sound’s Diamond Head (1 L bottle, $10) or St. Amboise Oatmeal Stout. (6 pk $14, or single 473 ml can, $4). Village Brewery recently debuted their new stout, National Stout, at, naturally, National tap houses.
A new Calgary brewery, The Dandy Brewing Company, conceived Dandy in the Underworld Sweet Oyster Stout (650 ml bottle, $8), so named not because it contains oyster juice (although some do), but because stout pairs so perfectly with shellfish. Stouts also go great with BBQ, roasted meat, spicy food, most cheeses and many desserts, especially chocolate.
Stout’s natural chocolate flavour is sometimes enhanced with the addition of real chocolate or cocoa to produce Double Chocolate Stout. Some even have fruit added to create dessert in a glass. Muskoka Brewery’s Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout is one such beer, but be careful; its 8% ABV packs a punch along with the sweetness. (750 ml bottle, $11).