In London during the Industrial Revolution, a new kind of beer began to slip its way into the mainstream: porter. As varieties of porter beer grew and expanded, the very first stouts came into production. Over the next few centuries, porters and stouts fell out of fashion in the pubs of Great Britain but gained increasing popularity in Ireland and the Baltic areas of Northern Europe. Today, the brewing of dark beer has become a phenomenon in the United States, with craft breweries from across the country developing new recipes at breakneck speed. To help introduce you to the incredible world of stout beer, we’ve created a guide that not only explains the basics of enjoying this unique brew but also helps you find the best glassware and serve it with style.
What Makes a Beer a Stout?
The term stout refers to any porter beer that is especially strong, thick, or, well, stout. The flavors and textures of stouts have been referred to as bitter, milky, dry, sweet, creamy, and dozens of others ways. The most popular stouts in the world are produced in Ireland, with Guinness and Murphy’s being the two dominant producers. Ingredients always include heavily roasted barley or malt, but can also include oatmeal, sweet cream, milk, or coffee. Terry Foster mentions in the book Brewing Porters & Stouts: Origins, History, and 60 Recipes for Brewing Them at Home Today, one of the earliest known references to stout beer. It’s from the journal The London and Country Brewer, first published in 1734. A porter brewing recipe purportedly written by a London brewer in the 1737 edition refers to “stout butt beer,” which includes brown malt among the ingredients, and describes it as about 25% stronger than other porters. Initially, describing a beer as stout only meant that it was strong, but over time it’s come to refer to varieties of porter that are both strong and dark in color.
Why is it Dark?
For most stouts, the dark brown or black color is due to the malt, which has been roasted at a very high temperature. It’s so dark that it’s sometimes referred to as “black malt,” having been kilned “to the point of carbonization,” or about 392 degrees Fahrenheit. These blistering temperatures can also give the beers chocolatey notes or bitter coffee flavors, even when no cocoa or coffee beans are used in the brewing process. Today, however, many breweries add interesting natural flavors during the process, such as coconut, chile pepper, wood, and even real chocolate.
How to Pick the Right Glass
To pick the right type of stout glass, look for a large rim that allows for plenty of head. Dark beer creates above average amounts of foam, or head when poured. This excess head keeps elements of the beer such as hop oils, flavors, and spices contained within the beer for a full-bodied drinking experience. That’s why it’s important to find glasses and mugs with generous capacity and rim size. Also look for thick, clear glass barware. Thicker glass will feel more substantial in your hand– a good match for the strong quality of the beer.
A traditional 16-ounce pint glass is perfectly suitable for many stout beers. Popular American brews, such as Rogue Ales Chocolate Stout, and oatmeal stouts like New Holland The Poet, taste excellent when poured into a traditional pint. English pub glasses, made with an extra pocket of glass on the top half, are designed to hold beer that produces large amounts of head such as oyster stout and Baltic porter. These are superb to use with beer from the United Kingdom, such as Bad King John from Ridgeway Brewing.
Heavy glass beer mugs are terrific for serving Irish dry stout. Thick, dimpled glassware refracts light through the dark pigments, giving you a better view of the texture and subtle red hues commonly found in stouts. Good People Brewing Company in Alabama makes a terrific coffee oatmeal stout that is great to try with a hefty glass mug because of its unrivaled complexity. Pour it in to enjoy the beautiful tan foam of the head, and hold your mug up to the light to catch the almost indistinguishable warm colors.
If you’re trying Russian imperial stout or exotic tropical stout, you’ll want to find a snifter beer glass. The wide bowl allows for generous serving sizes, while the narrower rim catches the head and keeps aromas concentrated inside. Snifter glasses are ideal for the very strongest beers, like Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, and Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout from Flying Fish Brewery. The best beer snifters are useful for many types of beer other than robust porters, so invest in a good set if you plan to experience new types of beer on a regular basis.
You might not believe it, but a red wine glass is one of the best options for enjoying a bold stout beer. Why? Wine glasses have deceptively large reservoirs, with capacities reaching 24 ounces and up: well over that of a traditional pint mug. Much like a snifter, the narrowing rim keeps scents and flavors safely tucked beneath the head until you are ready to enjoy. Look for options with a wide bowl and sturdy stem to match the powerful nature of varieties such as milk stout. And don’t worry if your friends look at you like you’re crazy. Just explain the reasons why stout beer tastes great when served in a wine glass!