By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The velvety stout is an ale like most other beers with a long and distinguished history. It has not been the same throughout time, however. The evolution of stouts into what we know and love today is a long and interesting story, which includes, as most of these beer tales do, the infamous tax man.
Long before the stout was being brewed at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Ireland, the stout was an ale that was brewed all over the United Kingdom. Though they were dark beers, they did not have that telltale characteristic of roasted barley, which gives stouts the clean black roasted color and flavor that we all know and expect. Before roasted barley was employed, a stout was a descriptor for a beer that was higher in alcohol content than its porter and common ale siblings. Part of the reason roasted barley began to be used was because beers produced by U.K. breweries were not taxed on their alcohol content. Instead, the beers produced were taxed on the amount of malted grains used to produce the beer. The breweries that initially started using roasted barley were trying to create the same porters that they had been producing for years but with a lower price point. This was achieved by substituting roasted barley in place of some or even all of the chocolate malts that had traditionally been used. This allowed breweries to produce a dark heavy beer that they could offer at a more reasonable price than their competitors because they didn’t have to pay as much in taxes. Of course, in this day and age porters and stouts are similar, but the beer lover’s honed palate can detect the subtle differences. It wasn’t until the 18th century when both the tax man and the beer drinker caught on that the term “stout” was a style instead of a descriptor.
In the modern brewing age we use roasted barley to achieve that silky smooth roasted flavor that we have all tasted in Guinness and other classic stouts from the breweries in the U.K. This profile is achieved by building a grain bill that has very few varieties of grain in it but allows the roasted barley to shine. Stouts should not have many varieties of other grains in them besides the base malts. A small amount of chocolate and caramel malts are acceptable, but we want to get the bulk of our color and flavors from the unmalted roasted barley. There is always room for interpretation, and hoppier American versions have made their place in the brewing world. Brewing a stout can be our way to pay homage to a style of beer that has been around for centuries and will endure, if we have anything to say about it, for centuries to come. With their 9,000-year lease at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, you can be sure Guinness will be doing its part to keep the style alive until 10759 C.E.
McKeenan's Dry Stout [Extract]
McKeenan's Dry Stout [AG]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.