21 February 2008

Back to School #5 with Stouts

Because we missed the first World Class Beverages meeting which covered Porters and Stouts, we were lucky enough to get the notes. So when Matt of Matt's Beer Blog invited us out for a "Night of the Living Stouts", we took the opportunity to make up what we missed by having a session of our own.

Settle in, and pour yourself a drink. This is a long one.


Porters and Stout originated in England in the 17th to 18th Century. Porters came first - stouts were stronger variations of porters. Beers in the stout category were once considered “Stout” porters. As an attempt to capitalize on Porter popularity, the number of these types of beers kept expanding and diversifying until they became worthy of their own category.

From a composition standpoint, roasted barley or black patent malt is usually added to provide dryness in stouts. Interestingly enough, modern versions are not always stronger than Porters.

Stouts are divided into six categories, which makes for a lot of sampling. These categories are Dry (Irish) Stout, Sweet (Milk) Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Foreign Extra Stout, American Stout, and Russian Imperial Stout.

Dry (Irish) Stout

According to BJCP guidelines, Dry Stouts may have prominent Coffee-like roasted barley and roasted malt aromas, with a slight chocolate, cocoa and/or grainy secondary notes. They typically have a thick, creamy, long-lasting, tan- to brown-colored head, with flavors featuring a light to moderate acidic sourness, and medium to high hop bitterness. BJCP also notes "For the high hop bitterness and significant proportion of dark grains present, this beer is remarkably smooth. Overall Impression: A very dark, roasty, bitter, creamy ale."

We had two examples for the Dry (Irish) Stout category. First up was Murphy's Stout.

Mike: Ashy, watery, heavy lacing, a little sweetness... forgettable.
Kelly: Watery, slightly tinny tasting.
Matt: Creamy texture, watery flavor.
Gina: My notes were "I don't like this". It was very thin and watery. I may have liked this more if it were my first beer of the night.

Our second example of the Dry (Irish) Stout style was Avery's Out of Bounds.

Kelly: Huge head, looks like a root beer float; heavy cardamom aroma.
Matt: Hop nose & flavor.
Gina: Tall, foamy head and hoppy smell that is very reminiscent of Pine Sol.
Mike: Better of the two in this style. Hoppy sting in the nose, piney front.

Sweet (Milk) Stout

Milk stouts have the same chocolate and coffee notes as Dry (Irish) Stouts, but also often feature a cream-like sweetness, and can even feature low to high fruit notes. A dark and full bodied ale, milk stouts often taste similar to sweetened expresso. On the title of the category, BJCP says "legally this designation is no longer permitted in England (but is acceptable elsewhere). The “milk” name is derived from the use of lactose, or milk sugar, as a sweetener."

Mackeson XXX Triple Stout

Matt: Roasty, malty, sweet.
Gina: Smells sweet, bready and like a candy necklace. Good.
Mike: TASTY! Smooth. BUY MORE!
Kelly: Viscous, hints of toasted coconut and whipped cream.

Oatmeal Stout

Oatmeal Stouts give off what BJCP calls "a coffee and cream impression", with coffee notes and a full bodied mouthfeel. Instead of the milk element found in sweet stouts, Oatmeal is used to provide complexity.

Goose Island Oatmeal Stout

Mike: Coffee and licorice nose, dark and coke-colored, full-flavored, malted milk, kind of like a mix of Left Hand Blackjack porter and the Mackeson. Grassy and earthy.
Kelly: Oatmeal cookie nose, something really sweet in the finish that I can't place -- maybe charred marshmallow?
Matt: Licorice, smoky.

Foreign Extra Stout

Foreign Extra Stouts feature strong roasted grain notes, and can also feature elements of coffee, chocolate and a lightly burnt taste. According to BJCP "Some versions may have a sweet aroma, or molasses, licorice, dried fruit, and/or vinous aromatics. Stronger versions can have the aroma of alcohol (never sharp, hot, or solventy)." This version of stout was originally brewed for tropical markets, and was brewed stronger for export.

Bell's Special Double Cream Stout

Mike: This is like the beer I can't escape. It took me 6 months to finish the six pack in my fridge. Then we sampled it at Big Car. Then we reviewed it for a roundtable. And I don't like it.
Kelly: Bitter, acrid, malted milk.
Matt: Very smoky, something else I couldn't put my finger on, but couldn't properly describe
Gina: Back when we did the review of this I gave it a tentative score and said it would be better in colder weather. Well, I was wrong. The nose is still amazing and it still reminds me of an ashtray. I still cannot decide if I like this or not, so I am just going to go with not.

American Stout

American Stouts are brewed in much of the same manner as Foreign Extra Stouts, but feature the use of citrusy or resiny American Hops. BJCP says to expect the following as an overall impression "A hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted Foreign-style Stout (of the export variety)."

North Coast Old #38 Stout

Kelly: Roasty, peppery, on our to-buy list -- really drinkable.
Matt: Rroasty, malty, one of my favorites.
Gina: Roasted, malty, smooth.
Mike: Bitter, peppery, tasty.

Russian Imperial Stout

The most complex of stouts, the Russian Imperial Stout features many of the same characteristic of the other stouts covered above, but features a malt aroma that "can be subtle to rich and barleywine-like, depending on the gravity and grain bill. May optionally show a slight specialty malt character (e.g., caramel), but this should only add complexity and not dominate." (BJCP)

BJCP says to expect an impression that's "roasty, fruity, and bittersweet, with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavors meld with roasty, burnt, or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barleywine with every dimension of flavor coming into play."

Deschutes Abyss

Matt: Sweet, smoke, malt, charcoal.
Gina: This has a great roasted, chocolaty, woody smell and the taste reminds me of a burnt campfire hot dog (but in a good way).
Mike: Smokey, with obvious alcohol notes, tasty with a big front. Instead of a punch you see coming, this is one you see going. A fantastic aftertaste lingers.

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  1. I'm still bummed that I missed this roundtable.

    Do the BJCP guidelines say anything about the fact that some stouts (e.g., Guinness, Murphy's) are nitrogen-infused and how that infusion might affect the flavor?

  2. Surprisingly enough, there is no use of the word nitrogen anywhere in the BJCP guidelines.

    At least no mention that the find command in Microsoft Word can discover.

  3. Thanks again for coming out. I really had a great time.

    Once the baby is born and settles down a bit I will have everyone out again for the American Belgians evening. Hopefully we can get some Brugge in bottles for the occassion.

  4. I'm a big fan of Rogue's Shakespeare Stout. I think it might be an American Stout but I'm not entirely sure on that one...

  5. Beer Advocate calls it an American Stout. I'll have to check that one out once I get my beer herd thinned.

  6. And thanks again for having us, Matt.

  7. I just recently found the Hoosier Beer Geek site so this may be a dumb question.. but are your beer schools 'open to the public'? Sounds like a lot of fun and I would love to get together with like-minded beer drinkers. Speaking of beer school, I just posted this up on my personal blog.. but I am coordinating a hoosier beer school in Chicago this weekend. Anyway, if you are interested in reading about it.. check it out here:

  8. I agree with you guys about the Murphy's being 'forgettable'. I love the Goose Island Oatmeal Stout, but I have been drinking it at their brew pub nice and fresh. Has anyone had their Bourbon County Grand Stout? It has a kick at 13% ABV but I love the stuff, I have to treat myself to it here and there.

    I thought the Mackeson was pretty gnarly, way too chocolate for me. I also didn't like Brooklyn Brown which most people love, I think I do not like the ingredients to be too extreme in my beer.

    -Matt from Chicago

  9. Generik - This last instance of Beer School was a one-off - we were making up for missing a previous class.

    The beer schools we're attending take place at sales training for World Class Beverages. Because we were fortunate enough to be invited as guests ourselves, we can't extend the invitation at this time. We do like to pass the information on to our readers, though.

    I'd like to think that in the future we'll be able to conduct our own beer school classes, but we've got to learn the styles ourselves first. If we do reach the point where we're ready to teach, we'll be sure to do plenty of advertising.

  10. ron smith and brian steurwald of the FBI (indianapolis homebrew club) run an 11 week seminar on BJCP guidelines in preparation for the exam every year. this year's class is over this week, unfortunately, but i have to say it really opened my eyes to judging beers as they relate to guidelines and not just "how much i like them". i encourage anyone interested in beer to seek this class out because it's an insane deal and you can learn a ton. then take the BJCP exam. learning style guidelines and drilling those parameters into your head is the only way to attempt having a valid discussion comparing beers.

    it's open to anyone, not just homebrewers or FBi members. they class starts around thanksgiving so i guess you have a few months to gear up. i took the class this session.

  11. Here's a link to the FBI (Foam Blowers of Indiana) site for anyone interested in contacting them about the course.