The Storied History of the Stout

If we asked you to define the ber style of stout do you think you could do it? Besides a black color and an emphasis on strong malt flavors the style caries wildly in terms of alcohol content, additional flavors, and sometimes even basic things like mouthfeel and carbonation levels.

Studying the history of stout is like staring into the multidimensional universe of theretical cosmology with multiple shifting parallel worlds constantly warping and shifting with the flow of time. The more you try to pin it down the more it wriggles free and becomes something unexpectedly different.

Randy Mosher, Tasting Beer

Today we are doing our best to try to find the general origins of the style and show how it transformed itself over the centuries.

If you are really into the history of beer check our True History of IPA and its Origin.

A glass of stout beer in the black background.

Where it all started

The word stout originally referred to a strong black beer. The earliest recorded use of the word stout in describing beer was in 1677. So when we talk about the history of stouts we really need to look at the combined history of porters and stouts as both names were English slang terms for strong dark ales.

While many believe the story that Ralph Harwood of Bell Brewery created the porter by blending three beers together. Such simple stories haven’t held up well as historians and researchers continue to look into the origins of this style.

The story of the stout really begins with the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Farmers began moving into towns and cities from the countryside in droves. As factories opened and local construction crews grew with all of Britain’s new infrastructure projects a huge group of thirsty workers formed in towns and cities.

An old black and white photo showing a steam train at the beginning of Industrial Revolution.

Brown Ales to appear first

To satisfy the larger demand breweries grew larger. In order to to do but without surrendering all of their profits to heavy beer taxes London brewers turned to cheap brown malts and made a variety of brown ales with varying strengths. Those thirsty country workers were used to hoppier beers in their local towns and villages. So London brewers quickly added the untaxed ingredient, the hops to their ales.

But there was still one more step before brown ale could make the leap to stout. At this time the invention of critical brewing tools including the thermometer and hydrometer drastically changed the way brew masters determine their malt bills. With a hydrometer brewmasters at the time discovered that their inexpensive base brown malt was mediocre at the best in terms of sugar yield. So they began adding slightly higher prices pale malt to their grist and experimenting with things like adding caramelized sugars to their beer to keep the brown color.

The Stout was born

A glass of stout beer.

The manufacturers of those cheap brown malts used new malting technology to produce a deep chocolate, almost black malt which had a much better sugar yield. They made mini brewers switch back to these brown malts but kept the high hop levels and thus porters and stouts were born.

Around 1820 stout emerges as a standard term for a beer that was slightly different than porter. They have continued to evolve since the Industrial Revolution and today we have many distinct stout sub-styles.

The different Styles

A glass of Irish stout beer on a wooden table.

Dry or Irish Stout is a traditional dry stout. Originally came from attempts to dodge the malt tax bill in 18th century London. As unmalted barley wasn’t taxed the same as malted barley brewers began using more of it in the grist. Still used in modern recipes this raw unmalted barley lends a sharp coffee bitterness with a creamy mouthfeel.

The sweet or milk stout had dropped in popularity during the 20th century. It was said to be a drink for invalids. But in the 21st-century brewers have revived the style and made it even sweeter through the addition of lactose sugar.

The oatmeal stout was another 20th-century development. It included the addition of malted oats to the stout malt. Lending a soft creamy mouthfeel and a distinct nutty flavor. Once considered nutritious the British adopted the oatmeal stout as part of a healthy diet.

Originally the Foreign or Extra Stout was considered a luxury item once copious amounts were exported to British territories at high rates.

Imperial Stout is stronger than Extra Stout. The term Imperial came about in the 18th century due to this beer style’s popularity with the Russian Monarchy.

The Medicinal Properties

A glass of Guinness Beer Stout.

Not long ago in Ireland, pregnant women were recommended to drink a glass of Guinness every day. In order to strengthen themselves and their babies. The polysaccharides in barley can help stimulate prolactin.

While the brewery has gone on record denying any health claims. A study by the University of Wisconsin showed that Guinness might help reduce the risk of heart attacks and blood clots. Because it contains some types of antioxidants that are found in red wine. Cheers.

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