When it comes to stout, a single beer defines the style for most drinkers. With its cascading layers of nitrogenated foam and alternating hues of mocha and cream, Guinness draft beer is a world classic. The growing wait for the pour to complete, whether marketing hocus pocus or based in reality, is part of the experience. But when it comes to flavor, Guinness is a pretty average, unadventurous offering, full of promise and hesitant to deliver. The addition of nitrogen to the pour, causing the gentle cascading effect, tends to dumb down the flavor, leaving behind a simple, if slightly bitter and roasted drink.
After years of debate and yearning by those who have enjoyed stout in other nations, Diageo announced that it would be releasing Guinness Foreign Extra Stout in the United States. Promoted as the fullest flavor of the Guinness family, the beer pours with a deep brown color, does not rely upon nitrogen, and boasts a much stronger roasted and sweet malt character, weighing in at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume.
First called West India Porter and dating back to 1801, when it was first brewed at the historic St. James’s Gate brewery in Dublin, the brewery shipped the Foreign Extra Stout to nations around the world, including the United States. During Prohibition, America lost touch with the beer only to return today. Unsurprising to anyone who has sampled this very different type of stout in the Caribbean or Asia, the Foreign Export Stout’s popularity has allowed it to account for forty five percent of the brewery’s total global sales.
“GUINNESS Foreign Extra Stout appeals to beer drinkers who love to explore beer and are looking for a serious stout,” said Patrick Hughes, Brand Director for Guinness, in a press release. “It is a unique beer with a distinctive taste, aroma and color and offers GUINNESS fans another way to enjoy the high quality, rich, satisfying GUINNESS experience that is the core of our brand.”
The Export Style is one that often confounds beer historians but actually gives enthusiasts a chance to enjoy what traditional British stouts tasted like a century ago. Often called Foreign-style Stout, the style’s marketing history, where brewers created bigger, stronger stouts for distant, tropical markets, truly defies the modern beer drinking preference of lighter beers in warmer climates. Despite their pleasant, approachable flavors and aromas, Export Stouts are rarely found in the United States. Often deep brown to jet black in color, the style balances roasted grain aromas, sometimes slightly burnt coffee as well, with a minor fruitiness and a complex array of molasses, plums, and lightly boozy alcohol notes. While not as cloying as the Sweet Stout style, residual sugars usually mix with higher alcohol levels and the roasted notes and fruity hints to create a very intriguing and drinkable beer, even on warm days. Some Export Stout versions bear a slight acidity that balances the sweeter notes.
A Look At Lesser Appreciated Stout Variants
While Guinness draft and the Dry Irish-styles dominate the world of Stout, a handful of other excellent spin-offs continue to please a growing, dedicated pool of enthusiasts. With flavors akin to well-roasted coffee and silky milk and dark chocolates, beers in these styles offer a much needed counterbalance to both malty and hop-centric beers. Generously borrowing from both sides of the beer ingredient spectrum, dark and roasty beers can be at once sweet and deeply, soulfully malty while quickly balancing a substantially bitter finish. Others in the category prefer to dive into the deep end of burnt coffee and dark chocolate flavors.
A quirky style mixing chocolate and caramel roasted malt flavors, Oatmeal Stouts derive a gentility and lightness of being from the use of oatmeal in the style’s grist bill. Deep brown to pitch black in color and with sustained, tan heads, these stouts bridge the gap between the Dry Irish-style and the Sweet or Foreign Export stout versions. Beyond the aromas and flavors of roasted malts, which tend more towards chocolate and even nutty hints, a moderate bitterness is used for balance. Depending upon the level of oatmeal employed, these stouts can possess creamy notes and the resulting flavors can be silky smooth in texture. Balance is the key here and the best Oatmeal Stouts are highly drinkable and not heavy on the palate.
One Oatmeal Stout
Dark Horse Brewing Company
This brewery produces five stouts around the winter holidays and this Oatmeal Stout starts with an opaque black color and is capped with a solid, spongy head of foam. One’s nose is filled with big roasted malts mixed with charred baker’s chocolate, burnt coffee beans, and a slight acidity and creaminess, all acting with restraint. A surprisingly rich and thick example, One Oatmeal Stout unleashes a mild torrent of bittersweet and roasted chocolate, black coffee, and a slightly smoky roasted malt character that also displays some lighter caramel malt qualities, all resulting in an unexpectedly soft and velvety mouthfeel. A bit of an enigma considering the style, Dark Horse lives up to its name with this beer.
8 Ball Stout
Lost Coast Brewery & Café
The 8 Ball pours with a blackish brown body and a moderate mocha cap. It smells of chocolate, coffee, a touch of molasses, and rich roasted malts. The flavor follows suit, with the addition of dry cocoa, a little treacle, a mild creaminess hidden amidst the dark malts, and the slightest hint of oats. A full-bodied stout, the mouthfeel is creamy at times with a moderate carbonation balancing out the thick body. Befitting its West Coast heritage, the magical 8 Ball is a tinge hoppier than your average stout.
Ipswich Oatmeal Stout
Mercury Brewing Company
A home state hero, the menacingly black Ipswich offering is capped by a light tan head and offers very little color at the edges, Mercury’s version, unlike many versions of the style, is hugely hoppy with big earthy and mineral notes from Pacific Northwest hops. The unexpected hop aromas add to the more standard dark roasted coffee notes and light espresso hints resulting in an earthy, clean experience. Surprisingly full bodied, Ipswich Oatmeal Stout booms with flavor, choosing to rely on the side of burnt roasted strength instead of lighter creamy touches. The roasted malt flavor starts slow, then transitions into a touch of raisin malt sweetness, but then kicks into a long, pronounced, and never-ending burnt bitterness.
Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
Anderson Valley Brewing Company
A year-round offering, this Anderson Valley offering won the brewery’s first gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival and remains one of the brewery’s most popular beers. With a two-finger deep light brown head that refuses to quit, Barney Flats is a classic Oatmeal Stout with a deceptively light brownish-rouge color. The brewery’s yeast strain gives off a signature creamy aroma, a rare sign of true house character, which gives way to very light touches of roasted malt and hints of milk chocolate. The flavor remains quite reserved in terms of dark malts, instead yielding a complex array of coconut, yeast creaminess, roasted bitterness, and chocolate notes.
Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout
Wolaver’s Brewing Company
One of America’s leading organic breweries, Wolaver’s has long been dedicated to making classic styled beers with all-natural ingredients. Pouring a deep brownish-garnet hue with a toasted colored head, a tad light for the style, slight lacing is achieved. A pleasant lightness fills the aroma, with oat notes and plentiful well-roasted barley with touches of lightly roasted coffee beans and chocolate. The flavor matches the aroma with the additions of a tight bitterness from a combination of roasted grains and noble and American hops. Substantially dry to the taste, flairs of malt sweetness complete this offering.
The beers in this category may welcome the attention that will likely follow the release of the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Ready for a fight, these potent yet playful beers offer a real challenge to those willing to take them for a spin.
Steelhead Extra Stout
Mad River Brewing Company
Blue Lake, California
The Extra Stout pours with a jet black color and a light tan head and smells of deep, rich, and sweet malt with the lightest touches of roasted edge but not bitterness. It possesses light mocha notes, even coconut at times, and the medium body also contains big roasted flavors competing with sweeter malt notes for dominance, with neither winning out in a balanced stalemate. Booze is very well-restrained compared to some alcohol heavy examples of the style and light mocha and coffee notes run alongside a hint of smoke.
Damn Good Stout
BruRm @ Bar
New Haven, Connecticut
Created from a mixture of seven different malts, this stout actually manages to live up to its bold name. Appearing near opaque black with a thick tan head, the beer lets you know you are in for a treat with its rich, malty, and roasted swirls of coffee and chocolate. There is an initial burst of light alcohol flavors upfront, followed by a wash of mild roasted notes, and the beer finishes with a slight sweetness. Damn Good Stout possesses slight cocoa and coffee flavors but ends up best expressing some notable maltiness, which is typical for this sweeter style.
Elysian Brewing Company
With a name referencing Greek warriors who sprang from the ground when the teeth of a slain dragon were sown, you know this Export Stout is going to be tough. Made with rolled oats, Dragonstooth pours with an ominous black tint and dark ruby edging, capped by a tan crown. The stout’s aroma glimmers with rich malt aromas, bouncing from caramel, toffee, and brown sugar to dark chocolate and a touch of coffee, and finishing out with hints of vanilla. The flavor adds the unusual touch of American citrus hops, which is a departure from the style but helps bring together the old and new worlds of brewing. A creaminess to the malt mixes with its substantial sweetness and the citrus hops to create a highly drinkable concoction.
Captain Swain’s Extra Stout
Cisco Brewing Company
Another local offering and named for one of the earliest settlers on Nantucket, a family from which the brewery’s owner descends, this Extra Stout is a testament to the sea-faring world that holds this style so dear. A rich sable color with hints of garnet hues at the extremes underlies the moderately creamy tan crown. The nose fills with a slightly acrid dark roasted malt burst followed by waves of sweeter chocolate and burnt coffee and a touch of earthy hops. The roasted malt occasionally strays into a pleasant and somewhat unexpected acidity, not quite sour, before giving way to creamy swirls of caramel, milk chocolate, and charred grains. A hint of pine from Chinook dry-hopping balances out this full-flavored beer.
Another difficult to find variety, Milk Stouts fully give themselves over to the lighter, creamier side of the roasted stout world. But don’t expect a cloying, unbalanced mess. Quite to the contrary, these medium to full-bodied stouts balance deeply roasted grains, with their cream coffee and milk to dark chocolate aromas, with a moderate level of sweetness to create a creatively and agreeably dissonant beverage. Deep and dark in color and with low carbonation, the high residual sweetness comes from unconverted sugars left in the beer and in the case of Milk Stouts, the addition of lactose, an unfermentable ingredient also known as milk sugar. Sometimes called Cream Stout, the flavor of these styles often focus on a downy, milky flavor reminiscent of sweetened coffee or espresso.
Left Hand Brewing Company
This Milk Stout pours with a dark brown color with ruby hues at the edges and a light tan head. The aroma possesses a chalky, mocha like dryness with deep and dry roasted notes and a slight burnt malt character. The beer’s flavor starts off slow, with a lightly toasted maltiness reminiscent of molasses, before diving into a moderate dark malt quality that plays well with a light lactose creaminess from the addition of milk sugars and flaked oats. Light bodied and with an overall sweetness, the beer is a great entrant for dark beer wary novices, like a brown ale with lactic sweetness.
Steel Toe Stout
SKA Brewing Company
Steel Toe pours deep brown with light brownish-red hues around the trim. A bit unusual for the style, the beer leans more heavily on the roasted side of the ledger, with an aroma that also features a smattering of light cream traces. This Milk Stout, brewed with lactose, starts with a light roasted malt bite that lasts throughout the flavor but is joined near the end by a distinct, pleasant creaminess that finishes almost like chai tea with milk. A very enjoyable and drinkable flavor combination.
–Article appeared in the December 2010 issue of Beverage Business Magazine.