Assumptions are like, well, um, opinions. And you know what opinions are like… So unfortunately, people who aren’t that well versed on beer make all too many assumptions about the Stout category of beers … “Oh, that’s too heavy” … “Too much alcohol” or my personal favorite “I don’t like dark beer.” And while the American version of the Stout may not be as light and powdery as the Irish Dry Stout (Guinness, etc), it is a far cry from its bruising, body-building relatives – the American Imperial Stout or Russian Imperial Stout.
The American Stout gets its colors and many of it’s flavors through the roasted barley. Those flavors may remind you of acidic coffee or bittersweet chocolate, although sometimes actual coffee or chocolate may be added during the brewing process. You should find this beer to be quite brisk and dry, with malt flavors that have a savory edge to them… some of the American Stouts have a pronounced aroma of pine and/or citrus-like grapefruit — a sign of American hops. You most likely would not find such distinct hop aromas in Irish or English stouts, which usually have a more mellow variety of English hops.
Here is the Gateway Beers profile of the American Stout’s qualities (on a 1-5 bar scale):
Here’s a nice formal description for the American Stout style from the most recent Guidelines published by the Beer Judge Certification Program:
Aroma: Moderate to strong aroma of roasted malts, often having a roasted coffee or dark chocolate quality. Burnt or charcoal aromas are low to none. Medium to very low hop aroma, often with a citrusy or resiny American hop character. Esters are optional, but can be present up to medium intensity. Light alcohol-derived aromatics are also optional. No diacetyl.
Appearance: Generally a jet black color, although some may appear very dark brown. Large, persistent head of light tan to light brown in color. Usually opaque.
Flavor: Moderate to very high roasted malt flavors, often tasting of coffee, roasted coffee beans, dark or bittersweet chocolate. May have a slightly burnt coffee ground flavor, but this character should not be prominent if present. Low to medium malt sweetness, often with rich chocolate or caramel flavors. Medium to high bitterness. Hop flavor can be low to high, and generally reflects citrusy or resiny American varieties. Light esters may be present but are not required. Medium to dry finish, occasionally with a light burnt quality. Alcohol flavors can be present up to medium levels, but smooth. No diacetyl.
Mouthfeel: Medium to full body. Can be somewhat creamy, particularly if a small amount of oats have been used to enhance mouthfeel. Can have a bit of roast-derived astringency, but this character should not be excessive. Medium-high to high carbonation. Light to moderately strong alcohol warmth, but smooth and not excessively hot.
Overall Impression: A hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted Foreign-style Stout (of the export variety).
Comments: Breweries express individuality through varying the roasted malt profile, malt sweetness and flavor, and the amount of finishing hops used. Generally has bolder roasted malt flavors and hopping than other traditional stouts (except Imperial Stouts).
Surprisingly, some spicier foods like chili and jambalaya can work with an American Stout – especially those with a decent load of hops (Sierra Nevada Stout). Most roasty, smokier varieties (Bell’s Kalamazoo, Dogfish Head Chicory) will pair well with saltier barbequed meats – especially grilled Bratwurst. And for dessert? The sweeter varieties of American Stout work well with desserts, such as Rogue Chocolate Stout with a light chocolate dessert, Dark Horse Tres Blueberry with a plain cheesecake, or Dieu Du Ciel’s Aphrodisiaque with a slice of pecan pie.
Serving & Glassware
Go with a Stout style glass (duh) or a good mug as your first choices, but there’s no harm in a gold ole’ shaker pint glass either…
What to Buy:
There are about 35 varieties of American Stouts that you can find here in Southeastern PA, with the following three varieties being both well-rated, and pretty readily available across your better bottle shops and distributors in the area:
– Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout, 6% ABV (Kalamazoo, MI)
– Sierra Nevada Stout, 5.8% ABV (Chico, CA)
– Rogue Chocolate Stout , 6% ABV (Newport, OR)
For additional options, check out our American Stout page, or just connect with us on FACEBOOK for daily recommendations over the next week … and leave a Comment below to let us know what you think about the style!