Oh hi, friend. It’s a cold evening in Toronto tonight, so I wanted to go over some cool factoids in regards to everyone’s favourite winter beer: Stout.
Stouts originated from porters, made in England many hundred or so years ago. They are typically made with heavily kilned malts (that is to say, the barley is roasted to varying degrees of darkness) prior to being packaged and sent out to breweries. This contributes colour and a lot of the flavours associated with stout – roast, sear, charcoal, chocolate, and coffee.
It’s my contention that this particular depth of malt character is what provides the best canvas for something called adjuncts. An adjunct, by definition, is “a thing added to something else as a supplementary, rather than an essential part” – so it’s something made to change or enhance a stout. You’ve probably heard this phrase in reference to adjunct lager which sometimes use corn rice or other grain extract to support the malt bill for less money than full barley malt.
Common adjuncts to stouts include chocolate or cocoa nibs (which is the activated, roasted cocoa bean with husk), coffee, wine, or spirit barrel aging (second use barrels including but not limited to rum, bourbon, or whiskey). Aging within these vessels post-fermentation contributes varying flavours like leather, alcohol, oak, or an even further char.
With the above said, I wanted to run by my reading audience why I think Stout is the best style with which adjuncts can be added – as well as some fine examples of the style. So, to work:
- Malt Base OP – This is lacking in a lot of other beers that use adjuncts. Let’s keep in mind that a beer recipe does not have a star per se; it requires all aspects of the recipe to work together in harmony in order to shine. Stout is the Hamilton of beers (or insert your favourite musical here).
- Enhancement over Change – Contribution of existing flavours means the adjunct actually supports the existing product as opposed to introducing something entirely new, which can be a gamble. That is to say, when one adds chocolate or coffee to a stout, they are enhancing existing flavours – not trying to move the beverage in a different direction (like, for example, a fruited IPA).
- Old Man Stout – They age well! Most stouts are ok to be aged in package for months or sometimes years where flavours develop, dry out, yeast allows maturity, etc. If you’re going to cellar any beer, let it be a stout.
- A Stout Tastes As Sweet – Think about the divisions of styles within stouts. This makes for an interesting experiment in what flavours play best with sweet/dry/irish/oatmeal examples. Even just within the single style of stout, there are tons of variations, and like a fingerprint, no two are alike.
- The Dark Side – Stout is one of the best beers to introduce to your non-beer nerd friends. I love pouring out a stout to the horror of the new drinker’s face; then letting them know about why they should give it a chance, and to ease them into it; then, seeing the relief when they talk about how much they like it.
I’ve plugged in some examples of great Ontario stouts below for perusal and discussion. These are some of my personal favourites that stand out as a unique example of the style!
Stonehammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout – This has consistently been one of my favourite stouts in the province, and I almost always have it in my fridge. The malt base in the beer is smooth, which is heightened by the use of oats in the mash. This creates an excellent canvas to which a layer of coffee is added – rich, roasty, carbonated well, and a slight coffee-induced bitterness on the finish which is both refined and standoffish. A true-to-style adjunct stout that does not mess around.
Bellwoods Bring Out Your Dead – This opaque, black, headless stout is aged in cognac barrels, which basically turns the beer into candy. On the precipice of sickly sweet, with a nose of oak, dark chocolate ganache, and the right amount of dark fruit, this is truly Bellwoods’ dark and sticky magnum opus.
Sawdust Long Dark Voyage To Uranus – I’d bet good money that Sam Corbeil, brewmaster at Sawdust City, still snorts with laughter occasionally at the name of this beer. A 9.5% Imperial Stout, which is accurately described as crushingly bitter, is a 101 in recipe development. Fresh, it delivers an alcohol-forward chocolate bombardment accompanied by flavours of roasted walnuts and pure charcoal. Aged, it comes through with milk chocolate calm and an incredible velvet mouthfeel. Truly incredible and one of the more unique beers in Ontario brew-dom.
Amsterdam Double Tempest – Always accompanied by a party for its release day in November every year, Double Tempest is an Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels. This is one of my favourite stouts to do a vertical with – which is when you get multiple years (what some would call vintages) of release and taste them side-by-side, noting the developed changes and flavours within. Stored properly, Double Tempest can hang with the best in it’s style – Amsterdam, though not without criticism recently, is often overlooked as a high-quality beer provider due to their size. XX Tempest kicks that notion directly in the junk with this consistently incredible stout, full to the brim with semi-sweet chocolate and bourbon sherry vibes.
Muskoka Shinnicked Stout – Roasty. Coffee. A fun name. What more do you want? Muskoka created this beer late 2016, with distribution in the winter 2017. Named after the colloquialism of the feeling one gets when jumping in an off-frozen lake, this is a standard coffee stout, with great flavour depth and a really rich café vibe. So good, and available in winter survival packs.
Indie Ale House Zombie Apocalypse – Every year, Indie throws a Stout Night, where there are usually just over a dozen different stouts available for sampling from several breweries. This usually coincides with the yearly release of their flagship imperial stout. A true dry stout, this is very much like it’s flagrantly honest proprietor, Jason – no BS. It gets you with a chunky mouthfeel and alcohol up front, with bitter astringent coffee and caramel sweetness. A true gem. It also comes in barrel-aged, which I haven’t had yet, but I’m sure is lovely.
Godspeed Stout – Luc Lafontaine and his team at Godspeed bucked the trends of milky IPAs and lacto sours this summer by coming up with straightforward, delicious beer, including this stout. It comes in at under 7%, is extremely drinkable with next to no alcohol taste, and does extremely well as a session beer. Part of the initial Pitch and Pray series, it should be in your fridge right now.
Rainhard Sweetback Milk Stout – This is my favourite beer that Rainhard makes. A lot of people are floored when I tell them this, but it’s true – the layering of this innocent milk stout has not been matched by any other brewer in the province so far. The name Milk Stout is derived from the use of unfermentable lactose inserted into the brew, which contributes to mostly mouthfeel, as well as residual sweetness. This drinks like a milkshake – chocolate cake vibes without a hint of dryness. It’s also made year-round, for your year-round appreciation.
Blood Brothers Guilty Remnant White Stout – Whoa, a white stout? Come on, now. Basically, as opposed to using roasted or kilned dark malts that give a stout it’s signature colour and flavour profile – white stouts use standard pale malt, but rely on the adjuncts we’ve discussed to emulate those flavours. Interestingly, this sweet beer is reminiscient of white chocolate and oatmeal – and it also comes in a fruited Raspberry edition (since sold out). A weird beer for sure, but I mean, it’s Blood Brothers, so it’s to be expected.
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The point is this: stouts should not be feared. They should be celebrated, and more than anything, drank with excitement and fervor. I hope you learned something! Until next time, keep your wits about ye.
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