Happy Stout Day. Since 2011, when somebody invented another phony holiday, there have been mildly celebratory tweets, slightly special events, and little else of note to mark the first Thursday in November as International Stout Day. In honor of it, let’s take a closer look at this widely known yet sometimes shunned beer style.
As with many historical origins, there’s uncertainty and disagreement, but it’s generally accepted that “stout” originally described a stronger porter in England—“stout porter,” as opposed to the normal version. Eventually, the two diverged, and stout became a style all its own. These days, the stout family is broad—Guinness’ dry Irish stout is the most famous, but the British motherland lays claim to others like sweet stout and oatmeal stout, while many craft brewers in this country offer a slightly more aggressive American version. At the top of the stout food chain is the Imperial Stout, a strong, hearty brew, often 10 percent or higher in alcohol, thick and viscous, suitable for aging before properly sipping it by the fire. What they all have in common is the characteristic opaque dark hue and heavily roasted grain flavors.
Stouts sometimes get a bad rap. The perception of dark beer as stronger or heavier refuses to die despite the most ubiquitous brand—Guinness Draught—weighing in at just 4.2 percent, comparable to Bud Light. Most non-imperial stouts are of moderate strength, on par with many of the hoppy IPAs crowding store shelves. Still, the idea of stout as a hearty, chewy beer remains, so as cool temperatures approach when you might seek out more substantial brews, let me give you some local options.
Local brewing granddaddy Great Basin Brewing Co. is the most reliable source. Outlaw Milk Stout—a.k.a. sweet stout due to the use of lactose, an unfermentable sugar that remains in the beer and contributes sweetness and body—has won a number of medals and is available year-round in bottles and on tap, usually in both regular and nitro versions. If you want a little more stout in your stout, the bourbon-barrel aged Scytale Imperial Stout is worth seeking out when available, though it’s gone for now.
Another worthy, year-round stout is The Blacksmith at The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery. A fairly standard American stout, The Blacksmith will share the limelight with the seasonal milk stout The Milkman in December, followed by the bourbon barreled version, The Return of the Milkman, in February.
Just down the street at Lead Dog Brewing, founder and brewmaster Ryan Gaumer told me his chocolate and vanilla stout, aptly named Choconilla, is coming to the taproom soon in regular and nitro versions as well as canned four-packs. A barrel-aged version will debut to celebrate the brewery’s first anniversary in January.
A little farther off, Truckee brewery Fifty Fifty Brewing will soon roll out its special annual release of Eclipse, a massive imperial stout aged in an assortment of different whiskey barrels and with flavors like vanilla and coffee. You’ll note the rainbow of wax-dipped bottles, color coded to reflect each individual version, when they arrives at local retailers.
Other local brewers offer stouts occasionally, but pitch black beers aren’t for everyone. The dark roasted grains create polarizing flavors. Yet, as a distinguished, complex part of the spectrum of beer styles, stouts are worth a taste.