What Stout Beer Is: Taste, 8 Brands + 8 Best Beers
Stout has been around since the 1700s and has therefore had a long time to develop both in subvariety, flavor, and technique, making it different from other new beers (such as craft offerings). Find out here what stout beer is and which types you should definitely try.
You might be surprised by how much you like it – beer lovers and beer-skeptics alike have found they enjoy the drink. In this article, we’ll be looking at a variety of things around stout beers, including:
- What they are and where they’re from
- What the typical makeup of a stout looks like
- Varieties of stout beer
- 8 of the most popular stout beers and stout beer brands
- Some of the benefits of stout beers compared to regular beer
So without further ado, let’s get started.
What a Stout Beer Is
The first question you’re probably asking yourself if you haven’t heard of a stout beer before is what exactly one is.
This kind of beer has been around for about 300 years and has strong roots in the UK. Originating with the porter variety as a stronger beer, it matured in its own right into a darker and stronger variety.
Origin and Founders of Stout Beer
The first references to stout as a kind of beer come from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The earliest-known reference is in a section of the Egerton manuscript, and “stout butt beer” became a staple of The London and Country Brewer, a beer magazine of the time.
However, modern stout beer really began as the beginning of the 19th century approached, with the Irishman Arthur Guinness producing the first beer that could really be considered something approximate to what we drink today.
Guinness remains a very influential name in the world of beer and especially that of stout.
Ingredients of Stout Beers
As you might expect, stout beers share many ingredients with standard beer offerings. Malted barley, hops, water, and yeast, all go into a stout just like any other beer – so what makes them different?
The barley is roasted and typically combined with a malt evoking notes of chocolate, coffee, or other rich and dark flavors, to achieve the darker color and rich flavor of a stout. On top of this, they are generally lighter in hop content, with an accompanying decrease in bitterness.
Alcohol in Stout Beer
While stouts have a reputation as stronger beers, this isn’t true for all of them. Guinness’s offerings, for example, clock in around the 4-5 percent mark, hovering just below the average ABV for beer of 5percent.
However, it always pays to check the alcohol content of the individual beer you choose – some stout varieties can range up to 12 percent in alcohol content, while many occupy the 7-9 percent range.
Taste of Stout Beer
Depending on how the beer has been brewed, stout can take on a variety of flavors. Chief among the brewing factors that determine the taste of a stout is the choice of malts when adding the malted barley.
These can add notes of coffee, chocolate, or even dried fruit to the brew, making for a huge variety of individual tastes among the stout beer group.
Calories of Stout Beer
Beer in general can be quite calorie-heavy – not necessarily something that you would expect from a drink, but true nonetheless.
The carbohydrate content from the various ingredients means that a pint of stout can contain almost as many calories as a slice of a brownie. A 12oz pint of Guinness Extra Stout comes with 153 calories, just shy of the 160 calorie mark of a typical 40g slice of a brownie.
Porter versus Stout Beer
While these types of beer are often referred to in the same breath (and with good reason, considering their intertwined origins) they are not in fact the same thing.
Porter tends to be hoppier than stout and lacks the rich malt flavor present in stout beer. In turn, stout is not as bitter as a porter.
Types of Stout Beer
Now that you’ve got your head around what exactly a stout is and how it’s different from other kinds of beer, let’s get into the different kinds of stout that you can find.
With around 300 years of innovation in the field, there are a wide variety of subgenres of stout, each with something different to offer. Whether you’re after a rich chocolatey flavor or something a touch stronger, there’ll be a stout out there to match your tastes.
Milk Stout Beer
If you had to guess, you’d say that milk stout beer is probably made with milk, and you’d be halfway right. Milk stouts are made with lactose, a compound that is contained within cow’s milk.
This is something that is not affected by fermentation, giving milk stouts a unique flavor and texture that other varieties of stout don’t emulate.
Chocolate Stout Beer
Just like milk stouts, chocolate stout beer seems fairly self-explanatory, but isn’t quite as simple as you’d first guess.
There isn’t any actual chocolate in a chocolate stout, but rather “chocolate malt” is used – a malt that has been roasted or kilned until it attains a chocolate color. Mind you, the beer still has notes of dark chocolate in it, so you’re not getting completely fooled by the name.
Oatmeal Stout Beer
Oatmeal stouts contain – you guessed it – oats. These are added during the brewing process to provide a unique mouthfeel and taste, calming the sharper points of a raw stout and making something truly silky-smooth.
The oats also provide a slightly sweeter note to the beer, leaving you with another unique beer choice.
Coffee Stout Beer
Unlike the last few options, coffee stout really contains coffee, which is a refreshing change.
This can be added in a variety of ways during the brewing process, including as coffee extract, cold brew, or even (if you’re making your own) just tipping in a cup at the end.
The coffee can often complement or replace some of the hops in the stout, as it contributes its own bitter flavor.
Barrel-Aged Stout Beer
Unsurprisingly, barrel-aged stouts have been aged in barrels. Who could have guessed? Just like any barrel-aging process, the beer takes on some flavor held in the wood both from the wood itself and from the residue of other beers and drinks that have been aged in the same barrel.
This can lead to a truly unique flavor of stout.
Pastry Stout Beer
Pastry stouts are a deviation from the rest of the types of stout we’ve looked at, combining a wide variety of additional and in some cases unconventional ingredients to achieve a much sweeter flavor.
They typically have various agents added to them to flavor them similarly to pastries, cakes, or cookies, providing a unique taste and experience that is not traditionally one you’d find in a beer.
Dry Irish Stout Beer
Combining roasted barley with a medium to high quantity of hops, dry Irish stout takes inspiration from coffee stout in terms of flavor and approaches a porter beer in hops content. Unsurprisingly, this kind of beer originates in Ireland, as do many of the varieties of stout that we’ve talked about in this article.
Oyster Stout Beer
Although you might be thinking that this is another case of a misleading name, you’d be wrong – oyster stouts actually contain oyster shells. Something to be wary of if you have a seafood allergy for certain, but if not then you might enjoy the unique experience provided by this kind of stout.
Adding a sea flavor to the stout, they are used in the brewing process to help settle particulates in the beer to the bottom.
American Stout Beer
American stout brings a splash of home to the stout, making sure that you are able to enjoy a great darker beer while also sticking to US-brewed beers.
American stouts are different in flavor from other stouts due to the different sources for their hops and barley and tend to have a more hoppy flavor than some other stout varieties.
Breakfast Stout Beer
Breakfast stout brings exactly that – breakfast – to the stout experience. Maybe you might hold off on actually drinking this beer for breakfast, but it will definitely feel like you’re back to the morning when you take a draught of this kind of stout.
With a combination of oatmeal, coffee, and chocolate notes, the breakfast stout smashes the flavor game out of the park and provides a truly immersive experience both in flavor and texture.
Russian Imperial Stout Beer
Russian imperial stout was first brewed to be exported to Catherine II, Tsarina of Russia in the 18th century.
While not a common term today, Russian imperial stout is often referred to as just “imperial stout”. These beers are typically stronger and fuller than the classical stout and can come with higher alcohol content.
Best Stout Beers
Now that you’re up to speed with the various different kinds of stout, let’s jump into some of our picks for the best stout beers that you can get.
We’ll look through a variety of the categories we looked at above from a variety of brands to make sure that you get to look at a bit of everything that’s out there. After all, why limit yourself?
Imperial Stout Beer
Founders Brewing Co. merits two entries on our list, this being the first. Their imperial stout offering comes in at 10.5 percent ABV, quite high compared to the Guinness offering we discussed earlier in the article.
With an initial earthy tang followed by flavors of chocolate, aniseed, and molasses, this is a wonderful choice for those looking to try out an imperial stout for the first time.
Dragon Stout Beer
You might not expect a stout to come out of Jamaica, but the dragon stout holds its own with the best of them. With an ABV of 7.5 percent, this is definitely a stronger stout than some other offerings, so you’ll want to be careful to make sure you don’t overdo it.
The beer is fairly mild and has very little hoppy flavor to it, making it a great choice for those looking for something to take the edge off without too much bitterness. It is smooth and easy to drink, with a great mouthfeel.
Guinness Draught Stout Beer
Arguably the most iconic stout of them all, the Guinness draught is a classic for a reason. With a lower ABV than many mainstream beers, at 4.2 percent, you’ll be able to enjoy much more of its wonderful flavor without having to worry about getting too tipsy.
The addition of nitrogen to the brewing process creates a unique mouthfeel and a great drinking experience, and you don’t have to go far to find someone who knows and likes a Guinness pint.
Black Chocolate Stout Beer
Brooklyn Brewery’s black chocolate stout is another high ABV offering, at 10 percent, but the higher alcohol content comes with an unmistakable flavor of dark chocolate, along with notes of espresso.
This beer has the bonus draw that it is in fact brewed in Brooklyn, so if you’re a New York local (or just passing through) you can enjoy supporting an American-owned business.
Obsidian Stout Beer
Deschutes Brewery offers another great stout option, again with a rich chocolatey flavor with hints of espresso.
This one comes in at a lower ABV of 6.4 percent, just slightly over the average of 5 percent, so if you’re looking for the same flavor offered by the black chocolate beer with less of a kick this might be the beer for you.
With a surprisingly complex and rewarding taste that you might not expect from its aroma, this beer definitely has a lot to give.
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout Beer
Samuel Smith’s oatmeal stout comes in at 5 percent ABV, right on the average line, and promises just what an oatmeal stout should promise – a smooth and silky feel with a slight hint of sweetness from the oats themselves.
With a vegan certification, those with dietary restrictions can feel comfortable enjoying this beer. According to the brewer, it’s best served reasonably cool at around 55 Fahrenheit.
Beamish Irish Stout Beer
With notes of caramel, milk, and dark fruits accompanying this beer, it’s definitely a good choice for those looking for a complex flavor makeup.
While there are a variety of different tastes, they harmonize well and produce a consistent and overall surprisingly mellow beer, and its great mouthfeel combines well with the various notes.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout Beer
With the highest ABV of the lot at 12 percent, Kentucky Breakfast stout from Founders Brewing Co. is not one for the faint of heart.
However, it combines a large variety of the different genres of stout, with chocolate and coffee informing its main flavors, along with the silky texture of an oatmeal stout. Most surprisingly, this is a barrel-aged stout as well, giving it a truly unique flavor makeup.
Most Popular Stout Beer Brands
With so many choices out there, it can be hard to decide which stout beer to pick up. If none of our selections above have caught your fancy, try out anything from one of the following stout beer brands. These have proven to be highly popular among a wide variety of people from all over the world.
Yeti Imperial Stout
The Yeti Imperial sounds big, and it is, with a strong roasted malt flavor that eventually yields caramel and toffee ideas.
Combined with a variety of American hops, the stout has ideas of both a classic imperial stout and an American stout. With an ABV of 9.5 percent, it’s certainly a stronger option than many other beers and several other stouts.
Founders Brewing Co. KBS
This beer has already hit our best stout beers list, and it crops up again in our most popular.
Founders Brewing Co. really knows their stuff and this beer proves it over and over again. It’s on both our lists – if that’s not a sign to try it, we don’t know what is.
Murphy’s Irish Stout
Murphy’s Irish stout is certainly Irish, both in name and in nature. With a low ABV of 4 percent, this is a great choice if you want to be able to enjoy the flavor of a stout in large quantities without getting too tipsy.
With very little bitterness or hops, this returns to the classic ideas that surround a stout. The beer comes with notes of coffee and toffee, underneath the classic stout flavor.
AleSmith Speedway Stout
The AleSmith Speedway stout combines roasted and chocolate malts to produce a classic chocolate stout flavor.
With notes of fruit and toffee rounding out the beer’s makeup, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s all the stout has to throw at you – but the addition of coffee during brewing accentuates the chocolate notes and fully rounds out the beer.
At an ABV of 12 percent, this is a full-on beer both in terms of flavor and alcohol content, made easy to drink by a smooth texture.
Guinness Extra Stout
Very possibly the closest of our selection to the first stout ever brewed, the Guinness Extra is derived directly from the first brewing recipes used by Arthur Guinness.
A dark red color comes with subtle fruity notes and a balanced taste overall, along with the knowledge that you’re drinking a beer that’s as authentic as possible.
A 5.6 percent ABV puts it slightly above Guinness’s other stout offering that we’ve discussed here, but still well within the average range for a beer.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
The name of this one might be a bit of a mouthful, and you’ll find that the beer itself is similarly complex when you take a sip.
The mouthfeel is complex, rather than the silky smoothness of many of the others we’ve looked at here, so if you’re looking for a bit more of an adventure this might be for you.
With flavors of fudge, caramel, and vanilla among others introduced from the barrel-aging process, the beer is a great choice for the aficionado looking to explore a complex offering.
Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro
Infused with nitro goodness, Left Hand Milk provides an entertaining and novel stout. A hard pour gets the best out of this stout, with flavors of milk chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla, and coffee. An ABV of 6 percent leaves a relatively mild stout to enjoy, available year-round.
North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Bringing home a variety of rewards, Old Rasputin sticks true both to the taste and theme of the old Russian Imperial stouts of the 18th and 19th century.
With a 9 percent ABV, it’s stronger than some others but still within a manageable range for a stout. It has flavors of espresso and dark chocolate complimented by a strong hoppy aspect.
Benefits of Stout Beer
Beer isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of healthy food and drink – nor should it be. However, stout beers could be doing worse on the benefits front.
With a wide variety of pros to drinking stout rather than other beers, this is yet another reason to take a step into the world of stout and give something new a try.
Excellent to Pair with Food
The flavor of a stout has long been used to pair with foods. Oyster stouts, for example, come from the tradition of pairing pints of stout with oysters at the local pub or bar. Stouts go well with a variety of meals, including roasted or grilled meats, rich stews, or even chocolatey meals and desserts.
A Wide Range of Variants
As we’ve discussed above, stout beers have a huge variety of subgenres, meaning that there’s something for everyone to choose from.
Even if you’re not a fan of a classic stout, a breakfast or chocolate stout might catch your interest. And with innovation continuing through the present day, there’s no telling what you might be able to come across next.
Compared to lighter beers, stouts carry a significantly higher quantity of antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for your health, preventing the development of so-called “free radicals” which are agents in many diseases, including those of the heart and various cancers.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this cancels out any of the problems that a high intake of beer can cause, but in moderation, stouts might just be a bit better for you than your average lager.
Full of Iron and Vitamins
As a darker beer, stout carries more vitamins and more iron than its lighter compatriots. With some stouts containing all the B vitamins save B12, you’re doing yourself a favor by drinking a darker beer. Again, don’t go thinking that stouts are healthy, but they’re more beneficial than a standard beer.
Enhances Bone Health
Some stout beers also include calcium, an important mineral for bone health. When you’re a child, you need lots of calcium to help your bones grow effectively, and a deficit of calcium as an adult can lead to bone deficiency and even osteoporosis.
While you don’t want to be relying on stout as your sole source of calcium, having some extra reinforcement provided by your after-work tipple is never a bad thing.