NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, the Category Stout has changed. For the most part, it has been renamed as Category 16 Dark British Beer which contains average to strong, bitter to sweet, modern British and Irish stouts that originated in England even if some are now more widely associated with Ireland. In this case, “British” means the broader British Isles not Great Britain.
A Stout was originally nothing more than a strong porter. At the time, the term was used to describe any strong version of a beer. You could get stout pale ales for example. It wasn't until the end of the 19th century that the word became synonymous with the beer as we know it today.
As far as a definition of a stout, or stout vs porter, read below for more information.
The Guinness brewery began making a "Stout Porter" in 1820. Around this same time was when the style began to diverge from the Porter style. More brown malt and hops were used to increase the strength.
Coincidentally, around the same time a device for making black patent and roast barley was invented and brewers began adding these malts to their Stout and Porter recipes.
Prior to this time, the earliest stout porters were probably brown. But with the use of more malt to get the higher strengths, the beers may have been a little darker than the standard porters of the time. As the use of roasted barley and black patent became widespread, the stout porters became darker and darker.
Early porters, and thus early stout porters, were highly hopped beers. This character survives in the style today. Stouts can be some of the most highly hopped beers of any style, with a BU:GU ratio of up to 0.90, according to Ray Daniels in his book Designing Great Beers.
Adulterations, or additions of various ingredients to the recipes of porters and stouts, were carried out early on in the beer's history. Some porter additions were actually poisonous in some cases, prompting the British government to pass their own purity laws.
Although stouts fared better as far as adulterations went, there were some strange things added to the beer. Take an oyster stout for example. Oysters were actually added to the beer, either the juice or the meat. Oyster Stouts are occasionally made today in some microbreweries and brewpubs.
These additions were probably used so the brewers could make claims about the beer's nutritional value. Nursing mothers were actually advised to drink 3 quarts (yes quarts) of porter and stout per day.
The same convention was used with lactose in a sweet stout and oatmeal in an oatmeal stout, to bolster the nutrition (or advertisement of its nutritional value) for nursing mothers and the hard working men and women of the day. These health claims persisted for quite a while.
Since the people of the time associated the color of the beer with it's strength, the use of roasted barley was quite popular and for the first time, brewers could make the beer truly black.
These new "black" beers were called stouts since the people assumed that they were stronger. About this time, Guinness began making three versions of their porter, an X, an XX and a stronger export version destined to be exported to the Caribbean.
About 1820, Guinness remained the XX porter as Guinness Extra Stout Porter. Eventually most brewers dropped the name Porter and these beers were simply called Stouts, thus the name Guinness Extra Stout.
Guinness further distanced his beer from the others by only using pale malt and black malt. Other brewers throughout England were still using a good portion of brown malt in their stouts.
The popularity of porters waned in Britain in the early 1900s and those that were brewed at the time were usually considered light stouts. Roasted barley was not used much as most brewers used black patent to provide the color needed for the style.
It wasn't until the first World War that the use of unmalted black malts began to be used to any extent. The practice continues today and roast barley is a common ingredient in all stouts.
Check out the links below to the individual styles for more information and brewing tips.
There are six sub-categories of stout listed in the BJCP style guidelines for 2008. These are:
References: Information for this page was adapted in part from Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, the Beersmith Home Brewing Beer Blog written by Brad Smith, the article entitled Stout in Wikipedia, and the BJCP Style Guidelines for 2008 and 2015.
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