Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Raise a pint of Michigan Stout this winter!

Written by  Ben Darcie
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There's something different about sitting down with a stout. Maybe it's the pitch black that lingers to the drops in your empty glass, the wide range of browns that may appear in the head, or the general consistency of the style, even when brewed in it's varying forms.
The style separates itself quite loudly from the other major styles, bold in it's darkness and strength. It even manages to separate itself from it's father style, Porter, very well - exhibiting bolder dark tones without the malty support. It's surprising to most to discover that Stout is the newer style to the brewing world, considering it's so well known. In my experiences, if you stop into a random brewery, odds are you'll be more likely to find a Stout on tap than a Porter. The name itself conjures an immediate picture of a roasty, black pint waiting to be drank!

There are five main substyles of Stout. Over time, subtle differences in the design of regional stouts brought about the following substyles:

Classic: This style is the standard Stout. It requires a roasted barley character (can be low-level), and accepts slight sweetness and caramel, and slight acidity and sourness. It is expected to present medium to high bitterness.

(Sidenote: Even here, just looking at the Sub-style of Classic, we see that there is a range of acceptable flavors while still remaining within the style. These are the specific aspects of the design that will differentiate these sub-styles from eachother, but it's important to remember that, even within each substyle, there is room for interpretation and creative breathing room.)

Foreign: This style shares the same requirements as the Classic stout, but is expected to reside on the heavier end of the ranges. More sweetness, roast, and bitterness bring a larger, edgier presentation. Also known as an Export Stout.

Dry: One of my personal favorites, this style exhibits slightly more roast and is fermented bone dry. This style exhibits little to no sweetness and can have some acidity, providing a light and engaging pint that you can have a few of.

Sweet: Sweet stouts also require a roasted barley character (can be low-level), but must be sweet with only a mild roasted barley character. This style must exhibit a malt and caramel presence, with low bitterness. 

This is the first significant deviation for the substyles, offering a less-intense and sweeter version of Stout. Because of this lighter and sweeter design, this is the style most commonly chosen for flavor additions like chocolate and coffee. It even lends itself well to fruits like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries – even flavors like mint and anise are put on display wonderfully by this style. One of the most common styles of Sweet Stout is Oatmeal Stout.

Choosing this style also allows for some very dynamic flavor designs. Some brewers choose to use flavor additions to complete the overall presentation in areas where the design purposefully left them out; like a brewer allowing the coffee to present the roast in the profile instead of malt, like usual. 

Imperial: Imperial Stouts require a roasted barley character (may be low-level), and must relay a rich, complex and generally intense maltiness. Must have high levels of alcohol, exhibit some esters, and display medium to high bitterness.

This substyle is easily the most alcoholic in the family, but Imperial Stout is also one of the strongest styles in the world. It is in this substyle that the even bigger Russian Imperial Stout resides. 

As I said before, Porter was around first, becoming welcome relief for the workers of the Industrial Revolution in 1722. It took 150 years for another style to rise to prominence (Pale Ale), and somewhere inbetween, drinkers began calling stronger versions of Porter “Stout”, or “Porter Stout”. The first evidence of a strong porter being directly called “Stout” was as early as 1750. 

These “Porter Stouts” were actually a very dark brown at the time, and it wasn't until 1817 that a machine was developed that could properly kiln malts, bringing 'black malt' into the world.

In terms of commercialization of the term 'Stout', many people know that it is due greatly to the efforts of Guinness in Germany, and popularized the term in two ways. One, they actually chose to use the word 'Stout' to describe their beer, and two, Guinness had a destiny laden with serious regional (and international) recognition, becoming one of the first great modern breweries and (to date) the largest producer of Stout in the world.

At the time, Guinness had been using the standard strength designator, the great 'X', to show the public the strength of its product. They had three porters, an X, an XX, and an XXX, which was their Carribbean Export Stout. In 1820, the XX brand was renamed “Guinness Extra Stout Porter”. Eventually, the 'Porter' was dropped and the brand name has remained the same ever since.

In the farthest reaches of the style lies a behemoth, the great Russian Imperial Stout. This is one of the most extreme styles of beer in the world, with a technical abv of 8-12% (BJCP) and somewhere around 8-25%abv realistically. This is a style that cannot be caged, and the technical abv range is often overlooked.

It's a very intense experience, an extreme display of malt and hop alike, and also a great display of a brewer's finesse. Tackling those extreme flavors into a beautiful display of intricate balance is quite the feat, and for that reason, RIS remains one of my favorite styles – but a word of advice, share with a friend or two. Massive beers are always best shared with friends!

Between the styles held within Stout, the option of adding flavors, maturation and barrel aging, the options of Stout creation are infinite! Our Michigan Breweries embrace this idea fully, which keeps our shelves ever-rotating with new and different brew.

Because of the prevalence of Stout, I'll be focusing on the prime examples. While many stouts are available at your local brewery, I'll be focusing on brands that are available state wide on the shelves.

Bell's Brewing (Kalamazoo) makes some great stouts, notably Kalamazoo Stout, Expedition ImperialStout, and the highly sought after Black Note BA Imperial Stout. They also celebrate with an annual All-Stouts-Day. Also: Double Cream Stout, Java stout, Cherry Stout

Founders Brewing (GR) is also known for their excellent stouts, from their taproom-only Oatmeal Stout to their seasonal Imperial Stout and Breakfast Stout, as well as their highly desired KBS and CBS. Founders celebrates their dark side annually with their Black Party.

Darkhorse Brewing (Dexter) releases a fantastic series yearly, consisting of five specialty stout releases: One Oatmeal Stout, Too Cream Stout, Tres Blueberry Stout, Fore Smoked Stout, and Plead the Fifth Imperial Stout.

Short's Brewing has quite the interesting lineup of experimental stouts: Uncle Steve's Irish Stout, Mystery Stout (cocoa & molasses), Turtle Stout (caramel, milk chocolate & pecans), and S'mores Stout (graham cracker & milk chocolate, served with a toasted mushroom on top), but they don't stop there. There's still Cup A Joe Creme Stout (espresso milk stout) and PB&J Stout (Soft Parade & Peanut Oatmeal Stout), and those don't even include their endless efforts on tap at the pub in Bellaire!

There are a dizzying amount of Stouts to choose from, and these are just a few available around the state. I encourage to you explore the style, it's heartily rewarding!

Here are a few other Michigan Stouts for your consderation:

  • Greenbush Distorter, Apathy, Delusion
  • Oddside Ales Mayan Mocha Stout, Peanut Butter Cup Stout, Java Chip Mint Stout
  • Tri-City Giant Slayer Russian Imperial Stout
  • Saugatuck Neapolitan Milk Stout
  • Rochester Mills Milkshake Stout, Sacrilicious Stout
  • Atwater Cherry Stout, VJ Black
  • Griffin Claw Flying Buffalo Russian Imperial Stout, Got Rocks Imperial Stout
  • Witch's Hat Night Fury Imperial Stout, Witch Hunt Stout
  • Right Brain CEO Stout, Naughty Girl Stout
  • Brewery Vivant Plow Horse Imperial Stout
  • New Holland The Poet Oatmeal Stout, Night Tripper Imperial Stout, Dragon's Milk BA Imperial Stout
  • Arcadia Starboard Stout, Imperial Stout, Cocoa Loco
  • North Peak Dubious Stout
  • Kuhnhenn Imperial Stout, BA Russian Imperial Stout, Imperial Creme Brulee Java Stout
  • Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura
  • Detroit Beer Co. Steam Tunnel Stout, Detroit Imperial Stout, Milkshake Stout
  • Beards Brewery Arthur's Folly, Brimley Stout, Saddled Moose

The winter months are the perfect time to delve into the world of Stout. You'll find they're great for warming inside or out, pairing well with crunching snow and sizzling bonfires. Stouts also do very well with hearty winter foods, from pasties to steaks to stews and chili.

The diversity of Michigan Stouts is massive, and as you expand your Stout exploration to regional, national and international pours, you'll find the varying pints adventurous and exhillerating. The most beautiful thing about Stout is that, with all the different things you can do with it, at the end of the day, they're still a Stout.

Raise a pint of Michigan Stout this winter!

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie has been homebrewing since 2006 and is currently the Brewery Representative for Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI. He also provides public and private Beer Education and is a Beer Writer for BeerAdvocate, I'm a Beer Hound and three other Michigan publications. He is also the founder of Experience Beer WM and the 9wk Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class (est. 2010).