International Stout Day: A Brief History of Stouts

Posted by Wine Gourmet on

Happy International Stout Day! This rich, strong brew has an even stronger history that dates back to the late 1700’s beginning with porters and royalty. I’m sure you’ve heard of Imperial Stout and maybe even wondered where it got the name “imperial”. We’re here to feed the curiosity.

Although it’s historical meaning is “proud” or “brave”, the word stout came to mean “strong” by the 14th century. “Stout” was later coined by the alcohol industry in the 1700’s to simply identify alcohols with a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) and rather bold flavor. They evolved from the classic porter style that originated in London in the early 1700’s. Porters were stronger than usual and had a longer shelf life than other styles because of the alcohol content. Eventually Stout Porters appeared on the scene, upping the anti on the classic style. These stronger beers made headway with the drinkers in the Balkans and Russia that preferred something on stronger side. Soon enough by the 1800’s porters phased their way out having to make room for the potent stouts.

Stouts are distinguishable by their deep brown or black color and their distinct flavor characters. Roasted grains are used in the brewing of this warm-fermented ale, giving it the roasted character that exudes flavors of dark chocolate and coffee. Styles of stouts range across the board with each having it’s own specific touch and Imperial Stout being the “king” of them all if history had a say.

  • Irish Stouts: While they are dark in color their style tends to air on the lighter side and they typically have an ABV of 4% or greater. (As made famous by Guinness)
  • Oatmeal Stouts: Adding oatmeal into the brewing process rounding in with a richer, silkier mouth feel and a full head makes oatmeal Stouts.
  • Milk Stouts: When lactose is added to the brewing process it cannot be fermented resulting in a smooth flavor and sweet body.
  • Imperial Stouts: These stouts have a rich full body and complex flavor that favors dried fruit, coffee, and dark chocolate.

By definition imperial means relating to an empire, and when it comes to brews… reserved for the crowns of the empire. The origin of the Imperial Stout takes us all the way back to the late 1700’s and the Russian Czarina, Catherine the Great. The strong and rich beers were first brewed in order to impress the Czarina and her imperial court’s that fancied something stronger than an Imperial Porter. These Russian Imperial Stouts rang in with a whopping 10% ABV! So it began the pursuit of brewing beers that fit into the Imperial Stout style. One after another brewers fell in line attempting to produce imperial stouts (and even make them stronger) for sale and especially for export to the Balkans and Russia. Once brewers began the move to larger production, the true Imperial Stout style became lost. Fast forward to the 1980’s when craft brewers in America began to use the term “Imperial” and “Stouts” when naming beers that were similar to the style. Unlike traditional style Stouts had a dry finish and a little hoppiness, American’s upped the ABV and added far more hops further evolving the style.

While we can thank the Americans for shaking things up and giving us a plethora of Imperial style ales and Stouts that range across the board, the true thanks lies in history. I guess it makes perfect sense that a Czarina from cold, snowy Russia would inspire the perfect winter beer style to transcended centuries. Now… BRING ON THE STOUTS!

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