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Question: What is the distinction between the various types of Stout? How do I make a stout?

Answer: Six different varieties of stout make up Category 13 of the BJCP style guide. Two of these were added in the 2004 revision. Imperial stout was moved in from its previous home along with Barleywine. A new style, American Stout has now been officially recognized, though it has been around for a number of years.

All stouts share a base of dark-roasted malts. However, their strength, bitterness and sweetness vary greatly. All stouts are ales, and exhibit some esters. If any hop aroma is present, it is low relative to the roast malt aroma. The only exception to this is American Stout, where the hops should be balanced by the roasty aromas. The hop bitterness follows the gravity, with the stronger version having every bit as much as an India Pale Ale. However, because of the strong flavor of the roasted malts, the malt to bitterness impression is of an even balance. Because of the dark malt, all are black in color. Ideally, they should have a thick rich head, often aided by nitrogen additions to the CO2.

Dry Stout is the lowest-gravity version of stout. Draught versions are session beers, with a starting gravity as low as 1.036. As the name suggests, the finish is dry, and often rather sharp.

The second sub-style is sweet stout, also known as milk stout. Lactose, a non-fermentable sugar is often added to this style to control the sweetness. This is the least bitter type of stout, and lacks the sharpness that dry stout has.

Oatmeal stout comes next. The addition of oatmeal to the grist make the mouthfeel much fuller than dry stout, but with less sweetness than sweet stout.

Foreign export stout is a stronger version of dry stout. Because of the higher alcohol levels, it often has some higher fusel alcohol characteristics, moderate residual sweetness, and full body.

As mentioned above, American Stout is new to the guidelines. It follows the gravity guidelines of Foreign Export Stout, but also has a strong hop aroma.

At the top end of the scale is Imperial stout. This is an over-the-top beer in terms of original gravity and alcohol content. Mouthfeel and sweetness are high. This is a beer that ages well, and picks up some rounded sherry-like notes. This is definitely a sipping beer.

Stouts are a fairly easy style of beer to make, and are favorites of new brewers. Malt extract can be used to good effect, along with some steeped grains. Take about a half pound of roast barley, or a quarter pound of black patent and steep them in a few quarts of hot water for 20 minutes as your main batch of water is heating. Strain off the grains and pour the steepings in when you add the malt extract. In addition to the dark grains, add a pound of oatmeal for oatmeal stout, or add some crystal malts for foreign export stout or American stout. Add a bit of lactose for sweet stout. A bit of Chocolate malt fits well into just about all of the substyles too. Don't add too much, though, or people will confuse your stout with porter.

If you are going all-grain, mash the dark grains with pale malt. Add a bit of calcium carbonate to the mash water to keep the pH from getting too low. Mash at 150°F for dry stout, or 156°F for sweet, oatmeal or foreign or American.

For either extract or all-grain, keep the hop bitterness on the high side. Keep the late flavor and aroma additions on the low side, with the exception of Amerian. British hop varieties such as Kent Golding or Fuggles are traditional, but not critical.

British yeasts such as Wyeast London 1028 or British 1098 are typical. Ferment at 65 to 70°F. A secondary fermentation is usually not needed with dry stout, but is suggested for Foreign stout, and is mandatory for Imperial stout. Like other beer styles, the stronger stouts take longer to mature.

Generally, the carbonation level of stouts is low, so cut back a bit on the priming sugar at bottling time. You may wish to repitch fresh yeast when you bottle an Imperial stout. If you're kegging, keep the CO2 pressure low. Use the nitrogen mix if you happen have some around.

Vital Statistics for Stouts

Style Starting
Bitterness, IBU Color, SRM Hop Aroma
Dry Stout 1.036-1.050 1.007-1.011 30-45 35+ None-Low
Sweet Stout 1.042-1.056 1.010-1.023 25-40 35+ None-Low
Oatmeal Stout 1.048-1.065 1.010-1.018 25-40 35+ None-Low
Foreign Export 1.056-1.075 1.010-1.018 30-70 35+ None-Low
American Stout 1.050-1.075 1.010-1.022 35-75 35+ High
Imperial Stout 1.045-1.056 1.010-1.030+ 50-90 30-40 None-Low