Stout is a specialist variety of ‘Porter’ named after the porters who worked on London’s docks, who favoured the drink over other ales – a dark beer made from dried malt, roasted unmalted barley, hops and soft water. It is characterised by a smooth consistency with a creamy head of approximately 1-2 centimetres.

History of Stout

‘Porter’ (consumed avidly by London dock ‘porters’) first appeared in England in the early 18th century with the introduction of hops from the Netherlands (see related article: ‘The History of Beer’). Porter became very popular in the UK and was linked closely to the advent of mass produced beers and the spread of the ‘ale house’. The term ‘stout’, meaning sturdy, thickset or strong, was applied to the strongest tasting porter beers, that were developed in the late 18th century. Although Porter beers, in general, lost favour as ‘pale ales’ (such as bitters) gained in popularity, stout has continued to be popular in Britain and throughout the world to the present day.

Varieties of Stout

There are several varieties of stout, varying widely in consistency and taste. The most common is ‘dry’ stout, also referred to as ‘Irish stout’, and is best known by the brand name ‘Guinness’, a name that has become synonymous with stout all over the world: other famous brands include Beamish and Murphy’s. Other forms of stout include ‘coffee’ and ‘chocolate’ stouts, so called because they are brewed using particular malts which invoke strong cocoa and coffee flavours. ‘Milk stout’ and ‘Oatmeal stout’ have a sweet taste due to the addition of (respectively) oats in the brewing process.

‘Russian Imperial Stout’ was specifically formulated by London breweries to send to the Tsar of Russia and is the strongest of all stouts at 9-12% vol. It is known for its particularly rich and fulsome flavour and is still made by a number of U.K. breweries.

‘Oyster stout’ is brewed with oysters, or oyster derivatives. This followed upon the early discovery that the dark bitter flavours of stout blend well with the salty flavour of oysters. Oysters are frequently enjoyed with stout as an ideal food/beer accompaniment (see related article: ‘Serving Beer with Food’).

Stout and Health

In the past, stout has been prescribed as a general cure-all from the cradle to the grave; as a bathing tonic for newly born babies, an aphrodisiac and a strengthening tonic. In our health and media conscious time it would be unwise to make an unqualified judgement as to the health effects of drinking stout. Guinness used to be marketed under the slogan ‘Guinness is Good for You’: It is felt these days that such a claim may be untenable in face of the fact that excessive alcohol consumption is clearly detrimental to good health (the slogan has been dropped in most of the world). However, in small quantities it is beyond question that stout, in general, can contribute to a feeling of well-being and alleviate stress – the very basis on which the famous Guinness advertising claim was originally made. Guinness is undoubtedly high in iron and is still given to blood donors in Ireland; in sensible quantities it may well be a healthy alternative to mass produced sugar laden lagers and ‘alco-pops’.

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