5 Dark Secrets for Brewing Great Stouts

October 22, 2018

5 Dark Secrets for Brewing Great Stouts

5 Dark Secrets for Brewing Great Stouts


Wondering how to level up your stout game?

As people get tired of sharp, biting IPAs and murky Hefeweizens, stouts are primed to start trending. Plus, the incoming cold weather makes this the perfect dark-beer season. If you're getting started with homebrewing or looking for the perfect winter beer to test your new skills out on, a stout is an excellent choice.

Milk stouts were named as one of last year's biggest beer trends. This year, bring all kinds of stouts into consideration with this guide to brewing the best. We've put together the top industry secrets for making the dark stouts of your dark dreams--read on to learn what it takes!

What is a Stout?

Stout beers are generally associated with having a dark color and a strong taste, although there are many different kinds of stouts that can offer a variety of flavors.

The term "stout" started being used in reference to dark beers in the late 17th century. Stouts were born from porters, another type of dark beer. However, stouts generally had a stronger taste and a fuller body. At first, these beers were called "stout porters," but eventually the name was shortened to "stout."

Over the years, brewers started to focus on this stout beer, and add different ingredients to create creative new kinds of stouts.

Types of Stouts

It wouldn't be possible to name every last type of stout here, but these are some of the most common ones that might inspire you as you design your own brews.

Oatmeal Stouts

Oats, as an ancient cultivated crop, have been used in stouts for centuries--well before the modern stout was invented. It's not clear why brewers first started adding oats to stouts--perhaps it was because the grain was readily available, or maybe it was to add a claim that stout beers could be healthy. Either way, today the oatmeal stout is one of the most popular variations on the style.

Chocolate Stouts

Chocolate stouts are another popular version since the sweet dark taste of a stout blends well with chocolate flavors. Many brewers also made stouts with other gourmand ingredients, like coffee.

Many brewers make their chocolate stouts using real chocolate, but some simply play up the brew's natural chocolatey flavors.

Milk Stouts

Milk stouts use milk sugars and lactose for a sweet, creamy taste and appearance. Milk stouts are lumped into the category of "sweet stouts," which can include many different varieties that focus on sugar for a pastry-like flavor. Some brewers have also found ways to make milk stouts with no lactose.

Russian Imperial Stouts

Stouts aren't generally stronger than other beers--unless you're talking about a Russian stout. This stout style was first brewed and exported by the British, and it found great favor in the Russian Imperial Court, hence the name.

These stouts contain more hops, which were necessary to help them survive the long journey of exportation. In addition to being bitter, these beers are high in alcohol, causing them to have many sweet notes, too.

The Stout-Brewing Secrets You Need

Ready to try brewing your favorite stout style--or one you haven't tried before? Here are the industry secrets that will help ensure your success.

1. Grind Lightly

Ever had a harsh-tasting stout that's no fun to drink? Chances are, the brew used a too-fine grind of dark malts, which impart a harsh flavor.

For a better stout, try a coarse-ground malt to give you just the right amount of flavor.

2. Add Complexity With Malts

That said, you can also use a wide variety of malts to add delicious complexity to your stout brews.

Malts with nutty or sweet characteristics tend to work especially well with this style. You'll also want to consider the color--the right malt can help your stout get a black, red, or toasty brown color that makes it even more appealing.

3. Have Fun With Flavors

Stouts are perfectly primed for all kinds of different additions. You can start with a simple, dry stout to get the hang of the brewing process. But once you've nailed it, it's time to have fun.

In addition to the styles listed above, such as milk and oatmeal, you can try many other additives. Try adding fruit, various grains like rye, or even chiles for a smokey, warm stout. You can even get creative with additives almost no one has thought of yet--what are the possibilities of a butternut squash stout?

4. Age Appropriately

The way you age your stout can also play a huge role in how the finished product comes out.

Conditioning in the bottle is a great way to age a stout for the perfect taste. The right kind of yeast will get your beer working through a secondary fermentation for the right finish.

You can also try barrel-aging your stout to add some of the flavors of your favorite liquors, like rum or whiskey, to the beer. Even if the barrels never held spirits, the wood itself still imparts flavor to whatever you put in it. Depending on the kind of wood you use, it can add flavors ranging from vanilla to smoky.

5. Avoid Too Many Hops

Unless you're going for a bold Russian stout, you won't want to add too many hops to this style. The roasted malts impart their own bitterness, and adding a lot of hops as well can often overpower the palate. If you're making a flavored stout, this can cause the flavors to get lost under the hoppy taste.

Ready to Go to the Dark Side?

Delving into the dark world of stout brewing is a great way to grow your homebrew repertoire. These beers are often associated with the cold season. However, they also offer great year-round possibilities. Who wouldn't love an adult ice cream float made with a delicious blueberry stout in the summer?

Not quite sure how to navigate the challenge of making a fruit-infused stout? We can help--check out this guide for more.