Article

American Stout

I love the rich roastiness of a good American stout, but that was not always the case. Initially I was not impressed with the commercial examples that were supposedly in the American stout category. They were harsh, biting and overly dry. Luckily, I had a chance to drink a Rogue Shakespeare Stout before giving up on liking this style. Filled with dark chocolate, coffee and some citrusy hop notes, it is easy to see why Rogue Shakespeare Stout is the BJCP top example of the style. It is a great example of being bold, but remaining highly drinkable.

Like the Rogue stout, a good example of this style needs to have a big roasted malt aroma and flavor that is reminiscent of coffee and dark chocolate. American stout has more roasted malt flavors and aromas, almost bordering on burnt coffee in some examples, than all the other stout styles except Russian imperial. It is this high level of roasty character that also makes American stout appear anywhere from very dark brown to jet-black in color.

The overall balance of the beer is usually to the bitter, although there should also be a low to medium malt sweetness. That sweetness helps balance the substantial bitterness of the roasted grains and hops. The finish ranges from medium to dry and may even present a slight roast grain astringency. While this is a medium to full-bodied beer, it should not be overly heavy or cloying. Generally, like most American-style ales, this should have a clean fermentation profile, although light fruity esters are acceptable. Late hop character in this style varies from substantial hop character to relatively little. When present, the hop character is often of the citrusy or resiny American type.

The current BJCP style guide lists the ABV at 5 to 7%, but more and more you might see beers that many consider American stouts pushing past this 7% limit. Regardless, if you are brewing a beer in the upper range for alcohol, keep the alcohol character restrained. It should be clean and even though warming character is acceptable, it is better if it never gets too strong. You are not making a great example of the style if it has a hot alcohol character.

You have some flexibility in choosing base malt for American stout. My preference for almost all “American-style” beers is to use domestic two-row, which gives the beer a clean, subtle, background-malt character common to many fine American craft beers. For American stout you could also use domestic pale ale malt which adds a slightly richer background malt character. Again, this is the type of malt character found in many fine Us-based craft brews. British pale ale malt or Pilsner malt has too much grainy and biscuit character for this style. Extract brewers should use a light color US-based malt extract. All-grain brewers can use a single infusion mash and a low enough mash temperature so that the resulting beer does not end up too viscous. A temperature range of 148 to 154 °F (64 to 68 °C) works well. Use a lower mash temperature when using lower attenuating yeasts or high starting gravities and use a higher temperature when using the higher attenuating yeasts or lower starting gravity beers.

The majority of the character that defines American stout comes from specialty malts and there is plenty of room for experimenting with specialty grains and rich malt flavors. Every American stout needs roasted malt notes and many examples include caramel malt flavors. Experimenting with the amounts and colors of crystal and roasted malts is a great way to change the character of your beer.

The roast, chocolate and coffee character of the style comes from the use of highly kilned grain. Roasted barley, black malt and chocolate malt are most common. Keep in mind that highly kilned malts vary considerably from maltster to maltster, varying 100 °L or more for a similar named malt or roasted grain. Using highly roasted grain for 10% of the grist is about right for most recipes, but it can range from 7 to 15%. Keep in mind that beers at the higher end of this range can be acrid depending on the blend of roasted grain. A 50:50 mix of highly kilned and lighter kilned grain, like roast barley and chocolate malt, strikes a nice balance of sharper roasted notes and less burnt coffee/chocolate notes. However, some commercial versions use mostly chocolate malt while others use almost all black malt. It really depends on the other balancing factors, which can either emphasize the acrid sharpness or mellow it out.

Crystal malts add caramel flavors and residual sweetness, which helps balance the bitterness of the roast grains and hops. For caramel flavors, I like a mid-color crystal for this style, but the type of crystal malt you use can range dramatically. I would not use lower than 40 °L crystal, but you can go higher. The quantity and the color of crystal malt is a key part of the balancing act. The lower the color of the crystal malt the sweeter it often seems. Darker crystal malts (80 to 150 °L) add caramelized, raisin-plum notes, but do not seem as sweet. You want to try to balance the sweetness of the crystal malt, the residual sweetness from unfermented sugars, the sharp, highly roasted grains, and the hop bittering to achieve a balanced, drinkable finish. In general, your crystal malt amounts are going to range from 5 to 10% of the total grist, though exceptions are possible.

If you are looking for more complexity, mouthfeel or increased head retention, it is possible to add other malts as well. Oats, wheat malt, Munich malt and more are common additions. Just use restraint so the beer does not become saturated with unfermentable dextrins or cloying flavors. Target between 0 and 5% for these additional specialty grains.

Hop flavor and aroma varies from minimal to bold. Typical hop additions for this style are American varieties, but you have plenty of leeway when making your hop choices. Almost anything is fair game as long as you do not try to build a big German noble hop character or something along those lines. It is the overall impression that matters. I like using citrusy or piney American variety hops such as Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Amarillo for flavor and aroma. You can bitter with almost any hop as well, but clean, neutral hops are most common. In any interpretation, late hop additions are acceptable, but you need to have some idea of how any citrusy, acidic notes from the hops might play alongside the roast character.

To cut back on the amount of hop material at the end of the boil and subsequent wort loss, I prefer to use high alpha hops for the bulk of the bittering. While all American stouts should have a medium to high bitterness, the balance of bittering versus malt sweetness can range from balanced to firmly bitter. The calculated bitterness to starting gravity ratio (IBU divided by OG) can range anywhere from 0.7 to 1.5, but I like to target in the range of 1.0 to 1.3.

Fermentation should result in a well-attenuated, low ester beer. If you prefer a cleaner, less fruity, more American ale version, ferment with one of the clean American-type strains, such as White Labs WLP001 California Ale or Wyeast 1056 American Ale. You will not have to worry too much about leaving an overly sweet beer with these yeasts either, as they tend to attenuate well even in big beers and at a range of temperatures. Other good choices along these lines are White Labs WLP051 California V Ale Yeast and Wyeast 1272 American Ale II, 1450 Denny’s Favorite 50 or 1764 Rogue Pacman. If you want a more complex beer, you can consider a British or Irish ale yeast, such as  White Labs WLP004 Irish Stout or WLP002 English Ale and Wyeast 1968 London ESB or 1084 Irish Ale Yeast.

Regardless of the yeast, you want good attenuation and a relatively clean profile so make certain you oxygenate the wort and pitch an appropriate amount of clean, healthy yeast. Most of the fermentations should be around the 65 to 70 °F (18 to 21 °C) range depending on the yeast strain and recipe. Try to pick a temperature and stick with it, holding the temperature steady throughout fermentation. Holding the temperature steady is important to getting a proper level of attenuation and avoiding off-flavors, especially if you are making a bigger beer. Large temperature swings can result in the yeast flocculating early or producing solventy and/or overly estery beers. If you wish, you can raise the temperature a few degrees near the end of fermentation to help the yeast clean up some of the intermediate compounds produced during fermentation, but with an appropriate pitch and proper temperature control that shouldn’t be necessary.

One thing about beers with a high level of roast character is that fresh out of the fermenter they can have an acrid, biting, sharp character. If you experience that in your beer, a little time can let some very dusty roast malt particles settle out and can help lessen that character. Time also affects the balance and intensity of other flavors, and can mellow some of the harsher aspects, so sometimes letting the beer sit for a few weeks before drinking is a wise move.

Recipes

American Stout
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.072 (17.5 °P)
FG = 1.017 (4.4 °P)
IBU = 73  SRM = 48  ABV = 7.2%

Ingredients
13.47 lb. (6.11 kg) Great Western domestic pale malt 2 °L (or similar)
14.46 oz. (410 g) Briess black barley 500 °L (or similar)
10.93 oz. (310 g) Great Western crystal malt 40 °L (or similar)
10.93 oz. (310 g) Briess dark chocolate malt 420 °L (or similar)
15 AAU Horizon pellet hops (60 min.)
(1.16 oz./33 g of 13% alpha acids)
7.6 AAU Centennial pellet hops (5 min.)
(0.84 oz./24 g of 9% alpha acids)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Step by step
Mill the grains and dough-in targeting a mash thickness that will allow your system to achieve the necessary pre-boil volume and gravity. Hold the mash at 154 °F (68 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring, or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). Sparge with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 6.5 gallons (25 L) and the gravity is 1.056 (13.7 °P).

The total boil time is 90 minutes. Add the bittering hops with 60 minutes remaining in the boil. Add the remaining hop addition at 5 minutes. Chill the wort to 67 °F (19 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 2.5 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 3.1-liter starter. Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C) until the yeast drops clear. Allow the lees to settle and the brew to mature without pressure for another two days after fermentation appears finished. Rack to a keg and force carbonate or rack to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar, and bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.

American Stout
(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.072 (17.5 °P)
FG = 1.017 (4.4 °P)
IBU = 73  SRM = 48  ABV = 7.2%

Ingredients
8.51 lb. (3.86 kg) Alexander’s light liquid malt extract 2 °L (or similar)
14.46 oz. (410 g) Briess black barley 500 °L (or similar)
10.93 oz. (310 g) Great Western crystal malt 40 °L (or similar)
10.93 oz. (310 g) Briess dark chocolate malt 420 °L (or similar)
15 AAU Horizon pellet hops (60 min.)
(1.16 oz./33 g of 13% alpha acids)
7.6 AAU Centennial hops (5 min.)
(0.84 oz./24 g of 9% alpha acids)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Step by step
Mill or coarsely crack the specialty malt and place loosely in a grain bag. Avoid packing the grains too tightly in the bag. Steep the bag in about 1 gallon (~4 liters) of water at roughly 170 °F (77 °C) for about 30 minutes. Lift the grain bag out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water. Allow the bags to drip into the kettle while you add the malt extract. Do not squeeze the bags. Add enough water to the steeping liquor and malt extract to make a pre-boil volume of 5.9 gallons (22.3 L) and a gravity of 1.061 (15 °P). Stir thoroughly to help dissolve the extract and bring to a boil.

The total wort boil time is 60 minutes. Add the bittering hops as soon as the wort begins to boil. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings with 15 minutes left in the boil. Add the remaining hop addition at 5 minutes. Chill the wort to 67 °F (19 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 2.5 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 3.1-liter starter. Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C) until the yeast drops clear. Follow the remaining carbonation and packaging instructions for the all-grain recipe.

Rogue Shakespeare Stout clone
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.061 (15 °P)
FG = 1.015 (3.8 °P)
IBU = 76  SRM = 48  ABV = 6.1%

Ingredients
9.12 lb. (4.14 kg) Great Western domestic pale malt 2 °L (or similar)
1.45 lb. (660 g) Briess chocolate malt 350 °L (or similar)
1.45 lb. (660 g) Great Western crystal malt 150 °L (or similar)
1.34 lb. (610 g) Great Western flaked oats 2 °L (or similar)
3.17 oz. (90 g) Briess roasted barley (black barley) 500 °L (or similar)
14.4 AAU Cascade pellet hops (60 min.)
(2.25 oz./64 g of 6.4% alpha acids)
7.2 AAU Cascade pellet hops (15 min.)
(1.13 oz./32 g of 6.4% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1764 (Rogue Pacman) yeast

Step by step
Mill the grains and dough-in. Hold the mash at 148 °F (64 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). Sparge with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 6.5 gallons (25 L) and the gravity is 1.047 (11.7 °P).

The total wort boil time is 90 minutes. Add the hops according to the ingredients list. Chill the wort to 60 °F (16 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is two packages of liquid yeast or one package of liquid yeast in a 2-liter starter.

Pacman ferments well at cold temperatures, but you can let it warm a little as fermentation progresses to ensure complete attenuation. Pitch at 60 °F (16 °C) and ferment until the yeast drops clear. Allow the lees to settle and the brew to mature without pressure for another two days after fermentation appears finished. Rack to a keg or bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout Clone
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.067 (16.4 °P)
FG = 1.019 (4.8 °P)
IBU = 73  SRM = 50  ABV = 6.4%

Ingredients
10.69 lb. (4.85 kg) Great Western domestic pale malt 2 °L (or similar)
1.28 lb. (580 g) Baird black malt 530 °L (or similar)
0.99 lb. (450 g) Great Western crystal malt 80 °L (or similar)
9.52 oz. (270 g) Briess Carapils 2 °L (or similar)
9.52 oz. (270 g) Great Western Munich malt 10 °L (or similar)
9.52 oz. (270 g) Great Western wheat malt 2 °L (or similar)
1.41 oz. (40 g) Baird roasted barley 575 °L (or similar)
11.4 AAU Galena pellet hops (0.88 oz./25 of 13% alpha acids) (90 min.)
4.4 AAU Willamette pellet hops (0.88 oz./25 g of 5% alpha acids) (30 min.)
7.92 AAU Northern Brewer pellet hops (0.88 oz./25 g of  9% alpha acids) (5 min.)
White Labs WLP002 English Ale or Wyeast 1968 London ESB yeast

Step by Step
Mill the grains and dough-in targeting a mash thickness that will enable your system to achieve the necessary pre-boil volume and gravity. Hold the mash at 150 °F (66 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). Sparge slowly with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 6.5 gallons (25 L) and the gravity is 1.052 (12.9 °P).

The total wort boil time is 90 minutes. Add the bittering hops as soon as the wort starts boiling. With 30 minutes remaining in the boil, add the second hop additon. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings with15 minutes left in the boil. Add the remaining hop addition at 5 minutes. Chill the wort to 65 °F (18 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 16 grams of properly rehydrated dry yeast, 2.3 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 2.7-liter starter.

Ferment at 65 °F (18 °C) until the yeast drops clear. Allow the lees to settle and the brew to mature without pressure for another two days after fermentation appears finished. Rack to a keg and force carbonate or rack to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar, and bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout Clone
(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.067 (16.4 °P)
FG = 1.019 (4.8 °P)
IBU = 73  SRM = 50  ABV = 6.4%

Ingredients
6.76 lb. (3.07 kg) Alexander’s light liquid malt extract (LME) 2 °L
1.28 lb. (580 g) Baird black malt 530 °L (or similar)
0.99 lb. (450 g) Great Western crystal malt 80 °L (or similar)
9.52 oz. (270 g) Briess Carapils 2 °L (or similar)
9.52 oz. (270 g) Great Western Munich malt 10 °L (or similar)
9.52 oz. (270 g) Great Western wheat malt 2 °L (or similar)
1.41 oz. (40 g) Baird roasted barley 575 °L (or similar)
11.4 AAU Galena pellet hops (0.88 oz./25 of 13% alpha acids) (90 min.)
4.4 AAU Willamette pellet hops (0.88 oz./25 g of 5% alpha acids) (30 min.)
7.92 AAU Northern Brewer pellet hops (0.88 oz./25 g of  9% alpha acids) (5 min.)
White Labs WLP002 English Ale or Wyeast 1968 London ESB yeast

Step by step
I use an ultra-light extract made by Alexander’s (California Concentrate Company), but any fresh, high quality light color extract will work well. Always choose the freshest extract that fits the beer style instead of focusing on the brand name. If you cannot get fresh liquid malt extract, it is better to use an appropriate amount of dried malt extract (DME) instead.

Mill or coarsely crack the specialty malt and place loosely in a grain bag. Avoid packing the grains too tightly in the bag, using more bags if needed. Steep the bag in about 1.5 gallon (~6 liters) of water at roughly 170 °F (77 °C) for about 30 minutes. Lift the grain bag out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water. Allow the bags to drip into the kettle for a few minutes while you add the malt extract. Do not squeeze the bags. Add enough water to the steeping liquor and malt extract to make a pre-boil volume of 6.5 gallons (25 L) and the gravity is 1.052 (12.9 °P). Stir thoroughly to help dissolve the extract and bring to a boil.

The total wort boil time is 90 minutes. Add the bittering hops as soon as the wort starts boiling. With 30 minutes remaining in the boil, add the second hop additon. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings with15 minutes left in the boil. Add the remaining hop addition at 5 minutes. Chill the wort to 65 °F (18 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 16 grams of properly rehydrated dry yeast, 2.3 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 2.7-liter starter.

Ferment at 65 °F (18 °C) until the yeast drops clear. Allow the lees to settle and the brew to mature without pressure for another two days after fermentation appears finished. Rack to a keg and force carbonate or rack to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar, and bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.