Build the Perfect Pint: Making Superlative Stout

What is stout? Stouts are ales, black in color and opaque. They typically have a burnt, coffee flavor that comes from the use of roasted malt, a specialty grain. Stouts are moderately hopped to complement the beer’s rich, malty character, although much of the bitterness comes from the specialty malt. There are three main styles of stout: dry, sweet and Imperial.

Whether you are a beginning, intermediate or advanced homebrewer, you can create a superlative stout at home. Here are 17 steps to the perfect pint

  1. Research ProjectDon’t let anyone convince you this is all about fun. You have to work hard at finding a stout you want to duplicate. Your mission: Find and drink all the stout you can. Good examples are Guinness, Murphy’s or Beamish (dry stout), Mackeson’s (sweet stout), Young’s (oatmeal stout) and Samuel Smith (oatmeal and Imperial stouts). A number of American microbreweries, including Sierra Nevada, also make good stouts.
  2. Hit the BooksImmerse yourself in anything and everything stout. All good homebrew books devote at least some space to various stout styles. For serious stout enthusiasts, “Stout” by Michael J. Lewis (Brewer’s Publications) is especially comprehensive. Also excellent are “Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion” (Running Press) and “The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing” by Charlie Papazian (Avon Books), for basic information and recipes.
  3. Step into my labStrive for authenticity in your recipe formulation. Design a beer that embodies all the characteristics of a good stout – a full-bodied, malty, roasty beer with a long-lasting, creamy head. Seek out the freshest, most authentic English grains (including Muntons or Pauls pale, roasted, black and crystal malts), malt extracts (Edme, Muntons or John Bull), English hops (such as Goldings, Fuggles and Northern Brewer) and yeast (Irish or English ale).

    Are you trying to create a Guinness clone? You’ll want to use slightly more roasted malts and Goldings hops. A favorite local brew? Ask your local brewer what he uses in his stout and ask for some house yeast.

    First choose your style, then plan your recipe accordingly. Typical original gravities are: dry stout, 1.035 to 1.050; sweet and oatmeal stouts, 1.035 to 1.066; and imperial stout, 1.075 to 1.095. Typically, specialty malts make up only a small percentage of a stout recipe. There’s a reason for that: Overuse of these grains can lead to fermentation problems and an unpleasant astringency in the finished product.

  4. 4. Don’t believe everything you hearMany people are surprised to learn that stouts, with the exception of Imperial stouts, are generally lower in alcohol than other ales. The alcohol by volume for a typical dry stout can be as low as 3 percent. Although stouts contain a number of specialty malts, these “extra” grains do little to boost the alcohol content, as they do not contribute fermentable sugars. The low carbonation and dry character of a Guinness, for example, makes it very drinkable session beer.

    Also, stout is no more difficult to brew than any other ale. In fact, darker beers are more forgiving in terms of hiding flaws than lighter beers. Haziness, for example, is clearly not a problem in a stout. Also, the strong flavors of these darker beers tend to mask some off-flavors.

  5. Hold Your WaterWhen stout breweries first sprang up in Dublin, they made good use of the local water, which was rich in calcium and magnesium bicarbonate. This hard water, like the water in Munich and Dortmund, is ideal for brewing darker beers. Hard water also improves hop utilization.

    Although extract brewers shouldn’t fret too much about the water they use, it’s easy to mimic the desired water composition by adding a small amount of gypsum to the brewing water. About 2 to 3 teaspoons should be sufficient for a 5-gallon batch.

  6. Hop to itYour hopping schedule should be in sync with the style you’ve decided to brew. Don’t be tempted to over-hop your stout. Stouts, with the exception of Imperial, are typically low in bitterness. The IBU range for dry stouts is 30 to 50; 20 to 40 for sweet stout; and 50 to 90 for Imperial. Stouts are not usually dry-hopped. Best bets: Classic English varieties such as Fuggles, Goldings and Northern Brewer.
  7. Go with the GrainExtract brewers should select a good English malt extract such as John Bull or Muntons. Dry or liquid malt may be used. Use a dark malt, or a combination of dark and amber if you are also using specialty grains. Beginners should seriously consider using a combination of specialty grains to enhance flavor and body. One recipe suggestion: 0.5 lb. roasted malt, 0.5 lb. crystal malt, 0.5 lb. flaked oats or barley, 0.25 lb. chocolate malt and 0.25 lb. black malt for a total of two pounds.

    Attention extract brewers: It’s always advisable to stir your brewpot as it comes up to a boil to avoid the extract sticking to the bottom and burning (especially if you have an inexpensive pot). Stirring the wort is even more important with the darker extracts because they have a tendency to stick more.

    All-grain brewers will use pale malt as their base, along with the recommended specialty grains or a variation. Don’t be tempted to overdo the dark malts, though. The result will be a harsh, astringent- tasting brew.

  8. Last but not yeastChoose an appropriate ale yeast. Irish ale yeast is a common choice for dry stouts, although English ale is also widely used. Both impart a crisp dryness, with some mild fruitiness. A liquid yeast is preferred; however, dry ale yeast will do.
  9. Mashing tipsWhether brewing an all-grain or partial-mash batch, water temperature should be in the 150° to 154° F range. Stouts are generally made from single-infusion mashes. This is a good workable temperature.
  10. Pot BoilerAs with any recipe, wort should be kept at a controlled, vigorous boil for at least an hour. This is important for several reasons including hop isomerization (or utilization) and color development, very important for a dark beer.

    Add bittering hops at the boil or soon after; aroma hops should be added at the end of the boil, or a few minutes before the end. Consider the use of Irish moss in the boil to improve foam stability.

  11. Fermentation FactsFermentation temperature should be around 68° F, slightly higher if desired for more prevalent fruity esters. Esters are typically low to medium in dry, sweet and oatmeal stouts, stronger in Imperial stouts. Fermentation should proceed on the same schedule as any other ale, with final gravities between 1.007 to 1.011 for a dry stout, 1.010 to 1.022 for a sweet stout, and 1.018 to 1.030 for an Imperial stout.
  12. To Keg or Not to KegThe ability to keg your own stout offers you a way to truly shine. Retire your carbon dioxide and instead have your canister filled with beer gas, a mix that’s 60 percent nitrogen and 40 percent CO2.

    Using nitrogen to dispense your stout adds a mellowness and balance to the beer and keeps the carbonation level low. Stout is at its best when poured through a specially designed stout faucet, but it’s worth a try even if you plan to dispense through a cobra head.

  13. Bottled UpNo keg? Not to worry. Prime and bottle your beer as usual. Allow two weeks minimum to condition and naturally carbonate your beer.
    With stout, you’re shooting for a low to moderate carbonation level. So if your beers tend to be overcarbonated, cut back on the amount of priming sugar you normally use.
  14. Bottoms Up!This beer deserves to be shown off in a pint glass. Not only is it historically associated with the English pub, but the shape allows the drinker to appreciate the aroma and bouquet. Serve stout at room temperature, not chilled.
  15. Mix and MatchIf your stout does turn out less than perfect (too roasty, too hoppy, under- or over-carbonated), serve it up with a lighter beer, such as Harp lager, and tell your guests you thought they’d enjoy a traditional black-and-tan – also referred to as half-and-half when Bass ale is used. Pour the lighter beer first, then pour the stout over the back of a spoon so it floats on top.
  16. Enjoy!Throw a party to showcase your stout. There should be no lack of St. Paddy’s revelers looking to quaff a pint. If they’re looking for green beer, they’re in the wrong place!
  17. Practice Makes PerfectYou have a year to think about and perfect your next batch of stout. Can you work in a trip to Dublin?

A Trio of Stouts: Dry, Sweet and Oatmeal

  1. Dry Stout
    (5 gallons, extract with grains)

    OG = 1.040 to 1.043 — FG = 1.011 to 1.014 — IBUs = 36


    • 4.7 lbs. dark liquid malt extract (Muntons, John Bull or Edme)
    • 0.5 lb. flaked barley
    • 0.5 lb. roasted malt
    • 0.25 lb. chocolate malt
    • 0.25 lb. black malt
    • 8.3 AAU Fuggles (bittering) (1.66 oz. of 5% alpha acid)
    • 2.5 AAU Fuggles (aroma) (0.5 oz. of 5% alpha acid)
    • 2 tsp. gypsum
    • 2/3 cup corn sugar for priming
    • Irish Ale Yeast
  2. Sweet Stout

    OG = 1.042 to 1.046 — FG = 1.011 to 1.014 — IBUs = 25


    • 5.75 lbs. dark liquid malt extract (Muntons, John Bull or Edme)
    • 0.5 lb. crystal malt
    • 0.25 lb. flaked barley
    • 0.25 lb. roasted malt
    • 0.25 lb. chocolate malt
    • 5.6 AAU Goldings (bittering) (1.25 oz. of 4.5% alpha acid)
    • 2 tsp. gypsum
    • 2/3 cup corn sugar for priming
    • English Ale Yeast
  3. Oatmeal Stout

    OG = 1.042 to 1.046 — FG = 1.011 to 1.014 — IBUs = 24


    • 5.5 lbs. dark liquid malt extract (Muntons, John Bull or Edme)
    • 0.5 lb. flaked oats
    • 0.5 lb. crystal malt
    • 0.25 lb. roasted malt
    • 0.25 lb. chocolate malt
    • 5.5 AAU Fuggles (bittering) (1.1 oz. of 5% alpha acid)
    • 2 tsp. gypsum2/3 cup corn sugar for priming
    • English or Irish Ale Yeast

Step-by-Step for Extract:

Add gypsum to 2.5 gal. of water and heat to 150° F. Steep grains for 15 min. Remove and rinse grains over brewpot with 1 cup of warm water. Discard. Add malt extract and bring to a boil. Add bittering hops and boil for 1 hour. Add aroma hops 5 min. before the end of the boil.
Transfer cooled wort to fermenter, add cold water to 5 gal. Pitch yeast at around 70° F. Shake fermenter vigorously to aerate. Ferment at 68° F for 8 days or until target gravity has been reached. Bottle using 2/3 cup priming sugar, or keg and force-carbonate to 30 psi. Condition for at least 2 weeks.

Partial mash option:

Mash 3 lbs. of pale malt with specialty grains in 2 gal. of water at 152° F for 1 hour. Sparge with 2 gallons of water at 170° F. Add 3 lbs. malt extract and proceed as above.

All-grain option:

Substitute an equal amount of pale malt for the malt extract, plus 1 lb. additional pale malt. Mash grains in 2.75 gallons of water for a single-infusion mash temperature of 152° F. Hold 1 hour.

Sparge with 170° F water to collect 5.5 gallons of wort. Proceed as above.

Issue: March 2001