Brewing Irish Dry Stout: Tips from the Pros

Don’t judge a beer by its color. Not all dark beers are heavy and high in alcohol. Dry stout (also known as Irish stout) is usually 4–5% ABV, has a light body and, as the name implies, finishes dry. Those characteristics don’t mean it lacks any flavor, though. Two pros who have been brewing some of the finest dry stouts for years share their secrets to brewing a world-class, easy drinking dry stout.

Brewer: Derek Smith, Moylan’s Brewery in Novato, CA

Dragoon’s Dry Irish Stout isn’t about reinventing the wheel. It sticks to the tried and true method and ingredients people have been using to make dry stout for a while. It comes in at 5.0% ABV with 30–35 IBUs. We have a slightly higher starting gravity than the guidelines at 1.054 and finishing gravity at 1.015.

We use Maris Otter as the base malt for this beer, which makes up 64% of the malt bill. We’ve tried it with American pale malt and a 50/50 blend of pale malt/Maris Otter, but to us, the best tasting version and the one we stick with is based around Maris Otter. We use a little pale crystal malt (5%) for a hint of caramel sweetness. We also use flaked barley (16%), roast barley (11%), black malt (2%), and chocolate malt (2%). The chocolate malt is a recent addition to the recipe, replacing some of the roast barley. I was looking to cut back on some of the acridness for a little bit softer coffee/cacao flavors. Hot steeping too much roast barley tends to extract some unpleasant “cigarette ashtray” flavors. It’s important to remember not every roast barley tastes the same. We use two different suppliers of roast barley, both from the UK.

We do a simple infusion mash between 150–152 °F (66–67 °C) for 45 minutes. We don’t find the need to overcomplicate the mashing regimens for this style of beer.

For hopping, we use Willamette at the start of boil for 15 IBUs, Perle at 20 minutes for 10 IBUs, and East Kent Golding contributes about 5 IBUs at the end of the boil before we whirlpool. We usually don’t add as much bittering hops (as some who brew the style), knowing that we will pick up some perceived bitterness from the roasted malts. Then we ferment at 66 °F (19 °C) with White Labs WLP001 (California Ale).

I think getting the water chemistry right is extremely important in this style of beer. We pre-boil our water to precipitate our chlorides and chloramines. Our water is fairly low in calcium so we build that up with calcium carbonate. The calcium carbonate also acts to raise the mash pH, as the roasted malt lowers the mash pH. We’re adding the equivalent of 30 g (~1 oz.) for a 5-gallon (19-L) batch.

We carbonate this beer to 2.4 volumes of CO2 and serve it on both nitrogen and CO2. A majority of what we sell both at the pub and through distribution channels are on nitrogen. The way we do this is we carbonate all of the beer to 2.2 volumes of CO2, and then split it into nitrogen and CO2 versions. We nitrogenate in the bright tank with pure nitrogen, and keg off quickly thereafter. After we’ve processed the amount of beer for nitrogen for draft, then we will carbonate the remaining beer to 2.4 volumes and bottle in 22 oz. bottles.

As a fun one-off beer, we work with Ritual Coffee in San Francisco to make “Morning Ritual” in which we cold infuse 2 lbs. per barrel (~5 oz. per 5 gallons/140 g per 19 L) of medium roast ground coffee beans.

Brewer: Alan Stokes,  Carlow Brewing Co. in Carlow, Ireland

O’Hara’s Irish Stout is a classic stout that imparts a strong roast flavor from the amount of roasted barley used. You also pick up a little bit of sweetness and caramel from the Caramalt, which is a bit sweeter than crystal malt but doesn’t impact the color of the stout, which although looks at first glance to be black is actually a dark ruby red. The malts combined with the hops add nice espresso flavor due to the generous amount of Fuggle and Styrian Golding hops. The ABV is 4.3%, which makes this a very sessionable beer.

We use locally grown and malted two-row ale malt, flaked barley, Cara-malt, and roast barley. Depending on how dry you like your stout you can adjust the amount of dark malts. I have used anywhere from 7–15% using roast barley, chocolate malt, and black malts. Each of these provide a different flavor from coffee espresso to licorice.

As water is the main ingredient in beer, it’s only natural that we put so much emphasis on its chemical makeup. On site here we have quite a high hardness in our incoming water, normally 300 ppm. This gives our beer a fuller, dryer flavor. The pH level of our sparge water comes in 6.5. When this is added to the mash it brings the wort down to a pH of about 5. In the kettle we add calcium chloride (CaCl2) and sodium chloride (NaCl).

We carbonate with CO2 in bottles, with beer gas in kegs, and on occasion we serve it on cask. Each of these taste different as the carbonation from CO2 is sharper and brings forward a fizzier taste from the bitterness supplied from the hops first and then you get the mouthfeel from a lot of the malts. With the nitrogen in kegs the flavor is smoother and a lot more subtle, which brings the malt flavor to the front and lets more of the aroma lift the hop profile more slowly. With cask, because you still have active yeast, it can add more body and because of the warmer serving temperature it is easier to pick up the different malts and hops.

Issue: September 2016