When Brown Stout was Stout

Stout first appeared on the British brewing scene towards the end of the Eighteenth Century. It was created by brewers in order that they could charge more for a beer that was already in production. Stout was nothing more than the strongest porter produced by a brewer. If you like, it was “premium porter.”

The term “stout” had been used in England to designate a strong beer for a hundred years or more before the Eighteenth Century. William Ellis, in “The London and Country Brewer,” famous for publishing the first porter recipe, also mentions a “Stout Beer” in 1742. My calculations suggest this beer, made from all brown malt, might have had an original gravity as high as 1.136!

But two things happened in the eighteenth century — the “invention” of porter, and the Industrial Revolution. To condense a long story, these events resulted in a rapid increase in size of the London Porter breweries. They went from being small operations run by one man with a few employees, to major companies run by skilled managers and staff. By the end of the century, some were turning out up to 200,000 barrels of beer annually. To do this they had to be efficient and quite highly mechanized and several London brewers had installed steam engines in the 1780s and 1790s.

They had learned quite a bit about brewing in the process of this growth. Use of the thermometer in brewing had become fairly widespread, but for a long time they lacked a method for determining the strength of their beer. This changed in 1784 when John Richardson published a book on the use of the hydrometer in brewing.

The introduction of this simple instrument was a major advance in brewing technology. Brewers now knew just what the strength of their beers was, so they knew which was their “best” porter, and which was the second-rate, or common porter. Armed with this new knowledge, some searched around for a new way to describe the stronger beer, and called it things like “stout porter,” “brown stout,” “brown stout porter” and even “Imperial Brown Stout.” Not too soon after came single, double and triple stout.

Secondly, up to that time porter brewers had relied solely on brown malt, which was cheaper than pale malt. With the hydrometer, they found out that brown malt gave a lower yield of fermentables than pale malt, and that it was actually more expensive in terms of cost per yield of extract. It was actually a double whammy, for malt was sold on a volume basis, and the weight of a quarter of brown malt was only around two-thirds that of a quarter of pale malt.

The obvious remedy to this problem was to use pale malt as the source of extract, and to rely on other malts to produce the popular porter flavor. At the time, however, there were fewer other malts available. So many brewers still stuck to only brown malt, while others used a proportion of pale with brown, or a mix of pale, brown and amber. Yet others were more unscrupulous, and resorted to adulteration to obtain the “true” porter flavor.

A partial solution to this difficulty, came in 1817 when Daniel Wheeler patented a roasting process to produce black malt (still sometimes known as patent malt today). Adding a small proportion of this to a pale malt mash would give the color and something of the flavor of brown malt porters. However, this did not mean the disappearance of brown malt, as most brewers continued to use at least a proportion of this in their stouts and porter right up to the end of the Nineteenth Century. In that sense, many stouts were still really the brewer’s strongest porter, rather than a truly separate style.

Indeed, the key to stout developing as a style on its own, was the elimination of brown malt in the stout grist in favor of a black malt and pale malt combination (with perhaps some amber malt as well). The black and pale only approach represented a significant taste difference in the product. That was because the use of brown malt gave a relatively high proportion of unfermentables, resulting in a lower attenuation by the yeast and a higher finishing gravity than in a normal wort made from only pale malt. This meant that porters and stouts had a full, sweetish flavor as compared to ales of a similar original gravity. In contrast, the black and pale combination would give a wort capable of higher attenuation, resulting in a beer with a drier flavor. In other words, it would be what we would call a dry stout today.

One of the earliest users of the black and pale combination for stout was, not surprisingly Guinness. Only a couple of years after Wheeler’s invention, a malt roasting house had been set up in Dublin, literally outside the walls of Guinness’ brewery. Apparently, the first brew of Guinness’ Extra Stout Porter was made in 1821. Ironically, the Irish brewers had almost been run out of business by the English porter brewers in the Eighteenth Century, but by the 1840’s Guinness was exporting significant amounts of stout and porter into England. It was of course to become the dominant brewer in the English stout market going into the Twentieth Century.

It is not clear when they first began to use black and pale malt only in their stout. However, G. Amsinck, writing in 1868, records just such a brew as “Dublin Stout,” in his “A Series of Fifty Brewings.“ Amsinck states that it was brewed in his brewery, for his instruction, by John Guinness Jr., so the recipe appears to be authentic. Amsinck’s Dublin Stout had an OG of 1.092, 77 IBU (calculated) and fermented down to 1.019. This finishing gravity was significantly lower than that for his treble stout, made from pale, brown and black malts, which started at 1.096 and finished at only 1.031. Interestingly, Amsinck also made a double stout (1.079–1.086), as well as a single stout (1.069–1.072), both again using pale, brown and black malts.

Of course, Guinness later began to use roasted barley instead. I do not know exactly when this occurred, but one writer, in 1889, states that “cheap black malts are frequently made from roasting barley and other cereals, but these cheap substitutes are nearly always disappointing and not unfrequently lead to disaster.” This tends to suggest that the use of roasted barley was probably not widespread among mainstream brewers at that time.

So that’s my story for the first hundred years or so of stout’s history. Later, of course, it diverged into a whole range of styles, including Irish dry stouts, sweet stouts,  oatmeal stouts and others.

Brown Stout by the numbers:

OG    1.070–1.078 (17.1–18.9 °P)
FG    1.022–1.026 (5.6–6.6 °P)
ABV    6.3–6.8 %
IBU    35–50
SRM    40+?

The SRM values for color in the “by the numbers” box are a guess, based on what we know of the color of modern stouts. No such measurements were made in those days. Similarly, we do not know the alpha-acid levels of the hops. These were probably much lower than for modern hops, especially as refrigerated storage was not then available. I have calculated them from actual hop usage, based on alpha-acid at 2%. These averages include figures given in 1820 by a Mr. Foster, a brewer at Meux in London!


Brown stout requires the use of  a considerable amount of brown malt, about 50:50 with pale malt. Go for Maris Otter and, of course, English brown malt. If you want to experiment, there are a number of other recipes that use a 1:1:1 mixture of pale, brown and amber malts. However, neither brown nor amber malts contain any enzymes, and there is likely insufficient enzymes from this amount of pale malt to get good conversion.

When it comes to making an extract version, we have to resort to some inauthentic trickery to come up with a broad approximation of the original. We are limited to a partial mash recipe, as there is no way to do it with extract only. The partial mash recipe is done with a 50:50 mix of brown and pale malts, plus a good proportion of very dark (140 °L) crystal malt, and the wort from this is mixed with a pale malt extract.


English hops are obviously as authentic as you can get. Goldings hops were around at this time, but it seems unlikely that they were used in stouts. Contemporary writings indicate the use of “coarse” or “earthy” hops and I think UK Fuggles are the way to go.


A good English ale yeast is the best choice and a Whitbread strain would be particularly appropriate. I used White Labs WLP005, and Wyeast 1098 would also work well. You should prepare a 2–3 quart (~2–3 L) starter wort.


1820 Brown Stout
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.070  FG = 1.022
IBU = 38  SRM = 40+  ABV = 6.3%


7 lb. 15 oz. (3.6 kg)  2-row pale malt (Maris Otter)
7 lb. 15 oz. (3.6 kg) brown malt
10 AAU Fuggles hops (90 mins)
(2.0 oz/57 g at 5% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1098 (Whitbread Ale) or White Labs
WLP005 (British Ale) yeast
½ cup dried malt extract (for priming)

Step by step

Use a single-step infusion mash at 150–152 °F (65.6–66.7 °C) for 1–1.5 hours. Sparge one hour, with water no hotter than 175 °F (80 °C), until run-off reaches SG 1.010–1.012. Boil 90 minutes, with hops added at the start. Strain, or siphon off from the hops, and adjust wort volume with cold water, and cool to about 70 °F (21 °C). Pitch with yeast starter, and allow to ferment. By 5–7 days, final gravity should have been reached; rack into a glass fermenter. One week later, rack again, prime with dried malt extract, and rack into keg or bottles. Mature the beer for 3–6 months for best results.

To ensure good fermentation, it is best to make a 2–3 quart (~2–3 L) starter of the original yeast culture, and to oxygenate the wort at pitching.

1820 Brown Stout
(5 gallons/19 L, partial mash)
OG = 1.070  FG = 1.020
IBU = 38  SRM = 40+  ABV = 6.6%


5 lb. 5 oz. (2.4 kg) pale dried malt extract
1 lb. 11 oz. (0.77 kg) 2-row pale ale malt
1 lb. 11 oz. (0.77 kg) brown malt
1 lb. 11 oz. (0.77 kg) crystal malt (140 °L)
10 AAU Fuggles hops (90 mins)
(2.0 oz/57 g at 5% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1098 (Whitbread Ale) or White Labs
WLP005 (British Ale) yeast
½ cup dried malt extract (for priming)

Step by Step

Place all the milled grains in a muslin bag, add to 2 gallons (7.6 L) of water at

165 °F (74 °C), and keep at 150–155 °F (66–68 °C) for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the bag, rinse with hot water, and combine this water with that from the partial mash. Add the malt extract, stirring well to ensure it is properly dissolved, then bring to a boil. Add hops and boil 90 minutes. Turn off heat, adjust wort volume with cold water, and cool to about 70 °F (21 °C). Pitch with 2–3 qt. (~2–3 L) yeast starter, oxygenate the wort if possible, and allow to ferment.

By 5–7 days, the final gravity should have been reached. At this point, rack into a glass fermenter. One to two weeks later, rack again, prime with dried malt extract or corn sugar, and rack into keg or bottles.  Condition for two to three months.

Issue: September 2006