08 Jan The Stories Behind the Stouts, Part Two – Export and American Stouts
by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap
note: Originally published 03/02/20, this is the next set of stouts to talk about.
In our first discussion of the stouts (linked here), we talked about how they originated with the porters, which traveled back and forth across the Irish Sea and ended up as “stout porters” and then just stouts. We also talked about how these stouts and porters in the UK then decreased in ABV because of government taxes and other costs. They became smaller, but had a chance to grow again as they got exported and when they came to America. Those stouts are our subject today.
Export Stout. After the small stout was born, with lower ABVs within Great Britain, the bigger stouts were for the foreign markets – that is to say, for export. They were tailored for different regions, each one just a bit different, and had distribution all over the world, much more widely than the IPA.
There were Russian stouts, London export stouts, and Irish export stouts. Even though Irish dry and the London stout were a bit different, their versions of export stouts were fairly similar. The Irish export stout is basically the Guinness Foreign Export, called the Double Extra, which is still hugely popular in the Caribbean. The export stout in general now occupies that spot between the smooth Irish Dry Stout and the very popular, high ABV Imperial stouts and their often overlapping cousins, the American Stouts. In modern day craft beer, most stouts are short on subtlety.
These center-of-the-continuum export stouts did/do have a bit more hop characteristic and alcohol to help them survive their journey to the part of world to which they were being exported (similar, if less brazenly, like the IPAs that were sent to India from Great Britain). Higher alcohol and hops made these more expensive beers to produce and were taxed more, but it was necessary for them to have a better chance at arriving at their destination in a drinkable condition.
However, in the name a bigger, bolder beer for the ever changing palates and insatiable desire for what’s next, the export stout is now something you won’t find on many beer boards in America. However, this is not to say that they don’t exist. In fact, there are parts of the world where they are made according to the older guidelines and places where they are still very popular – like Belgium, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa.
These more exotic locations spawned the creation of the tropical stout, an off-shoot of the export and influenced in size and flavor profile by the part of the world where it gained a foothold. In the 2015 revisions of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Guidelines, the tropical stout was even designated as its own judged group.
The porter was exported more than the IPA back in the day, and so was its cousin the stout. In the West Indies and parts of African, it particularly gained an audience. Slowly, the style started to take on characteristics of the places it was being shipped, and from the local brewers that popped up in those destinations. Indigenous grains (such as corn, sorghum, and wheat) took the place of some imported malts, and these affected the body and flavor profile. Local sugar sources were also used, again altering the final product and increasing gravity – because they could do so without increasing the cost by much.
Tropical stouts also took on the characteristic of using lager yeast, so more fruity esters might be detected. All together, this made for some very different beers, and many of them, based on their climate and population. Many took/take on the aspects of a milk stout without using any lactose, and having more fruit notes.
So what does a proto-typical export stout look and taste like? They are brown to black as night and opaque if black, will have a tan to brown head, and the collar should stick around for a good long time. They can have a coffee like aroma, some chocolate, and perhaps even a bit of burnt characteristic.
Hops don’t really enter in to the flavor profile to any great degree; it’s malt and caramel in front and roasty bitterness in back. As you travel around the world, the different versions will have varying amounts of sweetness, based on what region they are made in. For instance, the tropical stout is much sweeter than others. The roast can give it a bit of acidic bite. Export stouts are still fairly dry, lack sweetness and have a short finish apart from the roast. However, the sweetness of the malt does tame the bitterness, and there can be a bit of estery fruitiness, especially in the tropical stouts. The body is much larger than Irish dry stouts, but often a fair degree less than American stouts.
Indiana examples of Export or Tropical Stouts: Walter and I have only had two Indiana-made export stouts (according to the way they categorize them in UnTappd) – Trinity from Backstep Brewing in Crawfordsville and Cosmic Flow Chart from the old TwoDEEP Brewing. We’ve had one called Cap’n Barbossa from a homebrew club in Indy, Circle City Zymurgy. The rest have been from out of state or out of the country; in fact, four of the export stouts we have tried have been from Kentucky.
As for tropical stouts – our favorite has been the fantastic Dead Blow from Braxton Brewing in Covington, KY. Indiana City Brewing has made the Tasted Imperial Tropical Stout as a reward for Dave Pennington’s homebrew competition win, but it’s an imperial stout, the subject of the next article in this series. Birdboy Brewing in Fort Wayne made Down in Kokomo and Rhinegeist made Numenor last year as true tropical stouts, but many beers called tropical stouts are actually imperials or American stouts with pineapple, coconut or other “tropical” flavors. The take home point – more Indiana breweries need to make export and true tropical stouts.
American Stout. Notwithstanding my argument about the lack of American versions of export stouts, it’s still true that there are few styles of craft beer in more peril than the American style stout. In the ever quickening race to come up with something bigger, bolder, or weirder, the American stout is losing out to pastries, imperials, and adjuncts (barrel-aging, fruit, vanilla, coconut, and especially coffee). Go ahead, take a look at the beer boards of the next ten breweries you visit. How many offer a true American stout, as opposed to an imperial, milkshake, oatmeal, lactose, pastry, or other adjunct stout? Of those that are actually labeled American stouts, how many are over 7-7.5%, making them imperials in disguise?
In general, the American stout has a bit more roast, alcohol, and hop than the export stouts, and similarly, the same differences apply when comparing them to American robust porters. Both survived for years, being the big end of American craft beer, but then the adjuncts, imperials, and extreme beers co-opted the stout name, and any moderately roasty beer with dark color and good body became a stout, no matter what else you threw into it. If you ask for a stout now, you’re likely to get something with many more ingredients than a classic American stout.
But when they first appeared on the seen, American stouts were minor miracles that rose from the ashes of Prohibition. In fact, it was one of the first brews that some adventurous brewers of post “Dry America” started to brew. Then the cycle repeated itself as the craft movement began in the 1970s, with New Albion Brewing in California producing a nice stout as far back as 1978. Some sweetness of crystal or caramalt is married to the bittersweet chocolate, coffee, burnt sugar and other roast flavors in these stouts. Hops are present as well, in both the aroma and the flavor, and as with all styles, the varieties of hops used can influence the nose and tongue greatly, especially using the citrus and piney resin hops from the Pacific Northwest.
As we mentioned, the American stout, like most things American, has expanded the definition and now can use a broad variety of flavorings, including fruits, barrels, spirits, chocolates, as well as herbs and spices. However, in general comparison to the export stouts, Americans will be slightly lower in alcohol and higher in hops. Here are the characteristics of a classic American stout, as pronounced by Brewers Association and BJCP style guides.
American stouts are black in color, opaque in color density, about 5-7% ABV in strength (see what I mean about most American stouts actually being imperial stouts), and you should smell and taste the roast in any of its various forms, with less sweetness than other forms of stout. The hops will be present, and can vary in intensity from low-moderate to heavy in both aroma, flavor, and bittering. Typically, American resin hops are used, but any can be employed. This form of stout has just about the biggest hop presence, since imperial stouts tend multiply the malts more than the hops.
The yeasts used will be of the ale variety, and will produce fewer and less esters than the yeasts used for tropical stouts, or even those for export stouts. Finally, the body of an American stout is medium-high to high, and head should be creamy and persistent.
Indiana Examples of American Stouts: There are ample examples, but I’m going to stick with American stouts that are not adjunct laden, and are in the 5-7% ABV range – classic American stouts. Grease Monkey from Auburn Brewing in Auburn, Codex from Function Brewing in Bloomington, Not So Scary from Traders Brewing in Indy, Occupancy 49 from The Devil’s Trumpet in Merrillville, J.W.P. American Stout from Daredevil in Speedway, Midnight Fuel from The Tap Brewery in Bloomington, Ogre from The Guardian Brewing in Muncie, Battle ready from Carson’s Brewery in Evansville, and Widower’s Debauchery from Black Acre Brewing in Indy.
Next time we’ll talk about the imperial stouts – American, British, and Russian.