Does the word ‘Stout’ begin with a ‘G’?

Sampling a pint in a busy Chester ale house the other night I overheard a young Irish lady ask for a Guinness. There wasn’t any, but the bar person offered an alternative ‘stout’.

The conversation went something like ‘that’s like Guinness is it? ‘Yes’. So she took a pint – and then she had black current added! Her husband, also Irish, looked on in bemusement! Well mixing drinks is for another ramble, but this incident caused me to ponder how many younger drinkers recognise that the ubiquitous Irish black stuff is indeed stout.

The Dublin based mega brand has delivered some legendary advertising down the years – although some would be outlawed by today’s booze police – and rather claimed the stout style as its own. But ‘stout’ originated in London as a more pokey version of porter – ‘stout porter’ that eventually became simply stout. Porter was originally a dark brown brew derived from mixing pale, brown and old ales. It was the quaff of choice for the many thirsty street and river porters in early 18thcentury London, hence the sobriquet.

Such was the demand, porter (and stout porter) came to be brewed on an unprecedented commercial scale. The style developed. When the more economical pale malt replaced the old brown malt, less was needed. Brewers used molasses, liquorice, muscovado sugars and sometimes less savoury ingredients such as tobacco and even opium to colour the brew – but these were banned in 1816. Then advances in kilning allowed the creation of new brown or black malts to give porter and stout the character and colour we are familiar with today. Eventually, roasted un-malted barley also came in to use for Irish dry stout.

During the later 19th century English stout, with rich toasty, milky flavours, was much revered by the Russian Imperial Court and it became very fashionable in the Baltic.Like exported India Pale Ale (IPA), it was brewed strong – 8% abv and upwards – to withstand its own lengthy sea journey, so they say, or maybe those thirsty Ruskies just liked getting hoonered!

However, during World War I, to save energy, restrictions were placed on producing the essential dark malts. English stout and porter virtually disappeared. The market was quickly grabbed by the Irish – who were unaffected. Guinness had been dedicated to stout since the early 19thcentury, after founder Arthur identified the potential across the Irish Sea. Hence their dominance today.

In recent times there has been a fight back, with many new wave brewers digging out old recipes or creating new to make excellent brews for both keg and cask. The Swan has its own keg version; Young’s London Stout (see beer notes http://www.theswanatmarbury.co.uk).

There are many other fine examples, but if you see these two around you should pounce:Acorn Gorlovka Imperial Stout (6%abv); strong and full bodied, rich in roast malts and dark fruits with chocolate and coffee notes with a bitter spiciness and dry finish. Peerless Oatmeal Stout (5%abv); brewed in Birkenhead. In a tasting session top beer guru Roger Protz said: “There’s chocolate and coffee with molasses notes on the aroma and lovely expresso coffee notes in the mouth.”

So maybe the next time you fancy a pint of the black stuff you should have a look around for an alternative to the G brand. But whatever it is, please, please, don’t put blackcurrent in it.

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