American Stout has seen somewhat of a resurgence in popularity in recent years with craft beer drinkers. At last count, there were well over 100 examples of American Stout commercially here in the US, many on draft too in your local craft beer tap room.
First brewed in the late 1970s at the start of the craft beer revolution by independent microbreweries, stouts were quickly adopted by avid homebrewers with their love of all things English. For many homebrewers, a stout is one of their very first brews and they are in good company too.
Although better known for its Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada’s first brew and what kickstarted this outstanding craft beer brewery was stout.
Inspired by the New Albion Brewing Company’s commercially produced stout (now defunct), Sierra Nevada upped the hop content as we Americans love to do and produced the first West Coast Stout which would become one of the most popular American stouts with craft beer lovers and hop heads alike. Without American stout, who knows, we may not have seen the Sierra Nevada develop into the craft brewing giant that it is today.
I personally brewed my very first American stout as I was not overly impressed with the commercial examples that were out there in the 1980s, Sierra Nevada’s being the obvious exception. They could be harsh tasting, overly dry, and often too biting.
Fortunately, over the last 30 years or so, innovations in brewing techniques and the specialty grains employed, American stouts have come a long way. Recently tasting a Rogue Ales Shakespeare Stout, I was reminded why I fell in love with the style so much.
Later, we feature several beer recipes including a Rogue Shakespeare clone and both all-grain and partial extract versions of an American stout but first, let’s look at what you should be aiming for with your next home-brew American stout.
The Style of an American Stout
Just like many other American beer styles, American stout’s origins are deeply rooted in the European beer scene. Sharing many of its roots with American Porter beers, American stout is the American brewer’s answer to the rich, deeply satisfying stouts that have been coming out of Ireland and the UK since the mid-19th century.
Just like an Irish stout, a good example of an American stout should exhibit a big roasted malt aroma that is reminiscent of both coffee and dark or bittersweet chocolate. With the exception of an Imperial Russian Stout, most American stouts will have more roasted malt flavors and aromas, and can often have a more pronounced hop character.
The majority of the character that defines an American stout will come from the use of specialty malts with plenty of room for the more adventurous home brewer to experiment with different specialty grains for that rich malt flavor. Maybe just one of the reasons this is a great brew for many first-time homebrewers.
Other reasons stouts are a good choice for beginner homebrew enthusiasts are the dark coloring covering up any haziness that may occur and the bold, overpowering roasted malt flavors being good at hiding any off-flavors that may result in less-than-perfect brewing techniques. Practice makes perfect but can also make a very drinkable American stout.
An American stout is one of the most identifiable American craft beers as it’s definitely the darkest beer in color. The high level of roasty character you are aiming for should result in a stout which is very dark brown to almost jet-black in color with a large, persistent head ranging from a light tan to mocha color.
Aromas should be of a roasted coffee or dark chocolate variety with an American stout also featuring hop aromas from minimal to bold. Fruity esters should be low but are acceptable in this stout style. A light alcohol warming can also be present but the stout shouldn’t have any dactyl present.
The overall flavors of the beer should usually edge towards bitterness but with a low to medium malt sweetness. That sweetness can help the substantial bitterness which comes from the roasted grains and use of American-style hops such as Cascade pellet hops.
Flavors such as coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and dark chocolate will also be present from the aforementioned specialty malts used in the brew. The finished beer should be medium to dry although not as dry as an Irish Style Dry stout. With a recommended ABV of 5 % to 7%, the alcohol character should be restrained with a clean yet warming flavor acceptable in this style.
A full-bodied beer, American stouts should also have a creamy feel with head retention that lasts to the very bottom of the glass. You should be aiming for a medium-high to high carbonation level with light to strong alcoholic warmth. A slight roast grain astringency can also be present in this complex beer but shouldn’t be too overpowering.
Tips for Brewing Your Own American Stout
The Grain Bill
The grist for an American Stout usually uses some sort of American base malts including a pale ale malt, usually a domestic 2-row malt which gives the beer a richer background malt character. The base malt can make up about 70% of the malt bill.
Extract brewers should use a light color us-based malt extract along with dark malts for the color and malt roastiness.
Specialty malts will make up the rest of the bill with roasted malts like roasted barley to be considered first. Additional specialty grains like dark chocolate malt or patent black malt can also be used in dark beers like this for color. Darker crystal malts can also add caramel flavors and a residual sweetness common to this style.
Some midnight wheat malt or coffee malt can add interesting flavors to an American stout, but keep in mind specialty malts such as these should make up less than 10 – 20% of the overall grain bill. Caramel malts in 5 – 10% of the grain bill can also add the sweetness that American stouts possess.
Remember though, the lighter the color of caramel-type malts the sweeter they will tend to be. Additional specialty grains like rye, oats, flaked barley or malted barley, and western wheat malt can increase head retention and add some complexity and mouthfeel to this noticeable beer style. Gluten-intolerant beer drinkers should of course avoid adding wheat or rye.
Perhaps the second most important ingredient and what often defines an American Stout is the hops that are used. Sometimes American brewers will like to add those citrus and piney notes you only get with American hops. Notable hops commonly used in American stouts include Cascade, Centennial, or Chinook.
Dry hopping is also an option for your home-brewed American stout, although some hop aromas might clash with the roasted grain astringency which can be present in a dark stout. You should be aiming for a calculated bitterness that balances well with the level of roast character.
An American yeast strain that is clean and neutral with good levels of attenuation is probably the best for higher gravity beers like a Porter or American stout. White Labs California Ale V WLP051 and Wyeast American Ale 105 or Denny’s Favorite 1450 are all suitable choices. Dry yeasts could also be used such as Safale US-05 in these roasty, hops-forward beers.
With any of the above yeast strains, you don’t have to worry too much about leaving an overly sweet stout. For a more complex beer, you could consider a British or Irish ale yeast such as White Labs WLP004 Irish Stout, WLP002 English Ale, or a Wyeast 1968 London ESB.
From my homebrew recipes archives, I’ve pulled out a few of my favorite brews for American stout including one partial extract classic American stout, that Rogue Shakespeare clone I promised you earlier, and even an organic American stout recipe I came across online. Save the world and brew an American Stout.
Partial Extract Classic American Stout
Using a liquid malt extract along with specialty malts like black barley, dark chocolate malt, and crystal malt plus a generous helping of hops produces a classic American Stout with that hoppy bitterness we all love so much. With an IBU of 75, some would call this a black IPA but it has the malt character common to a stout.
- 8.51 lb Alexander’s light liquid malt extract 2 L ( or similar)
- 14.46 oz briefs black barley 500 L
- 10.93 oz Great western crystal malt
- 10.93 oz Briess dark chocolate malt
- 1.16 oz Horizon Pellet hops (60 mins)
- 0.84 oz Centennial hops (5 mins)
- White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American ale) yeast
|5 GALLONS (19 L)
- Mill or cursedly crack all the specialty malts and place them loosely in a grain bag. Avoid over-packing the grains in the bag too tightly.
- Steep the bag in roughly 1 gallon of water at approximately 170F (77ºC) for about 30 minutes.
- Lift the bag out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water, allowing the bags to drip into the kettle while you add the malt extract. Don’t squeeze the bag though for fear of it ripping.
- Add enough water to the steeping liquid and extract it to make a pre-boil volume of 5.9 gallons with a gravity of 1.061. Stir thoroughly to ensure the extract is fully dissolved and bring it to a boil.
- Boil for 60 minutes adding the bittering Horizon pellet hops as soon as you start the boil and add some Irish moss or other finings 15 minutes before the end of the boil. Five minutes before the end of the boiling stage. add the remaining Centennial hops.
- Chill the wort down to 67ºF (19ºC) and aerate the wort thoroughly. Pitch either 2.5 packets of yeast or 1 packet of yeast in a 3.1-liter starter ratio.
- Ferment at 67ºF (19ºC) until the yeast drops clear.
- Allow the lees of the yeast to settle and leave the brew to mature for another 2 days without pressure.
- Rack to a keg and force carbonate or you can rack to a bottling bucket, before adding priming sugars and bottle. You should target a carbonation level of about 2.5 volumes.
Rogue Ales Shakespeare Stout Clone
This all-grain recipe aims to clone one of my favorite American Stouts which reignited my passion for the style after many years of bland, bitter, and too-dry stouts. It uses cascade hop pellets for both the aroma and bittering for a medium dry finished stout with a decent ABV of 6.1 % but a higher bitterness than many of the 76 IBUs.
- 9.12 lb Great Western Domestic Pale Malt 2-Row
- 1.45 Lb Briess chocolate malt 350 L
- 1.45 lb Great Western Crystal malt 150 L
- 1.34 lb Great Western Flaked Oats 2 L
- 3.17 oz Breiss roasted barley (black barley) 500 L
- 2.25 oz cascade pellet hops (60 mins)
- 1.13 oz cascade pellet hops (15 mins)
- Wyeast 1764 (Rogue Pacman) yeast
|5 GALLONS (19 L)
- Mill the grains and dough in. Hold the mash at 148ºF (64ºC) until all the enzymes have been converted to sugars.
- Infuse your mash with near-boiling water while stirring or using a recirculating mash system to raise the temperature to mash out at 168ºF (76ºC).
- Sparge with water at 170ºF (77ºC) collecting the wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 6.5 gallons with a gravity of 1.047.
- The total boil time for this stout is 90 minutes adding the hops at the stages indicated in the ingredients above.
- Once the boil is finished, chill the wort to 60ºF (16ºC) and aerate before pitching the yeast. The correct pitch ratio for this Pacman yeast is two packets of liquid yeast or one packet of liquid yeast in a 2-liter starter.
- Pacman yeasts ferment well at cooler temperatures but you can allow it to warm a little as fermentation progresses to ensure complete attenuation.
- Wait until the yeast drops clear and allow the lees to settle before maturing the brew for another 2 days after fermentation is finished.
- Rack to keg or bottle and aim for a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.
An Organic Stout Recipe – Stout Trousers Hoppy American Stout
Designed to be an organic beer, organic homebrewing is no different from making regular homebrew. Organic fermentation is a craze that is sweeping across the nation (just look at the Kombucha popularity) and brewing organic beers or stout is no different, just start with fresh organic ingredients and the rest uses the science of homebrewing we all know so much.
The only big challenge you may have is tracking down the organic ingredients but worry not this American stout could also be brewed with non-organic substitutes.
- 11.5 lb great Western organic 2-row malt
- 0.75 lb Breiss organic roasted barley
- 8.8 oz Breiss organic chocolate malt
- 8.8 oz Breiss organic Caramel 60
- 3.2 oz Weyermann organic Carafa 2
- 0.75 oz NZ organic Pacific Gem Hops (60 mins)
- 1.5 oz organic Fuggles hops (15 mins)
- 1.5 oz organic NZ Cascade hops (10 mins)
- 1.0 oz organic NZ Cascade hops (5 mins)
- 1 tsp Irish moss (10 mins)
- Wyeast 1272 American Ale Yeast
|5 GALLONS (19 L)
- Mash all the grains at 154ºF (68ºC) mash temperature for 1 hour ensuring you don’t use soft water for this brew. Add calcium if you are using spring water or verse osmosis-treated water. You should acidify the strike water to a pH of 4.8 for a mash pH of 5.2.
- Sparge with water which has also been acidified to a pH of 4.8.
- Boil for 100 minutes, adding the hops and Irish moss at the stages indicated in the recipe above.
- When the boil is completed, chill to 64ºF (18ºC) before pitching a slurry from a 3-liter starter of the Wyeast 1272 yeast.
- Ferment at 64ºF (18ºC) for one day before slightly raising the fermentation temperature to 66ºF (19ºC). When the fermentation is 75% complete raise the temperature to 70ºF (21ºC) for additional weeks of fermentation.
- Crash to 40ºF (4ºC) for a day or two before bottling or kegging.