What Is an American Stout Beer? (Questions Answered)

Note: in the current (2021) BJCP Style Guidelines, American Stout is categorized as Style 20B. The guidelines state: evolved from their English namesakes to be wholly transformed by American craft brewers. Generally, these styles are bigger, stronger, more roast-forward, and more hop-centric than their Anglo cousins. These styles are grouped together due to a similar shared history and flavor profile. Category 20 American Porter and Stouts.

Mention the word ‘stout’ to most people, and nine out of ten will probably think of Guinness, the well-known stout beer from the Emerald Isle. The tenth might say Beamish or Murphy’s, but it’s rare for somebody to name an American Stout.

Irish Stout, however, is only one of six types of beer listed as stouts in the Irish Beer category 15 and Dark British Beers category 16. Now, American Stout makes the seventh rendition of this beer style with its own classification as Style 20B.

Just like an American Porter Ale, with whom American Stouts share their category, they owe their origins to 19th-century England.

Originally an offshoot of the Porter style of beers, they were a stronger version, hence the name Stout Porters (Stout is an old English word meaning ‘strong’).

The difference between porters and stout came about in 1817 with the invention of the drum kiln, which gave the world black patent malt.

These darker black malts gave the beers a roasted taste without a burnt flavor and imparted less sweetness than those previously brewed with brown and other dark malts.

Arthur Guinness started using the new malt and began brewing a drier yet still stronger beer simply known as Stout.

The Birth of the American Stout Beer

a glass of dark Stout beer
Image from Stocksnap by Pixabay

American Stouts can be thought of as an American interpretation of Foreign Export Stouts. American breweries would have had this dark stout as the benchmark for their own style to come since it was imported at the turn of the 20th century.

Although stouts were brewed in the US pre-prohibition, there’s no record of any stouts by American brewers after 1919.

It wasn’t until the birth of the craft beer scene that America’s first microbrewery, New Albion in Sonoma, California, around 1978, first brewed a more widely available stout-style beer.

With basic ramshackle equipment and inspiration for unique brewing trends, Jack McAuliffe created pale ales, stouts, and Porters.

To each of these styles, New Albion brought the aggressive use of distinctive American hops like Cluster and the newly found Cascade hops. Other microbreweries and brew pubs soon followed suit and began producing stout beers but in a more American way.

The most notable was Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada’s first beer when he began brewing Sierra Nevada Stout. This beer is still produced today and is one of the best American versions of a stout on the market.

Although the New Albion stout doesn’t exist today (it closed in 1982), over the last 40 years, innovation by modern craft beer brewers has seen the emergence of an American style of stout with a broader style than many of the traditional stout categories.

Varied ingredients like chocolate, fruits, coffee grounds, roasted barley, molasses, licorice, and many other herbs and spices have all made their way into the brew.

What Makes a Stout American?

clear drinking glass with brown liquid
Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Like many other American beers that add ‘American’ to the front of their name, American Stouts tend to be bigger, bolder, and more complex beers.

True to the American style, these stouts showcase generous amounts of American variety hops. The Sierra Nevada Stout we mentioned earlier is also known as a West Coast Stout with a nod to the West Coast style of hoppy IPAs.

American stouts are probably one of the most identifiable creations of the American craft beer age as it’s about as dark as one of these beers can get, being almost jet-black in color.

Blending generous amounts of dark malts with those American hops provides a stout that has lots more to shout about than many Irish stout beers.

Just like many other styles of stout, an American Stout can be enjoyed all year round, but it’s often thought of as a winter beer with its warming characteristics from the roast malt flavor.

American Stouts are generally higher in alcohol content and range widely between sweet stout and drier versions. One thing most have in common, however, is that they have a strong roasted malt flavor, sometimes to the point of tasting like burnt coffee.

Hop character in this style can be very pronounced with the use of citrusy and fruity American hop varieties typical for the style.

To brew one, use bold American hops exclusively and a clean American-style yeast that is neutral in flavor and finishes dry. For a home-brew version, check out our American Stout recipe page.

A wholesome stout is a classic accompaniment to almost any food, but pairs well with bold hearty foods like game meats, in addition to soups and strong cheeses. American-style stouts also work well with a variety of after-dinner desserts.

American Stout Description

Vital Statistics

IBU35 -75
SRM30 - 40
OG1.050 - 1.075
FG1.010 - 1.022
ABV5% - 7%
  • Aroma: American Stouts have moderate to strong roasted malt aromas which often feature a roasted coffee or dark chocolate character. Burnt or charcoal aromas can be acceptable at low levels. A medium to low hop aroma is often present with a citrussy or resiny character from the use of American hops. Esters are optional but can be present up to medium intensity. Light alcohol-derived aromatics are also optional. No diacetyl should be present.
  • Appearance: As a dark beer, American stouts will usually be a jet black color, although some can also appear more dark brown in color. Opaque, the stout should have a large, persistent head that ranges from light tan to deep brown.
  • Flavor: Flavors typical of an American stout should be of a moderate to roasted malt character, often with a bittersweet chocolate quality or roasted coffee beans. There may be a note of slightly burnt coffee flavor, but this character should not be prominent if present. There should be low to medium residual sweetness, often with rich chocolate or caramel flavors. The hop bitterness should be medium to high and the hop flavor can be low to high, and generally reflects citrusy or resiny American varieties. Light esters may be present but are not required. Medium to dry finish, occasionally with a light burnt quality. Alcohol flavors can be present up to medium levels, but smooth.
  • Mouthfeel: American Stouts will have a medium to full body and can be somewhat creamy. They can have a bit of roast-derived astringency, but this character should not be excessive. The carbonation level should be moderate carbonation to high carbonation with a light to moderately strong alcohol warmth, but smooth and not excessively hot.
  • Comments: Breweries express individuality by varying the roasted malt profile, malt sweetness and flavor, and the amount of finishing hops used. It will generally have a bolder roasted malt flavor and hopping than other traditional stouts (except Imperial Stouts).
  • Ingredients: Common American base malts, roasted or flaked barley, and yeast. Varied use of dark and roasted malts, as well as caramel malts, dark chocolate malts, and coffee malts. Adjuncts or additives will often be used in low quantities to add complexity to the stout.
  • Commercial Versions: Rogue Shakespeare Stout, Deschutes Obsidian Stout, Sierra Nevada Stout, North Coast Old No. 38, Bar Harbor Cadillac Mountain Stout, Avery Out of Bounds Stout, Lost Coast 8 Ball Stout, Mad River Steelhead Extra Stout.

References: Information for this article was adapted from the 2021 BJCP Style Guidelines

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