Some Dry History
It’s International Stout Day, when most people think of stout, they think of Guinness. Of course, Guinness was not the first stout, not even the first Irish stout, but it staked out a new kind of stout, a drier, crisper tasting stout.
Two hundred years ago, there was little difference between the stout porters of England and Ireland. Both were made with slow roasted brown malts. They were expensive, but you couldn’t get the right level of roasted flavor and fermentability. That is until the 1820s when an Englishman invented a new way of roasting barley. This “patent” malt could be used in tiny quantities and give any beer a deep black color and the flavor of burnt coffee. English brewers weren’t impressed, but across the sea, Irish brewers started using patent malt and sugar rich pale malt to make darker beer for less money.
The combination Dublin water and black malt made for a very sharp, dry beer. Within a few short decades Guinness porter and stout were being exported back to England and further afield. Meanwhile, English brewers were emphasizing the sweetness of their stout. They started adding milk sugars and oatmeal to make it even sweeter. Because old timey doctors were dumb, these sweet stouts was sold as a health tonic for everyone from the elderly to nursing mothers.
Suddenly, it’s obvious why Irish stout remains and invalids’ stout died out. Guinness remains a cultural touchstone and the Irish Dry Stout is a recognized substyle that brewers all over the world try emulate.
Breckenridge recently sent us a box of their own Nitro Irish Stout. They add nitrogen to the can for silky smooth texture with a thick head of foam. Of course, Guinness was the first to use nitrogen, so it’s a key part of the style at this point. The nose has a subtle fruitiness, but on the tongue it’s all roasty goodness. It’s both thick and thin at the same time. The nitrogen bubbles give it a fluffy feel, but it doesn’t have a ton of weight. It’s incredibly light, only 4.7% alcohol, but that makes it all the more pleasant to drink. Breckenridge Irish Stout may not have the name recognition, but it is a tasty beer.