When you mention a Stout to someone they will invariably reply with Guinness. As much as there is a place for Guinness it is a shame that people don't know that there is so much more to this style of beer. The variety of flavours from modern day stouts is very large and worth exploring.
It is widely accepted that the origin of the Stout style lies in the Porter. In the 1700s Porters were the most popular beer style among drinkers in the UK and as such large quantities were exported to Ireland. Due to the large popularity of Porters brewers started making brews with different strengths to accommodate a wider range of drinkers. The adjective 'stout' in the 1700s had the connotation of strong and as such a stout Porter meant a strong Porter and you could also find stout pale ale during this time for this very reason. Over time the Porter was lost from stout Porters and people ended up calling them just Stouts, subsequently Stouts became synonymous with dark beer.
Dry / Irish Stout
This is the most well know variety of stout among most people. Made largely popular due to Arthur Guinness and his St. James' Gate Brewery in Dublin this style is now largely known for the aforementioned brewer and business man. It is thick and creamy with a long lasting head and displays malty and bitter flavours. Over the last decade there has been a lot of experimentation with this variety through the addition of ingredients such as chocolate, coffee, hops and blackberries.
Holy Cowbell India Stout - Beavertown
Caribbean Chocolate Cake - Siren Craft Brew
Espresso Stout - Bad Seed Brewery
Outstanding Stout - Outstanding Beers
Milk / Cream Stout
This is a sweeter stout in comparison to the dry / Irish Stout sue to the addition of lactose which is derived from milk and gives it its name. Lactose can not be fermented by brewing yeast and as such remains in the beer throughout the production process. The extra sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness and malty flavours of the dry / Irish variation and is therefore a good starter style to try for anyone new to Stouts. Historically this variation was thought to be highly nutritious and was frequently given to nursing mothers with the aim of helping them keep their strength up.
Milkshake - Wiper & True
Milk Stout - Left Hand Brewing Co.
Milk Stout - Bristol Beer Factory
Stout and oysters are the best of friends. When Stouts were emerging in the 18th century, oysters were not seen as the in vogue food which they now are and were commonplace in public houses and taverns. Oysters were one of the original bar snacks! Oyster Stouts are known to be brewed with oysters used in the process. However they are just as well known for being a slightly milder Stout that is to be enjoyed with oysters at your leisure.
Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout - Flying Dog Brewery
Oyster Stout - Whistable Brewery
Not as sweet as the milk / cream Stouts but more sweet than the dry / Irish Stouts. This variation gets its name from the addition of oats to the grain bill. Historically as much as 30% oats was added to the grain bill but for modern oatmeal Stouts this is more likely to be 5-10%. The addition of the oats gives the beer a long lasting head and a silky mouthfeel. This is due to the proteins and lipids removed from the oats during the mash. Oatmeal Stouts are like milk / cream Stouts a great introduction to the world of Stouts for the first timer.
Hibernator Oatmeal Stout - Black Isle Brewing Co.
Lemon & Vanilla Oatmeal Stout - Northern Alchemy
Quadrant Oatmeal Stout - East London Brewing
Imperial / Russian Imperial Stout
I think of this as an ultra Stout. It has had the ABV turned up, typically greater than 9%, and has very intense and complex flavours with a good hit of alcohol flavour mixed in. It is thought that the origins of this style lie in the 18th century with Thrale's Brewery brewing a beer for the court of Catherine II of Russia. It is common to see and Imperial Stout that is blended or aged in barrels to remove the edge of the alcohol strong flavours.
Brett Imperial Russian Stout - Ramsgate Brewery
Comrade Bill Bartrams Egalitarian Anti-Imperialist Soviet Stout - Bartrams Brewery
Good King Henry Special Reserve - Old Chimneys Brewery
This is a contradiction in terms right? Or is it? Do you remember how the term stout was traditionally used? Yes that's right it was used to describe a strong beer. So this isn't a dark beer it is more of a strong golden ale where the bitterness and malty flavours come from roasting some of the ingredients before use. This style is particularly rare but there are some offerings out there.
White Stout - The Durham Brewery
Westwood Stout - Ilkley Brewery and BrewDog collaboration
Now you can see that there is so much more to Stouts than Guinness the next time you feel like one and are also feeling a bit more adventurous why not reach for one from the list above or another one which you find.