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Stout: from Pub to Pantry

Next time you open a bottle of this hearty brew, save a splash for your cooking, too.

February/March 2018 Issue
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Made famous by Guinness, this bittersweet dark beauty of a beer is undergoing a renaissance as brewers around the globe craft inventive adaptations of this pub favorite. While these variations differ in their degree of sweetness and hoppy bite, they generally offer the flavors of toasty grains, coffee, and cocoa, making the brew an easy partner for rich foods such as stews, barbecue, fudge, and chocolate cake. Likewise, stout can be a pantry staple, too—an ingredient that imbues dishes with robust flavor and a boozy tang.

Stout evolved from porter, the dark brown, hoppy brew that was first produced in mid-1700s London (and still loved today). Decades later, beer makers began using roasted barley, and a darker, chocolaty, bitter brew came into being. Dubbed “stout porter,” this eventually became known as “stout.” Dublin’s Guinness Brewery, founded by Arthur Guinness in the 1750s, wasn’t the first Irish producer of stout, but it was (and is) the largest, creating a beer with the dry, pleasing bitterness that’s considered the iconic flavor profile.

Now, there are many types to try. White stouts achieve the classic taste without the addition of roasted malt, the ingredient responsible for stout’s signature dark color. American stouts tend to dial up the hops for a distinctive brightness. Oatmeal versions are fuller and smoother than traditional dry varieties. Even smoother are milk stouts, which gain creamy sweetness from lactose and occupy the milder end of the spectrum. On the opposite end, imperial stouts are the generously hopped heavyweights, delivering unrivaled complexity and a serious kick, due to alcohol in the 9- to 20-percent range.

Sipped on its own or with a meal, this brew has certainly stood the test of time. And using it as an ingredient offers cooks many more opportunities to celebrate the beer’s best features. You can use it as you might use wine, e.g., to deglaze a pan. Or add a generous pour to a pot of chili for a deliciously dark note. If you’re making a chocolate cake or sauce, the hints of mocha in stout will add complexity to the sweetness. And stout that was aged in oak bourbon barrels offers a rounded, almost vanillalike flavor that’s just right for macaroons or, even simpler, for ice-cream floats. The key to working stout into recipes is to taste widely before you cook with them so that you can find the intensity that works for you—be it bold or off the charts.

There’s an Oyster In My Stout

Drinking full-bodied stout while slurping a briny oyster is a tradition that dates back to the 18th century, when the bivalves were commonly served at pubs. Nineteenth-century brewers actually clarified their beer by pouring it over oyster shells. Later, the name oyster stout took on a more literal meaning when, in the late 1920s, some brewers began using real oysters in the mix, giving the beer an agreeable sharpness. With the advent of craft brewing, you can now find a range of oyster stouts, made with oysters harvested from local beds. Don’t expect a full-on oyster taste, though—the briny bite is very subtle.

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