Is stout a lager or an ale?

Is a Stout an Ale or Lager? Unveiling Stout’s Secrets

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I am a lover of Guinness. Being part Irish, it’s no surprise. But is a stout an ale or lager? Stouts are a type of ale with a rich, dark, and roasty flavour. Ales are different from lagers because they’re fermented at warmer temperatures and usually at the top of the fermentation vessel. This process makes ales have a more complex and delicious taste, which is why stouts, in my mind, reign supreme. Read on if you’re thirsty to learn more about the punch-up between ale vs. lager or to enrich your knowledge on all things stout-y!

Understanding the Basics: Ale vs. Lager

Before considering whether a stout is an ale or lager, let’s get back to basics. When you take a closer look at the differences between these two types of beer, there are two key factors: the type of yeast used and the fermentation process.

Ales are typically fermented using a type of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is a top-fermenting yeast. This means that the yeast ferments at the top of the beer, and the fermentation process typically takes place at warmer temperatures, usually around 60-72°F (15-22°C). 

This type of yeast is known for its ability to create a wide range of flavours and aromas. Ales are often described as being complex and full-bodied, with fruity, spicy, and floral notes.

Lagers, on the other hand, are fermented using a different type of yeast called Saccharomyces pastorianus, which is a bottom-fermenting yeast. This means that the yeast ferments at the bottom of the beer, and the fermentation process typically takes place at cooler temperatures, usually around 45-55°F (7-13°C). 

Because the fermentation process is slower and the yeast produces fewer flavours and aromas, lagers are often described as being clean, crisp, and refreshing. 

In a nutshell, when trying to remember the yeast used in both ales and lagers, remember ales are top, and lagers are bottom. I actually like lagers, so I don’t know why I’m giving them such a hard time. Go find out my answer to whether all lagers taste the same!

While ales and lagers share a common origin as types of beer, they differ in the type of yeast used and the fermentation process. Ales are typically more complex and full-bodied, with a wider range of flavours and aromas. At the same time, lagers are known for their clean, crisp taste and smooth finish.

So, is a Stout an Ale or Lager?

Stouts are a type of beer that are typically known for their dark, rich hues and robust flavours. They are often enjoyed during the colder months. I prefer a stout in the winter than in the heat of the summer, I imagine, because they’re notoriously quite heavy beers. However, many people wonder where stouts fit in when it comes to the ale vs. lager debate.

A table of guinness glasses filled with guinness. This article is exploring is a stout an ale or lager?
Characteristics of Stouts: Even more Guinness!

Despite their unique profiles, stouts are ales. As mentioned, this is because they are brewed using top-fermenting yeast at warmer temperatures, which is characteristic of the ale family. Within the stout category, there are many different varieties, each with its own distinct characteristics and flavour profiles.

One of the most popular types of stout is the dry stout, which is known for its dark colour and dry, bitter taste. Milk stouts, on the other hand, are sweeter and creamier, thanks to the addition of lactose during the brewing process. Imperial stouts are usually higher in alcohol content and have a full-bodied flavour that is often described as rich and complex.

The Stout Identity: Exploring Characteristics

Sometimes, when you ask John down the pub, “Is a stout an ale or lager?” he’ll say neither. Maybe because John is a fool, but actually, stouts are often mistaken for a separate entity due to their unique attributes, which set them apart from what many consider “typical” ales. Here are a few key characteristics:

Colour and Body

Stouts boast a deep, ebony colour thanks to the use of roasted barley or malt. This not only imparts a rich hue but also contributes to a fuller body and creamier texture.

Flavour

Their flavour is banging. Get ready to taste a whole spectrum of flavours that’ll make your taste buds dance the tango. Think coffee, chocolate, caramel, liquorice. The roasting process plays a crucial role in developing these complex taste profiles.

Bitterness: While ales are known for their hop-driven bitterness, stouts often derive their bitterness from roasted grains. This gives them a distinctive edge that’s different from the hoppy punch of many ales. And this is not to be confused with a pint of bitter – now that’s a whole other kettle of fish. 

Brewing Process: A Closer Look

Boy, do I just fancy writing more today. Let’s discuss the brewing process for stouts. This process involves specific steps that contribute to their unique characteristics. Here’s a brief overview:

Mashing

The first step in the brewing process involves combining crushed grains with water in a large vessel called a mash tun. The mixture is then heated to a specific temperature, usually around 150-160°F, to extract the sugars from the grains. This process is known as mashing. The mash is then allowed to rest for about an hour to allow the enzymes in the grains to break down the starches into fermentable sugars. 

Boiling

Once the mashing process is complete, the sweet liquid known as wort is transferred to a large kettle and brought to a boil. During this time, hops are added to the wort to give the beer its characteristic bitterness. The boiling process lasts about an hour and helps sterilise the wort, preventing spoilage. At the end of the boil, the wort is rapidly cooled to around 68°F in a heat exchanger. 

Fermentation

After the wort has been cooled, it is transferred to a fermentation vessel, where yeast is added. For stouts, brewers typically use top-fermenting ale yeast, which works best at warmer temperatures of around 68-72°F. The yeast consumes the sugars in the wort, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts. The fermentation process lasts about a week, although some brewers may allow it to continue for longer to achieve a higher alcohol content. 

Conditioning

After fermentation is complete, the beer is transferred to a conditioning tank, where it is allowed to mature for several weeks. This maturation process allows the mellow flavours to develop, resulting in a smoother, more complex beer. During conditioning, the yeast continues to work, consuming any remaining sugars and producing additional flavour compounds. 

Packaging

Finally, the beer is carbonated and packaged for consumption. Stouts are typically served in bottles or cans, although they can also be found on tap in many bars and restaurants. Some brewers may also add additional ingredients, such as coffee, chocolate, or vanilla, during the brewing process to create unique flavour profiles. 

Overall, the brewing process for stouts is a complex and time-consuming endeavour that requires skill and attention to detail to achieve the desired result. The exact reason why I throw money at stouts in the pub is because I can appreciate the artistry that has gone into the majestic beast. 

The Stout Spectrum

While all stouts are ale, not all stouts are created equal. I sound like I’m a modern-day George Orwell. The stout family includes a variety of sub-styles, each with its distinct personality:

Dry or Irish Stout: Dry or Irish stouts are known for their dark, almost black colour, roasted malt flavours, and dry finish. They often have a coffee-like bitterness due to the roasted barley used in the brewing process. Despite their robust flavour, they tend to be lighter in body and lower in alcohol content compared to other stout varieties. Often, these stouts are brewed with nitrogen, which gives them their thick, foamy head. A sentence I never want to repeat.

Guinness Draught is perhaps the most iconic example of an Irish Stout. It’s renowned for its creamy texture, thanks to the nitrogenation process it undergoes, which gives it a distinctive smoothness and a thick head when poured. A notable mention of Beamish and Murphy’s – why don’t we look at the three-way between Murphy’s vs Guinness vs Beamish

Is a stout an ale or lager? A picture of Guinness
Is a Stout an Ale or Lager: A Glorious Pint of Guinness (No, I’m Not Sponsored!)

Milk Stouts: Milk stouts, also known as sweet stouts, are made with lactose, a sugar that yeast cannot ferment. This addition gives the beer a sweet taste, a fuller body, and a creamy texture. The sweetness of the lactose balances the bitterness of the roasted malts, making for a smooth and approachable beer.

Left Hand Milk Stout is a popular example. It’s well known for its rich, creamy texture and flavours of coffee and chocolate, paired with a delightful sweetness from the lactose.

Oatmeal Stouts: Oatmeal stouts include oatmeal in their grain bill, contributing to a smoother, silkier body and a slight sweetness that balances the natural bitterness of the malt. They are typically medium to full-bodied with a good balance of sweetness and bitterness.

Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is a classic example showcasing the style’s smoothness and body. It offers flavours of oatmeal, chocolate, and a hint of coffee, with a well-rounded sweetness.

Imperial Stout: Known for their high alcohol content, Imperial Stouts pack bold flavours and full body. They often have rich, complex tastes, including dark chocolate, coffee, and dark fruits. They may be aged in barrels to add additional layers of flavour, such as vanilla, bourbon, or oak.

The North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout is a widely acclaimed example of this style. It’s known for its rich, intense flavours and robust body, with a complex array of roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate notes complemented by a warming alcohol presence.

These different stout types have unique flavours, perfect for different moods and preferences. You can choose from an Irish stout when you’re happy and enjoy that classic dry taste, a milk stout when you’re feeling childish and savour that creamy and sweet. Slurp down a smooth oatmeal stout in the morning or an imperial stout that’s bold and intense when you just want to punch the wall. 

With lots of examples to choose from, you can explore and enjoy the diverse world of stouts.

Why Does It Matter?

Why am I telling you this? I hear you ask. To be honest, I’ve been asking myself the same question. 

Perhaps the Guinness has gone to my head, or possibly understanding whether a stout is an ale or lager isn’t just about settling a bar bet; it’s about appreciating the rich diversity of the beer world. Knowing the difference helps you make informed choices about what you drink and can enhance your tasting experience by setting expectations for your beer’s flavour, aroma, and mouthfeel.

Summary

So, there you have it, my fellow Stout-loving friends. The answer to the question, “Is a stout an ale or lager?” is an ale. With their dark magnetism and delectable depth, stouts are proudly part of the ale family. Next time you’re sipping on a stout, you can do so with the knowledge of where it stands in the grand scheme of beer types. Understanding these distinctions can deepen your appreciation for each pint, whether you’re a casual drinker or a craft beer enthusiast. So here’s to stouts, the dark and delightful members of the ale family, and the brewers who craft them with passion and precision.

FAQs

Can stouts be served cold?

Absolutely! While stouts can be enjoyed at various temperatures, serving them slightly chilled (around 50-55°F or 10-13°C) can enhance their flavours and aromas. But don’t put them in the freezer!

Are all dark beers stouts?

Not necessarily. While stouts are dark, not all dark beers are stouts. Porters, for example, are also dark ales but have a different flavour profile and history. Take the Schwarzbier, for instance!

How should I store stout beers?

Stouts should be stored upright in a cool, dark place to maintain their quality. This helps prevent oxidation and preserves the beer’s flavours.


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