Stout Season Is Here: A Complete Guide to the Dark Side of Beer

Just as the weather changes with the seasons, beer styles change as well. Winter brings us stout season, and the time of that glorious, dark, delicious liquid is upon us. This type of beer was originally known as strong or stout porter, though today breweries use the term stout or porter interchangeably. Many breweries nowadays differentiate a porter and a stout by a method of measuring how much light can pass through their beer. This is based on SRM, or the Standard Reference Method.

A stout is made in the style of an ale and is dark in color. Sometimes they’re bitter and sometimes they’re sweet. Some come with a high ABV (alcohol by volume) and some don’t. Everything, like the taste or ABV, depends on the style of the stout, such as the Irish Dry, Russian Imperial, Milk or Chocolate Stouts.

Guinness Draught (Photo credit:
Guinness Draught (Photo credit:

The Irish Dry Stout is probably the most recognizable style of stout and is usually made year-round. The beer color is dark, though the body tends not to be heavy. This style has a bitter aftertaste, tends to have little carbonation and has an average ABV of 4-6%. By far, the most popular brand made in this style is Guinness Draught and Guinness Extra Stout.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout (Photo credit:
Stone Imperial Russian Stout (Photo credit:

The Russian Imperial Stout is a high alcoholic and sweet beer crafted originally in England and, depending on the source, was created for either Peter the Great or Catherine the Great of Russia. As with other stouts, this beer pours out dark, but unlike the Irish Dry Stout this beer has a dark brown head. This style has an ABV of 8-12%. Popular beers in this style include Oskar Blues Ten FIDY, Stone Imperial Russian Stout and North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.

Dogfish Head Bitches Brew (Photo credit:
Dogfish Head Bitches Brew (Photo credit:

The Imperial Stout is a favorite style of craft beer drinkers. Inspired by the Russian Imperial Stout, this style is usually aged in whiskey barrels and has a high ABV of 8-12%. The beer pours a dark color and can be sweet to taste due to the barrel aging and high ABV. Popular Imperial Stouts include Founders KBS, Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and Dogfish Head Bitches Brew.

Southern Tier Crème Brûleé (Photo credit: quirky
Southern Tier Crème Brûleé (Photo credit: quirky

One of the sweetest styles of this brew is the Milk Stout. Coming in between 4-6% ABV, this beer is in the lower spectrum of alcohol in stouts. Milk Stouts are named so because, during their production, lactose, an unfermentable sugar, is added. This gives it its characterizing sweetness. Some of the most popular Milk Stouts include Terrapin Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout and Southern Tier Crème Brûleé.

Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout (Photo credit:
Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout (Photo credit:

One of the oldest types of stouts still produced is the Oatmeal Stout. Similar to the Milk Stout, this style is just as smooth but a little less sweet. As the name suggests, oatmeal is added during the beer’s production, which gives it a smooth flavor. This beer has an average ABV between 4-7%. A couple of the most popular Oatmeal Stouts include Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout.

Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero (Photo credit:
Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero (Photo credit:

The Chocolate Stout is gaining popularity as brewers attempt to fulfill the cravings of their drinkers. As with both the Milk and Oatmeal Stout, chocolate or cacao nibs are added during production, or chocolate malt is used which gives it the taste of chocolate. When compared with other styles of stouts, Chocolate Stouts usually have around the lowest ABV of 5-7%. Some of the most popular Chocolate Stouts include Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and (one of my favorites) Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero.

 (Photo credit:
Porterhouse Oyster Stout (Photo credit:

The final type of stout is the Oyster Stout. This style was originally known for pairing well with oysters but, like a few of the other styles here, brewers began to add them during the production of the beer. These days you can find both. Coming in at an average 4-8% ABV, this style is on the low end of the scale. Popular oyster stouts include Flying Dog Pearl Necklace, Upright Oyster Stout and Porterhouse Oyster Stout.

Some of these stouts are revered, heavily sought out and often celebrated with large release parties, like Cigar City Brewing Company’s Hunahpu’s Day, Great Lakes Barrel-Aged Black Out Stout or Fifty Fifty’s Eclipse. If you happen to grab a bottle of this delicious brew, go ahead and do. You’ll thank me later.



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Creator and host of the podcast Beer, Bros & BS, teller of stories, drinker of beers, reader of (comic) books, watcher of sports, devourer of food, mostly entertaining. From Miami. Follow me on Twitter & Instagram @thebiglibrarian.

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