“Sell­ing” the White Stout

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Brew­ers hold strong opin­ions on white stouts. Josh Weik­ert looks be­yond the de­bate into how those who brew them best, brew them well.

White Stout is a style that con­fuses some, en­rages oth­ers, and gets a lot of brew­ers very ex­cited. You can call it a lot of things, but the white stout is not only a style but also a play­ground for mak­ing in­ter­est­ing, fla­vor­ful beers. By Josh Weik­ert

IF YOU WANT TO PRO­VOKE a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of the beer com­mu­nity, there’s a sim­ple way, as I re­cently dis­cov­ered: ask the ques­tion, “So, any thoughts on White Stouts?” Chaos en­sues. Many as­sert that it’s oxy­moronic (I don’t buy that, as you’ll read). Oth­ers call it a gim­mick. Some are gen­uinely en­thu­si­as­tic. One fac­tion claims it’s real, but mis­named. Per­haps my fa­vorite re­sponse was, “What’s wrong with these peo­ple? No. Just…no.” It was an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise, made all the more so by the fact that post­ing the ques­tion to just a few so­cial me­dia pages yielded more than forty com­ments in the first five min­utes alone. It was kind of what I imag­ine shark feed­ing fren­zies are like.

I re­ceived an­other set of re­sponses en­tirely from the pro­fes­sional brewing com­mu­nity. Most were en­thu­si­as­tic about the beers, in gen­eral. Sev­eral brewed them reg­u­larly. Where there was some con­ster­na­tion on their side of the bar was in how to sell the style to the public since the name alone cre­ates con­tra­dic­tory im­pres­sions in the mod­ern beer drinker’s con­scious­ness. As John Stem­ler of Free Will Brewing in Perkasie, Penn­syl­va­nia, put it, “Pale stout is tasty, but re­quires ex­pla­na­tion to sell.” When we hear “stout,” we think “dark”—work­ing against that im­pres­sion in­vites a chal­lenge. It’s a chal­lenge some brew­eries ac­cept, though. Brad Kominek, head brewer at Noble Ale Works (Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia), tells me that their (in­cred­i­bly well-re­ceived) Naughty Sauce White Stout is one of their best sell­ers, week af­ter week, com­pet­ing with their IPA.

Nev­er­the­less, a rea­son­able case can be made that White Stout is a real style. The ques­tion of whether we should do some­thing just be­cause we can is a sep­a­rate one, but I still come down on the side of en­cour­ag­ing it. Brewing it for your­self takes some real care, but it’s worth your time. Don’t buy into the con­cep­tion of this beer as a gim­mick—it can be far more, and if brewing is about any­thing, it’s about push­ing our in­gre­di­ents and pro­cesses in new di­rec­tions.

The “Style”

We’re fly­ing some­what blind here when talking about White Stout as a “style.” As it isn’t yet prop­erly rec­og­nized by the Beer Judge Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Pro­gram or Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion guide­lines, we’re left with the “com­mon law” guid­ance of the beers that go un­der that moniker in the mar­ket­place. The con­sen­sus seems to be that White (or Pale, though some use that to de­scribe a beer that’s more am­ber than pale) Stout is pre­dom­i­nately a blonde or golden ale of mod­er­ate-to-some­what high al­co­hol strength that also ex­hibits tra­di­tional “stout” fla­vors such as cof­fee and choco­late. Many ex­am­ples also seek to mimic and in­clude sec­ondary char­ac­ter­is­tics of stout, such as a creamy, thick mouth­feel and/or the pres­ence of vanillin or other bar­rel-in­duced fla­vors that aren’t un­com­mon in strong stouts.

It is overly sim­plis­tic to ar­gue that this is sim­ply “a stout, but pale.” Within the style fam­ily of stouts, we find a lot of vari­a­tion, de­spite the com­mon thread of “roasty fla­vors.” Most ex­am­ples of White Stout seem to tar­get the Sweet/milk Stout pa­ram­e­ters, whether or not they ac­tu­ally in­clude lac­tose. That tar­get is eas­ier to hit, given that one can’t sim­ply ham­mer away with the choco­late malts in the grist! Brewing a White Rus­sian Im­pe­rial Stout would be a much tougher chal­lenge.

Some of the White Stout naysay­ers con­sider the very name oxy­moronic at best (hereti­cal at worst), but I’d push back

Un­der­neath the in­vec­tive, though, there doesn’t seem to be much ob­jec­tion to the White Stout on its mer­its. If that’s the case, then it seems like the ques­tion isn’t whether we should brew it, but rather just what we should call it: Co­coa Cof­fee Cream Ale, per­haps? But that’s such a mouth­ful— White Stout just seems eas­ier. And af­ter all, it’s still a pretty fun play on your sen­sory per­cep­tions. Go­ing back to Brad at Noble Ale Works: “You want this to be an enig­matic beer. You want the look to give an op­po­site im­pres­sion from the aroma and fla­vor.”

against that ob­jec­tion. First, we’ve all more or less ac­cepted names such as Black or Red IPA, which are frankly and fla­grantly oxy­moronic. Sec­ond, “stout” as a term re­fer­ring to beer was typ­i­cally re­fer­ring to its strength, and the word it­self has no par­tic­u­lar con­nec­tion to a pre­dicted color. I can rec­og­nize that when we see “stout” in the mod­ern beer age, we’re as­sum­ing it’s dark, but coun­ter­in­tu­itive and oxy­moronic are not syn­onyms.

What is oxy­moronic is that so many of the com­mer­cial ex­am­ples of stout (pale, dark, or oth­er­wise) aren’t es­pe­cially “stout.” Many (but by no means all) of the White Stout recipes I pe­rused in re­search­ing this ar­ti­cle run in the 5–6 per­cent ABV range, which struck me as odd. There’s no rea­son that this beer would nec­es­sar­ily ben­e­fit from a mod­est ABV, un­less it’s to help re­serve a few frac­tions of a shade on the SRM scale, buy­ing room for other in­gre­di­ents and their color con­tri­bu­tions. Nev­er­the­less, stronger ver­sions do ex­ist, so that shouldn’t put you off if you want a “warmer” fin­ished beer!

With these style pa­ram­e­ters in mind, we can start build­ing out our White Stout recipes.

Recipe Con­sid­er­a­tions

Pale beers are easy to “write,” in recipe terms—go low in ABV and/or lean heav­ily on sim­ple sug­ars and pale base malts. Like­wise, dark beers are no chal­lenge: you can make any beer dark with the proper ap­pli­ca­tion of Mid­night Wheat or Carafa Spe­cial malts, de­pend­ing on how much roast/dark fla­vor you’re will­ing to tol­er­ate. Mak­ing a pale beer with roasted fla­vors, though, re­quires some cre­ative in­gre­di­ent se­lec­tion!

Bot­tom line up-front: we’re lean­ing on tra­di­tion­ally roasted prod­ucts here, just not those that are ac­tu­ally (or as in­tensely) roasted. Where roasted in­gre­di­ents are used, there’s not much of them in­cor­po­rated into the recipe. To get our “stouty” fla­vors, the most com­mon ad­di­tions are green (or blonde) cof­fee and ca­cao nibs. They add ob­vi­ous cof­fee and choco­late fla­vors, but also some as­trin­gent and acidic notes that work just fine in the recipe.

Con­tin­u­ing in the “stout-like” vein, con­sider us­ing in­gre­di­ents that have patently “thick­en­ing” mouth­feel ef­fects. Lac­tose is com­monly cited, and so long as it isn’t over­done (mak­ing a ropy, sickly sweet beer), it seems like a rea­son­able ad­di­tion. Flaked bar­ley is an­other go-to; for that mat­ter, so are flaked wheat and flaked oats. Many recipes also add vanilla ex­tract or (prefer­ably) vanilla bean to im­part a com­mon “stout” fla­vor and act as a sen­sory trig­ger to try to fool the palate into think­ing “stout.”

When it comes to malts, you have a wide range of ap­proaches, as you do for many styles. Some em­pha­size pale over ev­ery­thing, while oth­ers are more “color-tol­er­ant” and use lower-lovi­bond ver­sions of tra­di­tional stout–recipe grains, even if it means a darker beer. For the “pale” folks, a base of Maris Ot­ter and/or Vi­enna is the norm, sup­ple­mented by some light and medium crys­tal malts. Those on the darker end of the spec­trum use the same base malts, but rather than the crys­tal ad­di­tions, they in­clude pale choco­late, Briess roasted bar­ley (which is kilned to only 300L), or even small amounts of black patent malt to get a big burnt-husk punch out of just a small ad­di­tion, to help min­i­mize color ad­di­tion. One ar­gu­ment that leaves me am­biva­lent is to use stan­dard 2-row pale malt, in the in­ter­est of giv­ing the cof­fee and ca­cao more room to shine— the think­ing is that richer or spicier base malts could mask the faux-roast fla­vors. That’s not nec­es­sar­ily wrong, but I’d err on the side of “more over­all fla­vor.”

Yeast shouldn’t be left out of the equa­tion here, though they’re less di­rectly im­por­tant than our grist and ex­tracts/ad­juncts/spe-

cialty in­gre­di­ents. Here, con­ve­niently, we find some broad agree­ment, both on yeast and hops. There is near-universal con­cur­rence that a nice crisp English ale yeast is the way to go for a White Stout. It seems likely that this is an ar­ti­fact of the orig­i­nal stout recipes. Most would have used an English ale yeast any­way, so in the ab­sence of a sig­nif­i­cant mo­tive to shift gears, I sus­pect most brew­ers just leave well enough alone. How­ever, if you’re shoot­ing for a “fuller” beer and don’t plan to add lac­tose or tin­ker with gases (see be­low), I could def­i­nitely see fo­cus­ing on a yeast with gen­er­ally lower at­ten­u­a­tion.

As for hops, most sim­ply bit­ter with a stan­dard high-al­pha acid hop va­ri­ety, oc­ca­sion­ally adding a late English or Ger­man hop. IBUS are all over the board, how­ever. My in­cli­na­tion would be to err on the bit­ter side to in­crease the im­pres­sion of “bite” that might oth­er­wise come from the roasted grains (say, a 0.9:1 BU to GU ra­tio), though I found no con­sis­tent ra­tio in the recipes I re­viewed.

Broadly speak­ing, recipes lean heav­ily on base malts and flaked grains (85–95 per­cent) with small ad­di­tions of crys­tal or choco­late malts and, if de­sired for a sweeter vari­a­tion, lac­tose and/or vanilla. In terms of the ca­cao and cof­fee, 2–4 ounces (57–113 g) of each is a good start­ing point. Soak­ing the ca­cao in a vodka tinc­ture will pro­duce us­able ex­tract, and while you can go with a cold-steep for the cof­fee, the more ad­ven­tur­ous among you might fol­low Brad at Noble Ale Works’ lead and just add it di­rectly to the fer­men­tor! Those weights should be suf­fi­cient to add the de­sired fla­vors to a 5-gal­lon (19 l) batch, but there’s no one right an­swer here. You can al­ways ad­just to match your de­sired fla­vor con­tri­bu­tions in sub­se­quent batches!

Process Con­sid­er­a­tions

In terms of process, we’re mainly fo­cus­ing on how to en­hance the proper “feel” of the beer. It’s here that I think White Stout prop­erly de­parts from the “just a blonde ale with cof­fee” rep­u­ta­tion. We’ve al­ready added some full­ness to the beer via our recipe, es­pe­cially if you’re go­ing the “lac­tose route.” I’m al­ways a re­luc­tant lac­tose user, but even if we forgo it, we’ll still have the flaked grains do­ing some of the heavy lift­ing in mouth­feel, and dex­trin malt is al­ways an op­tion, too. That’s hardly the only way to help it along, how­ever.

First, we can mash es­pe­cially warm to de­crease fer­mentabil­ity. A mash tem­per­a­ture of 156°F (69°C) will bring you out of the max-at­ten­u­a­tion sweet spot, leav­ing be­hind lots of long-chain sug­ars that will add bulk to the fin­ished prod­uct while adding rel­a­tively lit­tle sweet­ness. For that mat­ter, feel free to take a some­what re­laxed view on at­ten­u­a­tion in the fer­men­tor; no need to whip it for ev­ery point of grav­ity de­ple­tion!

Sec­ond, it doesn’t seem as though there is a con­sen­sus among brew­ers on fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­ture. This isn’t es­pe­cially sur­pris­ing given the fairly tame es­ter pro­duc­tion of the English ale yeasts se­lected, but if you’re con­cerned about com­pe­ti­tion with your “stout” fla­vors, fer­ment cooler rather than warmer. Again, at­ten­u­a­tion isn’t a key goal here.

Last, this is a ter­rific beer to con­sider serv­ing on ni­tro. The smooth and creamy mouth­feel will cre­ate a fa­mil­iar sen­sa­tion on the palate, and in the ab­sence of a car­bonic “bite” from tra­di­tional beer gas, you should taste more of the acidic, nat­u­ral fla­vors of your cof­fee and ca­cao.

The Sales Job

Given the some­times ag­gres­sive and neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to White Stout, it’s easy to come away with the im­pres­sion that this must be a beer that tastes horrible—like ask­ing peo­ple how they feel about cheese on fish. Un­der­neath the in­vec­tive, though, there doesn’t seem to be much ob­jec­tion to the White Stout on its mer­its. At least half of the push­back is against the nomen­cla­ture em­ployed—the afore­men­tioned “it’s re­ally just a blonde ale with cof­fee” troupe, or the “if it’s white, it’s not a stout” brigade. Still, if that’s the case, then it seems like the ques­tion isn’t whether we should brew it, but rather just what we should call it: Co­coa Cof­fee Cream Ale, per­haps? But that’s such a mouth­ful— White Stout just seems eas­ier. And af­ter all, it’s still a pretty fun play on your sen­sory per­cep­tions. Go­ing back to Brad at Noble Ale Works: “You want this to be an enig­matic beer. You want the look to give an op­po­site im­pres­sion from the aroma and fla­vor.”

And af­ter all, this beer by any name would be just as sweet. Pro­duce a good beer and call it what­ever you want to get folks to drink it. In my ex­pe­ri­ence the name doesn’t even mat­ter: the beer’s the thing. Fla­vor first. Whether it’s to test your brewing skill, field test a new style, wade into the ex­per­i­men­tal beer pool, or just screw with the per­cep­tions of your beer-drink­ing friends who can’t process a beer that looks like Helles and tastes like Her­shey’s, this is a fun one to put on tap, in any color.

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