|It's the vegie soup of beers, a monstrous, smothering beer hug in a glass. And even though stout is far from the golden froth we Aussies grew up on, we welcome it with more gusto than if we underwent labour and bore the thing ourselves. Kate McIntyre looks at the appeal of one of the most unappealing looking drinks.
What is it with stout? Why is it that so many young Australians travel to the UK as drinkers of VB and come back avid stout fans? Be it Guinness or Beamish, Murphy's or Mackeson -- the idea is the same. A thick, dark, strongly flavoured brew that couldn't be more different from what passes muster for beer in mainstream Oz. So why the thirst?
Stout, also known as porter or "a pint of plain" when in Old Dublin Town, originated in Ireland. Most things from Ireland are pretty excellent -- the lovely folk music, leprechauns, the Pogues, U2 and Sinead O'Connor -- so it follows that stout is good too. Many would go so far as to attribute the general Irish talent for song, dance and celebration to the dark brew.
Stout has been attributed with many magical properties summed up by the advertising campaign 'Guinness is good for you'. Not only does it make you more popular, creative and fun to be with, stout is full of all kinds of goodies. Forget the low fat breakfast energy smoothie; knock back a pint of stout over the morning papers. Full of iron, vitamin B and all sorts of health giving nutritious bits and pieces, stout is prescribed to patients in British, Irish and Swedish hospitals. Expecting mothers are encouraged to drink half a pint a day -- during and after the pregnancy, and some people advocate feeding junior with a half pint from the bottle -- possibly to keep the peace in the household. Possibly just a clever bid for dependency on stout from a young age by the major producers, but it's refreshing advice to be given from your doctor. I know I'll be getting into it when the necessity arises.
So what is it? It pours thick in the glass -- a murky brown unappetising sludge that slowly settles into black, with a thick creamy white froth on top. A tradition amongst the young in Ireland involves three dabs with a finger, which easily renders a smiley face in the top. Better still, stick your nose into it, so it forms a little white peak right there on the end. And why would you? Because you can. The child in all of us loves food you can play with, while the adult in us needs a drink with kick.
There's dry stout and then there's milk stout. Dry stout is the most widely recognised -- that's your Guinness and Beamish. The dry, strong roasted flavours, not unlike coffee beans, dominate and the drink finishes with intense bitterness. This combination of dryness and bitterness make it very drinkable -- the palate doesn't get tired even with such rich flavours. Milk stout -- Mackeson is the only one I know of available in Australia, is sweeter and richer and regarded as a pick me up or tonic for invalids. And yes, it is made with milk. In fact, it's the milk sugars, or lactose, that give it its sweetness.
A variation on the dry style of stout is oyster stout. Oysters are a traditional match to stout, and some crazy brewers have taken this one step further and actually included oysters into the brew. Sounds disgusting and I'm not rushing out to try one, but the experts rave about the stuff!
Thick, creamy, rich, yet strangely refreshing -- stout is a rare beast, and is also one of the world's most popular styles of beer. And if straight stout doesn't have enough kick for you, why not try a stout cocktail? Black Velvet perhaps -- half stout and half Champagne. It'll make you fall over in half the time.