Aside from the Irish red ale, no beer style is more closely aligned with St. Patrick’s Day than the Irish / dry stout. High in flavor and low in alcohol, this sessionable stout is a favorite of many, especially during this time of year.
Guinness Draught is the most famous dry stout in the world. It is sold in about 100 countries and it’s brewed in almost 50. Of course, countless U.S. breweries make their own version of the dry stout.
Most dry stouts are deep reddish-brown to inky black (35-40 SRM) with a low to moderate amount of alcohol (typically 3.8-5% ABV) and a low to medium amount of hop bitterness (often 25-50 IBUs). Signature flavors and aromas include roasted barley along with coffee-like notes. Some versions have a faint caramel/cream sweetness, and some even have a slight lactic-like twang.
As the style name suggests, this beer finishes dry, which is the result of using roasted barley (and sometimes black/patent malt) coupled with a healthy dose of bittering hops. High attenuation and a low finishing gravity, carbonation levels, mash temperatures, water chemistry and more can also contribute to dryness.
Historically, stouts stem from porters. The word “stout” just described a strong version of a porter, as in “stout porter,” but over time the “porter” was dropped and it evolved into its own style.
The terms “Irish” and “dry” were added later to differentiate this type of stout from American and English “sweet” / “milk” / “oatmeal” stouts (made with lactose and/or oatmeal), as well as the stronger “foreign” / “extra” stouts and “imperial” / “Russian” stouts.
Dry stouts are often served on nitrogen (aka nitro), which creates a smooth and creamy mouthfeel, and it also dampens the harshness of hop bitterness and/or the burnt-like roastiness.
In Bellingham, there are many versions to try. Here are three from local breweries:
Currently, Kulshan has an Irish Dry Stout (4% ABV, 45 IBUs) on nitro that is infused with coffee from Maniac coffee roasting. This cappuccino-like beer is painfully easy to drink, and it offers soft, roasty aromas with hints of dark chocolate.
Boundary Bay Dry Irish Stout (4.2%, 29 IBUs) is also served on nitro. It’s creamy, light bodied and delicious, making it very sessionable.
Chuckanut Stout (3.8% ABV, 25 IBUs) offers aromatic notes of roasted grains, espresso and chocolate. It’s balanced, well made and highly quaffable, making it perfect for St. Patrick’s Day festivities.