Make Your Best Dry (Irish) Stout

I’ve never understood the people who maintain that stouts are cold-weather beers. For me, “summer” beers only need to be light in body, low in alcohol, and have some flavor element that refreshes the palate. There’s no reason on earth that dry stout can’t fit that bill. Popular misconceptions of nitrogenated classic examples are abundant, but we all know (or should know) that dry stout is one of the lightest beers you can make, and also a very easy beer to get right.

This is one that I recommend to new brewers to help build their confidence—but there’s nothing stopping any brewer from using it as a great year-round offering. Besides, if iced coffee can be a thing in summer (and apparently it is—sales of iced coffee more than doubled last year), then why not a summer stout?

Style

Dry stout (or Irish stout, since so many of the classic examples hail from the Emerald Isle!) is a “small” beer with a big, roasty punch. It should be very low in alcohol (my version comes in at a very sessionable 4.2 percent ABV) and light in body, while at the same time accentuating the coffee and chocolate flavors you’ll derive from the dark malts in the grist. Many also believe that it should be a very bitter beer, but in the ingredients section below we’ll confound that expectation, and with good reason: in attempting to bump up the IBUs and increase that perception of dryness, too many brewers end up with a harsh beer instead of a dry one. If you end up with even a touch of astringency (and given the grist, that’s quite likely), you could be making a beer that’s grating to drink, which is the exact opposite of what we’re shooting for!

What really makes this beer, though, is roasted barley. Like all the beers in the stout family, it just wouldn’t be complete without it. This recipe will also add a few touches to make for a more-complete flavor experience!

Ingredients

Grain:

For a solid base you’ll want to start with a 3:1 ratio of Maris Otter to flaked barley, shooting for a gravity of about 1.036 (we’ll bring it up a little higher with the specialty grains—and you should end at about 1.044). Maris is a favorite of mine for its bready background flavor—it’s a wonderful base malt and perfect for this style. The flaked barley will do good things for you, too, since it adds elements that smooth out the texture and flavor of the beer—that’s important, because it’s about to get a little weird in here.

You’ll want 1 pound/454 g (per 5 gallons/19 l of target volume) of roasted barley. If you make this a couple times and find that it’s not roasty enough for you, then you can start adding in some pale chocolate malt a few ounces/grams at a time until you’re where you want to be, but don’t overdo the roasted barley! At the same time, add 4 ounces/113 g of acidulated malt to the mash, which will do at least two very beneficial things: first, it will add a nice little tart zip to the finished beer; and second, it will help keep your mash pH in check (acidulated malt reduces mash pH by about 0.1 per 1 percent of the grist).

The next thing that might seem a little counterintuitive is the hops selection:

I use a 50/50 blend of Fuggle and Glacier in a 40-minute hops addition with sufficient enough weight to yield 30 IBUs. Fuggle is a classic British Isles hops and perfectly appropriate here with its earthy and woody aroma. However, to some it comes across as dirty/musty rather than earthy, so I find that cutting in the Glacier adds some of the same woody notes, but also a touch of melon/apricot. I use this combination in nearly all my British beers, and it seems very well suited to brightening up the stout. The 40-minute addition makes it relatively easy to get the requisite IBUs without needing a ton of hops matter, and at the same time preserves a touch of the flavors.

Finally, yeast: I use my good old Wyeast 1007 (German Ale) yeast here. Why? Because we want to maximize attenuation, and I get a bit more out of the 1007 than the Irish Ale yeasts available, while at the same time developing a pleasant berry ester. Wyeast 1007 is also less likely to produce diacetyl than its Irish cousins. It’s your call, of course, but I’d recommend going with the German over the Irish, despite the stylistic national mismatch.

Process

You want to maximize attenuation here, so make sure that your mash is no higher than 152°F (67°C). At the same time, this is a beer that I ferment a bit faster than the others—although I begin at 65°F (19°C), I ramp up 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) per day for 3 days, and then hold. This will be a pretty fast fermentation, since there’s not much to consume, and primary fermentation will likely be complete within 72 hours. I want to be sure that my yeast cells are nice and active right through to the end. Even though activity will likely slow dramatically after just a few days, be patient here: I wait at least a full week after primary fermentation seems to be over, just to ensure we’re really “done,” then cold-crash and package.

If you’re not serving this beer on beer gas (a nitrogen blend), limit the carbonation level to about 1.5 volumes of CO2 to mimic the “pub draught” quality of nitrogenated versions. You might also find that the flaked barley added a bit of protein haze, so this beer is a good candidate for gelatin fining (or you can just, you know, wait).

In Closing

This beer (which in my brewery goes by the name “Rainy Day Dry Stout”) is an outstanding all-purpose beer. Even though it can be enjoyed in summer, it holds up well in other seasons. It pairs well with a wide variety of foods. It’s low-alcohol. And it can be turned around fast—if you’re in a rush, you can produce this beer (well, a version of it, anyway!) in as little as four days. If you have a few taps in your home, you might consider dedicating one to the dry stout: it won’t let you down.

Slainte.

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