Caught by the River

Pint by the River: As Darkness Descends

11th November 2011

by Roger Clapham

It’s almost a cliché when it comes to the onset of winter and beer drinkers start reaching for the dark stuff, however stouts and porters just feel right when the clocks have gone back and the perpetual gloom of the near night-time seems almost constant. Frankly, I’m quite glad to not live in Northern Scandinavia at this time of year, and although London doesn’t see that severe a winter it’s always better faced after a pint or two of stout.

Stout and porter have been pretty much interchangeable as types of beer for nearly three hundred years now, and there isn’t really a huge difference between the two apart from subtle variations in recipe and alcoholic content. Originally, stouts were known as “stout porters” – simply meaning stronger, with higher ABVs. By the early 1800s “brown stout” was the connoisseur’s choice – essentially strong, high quality porter – and Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery listed brown stout as the highest quality beer it produced in 1830. These days it’s frequently the opposite that’s true, with “porter” generally being of a higher alcoholic content (and often craft-brewed with an attempt at some kind of historical accuracy), whereas stout, for most people at least, is just a pint of Guinness, available in every pub or bar the world over pretty much. Now there’s nothing wrong with a pint a Guinness (especially if you stick a measure of port in it – the true taste of Christmas, trust me) but there’s more to stout than just Guinness, so here’s three of my current favourites.

First up is Bath Ales Dark Side stout, a 4.0% beauty that’s smoother than your salesman uncle at a wedding reception. With a great flavour from the roasted barley, and hints of coffee, smoke and molasses coming through too, it really is a fine beer. And if you fancy a couple, the low-ish strength means you can give in to the moreish flavour without getting into too much trouble.

Next is Stringers Dry Stout, from their splendid renewably powered brewery in Ulverston in Cumbria. As the name suggests, this is a dry, bitter beer – stout as it should be some would say. It’s as black as night and looks like a pint of 4.5% espresso, but it’s packed with flavour – stout with a bite this one, as well as being a worthy eco-choice. The Stringers guys don’t produce huge quantities and their beers (they do a great IPA too) can be hard to find outside of Cumbria so look out for this at beer specialists or online.

Finally, from Williams Brothers up in Scotland, Profanity Stout – presumably named as such as on first taste folk turned the air blue in appreciation for this cracker of a beer. The recipe was cooked up by a couple of students from the brewing course at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt university, but home brew experiment gone wrong this is not. Strong black coffee flavours, some sweetness and a bitterness that isn’t overwhelming, it’s a delicious and satisfying beer but with a surprisingly high strength – this comes in at 7.0%, but so long as you drink it chilled, you won’t notice that until you’ve downed the lot.

Enjoy the winter. Cheers.