Style Profile: Irish Dry Stout

Posted on September 29th, 2009


There is probably no style of beer more closely associated with a single brewery more than Irish dry stouts and Guinness. Chances are that many Guinness drinkers can’t name more than six other brewers producing a beer in that style (but if you can name six let us know in the comments section and we’ll send you out some Beeriety swag). It’s true that Guinness has played a key role in establishing the style’s popularity and most recognizable qualities, it’s still a clearly defined style, independent of any particular brewer. With Guinness’s 250th birthday last week we thought we’d take a look today at the style it has made so famous.

The origins of dry stout, like all stouts, can directly by tied back to porters. Stouts initially emerged as heavier versions of the already heavy porter style, which is why they were first known as ‘stout porters.’ Over time the name was shortened to just stout, and a new style was born. Today there are of course many different types of stout, from milk stouts to even oyster stouts, but the most well known is undoubtedly Guinness’s dry stout.

Despite Guinness reputation as ‘liquid bread’ or ‘a meal in a class,’ dry stouts are actually the lightest type of stout in terms of alcohol and do not contain many more calories than your average light lager (take a look at our more detailed look at this issue here). Part of the reason for Guinness and other dry stouts light smoothness is their use of nitrogen  in addition to the usual CO2 to carbonate the beer. Because nitrogen is less soluble than CO2 and forms smaller bubbles the beer is able to carbonate with less gas, creating a less acidic flavor. Several years ago Guinness also debuted the ‘nitro can‘ which is a regular can of beer with a widget inside of it which releases nitrogen when the can’s opened to replicate the draught experience at home.

A can of Guinness draught cut open to reveal the 'nitro widget'

A can of Guinness draught cut open to reveal the internal ‘nitro widget’

Although there are also coffee stouts, which use real coffee beans in the brew and give the style strong coffee flavors, dry stouts have also been noted as having subtle coffee flavors. Although with the creaminess of the nitrogen and the burnt qualities of black malt, dry stout might more closely resemble cappuccino than black coffee.

While Guinness will probably always remain the signature brand of dry stouts there are several other notable Irish producers of the style which are worth a try. Both Beamish and Murphy’s hail from the Southeastern Irish town of Cork and can be said to be a bit sweeter and and smoother than Guinness, give them a try next time you have a chance. There is also plenty of American craft brewers who do dry stouts.

What’s your favorite dry stout besides Guinness? Next time you have it let us know by tweeting your beer and adding the ‘#mybeer’ hashtag.