White Stout: Gimmick or Gateway Beer?

July 10, 2018

By Lisa Rabasca Roepe, July 10, 2018

A white stout might be the ultimate parlor trick. Although the beer is a golden-pale color, it tastes and smells just like the dark and brooding stouts you’ve grown to know and love, with hints of chocolate and coffee. But if you close your eyes and drank it, you’d never know it’s a light-colored beer. It’s just like magic.

In fact, once when Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co., in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada, was running a sensory panel for its blonde milk stout, the beer was mistakenly labeled as a Kölsch, a light-colored German-style beer. Initially, Beau’s brewmaster Matthew O'Hara thought it was a production error and entire barrels of beer where mislabeled, but it turned out the sensory panel just mislabeled the white stout. “It was a big moment of relief,” he says.

O’Hara started brewing Tom Green Summer Stout—named for the Canadian comedian Tom Green, who was briefly married to actress Drew Barrymore—after he heard about several U.S. breweries making a white stout. “It was an interesting avenue for us to pursue,” O’Hara says. “The idea was to reimagine and reinvigorate the whole brand and offer something new.” Tom Green Summer Stout is part of a series of milk stouts brewed by Beau’s in collaboration with Tom Green, which includes a traditional milk stout and a cherry milk stout.

According to O’Hara, white stouts are able to debunk preconceived notions and prejudices many drinkers have about dark stouts—that stouts are stronger in alcohol, taste slightly bitter and are essentially more challenging to drink. But when beer drinkers try a white stout, they often learn that you can’t always judge a beer by its color.

Most white stouts get their flavor from chocolate and coffee rather than the roasted malt that also creates the dark color in traditional stouts. Eliminating the roasted malt allowing the white stout to stay pale in color. The creamy texture in the white stout comes from oats and non-fermentable grains, and the slightly sweet flavor comes from lactose.

The type of coffee and cocoa used in the brewing process is what makes each white stout slightly different. For instance, Tom Green Summer Stout is brewed with cacao nibs, infused with organic Colombian coffee. Eastern Market Brewing Company in Detroit makes its White Coffee Stout with Kenyan coffee and cacao nibs, and rather than a golden color, the beer is a white orange color.

Rodger Davis, brewer and owner of Faction Brewing Co., in Alameda, California, made his first white milk stout in 2010 when he was head brewer at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley, California. The beer confused customers, who were expecting a dark beer in their glass but instead were handed a pale-colored brew. “It’s a mind binder,” Davis says.

Today, Davis makes Anomaly White Stout for Faction, brewing it with cocoa nibs, coffee and a bit of star anise that give the brew a hint of licorice. Anomaly, which is served on nitro, is so popular that Davis considered brewing it year round but decided to keep it as a summer beer because he prefers to “dedicate his time developing hoppy beers rather than gimmicky beers.”

While a white stout might be a bit gimmicky—some, such as Madison’s Beer Baron, argue that it is “neither white nor a stout”—Davis hopes it will encourages more people to try a traditional stout. “You’re basically saying, ‘Here are all the flavors you miss because you’re so closed minded that you won’t try a stout.’“

Butcher and the Brewer in Cleveland, Ohio, makes its Albino Stout year-round—it alternates being the brewery’s third or fourth best selling beer, says brewer John McGroarty. The white stout is brewed with cold-steeped coffee, cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. It uses high-protein wheat and oats to give the beer it’s full-body feel.

The result is a creamy and slightly sweet beer with a strong malt backbone. Close your eyes and one might call it a cream ale or vanilla porter. And, yes, you might just label it a stout. At the end of the day, this beer style is less about tricks and more about being a treat for seasoned stout-drinkers who want to try something new and novices who want an approachable introduction to the dark and mysterious beer style.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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