25 April 2024

Pastry stouts

USA | You’d be forgiven for thinking that chocolate, marshmallow, pecan pie, blueberry cheesecake or peanut butter were flavours more associated with desserts than beer, but in the United States craft brewers have been pushing the creative envelope once more by developing a whole new style of beer more akin to liquid dessert in a glass.

Termed pastry stouts, these typically sweet, lactose-heavy, usually high alcohol beers have even gained their own entry into the much-coveted Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines to “reflect the increased commercial availability of these beers.”

What exactly is a pastry stout and how did it all begin?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact genesis of the style but many credit Southern Tier’s Blackwater Series in 2004 as one of the first exponents. From the 2010s onwards beers like Cigar City’s Huhnapu Imperial Stout became widely known and soon the idea took root across the Atlantic, particularly among Scandinavian brewers. The term pastry stout is thought to have originated around 2014.

Pastry stouts are almost always strong, sweet beers made from a dark beer base that incorporate culinary ingredients to create a sweet, rich flavour profile that mimic flavours found in pastries or desserts. Subtle they are not! Pastry stouts are extreme in alcohol and flavour with a full-body and smooth, creamy mouthfeel due to residual sugars from a heavy malt bill. They can be barrel-aged and made with adjuncts, extracts, purees or with natural ingredients deconstructed from well-known desserts e.g. a Snickers inspired beer may include cocoa nibs, vanilla, peanuts and almonds. Sometimes they may include oats to boost the body further or nitro to enhance the creamy mouthfeel. The end result is undoubtedly a delicious, decadent, show-stopping beer with undeniable ‘wow’ factor.

Pastry stouts have the ability to get the whole taproom or bar talking. When one’s mind is blown by the first sip of a breakfast stout tasting of chocolate, nut, maple syrup and blueberry pancake it’s almost impossible not to share the experience with fellow beer-lovers. They are inclusive, accessible beers that invite new audiences into the fold who love not only the sweet, dessert-like profile but the nostalgia and comfort created by a flavour evoking childhood memories.

What makes a good pastry stout?

With so many ingredients and flavour combinations to choose from what makes a good pastry stout? A well-made, well balanced base beer is a good starting block on which to build the sweet flavour profile. High alcohol helps amplify and balance the flavours while adding to the intense, indulgent feel associated with these beers. Simply throwing a tonne of lactose and Oreo cookies into any beer is not going to cut it. Here, three American craft brewers give their expert opinions on the style:

Kyle Fjalstad, barrel-programme manager at Craft ‘Ohana, San Diego, CA, who won a silver medal for Modern Times Beer’s Mega Devil’s Teeth: Double Dutch S’mores Edition in the first ever pastry stout category at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, explains: “A good pastry stout needs to be sweet and high in alcohol, but not taste overwhelmingly alcoholic. It should lend itself well to adjuncts and be less acrid than its Imperial Stout counterparts. In my opinion, the best pastry stouts are barrel-aged to give a touch of oak and spirit character and provide more nuance overall.” His award-winning version of Mega Devil’s Teeth is a 14.4% Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with vanilla, cocoa nibs, and vegan stroopwaffles.


Pastry stouts are inclusive and accessible, not least because of a flavour evoking childhood memories

Where do you get your inspiration for pastry stouts?

Barry Holmes, CEO of The Bruery, Placentia CA, who make a range of ever more innovative, creative and diverse pastry stouts, says: “We take inspiration from all things that have an interesting taste. We usually start with real ingredients including cookies, oreos, strawberries etc., and if flavourings will make the beer taste better, we use those too.”

Who is drinking pastry stouts and are they a passing trend or here to stay?

Jeremy Roberts, founder/brewer, 903 Brewers from Sherman, TX renowned for their fruit-forward slushies and adventurous pastry stouts, comments: “Pastry stouts are extremely popular. We’re releasing 2–4 pastry stouts a month even in the summer and they appeal to wide consumer profile from 35–55 years old, both male and female. While they’re popular now, consumers palates and preferences are constantly changing so we hope they stick around but you never know.”

Barry Holmes echoes these sentiments and says pastry stouts were not as popular as a few years ago but still fairly desirable. At The Bruery pastry stouts are popular among regular supporters who enjoy discovering how the brewers interpret a particular taste profile.

Craft ‘Ohana releases three different varietals of pastry stouts a month which are typically limited to 300–500 bottles each and they sell out most months. Kyle Fjalstad adds: “I think that the style will endure similarly to other styles that have come into the craft beer zeitgeist. I think that people are often surprised when they try a pastry stout for the first time. The appearance can be off-putting for some, but after the first sip they realise just how approachable the style is.”

What’s the future for pastry stouts?

Pastry stouts are ideally suited to sharing and sparking conversations but will they last?

Kyle Fjalstad comments: “Popularity will ebb and flow, but the breweries making the best versions of them will have drinkers to consume them”, while Barry Holmes says “It’s a style that can fade if we don’t continue to innovate around it.” American craft brewers are renowned for their ground-breaking creativity, relentless innovation and unswerving commitment to quality and as such as well-placed to continue pushing the boundaries of flavour and creating excitement with new ingredients and new taste experiences. Is it only a matter of time before we see pastry lagers!?


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