What is the point of beer styles? Historically, beer styles were just names of the city of origin for the style, like Pilsner, Vienna lager, Dortmunder Export, etc. Or they were the beers eventual destination, like India pale ale, Baltic Porter, or Russian imperial stout. More often than not, the meaning of the name changes over time. India pale ale is better known as IPA; regardless of where it is being shipped to. The stout porter, which was originally known as a stronger porter (in both alcohol and flavor), eventually just started to be called stout. Today, the primary differing factor between stout and porter is simply the addition of roasted barley, giving a stout a more pronounced roast character over the typically sweeter or more chocolatey flavors of porter.
Today in the American craft beer world beer styles have become even more confusing. I once heard someone argue that a particular double IPA tasted more like a double pale ale. The odd thing is, despite the fact that neither the Brewer’s Association or the Beer Judge Certification Program recognizes double pale ale as a style, I still knew what they meant. The often rumored origin of India pale ale was that it was an extra strength pale ale; with the added alcohol and hops used to withstand a voyage to India from England. While I think it’s perfectly fair to argue that an extra strength pale ale is the same as a double pale ale is the same as an IPA; IPA nowadays is predominately recognized by its intense hop aroma and flavor (I’d argue that bitterness doesn’t matter, with Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA being an example of a non-bitter IPA).
But because IPA is recognized by intense hop aroma and flavor and no longer by India or by pale ale, brewers have tagged the IPA moniker to pretty much everything to create new styles: white IPA, black IPA, Brett IPA, Belgian IPA, etc. It’s the black IPA name that bothers some people. Black pale ale? That’s an oxymoron! Well, it’s not if you consider that in today’s world the ‘P’ in IPA doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s the three letters together that mean something: intense hop aroma and flavor. Thus, a black IPA is simply just a beer with intense hop aroma and flavor that also happens to be black in color.
What about a white stout? To many, this again seems like an oxymoron. That’s because it is (you can see where I stand on this issue). What defines a stout? To be fair, you can’t really argue that color matters since we’ve decided color doesn’t matter in IPA (it’s even in the name in that one!). Is it flavor? That’s the argument really, that as long as you can create the same creamy body and roasted flavor of a stout, then it’s a stout, regardless of color. Call me a traditionalist, but I feel like ingredients and history matter too.
Stout is a working man’s beverage, and as such it isn’t about flavor, it’s about the economy. You think the working class in 18th century England gave two shits about “notes of coffee and vanilla” in their beer? Or that they were concerned about mouthfeel? Hell no. They wanted something cheap, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to make beer made out of some barley that’s burnt to shit from being roasted over open flames, rather than that prissy-ass pale malt. The only flavor in a stout that matters, is the taste of disappointment and pain.
That being said, on to drinking; I’ve got two beers here: Ninkasi Imperiale and Stone Master of Disguise. Imperiale is an imperial stout that’s weighing in at 9.1% alcohol. Master of Disguise is a white stout that’s got 9.7% alcohol. To try and mimic the flavors and mouthfeel of a traditional stout, Stone essentially brewed a blonde ale but added flaked outs for increased mouthfeel and cocoa and coffee beans to impart the roasted flavors without adding in any color.
Ninkasi Imperiale had a sweet caramel like aroma with a strong dark roasted character. It had a charred burnt taste with a little bit of dark chocolate flavors behind the burnt taste. The flavor that lingered in the aftertaste was reminiscent of dark roasted coffee. This is a solid beer to drink fresh, but I think some age will help to meld the different flavors together to smooth out some of the harsher characteristics. I personally prefer that bitterness in a stout.
Master of Disguise very clearly had coffee added to it, as the coffee was very apparent in the aroma. However depending on when coffee is added to beer, it can either impart the sweet, dark chocolate, roasted burnt flavors, or it can impart more of the vegetal acidity that is also present in coffee. While not having any coffee added, Ninkasi Imperiale had more of a burnt/dark chocolate coffee characteristics; this on the other hand, had more of the acidity, which comes off like green bell pepper. The green pepper was present in the taste as well. The coffee/green pepper taste dominated the beer, but there was very little noticeable dark chocolate or roasted flavors in the beer. The body was also noticeably thinner compared to the very full bodied Imperiale. Nonetheless, I do enjoy this beer because of the coffee flavors, but it’s the wrong kind of flavors to have when trying to mimic the characteristics of a stout.
At this point I decided to blend the two beers together. Why not?
There’s a sweet chocolatey aroma in the blend, however all the dark chocolate flavors that Imperiale had are now covered up with coffee from Master of Disguise. The flavor is a mix between burnt char and green pepper. The coffee flavors are still too present for you to not notice them; making this more of a “stout with coffee added” kind of beer. Very delicious.
The only other white stout that I’ve had was the Tenaya Creek and Brew Dog collaboration that was on last season of Brew Dogs. While I did find that beer much more stout like in character (it had coffee, truffles and cacao nibs added), I don’t think you could blindfold yourself and mistake it for a stout. I’m not entirely opposed to all the made up beer styles that are coming about. Most of them make sense, even when they are an oxymoron. However I think stouts should be left black in color if you want to call it a stout.