Today is International Stout Day, and if you feel like celebrating the holiday, I recommend going to either Island Brewing in Carpinteria, Figueroa Mountain in Buellton or the Funk Zone, Santa Barbara Brewing Company downtown or to Hollister Brewing Company in Goleta. Typically, all four have some good offerings of the stout variety.
But this post isn’t about local options for the unofficial holiday. This is about the merits of the holiday itself.
According to Stoutday.com (the lovely picture above is from the same website)- today, Nov. 8, marks the third time this beer holiday has been commemorated. Here’s an excerpt from the front page of that site explaining a little about the ISD.“Just like wine vineyards tell the story of the people, the weather, the land and its history, beer, too, tells a story of the land, of the people and the brewers. Having a day dedicated to a beer style really has just accelerated the excitement in the craft brew circles as more learn about the intrigue regarding its history and the variety that the craft beer industry has to offer. The first stouts were produced in the 1730s. The Russian Imperial Stout was inspired by brewers back in the 1800’s to win over the Russian Czar. “Imperial porter” came before “imperial stout” and the earliest noted use of “Imperial” to describe a beer comes from the Caledonian Mercury of February 1821, when a coffeehouse in Edinburgh was advertising “Edinburgh Ales, London Double Brown Stout and Imperial Porter, well worth the attention of Families”.”
Here’s my beef with ISD. Stouts today have very little to do with the history of the style or the history of the locations that pioneered the style centuries ago. The modern Stout, especially the Imperial Stout, is more often than not a style in which a brewer experiments with adjuncts. Invariably, this is the time of year that Pumpkin Stouts begin popping up on tap lists. Coffee Stouts, Vanilla Stouts, Milk Stouts, Oatmeal Stouts, Bourbon Barrel-aged Stouts and Chocolate Stouts are even more common. All of this is a good thing, and I can gladly spend an evening getting intimate with one or several of those beers, but what does it have to do with the history of beer? If anything, the Stout and all of its brothers, sisters and cousins represent what’s incredible about contemporary American brewing. Does that deserve a holiday?
My feeling is that it does not.
I feel the same way about IPA Day, which is essentially a celebration of America’s most popular (craft) beer style. Walk in to any beer bar today and you’re already likely to find at least one IPA on tap – probably more. All IPA Day accomplishes is further promoting the idea that craft beer means hoppy beer – a way of thinking that truly shortchanges beer drinkers because they limit their options with that sort of thinking and may miss out on some finely crafted and subtly nuanced beers.
Instead, I propose we celebrate Pilsner Appreciation Day. Unlike a robust Stout or IPA with their intense and flaw-masking flavors*, Pilsner is a delicate style that cannot hide brewer mistakes. Brewed simply with Pilsen malt and noble hops (either German or Czech), it is something of a litmus test for a brewer’s skill.
In addition, a great Pilsner can be a revelatory beer. Firestone Walker released Pivo Pils this year, and it found a home in my fridge all summer. But it also awakened a thirst in me for the pale lager, and I started ordering them everywhere I went. The hoppy IPAs and bold Stouts were always there when I wanted them – and I frequently did, but Pilsner captured my attention this summer precisely because it was a subtle and nuanced beer. It took me out of the dialectical thinking of beer as either hoppy or malty, and allowed me to appreciate the way flavors could play with one another on different levels.
I’m not suggesting that you don’t celebrate International Stout Day. I may go out and grab myself a pint of the dark stuff tonight. I just feel like beer deserves better than the promotion of only the most popular styles. Do yourself a favor and branch out from what the twitter and untappd crowd are pushing in your face.
*I don’t want it to sound like a brewer who only makes hoppy beers or dark beers is bereft of talent. There are many, many fine examples of both IPA and Stout, made by many fine brewers.