Ah, Stout. The bear hug of the beer world: big, brawny, brown, fuzzy. Well, not quite fuzzy (though there is something warm and cozy about them). Thanks to Guinness, most people, even people who don’t care much about beer, know roughly what a stout is. But the world of Stout is much bigger than the output of one brewery. So let’s get to know it.

Irish Stout Essential Info

  • Color: Dark brown to black
  • ABV: 4%-5.5%
  • Commercial Examples: Guinness Draught, Murphy’s Irish Stout, Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout, Innis & Gun Irish Whiskey Aged Stout

Before anyone ever gave us a lesson on how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, we were all very much obsessed with the Porter style. And stout basically emerged as a sort of stronger porter (originally called “Stout Porter”), eventually taking off as its own style with more depth thanks to the use of roasted barley. Irish stouts are classically dry, meaning you won’t get much in the way of overpowering malty sweetness (or hops, for that matter), but you may very well get flavors of chocolate and coffee or toffee swimming around in that dark malt profile. As in most stout, carbonation is very low (and often supplemented with nitrogen for a finer, creamier overall mouthfeel).

English Stout Essential Info

  • Color: Brown to jet black
  • ABV: 4%-7%
  • Commercial Examples: Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout, Magic Hat Heart of Darkness, Yards Brewing Co. Love Stout

Very similar to Irish Stout, English Stout also has a dark roasty flavor profile, again owing to the use of some proportion of roasted barley in the grain bill (when barley is heavily roasted, its sugars can’t be fermented into alcohol, so roasted barley is always used in proportion with unroasted malted barley). A moderately full mouthfeel balances hops and roasty bitterness with some malty sweetness, while again flavors like coffee or chocolate may be easily detectable. Hops are more for balance here, but certain brewers may absolutely dial up the hoppiness as they see fit.

American Stout Essential Info

  • Color: Brown to black
  • ABV: 5%-7%
  • Commercial Examples: Harpoon Chocolate Stout, Saranac Vanilla Stout, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout

American Stout is basically a catch-all term for the rainbow of stout varieties currently being produced by American breweries. The basic stout backbone is there—usually built on roasted barley—but flavors, hop intensity, and even the alcohol content (from high to sessionable) can vary. Everything from chocolate and coffee (as in actual brewed coffee) to chilies, vanilla, and fruit might be added to an American Stout, and the finished product is sometimes even barrel-aged for added complexity (and, let’s face it, street cred). Of course you may find traditional stouts here, too, but let yourself explore the madcap variety. Whatever you choose, chances are it’ll pack a flavorful, mouth-filling punch.

Russian Imperial Stout Essential Info

  • Color: Dark coppery brown to black
  • ABV: 8%-12%
  • Commercial Examples: Old Rasputin Russian Imperial, Founders Imperial Stout, Samuel Smith Imperial Stout

The biggest, brawniest stout there is, not to mention where the term “Imperial” entered into the beer world. Originally brewed in England for the Russian Imperial Court in the 1800s (hence the name), the style has kept its broad-shouldered flavor profile and higher alcohol content over the years. Pour this into a pint glass and be prepared for some ultra-deep, dark, roasty notes coupled with complex fruity, chocolatey flavors from the malt, with various levels of supporting bitterness from hops and a luscious, rich mouthfeel. Meant to be consumed slowly, not just as a way to appreciate the full-bodied complexity, but because these are considerably higher alcohol. A good cold weather—and Russia knows its cold weather—beer.

American Imperial Stout Essential Info

  • Color: Dark brown to black
  • ABV: 8%-13%
  • Commercial Examples: Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Dogfish Head Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew

This is basically the American take on the Russian Imperial Stout, also called an American Double Stout, brewed with as much intensity–if not more–in flavor profile and alcohol. Rich and creamy like a Russian Imperial, American spinoffs could feature anything from more assertive hops character to an addition of coffee or chocolate to play into the already intense roastiness, and many are barrel-aged, adding to the robustness and descriptive adjective-worthy complexity. Some residual sweetness, big alcohol, and lots of dark flavor to play around in. A stout at the creative edge of the craft beer movement, for sure.

Oatmeal Stout Essential Info

  • Color: Deep Brown to black
  • ABV: 4%-7%
  • Commercial Examples: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, Goose Island Oatmeal Stout

It’s easy to remember what makes Oatmeal Stout so special—it’s in the name. The addition of oats to the mash in brewing results in a stout that has similar depth as a traditional stout but more pronounced malty sweetness and a silkier texture. Depending on the proportion of oats used, there may also be some nutty, bready flavors lingering around in the roastiness. Between the rich mouthfeel from the oats and notes of chocolate or coffee from the roasted grain, this one can drink like some kind of indulgent liquid breakfast (it won’t, however, lower your cholesterol).

Milk Stout (Sweet Stout) Essential Info

  • Color: Dark brown to black
  • ABV: 4%-6%
  • Commercial Examples: Left Hand Milk Stout, Southern Tier Crème Brulee Imperial Milk Stout, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

Sweet Stout’s another easy stout name to remember: basically, it’s just sweeter than your average (say, Irish dry) stout. The way a brewer makes a Sweet Stout is either by brewing to have a low resulting bitterness, allowing us to taste some of those delicious unfermented sugars, or by adding lactose, a milk-derived sugar, to the fermented beer (hence the alternate name, “Milk Stout”). You’ll get the same roasty, chocolaty, coffee notes of a classic dry stout, but the sweetness gives it an almost dessert-like character—not cloyingly sweet like a milkshake, more like a delicious rich café drink, plus alcohol.

Oyster Stout Essential Info

  • Color: Dark brown
  • ABV: 5%-9%
  • Commercial Examples: Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout, Porterhouse Brewing Co. Oyster Stout, Coast Brewing Co. Bulls Bay Oyster Stout

Of all the flavors you might reasonably expect from a roasty stout, oyster probably wasn’t the first one you thought of. The tradition of oyster stout emerged in England, where it’s said bar patrons would slurp oysters out of the half-shell while they drank, finding a nice complimentary thing going on between the briny oyster flavor and the rich, robust stout. That someone actually thought to put oysters—first the shells, then eventually the whole creature—into the beer itself is just a testament to the slightly mad creative genius of brewers. Oyster stouts are now a fairly regular style, not as prominent as other stouts but popular enough that you’ll likely encounter at least one. But don’t worry too much about drinking something fishy (or mollusky, that is). The oysters tend to add only a bit of body and brininess that can be more or less detectable in the stout, depending on the brewery.