One of the more interesting lessons learned by experience in the realm of craft beer and brewing is that there’s a reason we have so many different designators for stouts. It can be easy to lump them all into one category as though they’re all just slight variations on some central theme, but doing that greatly oversimplifies the situation. Despite sharing a common dark and often-opaque appearance, there’s just as great a level of diversity in stouts as there are in chocolates: and I challenge any of you to taste a bar of Hershey’s milk chocolate, then a 96% cacao dark baking chocolate, and tell me, “yup, basically the same thing!” In this case, we’re considering one newly disentangled version of what was once a shared style: the Foreign Extra Stout. How it ever came to share a style apartment with the Tropical Stout is something of a mystery to me – they’re quite different – but when it comes to stouts this one might just be my favorite, even without the fruity flavors and the mental image of flamingos and palm trees.
Foreign Extra Stout isn’t a complicated style. However, it is a distinct style, and missing the mark on any one of several flavor characteristics will unavoidably drag it out of its home in category 16D and into one of the other stout styles. It’s probably best to start with ABV: while several stouts can reach fairly high into the alcohol range, FES is specifically expected to meet that somewhat-lofty goal (though not as high as an Imperial Stout). At the same time, though, the beer is meant to be dry and with only subtle warming. The alcohols, in this case, are meant to add some complexity to the bitter and roasty flavor profile, adding a peppery note but with the roast and bitterness countering the sweetness of the alcohol. It’s also a particularly roast-driven style, the way that espresso is assertively roasty relative to a cappuccino or latte. A light burnt note (but not acrid) is desirable. Hops, on the other hand, play very little role here, which is one key distinction between FES and American Stout. So, we want moderately high alcohols (without heat), high roast (without too much burnt), low hops flavor (but moderate to high bitterness), and a clean fermentation character. Clearly we have our work cut out for us.
I like recipes that take a simple approach to things. This isn’t one of them. Don’t get me wrong: you don’t need to use this many different malts to make an FES, but it’s an easy way to ensure that you don’t end up with a warm one-trick roast pony. We’ll get that simplicity back in the hopping, I promise!
Start with about 10 pounds of Maris Otter as a base, then add one pound of British crystal 45 and one pound of Briess Extra Special Roast. Those will give you a solid toffee-and-toast background on which to layer your roasted malts. To that we add half a pound of roasted barley, half a pound of pale chocolate malt, and a quarter-pound of black patent malt. Those should add lots of complex roast, and the black patent and roasted barley should play well together in providing the assertive but not sharp “burnt” note we’re looking for. But we’re not quite done with the sugars yet: I imported a trick from my early Robust Porter recipes to this beer, and I add a half-pound of molasses just before the start of the boil. The burnt sugar impression really amps up the complexity without adding residual sweetness, and the flavor really feels deep. Being a mostly-fermentable sugar addition, it might even help dry out the beer, but I can’t promise it will (we’re counting on the roast and your fermentation to do that). That should get you to about 1.074, post-boil gravity, for a healthy 7.7% ABV – right in the wheelhouse for FES, but not so alcoholic that people are thinking it’s a Russian Imperial.
Hops are simple. I use anything at 60 minutes to yield about 60 IBUs (a high-alpha hop makes sense here, to minimize loss and reduce the risk of all that plant matter adding a vegetal flavor to the finished beer), then half an ounce of Hallertau with about five minutes to go. The slight floral-earthy flavor will probably get lost in the shuffle, but it’s there if anyone (like a beer judge) starts looking for it!
For yeast, we’re going a little outside the box (for me, anyway), and using Wyeast 1084 (Irish Ale) yeast. I’ve made this beer with my go-to London Ale III and German Ale yeasts, but it just doesn’t work. The Irish Ale yeast adds a subtle “roundness” to the roasted flavors that’s tough to beat, and so long as you thoroughly control for diacetyl, it’s a great fit.
Mash as usual here, and add the molasses to the kettle as your lauter and/or sparge, giving a small stir to be sure it’s dissolved before bringing the beer to a boil. You might also consider a check of your water chemistry, and if your chlorides are outnumbered by sulfates, consider an adjustment! Don’t obsess over it, though – this beer is supposed to be pretty roasty and even slightly “burnt,” so it can tolerate a little additional bite from your water.
Where you do want to pay particular attention is in fermentation, especially initially. We want to minimize any diacety production, so start cool – 60F – and hold there for at least the first three days. After that window, you can start ramping up the temperature, preferably by a degree or two per day, but with a final target of 68-69F. That way, any diacetyl that you have produced will be cleaned up, and the ramping will also promote a full attenuation by your yeast. Hold at that higher temperature for at least a week after the end of primary fermentation, to ensure that every possible scrap of sugar that the yeast can ferment has been taken care of.
Finally, take a bit of a flexible approach to fermentation. If all is well and the beer is prominently roasty, a little burnt, and not sweet, then go ahead and carbonate to an even 2 volumes. If it’s a little over-roasty, lower that a bit to reduce the bite from the carbonation, which should help. If it’s a little too “café au lait” and not enough “espresso,” go a bit higher on carbonation to let the carbonic acid take up some of the slack. This is one beer where tuning the carbonation can really do some good things!
There’s a lot of stout in the world, and with good reason: these are really enjoyable, satisfying beers. FES, for me, is best for those who don’t like their palate to be coddled – let those folks drink milk stout. This one will hit the mark for your friends who like their chocolate dark, their wines deep and tannic, and their humor dry and acerbic. Slainte!