American Craft Brewers Reveal All

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 been winning audiences worldwide.  They make good additions to a restaurant menu, either to accompany desserts or as a dessert on their own!

What exactly is a pastry stout?

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 eg. 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.

What makes a good pastry stout?

With so many ingredients and flavours 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 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.”   This 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!

Where do you get your inspiration for pastry stouts?

Barry Homes, 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?

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 Homes 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. 

The UK remains an important export market for American craft beer with 7.3% of all exports, the second largest individual market behind Canada.  American craft beer is available from national wholesalers or on-line at Athletic Brewing  Sierra Nevada shop

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