On a recent Saturday night in Maine I found myself wandering the street after the hostess at beloved Portland institution Fore Street told me it would be about two hours to get a table (the tomato tart alone, by the way, was totally worth the wait). Looking for a drink or two to pass the time, I happened upon the Liquid Riot Bottling Company in Portland’s Old Port district. After a quick look over the menu, one beer caught my eye—a white stout called Albino. Not only had I never drank a white stout, I’d never even heard of one before. I like to follow the mantra of order first, ask questions later when confronted with oddities on menus and the bartender quickly brought me a glass.
Before the purists get up in arms and post all seven stout definitions from the Brewer’s Association, light-colored stouts, though mostly unrecognized today, actually have a history dating back to at least the 18th century. Some of that history is detailed in Martyn Cornell’s Amber, Gold and Black. Despite that documentation though, Liquid Riot brewer Greg Abbot told me that he thinks his beer could technically be called a cream ale (perhaps to appease the aforementioned purists). But after drinking the Albino, the difference seemed mostly semantic. What I drank was a stout. It was just a strange looking one.
The experience of drinking a white stout is unusual. Not like, “oh my god this beer is made with whale testicles,” unusual; but rather, drinking one makes you feel like someone actually went into your mouth and tinkered with your taste buds. Compared to the IPA sitting on the bar next to me, my beer looked like practically transparent. And were it not for its creamy head that had been amplified with a nitro boost, the beer would have been almost indistinguishable from a crisp summer pale ale. But tipping back the glass I found a heavy, warming beer that tasted overwhelmingly of chocolate. An impressive trick to be sure.
I asked Abbot about how he pulled it off. The secret to the body comes from lactose sugar, which doesn’t ferment like most sugars in beer and results in a thickness recognizable in many stouts. The chocolate flavor though, is more complicated. “I ran a few tests steeping cacao nibs in light beer and every time there was color pick up.” Instead, Abbot made a cocoa extract and then distilled it until it was clear before adding it to the beer. What you get is an optical illusion of a beer—it looks like one thing and tates like something else entirely.
In a beer world dominated at the moment by mouth-puckeringly bitter double IPAs and dangerously funky sours, the white stout is a nice break. And should you find yourself with a long wait for a table in Portland, Maine, you should hike down to the waterfront and try Greg Abbot’s.
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