Ask the Pros: Brewing “Pumpernickel” Stout with D.C.’s Atlas Brew Works

At last year’s World Beer Cup, the team at Atlas Brew Works brought a gold medal home to the nation’s capital with Silent Neighbor—a “pumpernickel stout” brewed with rye and blackstrap molasses. Here’s how they put it together.

Josh Weikert Mar 18, 2024 - 7 min read

Ask the Pros: Brewing “Pumpernickel” Stout with D.C.’s Atlas Brew Works Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves

I’m not blowing smoke when I say that Silent Neighbor from Atlas Brew Works is exactly the kind if stout I fell in love with when I was new to beer nerdery—and so, it became what I emulated when I started brewing.

Stouts are fun because they feature a lot of flavors, yet they can also be surprisingly easy to drink—and that’s certainly the case with Silent Neighbor, a gold medal winner at the 2023 World Beer Cup in the Export Stout category. Yet stouts are also fun from a brewing and recipe-design perspective; they allow so much room for interpretation, even accounting for the multiplicity of sub-styles that can help us make sense of them.

The days when American brewers saw stouts as defined by the presence of roasted barley (and not much else) are long gone. Clearly, a beer like Silent Neighbor—which some would classify as an American stout or an export stout, but which Atlas itself calls a “pumpernickel stout”—has a lot more going on, both under the hood and on the palate.

Here, Daniel Vilarrubi, director of brewing operations at Atlas, shares some key aspects of the design and process behind the beer.


Notes from the Pro: Let’s start with goals and intentions: “When brewing stouts,” Vilarrubi says, “it’s good to focus on balance—balancing bitter and sweet, not going overboard on the dark malts, and finding the body you want.”

In an era when many stouts have gone ever-sweeter, thicker, and more imperial—and, remember, even the classic American stouts were hoppy and bitter—Silent Neighbor stands out for its measured approach and drinkability. Aiming for balance and restraint is always excellent advice, but especially so with stouts, where there are so many competing flavors and impressions. “Obviously there [are] going to be different criteria for an export stout versus a dry stout versus a milk stout,” Vilarrubi says, “but I think starting with that idea of balance first helps.”

So, which kind of a stout is Silent Neighbor, exactly? “In-house, we affectionately call it a pumpernickel stout,” Vilarrubi says. “There’s rye malt and blackstrap molasses, making it a less-than-traditional export stout.” (I’ll share some of my own thoughts on the blackstrap below, but for now can I just give it a big thumbs up?)

Going for some body and residual sweetness—to give drinkers some of that richness they expect from a stout—Vilarrubi shares some useful guideposts, beginning with a connection between the process and ingredients: Aim a tad higher than you might think on final gravity; Silent Neighbor finishes at 4.5°P, or about 1.018. “Dial in your mash temp to get the FG that you want,” he says. “We use Briess Pilsen as our base malt for its huge diastatic power, but high attenuation isn’t really the goal on a beer like this. So, we go a little high on the mash temp, along with a low amount of base [malt] in the recipe.”


At Atlas, they mash this one at 154°F (68°C), but Vilarrubi isn’t doctrinaire about that. He says there’s no one right answer—there are different ways to achieve the body you want in your stout—and he encourages brewers to “figure out what works for you.”

Delving further into the grist, he says that Atlas goes “pretty high on the dark malts—about 13 percent—to get a dry, roasty finish. But I wouldn’t go too much higher, or you can get an ashy flavor.”

You also don’t want to set yourself up for a problematic (i.e., stuck) mash: “If you’re brewing with rye, get some rice hulls for a smoother lauter.”

Translation and Application: While the style of stout may not matter much to drinkers, for brewers it can provide a frame of reference and help us set our targets—and, to my mind, Silent Neighbor lands squarely in the foreign extra (or export) stout camp. The ingredient that most convinces me is that blackstrap molasses.


If you plan to brew something like this and haven’t had the pleasure of working with blackstrap molasses, you are in for a treat. In these pages before I’ve referred to dark treacle syrup as “liquid time” for its ability to make an old ale taste “old,” even when it might be just a few weeks in the bottle. Likewise, dark molasses is a single ingredient that wields a whole lot of flavor complexity.

Its deep caramel flavors amplify the impression of sweetness, even though it’s mainly comprised of easily fermentable simple sugars that will leave the beer drier than it would be otherwise. Meanwhile, its burnt-sugar notes accentuate the roasted character of the malt without actually running the risk of making it taste burnt.

That’s not to say you can sleep on the other ingredients—or on the fermentation, though in this case, it’s fairly straightforward—but you really won’t be able to make a beer with the character of Silent Neighbor unless you can get your hands on some blackstrap molasses.

One final note, from a homebrewing perspective: Atlas lists this beer at 36 IBUs, and that should suffice—but if you find that your roast character doesn’t quite hold up to the residual sweetness (or the impression thereof), you can always consider tweaking that bittering-hops addition upward.

Final Thoughts: Far too much effort goes into trying to define and delineate different types of stouts, and that effort is mostly wasted. Instead—if we’re aiming for great flavor and drinkability—we’re all better off working as Vilarrubi recommends: Build out a balanced recipe that makes more of what a stout can be.

Silent Neighbor is plenty drinkable while featuring a full range of stout-like flavors, and it does so in a manageable 6.7 percent ABV package. If balance was the target, Atlas hit it.