Unlike Belgian IPA, Belgian stout has no BJCP style guidelines. It is never a category in global beer competitions. In his seminal Great Beers of Belgium in 1991, Michael Jackson made almost no reference to stouts in Belgium. Many drinkers in the country—and some brewers—erroneously use the term “stout” to describe any black beer. Other Belgians know it only in the context of the Flemish word stout—it means “naughty.”
However, for savvier drinkers in Belgium—and those brewers inclined to look through history books and see beyond their borders—Belgian stout appears to have evolved and acquired its own characteristics. And in North America, breweries from Allagash in Maine to Elysian in Seattle have found success with something called “Belgian-style stout.”
What Makes It Tick?
One major differentiator in Belgian stout is fermentation character. The Belgians have a tradition of using expressive yeasts that produce a wide range of flavor compounds. Thus, Belgian stouts often present as relatively fruity or spicy (or both) compared to the subtle ester character of British versions or the clean profile of those made with American ale yeast.