Enthusiasts cite three kinds of stouts. First are the dry stouts, typically bitter, the category in which Guinness and Kansas City's Boulevard Dry Stout fall. Every year for St. Patrick's Day, the St. Louis Brewery brings out its Nitro Irish Stout, 5.5 percent alcohol by content, a full-bodied dry stout that has the bitterness of roasted barley with flaked barley added for a smooth finish. Next are the sweet stouts, variously called milk stouts or oatmeal stouts. English stouts generally fall into this category. Finally there are the imperial stouts, the chieftains, the most robust of all stouts and descended from the ultraheady brews that once came out of imperial Russia and the Baltics. In America, a few brewpubs make imperial stout, among them Burt Grant's in Yakima, Wash. Pubs in some British territories have a Triple X stout, only available in the bottle, that approaches 8 percent alcohol by volume.
Stout drinkers, by and large, are a finicky lot. Some will not drink the dark, filling brews back-to-back, choosing instead to alternate with a domestic brand. Others drink stout only on special occasions. Says Bernie McDonald, who may be heard strumming and singing with wife Barbara at McGurk's on Sundays and Mondays, "When I drink it, I drink it in Ireland with smoked salmon and soda bread." To some, such as Lucky McAteer, appearance is key. "It's got be fresh and creamy," says he. "If it looks right to me, I'll drink it all night." Still others drink by the numbers. Says Joe Butler of McNulty's, "You can't just drink one stout, because a bird never flew with one wing. You know there's no drinkin' even numbers? You ask an Irishman how many he's had, he'll say, 'I just drank an odd one.' It may be seven or nine, as long as it's an odd one. That way you have to have another.