While I've heard some people say dark beers are not for summertime, for me nothing pairs better with a grilled steak than a Dry Irish Stout. The low final gravity of the Dry Stout creates a light finish on the tongue, while the roasted coffee flavors complement food cooked over charcoal. While it may be difficult to top that perfectly poured draft Guinness at your local pub, a good homebrewer can match the quality of almost any Dry Stout you would find in a bottle or a can.
The Grain Bill
The key ingredient in a Dry Stout is roasted, unmalted barley. Any other type of dark malt may contribute caramel or chocolate flavors that aren't appropriate for this style. The common commercial version of this grain is simply called Roasted Barley, while a more intense version can sometimes be found under the name of Black Barley. This heavily roasted grain provides the coffee flavors and the pitch black color, and also contributes to the thick white head. The dark barley also adds to the dry finish and occasionally produces a touch of astringency. Using Roasted Barley for 10% of the total grain bill is not uncommon, and some versions can use as much as 15%.
The base malt used in a Dry Stout should be a 2-row pale malt. An English malt such as Maris Otter is a good choice if you want to stay close to the traditional roots of the style. In addition to the standard malted 2-row, a flaked barley is often added to improve head retention and create a smoother, creamy body. Flaked barley goes through a process that preserves a lot more natural protein than you find in 2-row malt. This protein will survive the mash and the boil and impart the classic texture of a stout.
While the Dry Stout will have a medium hop bitterness, it's often blended in with the bitterness that comes from the roasted barley. That means you'll want a smooth bittering hop that doesn't have an overwhelming character. Any of the Goldings varieties will work well in this beer, and a hop such as Northern Brewer would also be acceptable.
If you check the aroma of any classic Dry Stout, Guinness or Murphy's for example, you may not detect even a hint of hops. This tells us that all hops should be concentrated at the beginning of the boil. That said, it's fun to try adding some aroma hops at the last 5 minutes of the boil for a twist on this old classic. If you are in the mood for a some experimentation, toss in an ounce at the end of the boil and see how it turns out.
Irish yeast strains such as White Labs WLP004 or Wyeast 1084 are popular choices for a Dry Stout. These work well, but it's also fine to use a dry English strain such as Whitelabs WLP007 or Wyeast 1098. If you chose to use a different strain, look for one that produces low esters and accentuates the dry and bitter character of the roasted barley.
The Brewing Method
Traditional styles of Dry Stout are typically less than 5% ABV. This makes it another great candidate for the brew-in-a-bag method. This recipe would be perfect for a homebrewer who is looking to make a low-cost jump from extract to all-grain style brewing.