What’s the difference between a Porter and a Stout? In today’s brewing world, the short answer is …. nothing. But, there are a few small differences we can highlight. But first, let’s have a little background.
Back in 18th century England barmen created a drink which became known as the Porter. It was, and still is, a dark, heavy-bodied beer which had lots of malty notes and was balanced with a lot of hops. Legend has it a barman mixed a lighter, hoppier beer with an older aged ale. Brewers caught onto the new drink and began to brew their own concoctions.
These new concoctions allowed the brewers to tweak the recipes by adding new and different ingredients and then they began to boost the alcohol content… thus the birth of the stout.
So, a stout is technically a stronger, or stouter, version of a porter.
Today’s craft beers
But, you can’t always rely on this as true in today’s craft beer world. Some stouts are weaker than porters and … some porters are stronger than stouts. Yep, it seems that in today’s world there really is no true difference.
Luke Purcell of Great Lakes Brewing is quoted as saying “you can ask any number of brewers this questions and get just as many different answers. The simple answer is that there really is no difference between the two.”
When brewing the beers, barley is used in both varieties. Porters use a malted barley while stouts are made with an unmalted roasted barley. The unmalted roasted barley is what gives stouts their coffee flavor.
It’s all in the taste?
Which brings up what I consider the most notable difference between a porter and a stout … taste. Stouts tend have more of the coffee notes while a porter has a soft mocha or milk chocolate roastiness.
I consider a porter or a stout my dessert beer. There are dessert wines, so why not have a dessert beer? It would be wrong to assume, like I did for such much time, that a dark beer is heavy, bitter and not drinkable. (Remember I lean more towards the lager family). But, I really do enjoy a good porter or a stout. That said, I usually have a half pint or half pour. You now the old adage, a slice of chocolate cake is less rich and easier to eat than a full cake … well, maybe that’s a poor metaphor, but you get the idea. Porters and stouts are more rich and full bodied and are meant to be a sipping beer rather than a beer you drink all day.
What do I order?
So, the question at hand, what do you order? If you love coffee, I would probably start with a stout. These by nature have a stronger coffee undertone. But, don’t rule out a porter, especially if it specifically states it was brewed with coffee. Your porters, traditionally have more of a chocolate note. The perfect beer has a dry finish with a mocha note. Imagine eating a chocolate covered espresso bean. That’s the best way I can describe a porter or stout.
Each brewer adds their own flavor profile to their recipe. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample. Some are heavier texture than others. Some are actually poured with a Nitro tap; which makes the beer lighter and creamier in texture and taste. Not to get too technical, but a Nitro tap actually adds nitrogen to the beer as its poured, making the beer have a higher nitrogen content versus C02 content. Ultimately for tasting purposes, it makes the beer really good.
Ok… which stout?
When you go to order,usually there is only type of Porter… a porter. But, on the stout side, there can be several different styes, what are they and how do they effect the taste?
These tend to have more of the sharp coffee like roastiness associated with a stout. They are rich and creamy in texture. Think… Guinness.
At one point in history, stouts were given to those under the weather but milk was added to reduce the strong taste. Today, craft brewers are bringing back the concept of a milk stout. By adding lactose, the sugar found in cow’s milk, the concoction becomes sweeter and creamy.
This version uses raw or malted oats. These add a very soft, rich creaminess and a hint of oatmeal cookie nuttiness. Think of this style as Grandma’s oatmeal cookies and beer were combined into a yummy dessert beer.
One of the strongest stouts. Alcohol usually is 8 to 12%. The name Imperial goes back to the time of Russian Czars and royalty. Just know, these will be stronger in alcohol and have an extra bite when they are drank.
Porters and Stouts are certainly worth a try. They are great sipping or dessert beers. A great way to end a meal or evening. Don’t be afraid to try different styles of stouts; each have their own unique taste.
Want something a little sweeter? Try mixing two different styles. I really enjoy a raspberry fruit beer mixed with a chocolate porter. It’s like drinking a yummy raspberry brownie. By mixing the two beers, it reduces the extreme sweetness of the fruit beer while sweetening the porter slightly. Hmm…. think I see one of those in my very near future!
(credit: vinepair.com, beerandbrewing.com, allaboutbeer.com and “Tasting Beer” by Randy Mosher)