As the weather turns cold, I hear many say they will start drinking more dark beers. Porters and stouts are typically the dark beers they are referring to. These beers have a heavier body and warming quality that make them great for colder weather. But have you ever wondered what is the difference between a porter and stout really is?
Is it the ingredients? The alcohol content? The flavor?
They seem so close that I often can’t tell the difference so let’s discuss porters and stouts to better understand them.
History Of Porters
When it comes to beer, you always have to look back into history to truly understand why certain styles exist. Porters and stouts are no different.
But I’m not a historian so we will make this quick. Back in the 18th century London, there were three commonly made types of beer: pale, amber or brown. This was based on the type of malt that was used to produce it.
From there, you could choose a small, common or stout version. In other words, like, standard or strong.
A common brown beer soon became known as a porter because those that worked as porters preferred this style. From there, the term stout porter eventually replaced the term stout brown beer.
So historically, a stout was simply a stronger variation of the porter. In fact, many brewers used identical recipes for these beers with the only difference being the amount of water used in the stout mash.
Back in this time, brown malt was used to produce this brown beer. However, as brewing technology improved, it was found that brown malts were not efficient in their ability to produce the needed sugars compared to pale malts.
This started a trend of moving away from brown malt in favor of using mostly pale malts with black malts. Eventually, black malts would be replaced by chocolate malts.
A Square Is A Rectangle But A Rectangle Is Not A Square
So back in that day, you could order a stout porter but there was no such things as a porter stout. Meaning a stout was merely a version of a porter. Porter was the style and stout was the variation.
Eventually, terminology was shorted and the term stout porter was shortened to just stout.
Then in 1880, brewers were allowed to use unmalted grains in beer which brought in the use of roasted barley. Many brewers opted to use this new method of adding color to their porters and stout.
Modern Day Craft Beer: Porter Vs Stout
So what did we learn about porters and stouts?
Porters and stouts are historically the same beers; one is just stronger than the other. Ron Pattinson said it really well:
“The difference between porter and stout? All stouts are types of porter. But not all porters are stouts. Only the stronger ones.” – Ron Pattinson
However, in the modern craft beer world, that idea really no longer applies. There are Baltic porters that are north of 8% ABV while milk stouts are often around 6%. So “stronger” is not a true description of the differences.
The use of roasted barley is a common determining facts that many attribute to the difference between porter and stout.
And while there are a lot of similarities between these two styles of beer, here are what you should look for as the differences.
For me, it is nearly impossible to tell these two styles apart but there are a few general differences. Porters will range from light to dark brown; while stouts are almost always dark brown to black. In addition, you’ll find a darker head on stouts.
Both styles will have little to no hop aromas. Porters tend towards a malty aroma with a touch of roast. Try to see if you find find craramel, bread or nut qualities as well. For stouts, expect a lot of roast similar or like coffee. Both may have a slight chocolate with porters being more sweet versus stouts being on the dark chocolate spectrum.
If you couldn’t tell them apart based on appearance and aroma, your last shot is the flavor. Stouts will continue with a roasted coffee quality. They will be dry, creamy and have very little to no hop flavor. Porters will have a prominent malt flavor with less roast than the stout. It may have coffee, licorice or biscuit flavors. It can have up to a medium level of hop flavor.
Typically stouts will have a higher IBU (International Bitterness Units) than porters. This bitterness is often reminiscent of the bitterness you would find in black coffee.
The ABV on both styles have a huge range. However, in my experience most porters are under 8% while stouts are often above 8%. Unless they are milk or oatmeal stouts then they will have a more moderate ABV.
Related Post: Barrel-Aged Stouts You Need To Try
Wrapping It Up
So to add confusion to this situation, brewers can really brew a beer and call it just about anything they want. So a brewery could make a beer with roasted barley and call it a porter. They can make a hoppy, dark ale and call it a stout.
Yeah, beer styles seems to confuse me more and more after I learn about them. That’s because beer styles continues to evolve over time. Ingredients change, brewing methods change and the palates of drinkers change.
While this can be confusing, it is ultimately good for craft beer and what we love about it. Evolution and innovation are what has created many of the styles we drink today. Knowing the history is helpful but at the end of the day we have to keep an open mind about what a style can be rather than limiting it to what it should be.
Porter Vs Stout? Which Do You Prefer? What Are Some Of Your Favorites?