Porter vs Stout (what’s the difference?)

16 Dec

I am asked semi-frequently to give the difference between these two beer styles.  I believe that as people get more open to venturing into craft beer that they first stumble upon ales and then gradually work their way into darker brews.  Before this point when someone is just curious about darker beers they seem to have trouble distinguishing the different styles.

The large problem that leads to this confusion in style is that the style of both porters and stout are evolving and changing.

Porter originated from the mixture of a dark beer with a medium bodied one that was typically enjoyed by Englishmen with the professions of being Porters.  Mixing beers to get a desired taste was common practice around British pubs at the time and one combination grew in popularity.  This popularity grew at an alarming rate and at the right time in history.  England was just experiencing it’s Industrial Revolution and the world was quickly introduced the first mass-market beer: the porter.

The malts used in both porter and stout overlap considerably.  Each brewer, however, making porter has their own malt-bill that was different from other brewer’s.  Pale malt was typically used as the base, and from there only a few options remained: crystal malt, black-patent malt, chocolate malt.  Each brewer had a unique combination as well as a unique amount of each malt to be used.  This led to many different recipes that all made porter.  What made the distinction between porter and stout was the use of roasted barley.

Stout used the same malts as porter, for the most part.  The use of roasted barley, however, was generally restricted for stouts.  This was all well and fine until around the end of the 20th century.

A craft beer revolution began in the United States, as we all know.  Homebrewer’s were being inspired from European exports and started going “big-time” with their brews.  At this time recipes were being played with and new beers were coming to be: beers that didn’t fit traditional European style-guides.  This is part of what is beautiful about American craft brewing: it is an ever-changing and evolving world creating new and creative beers.  With this came a new change to the porter: the introduction of roasted barley.

End products of porter and stout created using roasted barley are still two very different things, however.  A new distinction was put in place, so that any porter made using roasted barley was to be called a “robust porter.”

Since the malt-bills are so similar in these two styles, their flavors often are similar.  I think that the only real distinction we are left with is that porters tend to be a little hoppier than stouts, and that is all I can really say as far as the difference.  The flavors will mostly be the same, porters will still tend to be a little lighter, more brown in color, and with hoppier profiles.

I don’t know if this really helps anyone out at all, just drink some porters and stouts and let me know the difference, you will be able to tell.


One Response to “Porter vs Stout (what’s the difference?)”

  1. Kayla December 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    I’m guilty as a frequent asker of this difference, my b. No worries, I get it now. Granted I do not know much about beer, but I do notice the “evolving and changing” problem that you mentioned. I’ve had a couple of porters that were super dark and felt (yes, felt) like a stout, while vice versa I’ve had some light stouts that seemed port-ish (yes, port-ish).

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