A Stout or Porter, What’s The Difference?
By Timothy Long
I asked one simple question: What’s the difference between a stout and a porter? The answer opened the craft beer equivalent of Pandora’s Box.
You’d think that the answer would be straightforward. Here’s how you make porters and here’s how you make stouts. And it seems that at one time, it was. These two beers have a close relationship. One even begot the other. But as many relationships do, theirs became complicated. Over time, the definitions of both became intertwined. So much so that today, they are almost the same. Well, kind of. It depends on who you ask.
I posed the question to Tim Quintyn, the Tasting Room General Manager at Port City Brewing Company. I trust Tim’s opinion on matters of brewing and beer. I sat across from him at one of their high-top cocktail tables. He had just poured me a taste of their Colossal One, a newly released Imperial Stout. To state that it was amazing would be an understatement. It is brewed with Belgian Hops. The flavor is smooth and sweet upfront with hints of chocolate and a light bitter finish. The ABV is 9.5, so it’s a true stout. More on that point later.
As I finish adoring the stout, I look Tim in the eye and fire off my question.
“What is the difference between a stout and a porter?”
Tim looked me in the eye and chuckled, “How much time you got?”
He then began to confirm what I had found researching the subject.
There are a couple of things most craft beer brewers agree on. The first is that porters came first. The first porter arose in England in the 1700s. Legend has it that a bartender, or barman as they would have said, took a few lighter, hoppier beers and blended them with aged ales. Remember mixing all your sodas together as a kid to invent different tastes? That’s what he did. And he invented a porter. A dark, malty, medium-bodied beer that became very popular in the rowdy pubs of London. And the stout, well, the way that Vinepair.com tells the story:
“…eventually brewers reverse-engineered the mix and started brewing porters, no mixing at the bar needed. As more brewers across England made porters, experimentation naturally followed. Brewmasters would tweak recipes, add different ingredients and boost the alcohol content, and thus the stout was born. That’s right, all a stout technically is is a stronger – or stouter – version of a porter. In fact, its original name was “stout porter.”
The Brewers Association defines a porter as being between 5.1 and 6.6 ABV. Anything above 6.6 ABV is a stout. However, Tim informs me that brewers will often make what are technically stouts, and still call them porters.
The second thing that most brewers agree on is the kind of malt that should be used in the brewing of each one. Porters should be made with malted barley, and stouts should be made with un-malted roasted barley. And, of course, they don’t follow the barley rules very stringently either. Brew Masters understand the rule, but they do what they want.
As we finished our stout vs. porter talk, I fire another question at Tim. I had contacted a few local breweries researching this article. I had also enquired as to whether they had any special releases for St. Patrick’s Day. I was surprised that they had all said no.
“Why don’t I find local brewers brewing Irish beers for St. Patrick’s Day? Especially Irish stouts?”
Tim gives me a two-pronged, sensible answer. On St. Paddy’s Day, people want to drink Guinness, Smithwick’s, and Harp. Plus, whatever green swill the mass producers are putting out. Tim didn’t state the latter, but I am. The fact is, they do not want a locally brewed Irish beer.
The answer is logical. Everyone is Irish on St. Paddy’s Day.
Time of year also makes a difference. March is at the end of dark beer season. People start looking for lighter beers. If a brewer makes a stout in March, they could end up stuck with it.
Tim also gave me a couple great porter and stout recommendations from some of our local breweries:
Silent Neighbor Stout from Atlas Brew Works in D. C. This stout opens with notes of rye, chocolate, and roasted barley blended with rich molasses and subtle fruity bitterness: ABV 6.7%. DC Brau Penn Quarter Porter is a robust porter with notes of chocolate and a dry, roasted finish: ABV 5.5%. It’s a limited release, so catch it when you can.
I’m adding Chapless Horseman Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout by Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring, Maryland. This stout is as big of a mouthful as its name. It has layers of dark chocolate, coffee, and toffee with flavors of whiskey and oak. It is a new release and a very fun beer.
Most people think they know what stouts taste like because they have tried Guinness. Guinness is an Irish Stout. There are many other types: English Stout, American Stout, Russian Imperial Stout, American Imperial Stout, Milk Stout, Oyster Stout, and Oatmeal Stout, to name a few. All have unique flavor profiles. Plus, the exploration can be quite enjoyable.
So, what beer am I recommending for St. Paddy’s Day? Guinness Stout, of course. But Tim, you say, that’s a mass-produced beer, you hypocrite!! Yes, it is mass-produced, and it’s a very good beer. So don’t fill your hands with stones and haul me into the street quite yet. Mass-produced beer is usually swill, but it isn’t automatically swill. Plus, it’s St. Paddy’s Day! Be Irish even if you aren’t!
Your whiskey should be Red Breast 12-Year-Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. It’s one of my personal favorites. The proof is 80, and the average price is $45. It’s a good value for a Single Pot Whiskey. Citrus, vanilla, nuts, and spice on the nose which blend wonderfully on the palate. It also has a long warm finish. And your cigar? The Oliva Serie V Melanio Churchill. It’s as aromatic as it is flavorful with notes of malted chocolate and mesquite. Plus, you need a big cigar to go with that great stout and Irish whiskey! You can hold all three with two hands and still dance. Trust me on that one. Slàinte!!
About the Author: Timothy Long is an educator, writer, consultant, and experienced restaurant operator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Instagram and Twitter: @wvutimmy. Blog: What is that fly doing in my soup? http://whatflyinmysoup.com