Brew Dudes

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What Is The Difference Between Stout and Porter?

Last week, we tasted and drank some amazingly good Imperial Stout that John brewed. After that video, we had an impromptu discussion about what Stout and Porter meant to us. What is it in our minds (and palates) that make one different than the other? So we turned on the camera this week and had the discussion.

First of all, there are so many different takes on Porter and Stout commercially that it is dizzying.

Unfortunately, the marketplace rewards big versions of these two styles. The only style that seems to give IPA a run for its money in many “Best Of” lists is Imperial Stout. Russian Imperial Stouts are loved around the world by many people.

We feel that it is unfortunate that the “biggest” version of these styles gets all the accolades because the nuances in a brown porter can offer just as much depth as a RIS without the overpowering boozy notes.

Americanization of these of these styles also drown out the historical representations of these beers in the marketplace.

The average consumer may have not have the insight to all the versions that these styles can provide, but then again, one of the top reasons why I homebrew is to tailor a style to suit my palate and making styles that I might not be able to get on my local store shelf.

Much has been written on the historical journey of these two beers; we don’t even attempt to discuss it here. (Let’s meet for beers in a great pub for that discussion someday.)

I’ll only mention that these two styles are often very close together. Often many of the commercial beers available could be called either a stout or a porter.

It really comes down to marketing most of the time I suspect.

What separates the two styles for me is sweetness and toast character.

To be honest, this opinion of mine is likely rooted in my early days as a craft beer drinker, and maybe it’s not truly indicative of what the style guidelines would tell us today.

Both of these beers have strong and noticable roast character, obviously.

I prefer a stout to be more chocolate with a great toasty malt character behind it. I also think stout should have some caramel or sweeter malt character to it.

In contrast, I think Porter should have a dryness and harder hitting roast character. It should not have that much chocolate or toast character. There should be a little darker crystal character present to help soften a clear, coffee like note that should be in porter.

Looking at these descriptors, it’s interesting to compare them to the BJCP style guidelines.

Subcategories of Stout seem to surround the porter recipes as far as flavor profiles. Suggesting that porter exists almost entirely within the Stout’s range of flavors.

(A circle in a circle for all you venn diagram folks.)

That is pretty funny seeing how Porter is the senior and Stout the junior when it comes to beer evolution.

So what is your opinion on these two styles?

What character really defines Stout or Porter for you?

Let us know as we continue to think about these styles ourselves.

BREW ON!

Oh – if you want to read a great post on the subject – go here: http://zythophile.co.uk/2009/03/19/so-what-is-the-difference-between-porter-and-stout/

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7 Comments

  1. Hi, @stuartjcarter on twitter here.

    The more I read about porter and stout, the more difficult it is to say what each of them are. It’s quite confusing and frustrating!

    The upside of this is that what you brew is totally up to you and your own interpretation.

    For me, giving a big hand-wave-y definition here: broadly I agree with what you say above. Porter was meant to be a thirst quencher, which implies a subdued or nonexistent sweetness, with a sharp crackle of hop (historically Fuggles, or Willamette for contemporary US versions) and/or roasty bitterness. Stout was the stronger, fuller-bodied (or stout-bodied…) version of porter, a more nourishing/liquid food type experience, so more noticeable sweetness and richness is implied.

    That’s just my thoughts, and given the inherent ambiguity of the styles I no longer feel it is appropriate to say “no, you’re wrong, that’s not a porter”. I’ll just have another pint and let my tastebuds give their own verdict 😉

  2. JJ Savilonis

    Being a new brewer (3 batches), I still consider myself a consumer first. As that consumer, I prefer to drink dark beers. Styles are my personal with no knowledge of the judging requirements.
    Stouts, to me, are heavier on the mouth. They are thicker feeling on my tongue and with a sweeter, full flavor. Porters are a lighter style, slightly bitter tasting, unless they are infused with coffee or chocolate. Those flavored types are closer to a stout except not as dark in color.
    As I look for more recipes to brew, I appreciate what goes into both to understand their differences more. Lactose and oats change the style from my limited brewing experience.
    Favorites: Yards General Washington Porter / Stone Coffee Milk Stout
    Thanks

  3. Agreed – Thanks Stuart!

  4. Thank you, JJ.

  5. The answer to the question “what’s the difference between porter and stout is simple.

    There isn’t any.

    I answered that question six years ago here

    http://zythophile.co.uk/2009/03/19/so-what-is-the-difference-between-porter-and-stout/

  6. We’ll check out the link – certainly to answer why there are two names for the same beer.

  7. Caz

    For me personally, its all down to the roasted barley – according to my own taste preferences off course… 🙂

    A good stout for me is dry, really roasted, a lot of bittering hops and not seldom a hint of sourness from the dark malts while a porter is fuller (think London Porter, pun intended), sweeter and more often chocolaty.

    There is an noticeable difference between a dry stout and brown porter but when you move towards other versions, for example baltic porter vs sweet stout the differences seems to fade.

    I do think a common thing amongst all of us, despite having different views on the subject, is that we often are strongly influenced by our first experiences of stouts/porters. The early encounters marks us for life! 😉

    I’m from Sweden and historically we have had a dominant since the early 1800s – Carnegie Porter (still going strong!). It typically were renamed to -Stout when it was exported to US. The terms seems more or less interchangeable historically and in reality today.

    I do love’em both anyway. Cheers!

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