Okay students. Eyes front. No talking. Class is in session.
Welcome to Beerversity. The only school where I GUARANTEE you’ll love the homework. And talk about a safety school! The only way you can get expelled is if you don’t get yourself a DD if you’ve “studied” too long.
Really, I’m here to be a student as much as a teacher. As much as I loooooove the subject matter, there’s a TON I don’t know. So, instead of figuring out how basic I should get (“beer is an alcoholic beverage”), the “courses” will be pretty random.
It might be something relevant to a recent post. Or something I’ve always wondered or been confused about. Or I might try to clear up a common misperception about a style or name.
Still have your attention? Today I’d like to start with a couple of styles that often get mistaken for each other.
Porters vs. Stouts – What’s the Diff?
How confounding is this question? Searching “porter vs stout” on Google yields 1,350,000 hits! So if this question has kept you up at night, you’re definitely not alone.
Sierra Nevada offers one of the simpler explanations that I’ve found:
“By the 1700s, bolder, high-alcohol versions of any style of beer were referred to as ‘stout’ or strong. By then, porter was far and away the most popular beer style in the British Isles, and clever breweries began advertising the stronger versions of their beers as ‘stout porter.’ By the late 1800s, regular porters had fallen out of favor and stout porter, or simply stout, took their place.”
So, a stout is just a stronger porter, right?
Not so fast, my friend (apologies to Lee Corso).
Consulting the Beer Judge Certification Guide for, well, guidance only complicates matters. They classify three different porter styles (Brown, Robust, and Baltic), and SIX different stouts (Dry, Sweet, Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American, and Russian Imperial).
I’ve always felt that while they share similar flavor profiles, most notably a dark roastiness, Porters are generally lighter in body and a touch sweeter, while Stouts have a fuller, more weighty mouthfeel, and richer coffee/chocolate flavors.
Does this broad brushstroke hold up to scrutiny? Like most things in life, it depends on whom you ask.
Of Course They’re Different! What a Stupid Question!
Jay Brooks, from the Brookston Beer Bulletin, says “Historically, it’s well-settled that they were essentially the same beer, but have diverged in recent decades,” and linked to this poster created by Ethan John of Geek Beer as proof.
“Porters are complex in flavour, range from 4% to 6.5% and are typically black or dark brown; the darkness comes from the use of dark malts unlike stouts which use roasted malted barley. Stouts can be dry or sweet and range from 4% to 8% ABV.” – Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)
“Stouts are an extension of the 19th century porter style, originally called “extra stout porter beer.” – Samuel Adams
No Way! It’s Impossible to Tell Anymore!
“Porters and Stouts share a lot, from history to flavor. Both range from about 4-5 percent ABV (5.5 percent for Porters). Both are moderate in body and carbonation, with mild coffee, chocolate, toffee and roasted malt aromas and flavors.” – Ashley Rousten, CraftBeer.com
From Anchor Brewing:
“There are more stylistic crossovers and intertwined history between modern stouts and porters than among any other two beer styles.
Consider the evolution of brewing along with international variants, throw in the craft brewers with their interpretations, and spice up the whole equation with our vibrant and creative home brewing community and we have style lines that almost defy description.”
“[Porters vs. Stouts are] actually the MOST confused and ill-defined [style differentiation]. He furthermore stated that even the best-researched and well-intended writings on the subject were ‘as unambiguous as a horoscope’.”
So there you have it. The very first lesson at Beerversity results in a question that can’t be answered. Off to a great start, aren’t I? Future classes will be more straightforward, I promise.
Feel free to muddle the debate in the comments.