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Porters and Stouts

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by SportsandJorts, Dec 29, 2012.

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  1. SportsandJorts

    SportsandJorts Nov 17, 2012 Virginia
    Beer Trader

    So I have been getting into craft beers a lot lately. I feel like I have been getting a pretty good taste on the different styles of beer and while I feel that I could taste the difference between a stout and porter but I don't feel like I could describe it. I was even asked the question tonight and had trouble describing the tastes of the two. Could I please have some BA help?
  2. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    It would appear that BAs are tired of the Porter vs. Stout topic.

    The short answer to your query is that for modern day beers there is no genuine distinction between a Porter or a Stout; each brewery decides to ‘label’ their beer either a Porter or a Stout based upon their personal arbitrary definition.

    elgiacomo likes this.
  3. NickyDee21

    NickyDee21 Dec 23, 2011 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Definitely agree with the above post. There is little difference between most of the porters and stouts i have tasted (excluding big beer barrel aged stouts). If anything, I'd say most of the porters I've had are more on the smokey side, but that would be attributed to the general styles of porter I've had compared to the the actual porter vs. stout argument
  4. jmw

    jmw Feb 4, 2009 North Carolina

    It is purely speculative and depends on what the brewer would rather call their beer.
  5. Mothergoose03

    Mothergoose03 May 30, 2005 Michigan

    Those two styles are very similar and the dividing line between them is very fuzzy. Simply put, a stout is a stout porter. If you go to the Beer Style Articles on this page ( http://beeradvocate.com/beer/101/ ) and then click on Porter and read it for its taste descriptions, and then go back a page and read the article on stouts you'll get a lot of information that you are seeking and written better than I can describe.

    If you leave it up to me to describe: Porter = roasted malt flavor, and Stout = bolder roasted malt flavor.
    Schwantz and musicman7070 like this.
  6. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    This topic comes up regularly.Historically the only difference ever was in the strength and never the composition; more recently the names have been used indiscriminately.Brewers' whim , maybe simply because it makes a better sounding name.
    If anyone tells you they can detect a difference you will be able to find a host of counter examples.Many beers have been labelled as Porter at one time and Stout at another.
  7. kneary13

    kneary13 Jan 30, 2010 Massachusetts

    Technically and historically, i believe that porter should have little to no roasted character at all. whereas it is a requirement of stout.
    jglowe77 and ejl4 like this.
  8. Biffster

    Biffster Mar 29, 2004 Michigan

    You'll get pasted in this forum for saying it, but that is absolutely true.

    Nowadays it is, as everyone says, a very blurry landscape. I still personally tend to look for fuller, a bit higher in alcohol and less (or no) burnt roastiness in porters, and a drier more roasty experience in (Irish or dry) stouts, but that's just my bias. No two beer styles are more completely overlapped commercially anymore, and while there has been an attempt to technically and stylistically differentiate them, there is a lot of blurriness historically, too.
  9. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Some folks are of the opinion that a Porter shouldn’t have roasted barley as part of the ingredient list for a Porter. A number of breweries do use Roasted Barley in their Porters; for example Great Lakes uses roasted barley in making Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

    So, there really is no genuine difference in Porters vs. Stouts for modern day beers.

    TongoRad likes this.
  10. TongoRad

    TongoRad Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    On the other side of that coin, Sierra Nevada Stout has no roasted barley, just black patent malt.
  11. diesel59

    diesel59 Jan 3, 2012 New York

    The way i judge it... is by the bitterness.... i find stouts to be more on the bitterside.....or maybe i don't know what I am talking about .... you can be the judge on that too... prost....
    dennis3951 likes this.
  12. stealth

    stealth Dec 16, 2011 Minnesota
    Beer Trader

    And to make it even more confusing for ya, there are some 'imperial stout porter's out there, haha. What is it!? f'it, its both.
  13. akakii

    akakii Jun 18, 2009 Virginia

    For me the main difference is generally in the mouth feel. Most stouts seem to have more body and substance. But that's just my subjective take on it.
    Psychmusic, jtg5678 and CORKSCREWFISH like this.
  14. mudbug

    mudbug Mar 27, 2009 Oregon

    The only difference now is the lettering on the bottle.
  15. Derranged

    Derranged Mar 7, 2010 New York

    Apparently there is no difference now as others have stated above. This is a good read:


    Few debates cause more friction between beer enthusiasts as the arguments over what separates a porter from a stout. The problem is that today we have a scene where there appears to be a difference between the two drinks, but nobody can agree what that difference is. Is it that stouts contain roasted barley? Is it that porters are lighter, or sweeter? Is it that stouts have patent malt in them, while porters have chocolate malt?

    Historically the answer is "none of the above," and most especially it's not true that stouts have to contain roasted barley, or patent malt, since stout was being brewed when roasted barley was an illegal ingredient and before patent malt was invented.

    If we go back to the latter half of the 18th century and the first part of the 19th century, stout, more particularly brown stout, was simply the name for the strongest version of porter. Here's a quote from a book called "A General Dictionary of Commerce, Trade and Manufactures," published in 1810:

    "Porter may be divided into two classes, namely brown-stout and porter properly so called … Brown-stout is only a fuller-bodied kind of porter than that which serves for ordinary drinking. A great deal of this is exported to America and the West Indies."

    That "brown stout" simply meant "strong porter" is confirmed by a court case reported in The Times of London in 1803 over the theft of the contents of a cask of "porter, of superior quality, called Brown Stout" on its way from London to Barnsley, in Yorkshire. In court the stolen beer was described as both "remarkably fine old porter and very strong" and "excellent brown stout." Research by the beer historian Ron Pattinson among the records of London brewers in the early 19th century has shown that early 19th century brown stouts very often had identical recipes to the same brewer's porter, differing only in the amount of wort drawn off a given quantity of malt: less water was used for mashing stouts, so that they would be stronger. [​IMG]Whitebread London Stout

    Strong porter was called "brown stout" because it was still possible to find pale stout: "stout," when applied to beer, originally just meant "strong" (and the opposite word, for weak beer, was, at least occasionally, "slender"). Barclay Perkins of the Anchor brewery in Southwark, one of London's biggest porter brewers, was still brewing pale stout in 1805, made from 100 per cent pale malt, at a strength of around 7.9 per cent alcohol by volume. A brewer’s manual published around 1840 called "Every Man His Own Brewer," still referred to “stout ales” meaning strong ales in general. In 1843, Beamish and Crawford of the Cork Porter Brewery in Ireland began advertising "Bavarian Pale Stout", manufactured "under principles personally explained by Professor Liebig [a German scientist famous, at the time, for his studies of fermentation] to the manufacturers."

    Patent malt, when it arrived in 1817, was specifically hailed as a way of making porter cheaper, since it could now be brewed from almost all pale malt, which gave a much better extract for the cost compared to the mixture of pale and brown malts that had been used before. While Irish brewers (or at least Guinness) went over eventually to using entirely pale malt and patent malt to make their stouts and porters, London brewers, at least, used a mixture of pale, brown and roast malts in their stouts and porters, though some continued to use just pale and brown malt.

    At Whitbread, whose Chiswell Street premises, on the edge on the City of London proper (the "Square Mile"), was one of the top two or three London porter breweries, in 1805 the firm used 160 quarters of pale malt and 56 quarters of brown malt to make both its porter and single stout, and 136 quarters of pale together with 40 each of amber and brown malt to make its double stout. From these 216 quarters of malt it would make 798 barrels of porter (3.7 barrels to the quarter, around 6 per cent alcohol by volume), or 720 barrels of single stout (7 per cent abv or so) or 580 barrels of double stout (2.7 barrels to the quarter, around 8 per cent abv).

    Four decades later, in 1844, the Whitbread brewing books show it was making five different black beers: porter, KP (keeping porter), single stout, double stout and triple stout, all from pale malt and brown malt only, in a ratio of approximately three quarters pale to one of brown. The stouts were generally parti-gyled with one or other of the porters, that is, the stout was made from a first, strong mashing, while the porter was made from a second mashing of the same grain, possibly mixed with a third or four mashing. The only difference between the stout and the porter, therefore, was in strength.

    Ron Pattinson's research shows that in the second half of the 19th century, London brewers' recipes for porter and stout began to diverge – but the stouts were now getting LESS patent malt, where used, than the porters, and more brown malt, with the probable result that the stouts were becoming sweeter and less dry than the weaker porters.

    Roasted barley became a permitted ingredient in beers in the United Kingdom (which still included Ireland at this time) in 1880, with the passing of the Free Mash Tun Act. However, there was no rush to start using it: one writer in 1885 insisted that roasted barley did not give as permanent a colour as roasted malt, and "the flavour is also very inferior; and the aroma can bear no comparison." Guinness in particular does not appear to start using roasted barley in its stouts until around 1930.

    The First World War, and the high taxes and restrictions on beer that it brought, did terrible and permanent damage to the strengths of beers in the British Isles, and by the 1920s porters were down on average to around 3.6 per cent alcohol by volume, and stouts to only 4.7 per cent or so. Guinness Extra Stout, which had been around 7.7 per cent alcohol in the 19th century, was down to 4.4 per cent in the 1930s.

    When the "small brewer revolution" started in Britain and the United States in the 1970s, there was more than 250 years of different styles and strengths of stout and porter to choose from, and different brewers picked different sorts to recreate. The result is that, in some cases, some brewers now brew "porters" that are stronger than their stouts. The need to categorise beers for brewing competitions in the U.S. has meant a plethora of micro-managed style descriptions, few of which, however, have any historic validity.
    The answer to the question: "What's the difference between a stout and a porter" is that originally a stout was simply a strong version of porter: today the difference is whatever you want it to be.
  16. emyers

    emyers Jan 11, 2009 Illinois

    Thanks for the post! Very informative.
  17. Derranged

    Derranged Mar 7, 2010 New York

    Can't take all the credit. A while back another BA member posted this in a similar thread, I just remembered about it.
  18. jmw

    jmw Feb 4, 2009 North Carolina

    I'm betting that the stout v porter disjunct causes divorces only second in frequency to Cooper's hawk/sharp-shinned hawk identification.
  19. Porkhustle

    Porkhustle Dec 6, 2012

    Right, but when they have both, like Sierra Nevada, the question still begs
  20. mattcrill

    mattcrill Mar 16, 2004 Ohio
    Beer Trader

    Let me summarize all the threads over the years for you:

    1. Stout= roasted barley; Porter= black patent
    2. Many claiming #1 has no historical basis
    3. The reminder that porter is the pre-cursor to "stout" or "stout porter"
    4. Cue the UK BA contingency stating that the BJCP and anyone that attempts to categorize styles are stupid and ignorant
    5. Someone citing the Ron Pattinson article
    6. Someone else saying "great article" in reference to #5
    7. More gnashing of teeth
    8. No real helpful info provided to the OP

    Drink what you like; like what you drink; decide for yourself.

    I would suggest:

    Fuller's London Porter (Brown porter)
    Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald (Robust porter)
    Sinebrychoff Porter (Baltic porter)
    Murphy's (Dry Stout)
    Mackeson's XXX (Sweet stout)
    Samuel Smith's Oatmeal stout
    Lion Stout (Foreign Extra stout)
    Rogue Shakespeare Stout (American Stout)
    Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Thirsty Dog Siberian Night, Bell's Expedition (Russian)

    My apologies but these style examples reflect my locale

    This should give you a nice range and give your palate a nice context for the differences. Have fun and invite a group over for a tasting to debate the nuances of each example. It's beer...have fun with it!
    crushedvol and dennis3951 like this.
  21. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Nicely summed up. Unfortunately as long as #s 2 and 4 remain true we're going to see more threads like this :)
    Had two pints of Ringwood Porter yesterday, exceptionally roasty.Not long ago I had one of my favourites, Stilton Porter, smooth and not too roasty. And Belvoir Brewery's excellent Oatmeal Stout , somewhere between the two.
  22. hoptualBrew

    hoptualBrew May 29, 2011 Florida
    Beer Trader

    Anchor Porter!
    EdTheEdge likes this.
  23. Brianhophead

    Brianhophead May 16, 2007 Alberta (Canada)

    When in doubt go to bjcp.org and look up whatever style you're interested in. They've got some great descriptors that help describe what any given style of beer should look, smell, and taste like. The website for All About Beer magazine is also a great resource when you click on the "Stylistically Speaking" tab.
    dianimal likes this.
  24. Brianhophead

    Brianhophead May 16, 2007 Alberta (Canada)

    And something just occurred to me. I have to wonder about some of my fellow members who don't think there's any difference between a porter and a stout. I've tried many of each style and can ALWAYS tell the difference between a porter and a stout.

    To say that there is no real difference between a porter and a stout is crap. Just because brewers can't be bothered to do their homework and produce a genuine porter or stout before labelling their beer is a problem with the brewer, not the style.
    CORKSCREWFISH likes this.
  25. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    Do a side by side of Sierra Nevada Porter & Stout, while reading the style profiles. I did. Imo both brews fit into either style.
  26. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    They do have some excellent descriptors. Unfortunately they aren't definitive and are in many cases genuinely misleading.The BJCP itself don't claim to define styles, just to put forward guidelines for entries in homebrewing competitions.
    The fact is that there's no definitive body defining what beer belongs to what style. There's no Grand Jury or Court of Appeal.Remember that Porter and Stout are just names which have sufficed to describe these beers over a couple of centuries, no rules, just a loose understanding.Hence Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was at one time labelled West India Porter. It's only over the last very few years that people have decided to fix beers into compartments called styles.And it's really too late to do this with any precision as there will be a host of brews which have existed for a while which don't fit properly.
    Their only difference ever lay in their strength , over the years the two names have been used indiscriminately and the result is that they are hopelessly intertwined.Anybody who thinks they can tell the difference is sadly mistaken because there isn't one and really never has been.
    chinabeergeek likes this.
  27. jtg5678

    jtg5678 Nov 27, 2012 Illinois
    Beer Trader

    Having never really done formal research, my personal determination over years of drinking craft beer was that stouts consistently have a heavier mouthfeel than porters. I know the differences are more complex and blurry, but I always sort of just considered porters as "Stout Lite."
    CORKSCREWFISH likes this.
  28. Robert_N

    Robert_N Apr 10, 2012 United Kingdom (Wales)

    A Stout is kind of like a Weasel and a Porter is someone who carries or pushes things around. HTH.
  29. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Well, that is number 4 ‘in action’

    “4. Cue the UK BA contingency stating that the BJCP and anyone that attempts to categorize styles are stupid and ignorant.”

    Reading Ron’s version of David Letterman’s Top 10 list was mildly amusing and par for the course. I did enjoy reading the various posts/replies especially those made by Stan Hieronymus.

    Other BAs may be interested in knowing that beyond the BJCP style guidelines (which were generated for homebrewing competitions) there are other published style guidelines for commercially brewed beers (to define the beer styles for commercial beer competitions):

    · Style guidelines for the European Beer Star competition
    · Style guidelines for the World Beer Championship and Great American Beer Festival

  30. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Actually, I don't believe that anyone who attempts to categorise styles is stupid.Only when they feel that they have succeeded! There are simply too many loose ends to tie up.As Porters and Stouts have been around for so long there has been a mass of variables , changes, switchovers and simple arbitrariness and to try to define which is which lays you open to a mass of contradictory examples.
    Guidelines for competitions aren't the same as style definitions. Nobody and no organisation has the authority to define styles and in any case they are constantly evolving.
    The difference between Porter and Stout is that one is a gorgeous beautiful beer and the other is a beautiful gorgeous beer.
  31. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Your viewpoint of: “Nobody and no organisation has the authority to define styles” is something that you have articulated in a large number of posts. The reality is that a number of folks (e.g., Michael Jackson) and a number of organizations (e.g., BJCP, Brewer’s Association, the organizers of the European Beer Star, Beer Advocate, RateBeer, etc.) have indeed defined beer styles.

  32. bulletrain76

    bulletrain76 Nov 6, 2007 California

    A stout is more likely to but will not necessarily have a stronger roasted flavor than a porter. That is the only real-world generalization that I have been able to find after drinking hundreds of stouts and porters over the last five years or so.

    Breaking alcohol and body down, there isn't really much or a correlation either way. Baltic and Imperial porters are very strong, while dry irish stouts are very weak, but many regular porters are also weak while Russian Imperial Stouts tend to be very strong.

    As a brewer who is familiar with the recipes of many different stouts and porters, I have found to clear divisions on that side, but there are again some slight tendencies to have more of one ingredient or another. Porters are sometimes (but rarely) based on only chocolate malt as the roasted grain choice, while I have never seen this in a stout. Stouts are more likely to have only roasted barley as a roasted grain, though many porters also include it as a portion, and black malt shows up just about equally in either from what I've seen. Hopping for porters tend to be a little tighter in range and is usually not too low or too high, while the different sub-styles of stout run the whole range from essentially no hop bitterness to as high a bitterness as possible. These are all just vague trends that I have noticed and there are plenty of examples that don't neatly fit any of them.

    So I don't believe there are any rules, but as a brewer, I do believe there are certain trends that influence the decision to market a dark ale in a certain way, if that makes any sense.
    Roguer likes this.
  33. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    It depends on the definition of define if you will allow that! I can define anything I like , by which I express my own understanding of it.But that's my definition, not the definition.
    The yard, pound, volt and watt are all clearly and accurately defined beyond argument. You can also define words like tall, short, fat, thin but what remains a matter of opinion is where you begin to describe a person as tall, short, fat or thin.
    The people and bodies you mention have issued their own understandings of styles. They have defined what they mean by them.But these are not the definitions of the style in the same way as volts and amps are defined-beyond question.
  34. CwrwAmByth

    CwrwAmByth Jan 24, 2011 United Kingdom (England)

    From experience, stouts should be seen as porters big brother, essentially of a similar composition but with darker malts, bigger flavours, higher strength.

    There isn't much point looking at history as beer styles change so often nothing is set in stone.
    CORKSCREWFISH likes this.
  35. bulletrain76

    bulletrain76 Nov 6, 2007 California

    What about the world's most popular stout, Guinness Draught? That's about as light as it gets for a stout/porter.
  36. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Mackeson Stout in the UK is 3% ABV.
    chinabeergeek likes this.
  37. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    History is important as it explains the present , without history it all becomes guesswork and assumption.It also illustrates dynamics and changes.
    Martyn Cornell has researched the topic pretty thoroughly and his conclusions are here;
  38. patto1ro

    patto1ro Apr 26, 2004 Netherlands

    Whitbread Stout 1922 to 1970 and Mackeson Stout 1936 to 1970 are two examples.
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