Porter vs Stout

The craft beer revolution opened the doors to countless varieties of beer. The creativity of the movement is inspiring but makes it hard to distinguish beers from each other, particularly brews with overlapping characteristics. Most people know porters and stouts are dark, heady, and flavorful, but few know the differences between them.

Whether you’re starting a brewery or want to know what makes your favorite dark beer unique, we’ll explain everything you need to know about stouts and porters. Read on to explore the distinctions between porters and stouts, the diverse types of each, and how they evolved into what they are today.

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Difference between Porter and Stout

Glasses with Different Malts and Hops

Stouts differ from porters because they use unmalted, roasted barley instead of malted, unroasted barley. Most stouts have higher alcohol contents and IBU scores than porters. While both stouts and porters are dry hopped, stouts contain fewer hops than porters. Stout beer evolved from porter beer, so it resembles the typical porter color and taste. However, stouts achieve richer flavors and coffee essences from roasted barley than is typical of porters.

Malted vs Unmalted Barley

Malting is the method of steeping, germinating, and drying grains to turn them into malt. Malted barley releases more fermentable starches during the brewing process. Think of brewing with malted vs unmalted barley as preparing instant vs whole oatmeal; instant oatmeal is already partially broken down and cooks up fast, whereas whole oats need more time to break down.

Here’s what you need to know about malted vs unmalted barley.

  • Malted Barley - Malted barley is a ready-to-brew malt created by soaking barley in hot water to produce enzymes. In the brewing process, these enzymes turn starches and proteins into fermentable sugars, which yeast converts to alcohol. Beers brewed with malted barley are typically sweet, opaque, and their pigments range from dark brown to black.
  • Unmalted Barley - Unmalted barley isn’t converted into malt and/or doesn’t contain malt. Unmalted barley contains fewer enzymes than malted barley, so beers brewed with unmalted barley achieve less starch conversion and the process takes longer. Beers made with unmalted barley have grainy consistencies, improved head retention, and hazy appearances.

Stout vs Porter Cheat Sheet

Brewers distinguish stouts and porters in three fundamental ways: the style of barley used, alcohol content, and IBU ratings. Use our cheat sheet to quickly learn the differences between these essential fall beers.

Porter and Stout Barley Usage

Most stouts are made from unmalted, roasted barley whereas traditional porters use malted barley. The coffee essence produced by the roasted barley is how most beer enthusiasts distinguish stouts from porters.

  • Typical porters use malted barley.
  • Typical stouts use roasted unmalted barley.

Porter and Stout Alcohol Content

Most stouts have higher alcohol content than porters.

  • Typical porter ABV range = 4.8 - 6.5%
  • Typical stout ABV range = 5.5 - 8%

Porter and Stout Bitterness

Porters usually fall lower on the international bittering unit (IBU) scale than stouts.

  • Typical porter IBU range = 35 - 50
  • Typical stout IBU range = 30 - 70

What Is a Stout Beer?

Stout Beer

Stout beer is characterized by its deep brown to black color and roasted tasting notes of coffee and dark chocolate. Unmalted roasted barley gives stout beers their signature color and character. Brewers keep the hop aroma low by dry hopping stouts and many use pellet or liquid extract bittering hops. Because stout beers are so dark, it’s hard to perceive their clarity. However, most stout varieties are opaque but have a chill haze at low temperatures.

  • Stout Ingredients - water, roasted black unmalted barley, minimal hops (often in pellet or liquid extract form), top-fermenting ale yeast (WLP004 Irish Ale Yeast preferred)
  • Stout Appearance - strong coffee
  • Stout Mouthfeel - thick, silky, and creamy
  • Stout Flavor - no obvious hops, subtle coffee, chocolate, molasses, or licorice essence

Types of Stout Beer

Enamored with its rich, roasted, and potent flavor profile, brewers invented multiple types of stout beers by incorporating unique flavorings and tinkering with the brewing method. Discover the many types of stout beer below.

  • American Stout - American hops and high quantities of dark malts give the American stout its signature flavor and pitch black color.
  • Dry Irish Stout - Heavy on roasted barley and light on roasted malt, dry Irish stouts have medium to high hop bitterness, present a light acidity, and finish with a dry, roasted coffee taste.
  • Coffee Stout - Coffee stout is stout infused with coffee. Brewers typically create coffee stouts in one of four ways: aging stout on roasted coffee beans, cold brewing stout in coffee grounds, adding coffee during fermentation, or incorporating cold-brew coffee into their finished stout.
  • Imperial Stout - One of the darkest and strongest beer varieties, Imperial stout is black-hued and typically has an alcohol content of about 9%.
  • Milk Stout - Brewed with lactose (milk sugar) which doesn’t ferment when it’s exposed to beer yeast, milk stouts have a subtle sweetness that contrasts with the natural bitterness of the stout beer category.
  • Oatmeal Stout - A mixture of oats and chocolate malts, caramel malts, crystal malts, and cara malts produce oatmeal stout's signature sweetness. Oatmeal stouts replace the forward-facing coffee essences of other stout varieties with a nutty oat flavor.
  • Barrel-Aged Stout - Barrel-aged stout is a strong stout aged in whiskey barrels. The whiskey barrels imbue the stout with oaky notes and complement its headiness.
  • Oyster Stout - A type of sweet dark beer that uses real oysters and shucked oyster shells in its brewing process, oyster stouts have pleasant salinities.
  • Pastry Stout - Pastry stout varieties play on the natural roasted sweetness of stouts by incorporating ingredients such as baking spices, vanilla, and chocolate. Some craft brewers take pastry stouts literally and brew their stout beers with actual pastries and sweets (think Moon Pie stouts and Cinnamon Toast Crunch stouts). Essentially, if the stout tastes like a boozy dessert, it’s a pastry stout.
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What Is a Porter Beer?

Porter Beer

Porter beer is known for its striking brown to black color produced by dark malts and malted barley, leaving the essence of chocolate on the palette. All porters (minus the Baltic variety) are brewed with top-fermenting ale yeast and are dry-hopped. Porter beers pair well with BBQ and other rich, smoky flavors. Use our comprehensive beer pairing guide to develop a tasting menu.

  • Porter Ingredients - water, dark malted barley, generous hops, top-fermenting ale or lager yeasts
  • Porter Appearance - light to dark brown
  • Porter Mouthfeel - medium-light to medium bodied
  • Porter Flavor - ranges from acidic and dry to sweet and bitter depending on the style

Types of Porter Beer

The porter beer style has evolved into distinct categories both out of necessity for exportation and to accommodate a variety of flavor preferences. Discover the most popular types of porter beer below.

  • English Porter - English porters are less roasty, boozy, and hoppy than most porter varieties. They present a medium malty sweetness, brown hues, and often deliver notes of caramel and chocolate.
  • Brown Porter - Due to their generous malts and minimal hops, brown porters carry notes of bittersweet chocolate, caramel, and toffee. Brown porters are a lighter colored porter style and typically appear medium brown.
  • Robust Porter - Robust porter has a bitterness and roasted malt flavor that lies in between a brown porter and stout created by generously adding roasted malts and omitting roasted barley. We characterize robust porters by their high alcohol contents, hoppy bitterness, and caramel sweetness.
  • Baltic Porter - Lager yeast or cold-fermented ale yeast gives Baltic porters their high alcohol contents. English brewers invented this style out of necessity; they fortified their porters with higher alcohol contents to prevent spoilage during exportation to the Baltics. Some refer to this beer style as ‘Imperial Porter’ because the English also exported it to the court of Catherine II of Russia. Fans of Baltic porter beer appreciate its essences of cocoa, nuts, and coffee.
  • American Porter - With ABV levels reaching 10% or higher, American porters exceed the strength of Baltic porters. American porters are heavily roasted, highly hopped, and strikingly bitter.
  • Flavored Porter - Flavored porter builds upon the classic porter style and incorporates flavorings. Rich, malty, and complex porter beer lends well to a variety of ingredients ranging from earthy to sugary.
  • Barrel-Aged Porter - Strong porter aged in whiskey barrels is aptly named barrel-aged porter. The whiskey barrels add a woodsy, oaky flavor to the porter.

History of Porter Beer

Invented in 18th century London, porters were the first beers popularized during England’s industrial revolution. Porters became the blue-collar beverage of choice because they were strong, slow to spoil, inexpensive, and heat-tolerant. In fact, it was their popularity with the ‘porters’ who transferred goods across London that gave the beer style its name. The earliest porter beers were blends of light, hoppy brews with heady aged ales. Their popularity inspired brewers to reverse engineer the beverage and invent the porter beer brewing style.

Stout Porter

A stout porter was originally a high ABV porter. In the 17th century, the term “stout beer” was used to describe any thick, strong beer ranging between 7% and 8% ABV. In the early 20th century, brewers started using roasted barley in their stout porters, which separated them from the porter family. The suffix porter was eventually dropped.

Irish Porter

London exported its porter beer to Ireland, where it met with tremendous success. Famed Irish poet, Flann O’Brien, even wrote a poem about the beverage and entitled it A Workman’s Friend. The Irish originally renamed porter a “pint of plain”, which is the name used in O'Brien's poem.

A split in the English and Irish porter style occurred in 1817 when Irish brewers stopped using brown malt and instead used patent malt and pale malt. They relied on black roasted barley to give their porters its signature dark color and flavor. With this transition, Irish porters became what we classify as stouts today. Arthur Guinness sparked the widespread transition from porters to stouts when he realized he could reduce his taxes by using unmalted and roasted barley, and other Irish brewers followed his lead. Irish stouts are still one of the most popular Irish beverages and are an essential element of any St. Patrick’s Day food menu.

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Now that you know the differences between stout and porter beer, you can diversify your winter beer menu. Use this guide to educate your staff on the distinctions between these two popular dark beers.

Posted in: Bars & Breweries|Kitchen & Cooking Tips|Menu Tips|By Corrinn McCauley
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