A couple of weeks ago I posted a small rant about there not being nearly enough stouts this winter being produced by the new local breweries. Thankfully, it seems, since then, some are catching on as I’ve had the pleasure of tasting a few from some of the newer guys and gals and, from what I’ve had, I’m liking what’s coming down through the line.
However, after writing that piece I was asked on a number of occasions about the difference between porter and stout (since I had mentioned that many breweries were producing porters as their darkest beer). Also, it was pointed out that many people don’t know the difference, and that porters and stouts are synonymous in their minds.
While I think it’s interesting, I’ll try to forgo spending too much time on the whole history of the styles since many people with more experience and authority have spoken better about it than I could.
Instead, I thought I’d highlight the primary defining characteristic that sets the two apart. The one caveat is that there continues to be some debate amongst experts and non-experts alike. What I’ve come up with is actually a fairly straightforward differentiation between the two styles. Plus, that way I’m not taking up your whole day with talk of measurements, and malts, and molasses.
So what’s the difference then?
The primary thing that sets the two styles apart is the amount of roasted barley that’s used-or that’s what I’m choosing to believe. Stouts use roasted barley as their primary ingredient, whereas porters use little or none. The roasted barley is what adds the distinctive coffee aroma and flavour to a stout.
Porters, by contrast, use little or no roasted barley, and instead rely on a specific type of malt – the chocolate malt – to create the darkness and flavour. This is what adds the cocoa and chocolate flavours to a porter.
More or less, that’s the main difference as I understand it. Each brewer will of course have their own take on the style too, which will change the flavour significantly. Different amounts of malts, a different strain of yeast, and of course, the roasted barley.
So this is my conclusion since it’s the one that makes more sense than the “whatever the brewer wants to call it” alternative which I’ve heard floating around too.
I must admit that even as someone who loves beer and has been drinking beer for a long time, I’m still always surprised by how much a subtle change in ingredients – different hops, different malts, adjusting the amounts of ingredients – can have such a drastic impact on the final product. As someone who loves to cook, I can understand, but I can’t help but be surprised!
What’s your take?
Do know more than I do about the topic? Did I miss anything? Are there any other major (or minor) differences between stouts and porters that I should have mentioned? If so, please put them in the comments below or share with me on Twitter.