Well the clouds are starting to appear and Fall is in the air which means one thing…dark beers are coming back! We’ll wait patiently while you run to grab your growler and a pumpkin spice latte…
So now that dark beers are starting to pop up at all of your favorite grocery stores and breweries, have you ever wondered what exactly the difference is between porters and stouts? Don’t worry, your confusion over the semantics is totally justified considering that for a long time all dark, malty beers were simply called “stout porters”. In fact, for a long time after the discovery of porters, the difference between the two types was pretty much non-existent. The closest anybody could get to a definition of the difference was that stouts were simply a “stouter” porter. For trade purposes it was eventually decided that, “Porter[s] 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,” (A General Dictionary of Commerce, Trade and Manufactures, published 1810) however, you would never call anything just a “stout” as stouts could be anything from light to dark as long as it was strong.
image courtesy of Guinness
Some of you beer lovers may have noticed a problem with this description, though…mainly that nowadays in the craft beer world there are porters with a higher ABV than stouts, which means that an already blurred line has pretty much been completely erased. One has only to look at Guinness’ famous stout which clocks in at an average 4.2% ABV while our Pancake Porter has been known to come with a 7% ABV. (And yes, I know comparing craft beer with non-craft beer seems like cheating, but it is a definite trend that stouts no longer need to have a higher ABV to earn their name.)
So what’s the difference then? If you ask a brewer or beer connoisseur you may hear something about one using roasted barley or patent malt while the other doesn’t, or that one comes from England and the other from Ireland, but honestly? There is no significant difference anymore. As a very general guideline porters are often still lighter than stouts, but with the presence of imperial porters or the different styles of stouts now emerging this is no longer guarantee.
I know, this isn’t a very satisfying answer. Our advise for coping? Just ignore the name and go for the flavor profile you prefer. Don’t forget, most breweries are happy to give you samples and your bartender can usually give you a better description of the flavor than a name alone anyway.
Now take a minute to savor the rest of that pumpkin spice latte and keep an eye out for the return of our Momma Otter’s Pancake Porter in the upcoming months!