by Yvonne van Houtum Beer Sommelier at Bierliefde 21 October 2019
Porter vs Stout
What is the difference?
This is not a simple answer as they do share a lot of similarities. They are both dark beers with quite broad flavour profiles, although they both possess that dark grain depth.
Porter beers range from dark copper to dark brown and may have flavours of toasted fruit. You can also detect notes of caramel, chocolate, cappuccino or liquorice. Porters are full of flavour, slightly sweet with an extra malt body. Stout has a more pronounced coffee-like, roasted barley bitterness. They tend to be drier. The aroma is roasted and can be slightly acidic.
However, the two beers do have more similarities than differences. If you picture a Venn diagram of the two, then the middle overlap will be the largest section. There are several variations of both, and brewers are constantly experimenting and tweaking recipes. For example, there are contemporary Porters with a higher percentage of alcohol than Stouts. This is interesting as Stouts became what they are now from adding more ingredients and increasing the alcohol percentage of the original Porter. The alcohol volume of both can vary and even from time to time from 4% to 14% (for example, the Russian Imperial Stout). De Molen brewery in the Netherlands is well known for its selection of Stouts.
As you can see, this makes categorising and defining a little bit tricky. For a detailed history on how they became so closely entwined, please read our article A history of Porter and Stout
Porter and Stout beer variations
- ORGINAL PORTER: Try Five Points Railway Porter. This has a full malt body and a rounded roastedness that stops before it gets too bitter. Rather, it leaves you with more of the chocolate and caramel flavours, plus a coffee-like finish.
- OATMEAL STOUT: Has a smooth sweet finish; it’s rich and full bodied. They are known to be velvety and sweet. Fourpure do an excellent example, which is also available in 2L keg.
- ROBUST PORTER: a heavier version of the Porter. Fuller and darker, with a sweet rather than bitter aftertaste hence the name robust. The Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter is a good example.
- SMOKED PORTER: smoked malt is added to the beer for that distinctively smokey Porter taste. An example of a Dutch smoked Porter would be the Koud Vuur from Bax Bier in Groningen.
- IRISH DRY STOUT: these beers have a very dark colour, with an intense flavour. Coffee tones are detectable. The best-known Stout is made by Guinness.
- EXPORT STOUT: Guinness produces a stronger Stout for export. Export Stout has a higher alcohol volume and a distinctive character. You can taste the wheat and toasted malt with smokey notes of coffee and chocolate. Try Kees Export Porter for a very intense taste of the aforementioned dark chocolate and coffee.
- MILK STOUT: also known as ‘sweet Stout’. as the name suggests, lactose is added to these beers, a sugar typical of milk, giving the beer a certain sweetness and richness. These beers are also called Creamy Stout or Sweet Stout. Galway Buried at Sea is a great example of this sweeter evolution of Stout.
- RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT: (R.I.S.): by far the strongest of all the Stouts. An extra heavy stout which is strongly hopped to survive the journey from England to the Baltic states.
- OYSTER STOUT: aside from the four most important Stouts there are further variations on this ever popular beer. An oyster Stout is brewed with oysters, they are added to the brew during the cooking process.
- EXTRA STOUT: For a harder, coffee-like bitterness we suggest giving the Dutch Jopen Extra Stout a go. It’s bitter but light bodied with a clean, dry finish.
Ice cream float
Stouts and Porters are perfect for making a typical ‘ice cream float’. Pour a generous dash of beer over a couple of scoops of vanilla ice-cream and enjoy. They’re also suitable for baking pies and cakes, and their lightly roasted flavours make them a great addition to beeramisu.
Storage and barrel ageing
Heavier varieties (> 8%) of Porters and Stouts make them ideal for storing. These beers are aged in the bottle, which gives them a rounder and more intense flavour. They’re also perfect for ageing in wooden barrels where other drinks have been stored such as bourbon or cognac. Barrel ageing adds flavour to the beer in two ways: by imbuing it with the flavour of the drink that was in the barrel before, and through the barrel itself. Think of vanilla, herbs, wood, coconut, smoky and caramel tones.
Porters are best served in a tulip-formed or pint glass at a temperature of 8-10 degrees Celsius. A Stout is better served slightly warmer at 10-14 degrees Celsius, also in a tulip-formed or pint glass.
Porter and Stout are styles which grew up together, not always going in the same direction, but with significant interweaving through three centuries of ever-evolving brewing. They’ve changed greatly from the original brews but have emerged into the era of craft beer as two of the world’s greatest beer styles.