Since we are in the midst of dark beer season (some year round drinkers will say otherwise but for me I don’t crave them until it’s a bit chilly) I thought I’d touch upon a couple of these styles. The difference between stouts and porters can be a bit confusing. I’ll be honest, for a while I couldn’t tell the difference, and if I’m being really honest, sometimes I still can’t tell the difference on a blind taste test. Shhh don’t tell! Hopefully, this breakdown will help simplify things and give you a little more confidence when it comes to tasting one or knowing it’s something you want based off of a beer menu.
These beauties are full of possibilities. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines, the main styles are American Stout, Imperial Stout, Irish Stout, Irish Extra Stout, Sweet (Milk) Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Tropical Stout, and Foreign Extra Stout. Of course you have many other variations like Blonde Stouts, Breakfast Stouts and Oyster Stouts, to name a few, that don’t fall directly under BJCP guidelines but are none the less a “flavored style” in the market. Here are some generalized guidelines for a stout style beer…
Aroma: roasted malt, coffee, dark chocolate and lightly burnt; medium-low to no hop aroma.
Appearance: dark reddish-brown to jet black; thick, creamy tan to brown head. SRM: 25-40
Flavor: roasted malt flavors such as coffee, dark chocolate and sometimes caramel with a slightly burnt coffee grounds or grain flavor, medium to high bitterness. Sweet (Milk), Oatmeal and Tropical Stouts are usually on the sweeter side compared to their counterparts. IBU: 25-90 ABV: 4.0% – 12%
Mouthfeel: medium to full bodied and smooth, can have a creamy texture and sometimes lean towards silky or velvety; low to medium-high carbonation with a light, but not harsh, astringency (dry or tart feeling) in all but the sweeter stout variations.
While there are many different styles for Stouts, Porters have a few less. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines, the main styles are Baltic Porter, English Porter, and American Porter, and note a fun historical style called Pre-Prohibition Porter. Of course you have many other variations like Coconut Porters, Peanut Butter Porters and Vanilla Porters, to name a few, that don’t fall directly under BJCP guidelines but are none the less a “flavored style” in the market. Here are some generalized guidelines for a porter style beer…
Aroma: malty sweetness, toasty, nutty, with notes of caramel, chocolate and toffee, no hops and smooth
Appearance: dark copper to dark brown with ruby highlights, thick off-white to tan head. SRM: 17-40
Flavor: rich malty sweetness, dried dark fruits, roasty to lightly burnt, medium to low bitterness, can have secondary flavors such as bitter chocolate, coffee, biscuits or licorice. American Porters are usually on the drier, more bitter side of the spectrum. IBU: 18-50 ABV: 4.0% – 9.5%
Mouthfeel: medium to full bodied and smooth, can have a creamy texture, medium to medium high carbonation resulting in a lighter feeling.
Aroma: Stouts have a more roasted sometimes slightly burnt coffee/chocolate aroma. Porters tend to have a sweeter, toasty or nutty aroma.
Appearance: Stouts tend to be darker in color, reaching almost black and have thick, creamy, darker tan to brown head. Porters usually are lighter in color ranging from dark copper to brown and have a thick but not creamy, off-white to tan head.
Flavor: Stouts usually taste like they smell with roasty malt, lightly burnt coffee and dark chocolate flavors. Porters on the other hand are flavorfully complex, and include flavors such as dried dark fruit, licorice, malty sweetness, bitter chocolate and biscuits. Stouts usually have a higher level of bitterness than porters do.
Mouthfeel: Stouts may have a lower carbonation level than Porters, resulting in a heavier mouthfeel that’s sometimes silky or velvety. They can also have a light astringency (excluding sweet, oatmeal and tropical stouts) whereas porters feel a little more well-rounded with little to no dry aftertaste.
Aroma: Both have a roasty, malty, chocolate aroma.
Appearance: Both are dark beers, on average a dark brown color; and have thick, on average tannish, head
Flavor: Both have a roasted malt flavor with chocolate notes, coffee flavors can usually be found in both with it being a secondary flavor in Porters.
Mouthfeel: Both have a medium to full bodied mouthfeel with a smooth, creamy texture.
All of that said and done, Stouts and Porters are fairly similar beer styles with the lines drawn between the two having become blurred in recent history. If you sum everything up into a couple of generalized sentences, you could say that Stouts and Porters are both smooth, creamy dark brown beers, that have roasted malt, chocolate and coffee notes. Stouts usually have more of a lightly burnt coffee flavor to them and Porters are usually a little bit sweeter and less bitter. That being said, there are some style specifics within the umbrella of stouts and porters that maybe contradict what the general style guidelines say for each. For instance your Sweet, Oatmeal and Tropical Stouts tend to be more sweet than your average American or Irish Stout, and American Porters tend to be more dry and bitter than your average English or Baltic Porter. You can see how a blind taste test may be a bit confusing for your palette, right?
Next time you head to your local brewery, ask for a flight of their stouts and porters on draft and see if you can spot the differences between the two. Comment below and let me know how that goes!