So what is a porter and what is a stout? What is the difference between them? It is in these cooler winter months that dark beers really come into their own. With so many dark beers released by the breweries for winter let's take a look at what options we have.
Porters are the original gangsters of dark beers. In England in the 1700s beer was much simpler, you could order a 'Mild' a younger and cheaper beer, or a 'Stale' which was beer allowed to age and develop.
Brewers responded to the demand for more aged beers by creating a style that was aged before delivery to pubs. Named after the porters of London who had a particularly large appetite for this style. Porters gained their dark colour from the use of brown malts. Porter was a huge success and was brewed around the world.
With the invention of the hydrometer in 1770 brewers were able to see that brown malts weren't very inefficient, only producing about two thirds of the alcohol of pale malts. So it was much more financially advantageous to use pale malts.
However, brewers lost that dark colour and the flavours from the brown malt. In 1817 patent malt was invented, this was a very dark, almost black, kilned malt. It allowed brewers to use large percentages of pale malts with just a small amount of this darker malt to get the colour and flavours required.
The English continued to use their traditional brown malts as part of the blend, out of tradition and to keep some of the familiar fruity flavours of brown malt. In Ireland however they were much more open to dropping the brown malt altogether and made a less fruity, drier, beer made with just pale malt and patent malt.
Stout originally just meant strong. Any beer could be described as a stout if it was stronger than normal. There were even stout porters. All stouts are in fact porters, but not all porters are stouts.
To generalise, porters have more of a chocolate character and stouts are more akin to dark roasted coffee. The best way to understand the difference between the two is to taste them. So make the most of winter and familiarise yourself with the dark side of brewing.
- Chris, Albury