What’s The Difference Between Stouts And Porters?

Have you ever seen identical twins that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between even if your life depended on it? It’s pretty much impossible.

Telling the difference between a modern stout and porter is probably harder.

Why is it so hard to tell the difference between a stout and a porter? Because nobody really knows the difference. Brewers today can’t agree on what makes a stout a stout and a porter a porter. As a result, you can get a porter at one brewery that tastes exactly the same as a stout from a different brewery.

Let’s explore why trying to find the differences between stouts and porters is so flipping complicated.

Stouts And Porters: A Complex History

Like any great drama, we set the stage with a complex history between our two characters. Like some great dramas, this takes place in England.

Porters hail from an incredible drink called Entire Butt, a beer brewed to match the flavor of combining ale, beer, and twopenny (which was just a super strong beer). This style was popular, and it culminated in the creation of Guinness’ Single Stout Porter. 

Yes, a stout porter.

So, Entire Butt could be described as the first porter/stout/stout porter. Why we never called the style a butt beer is entirely beyond me, and now we have to live with trying to define porters and stouts. 

Are Stouts And Porters Made With Hops?

Nowadays, porters are generally made from malted barley. This comes from hundreds of years of tradition of trying to match the flavor of that awesome Entire Butt. As with any style of beer, hops are required — however, the hop profile in a porter is likely much subtler than anything you’d find in an IPA. 

Stouts are a little different. Not only can they use unmalted barley, but they also are sometimes made with malted barley. What stouts have in common with porters is the sparing use of hops. 

So, short answer: yes, stouts and porters are made with hops because all beers are made with hops.

Which Is Stronger: Stouts Or Porters?

Here’s a buzz word that always gets tossed around with beers. Some people are looking for beers so strong that the beer could pick up its drinker and carry them home. While this isn’t a thing (yet), the demand for strong beers persists. 

Historically, people in England called strong beers “stouts,” sort of like how you might call a strong guy a “stout chap” if you lived in England a few hundred years ago. It just so happens that during this time period super-dark porters were the strongest beers — AKA, the “stoutest.” At some point in time, people just decided that strong beers were the same as dark beers. 

So, all you strong beer drinkers, want to know which is stronger between a porter and stout? Neither, because strong is a highly subjective term and I could pick two stouts so unalike that you’d wish they were just called “Strong Butt” and “Weak Butt.” Same goes for porters.

If you’re looking for la cerveza mas fuerte, I’d suggest something close to lighter fluid

Which Is Darker: Stouts Or Porters?

Because the English language is a beautiful disaster and because strong and dark are synonymous in the world of Entire Butts…well, you can guess where this is going. Like everything else in the world of stouts and porters, the darker option depends entirely on where and how the beer is brewed. 

Here’s the nice thing, though — I can safely say that 9/10 times you order a stout or porter, it’ll be darker than nearly any other option on tap! It’s best to spend less time splitting the stout/porter hairs and more time drinking the hair of the dog. 

Am I Drinking A Stout Or A Porter?

Here comes the answer you’ve been waiting for: what are you drinking?

If your beer is made with malted barley, then odds are you’re drinking a porter. Today, many stouts use unmalted barley – which, fun fact, is where the coffee-like flavor of stouts comes from. Unless your brewer also added coffee. In that case, the coffee flavor comes from coffee.

Keep in mind that stouts don’t always use unmalted barley. Sometimes they’ll use malted barley, depending on what the brewer wants to do.

So to simplify: if you’re drinking a dark beer with unmalted barley, it’s probably a stout. If your beer has malted barley, it’s probably a porter.

When in doubt, always remember this: the label on your bottle of beer should tell you exactly what your drinking. At the end of the day, your brewer probably knows what they’re doing. Just trust what they say.

Unless they added pumpkin to the beer, but that’s for another post.

Thomas Short
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