Dark Beer Styles: Stout vs Porter

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What is the difference between the two darkest beer styles?   Just by looking at them it is practically impossible to tell them apart.

Porter? Stout? Who came first?…

The history between the two names begins in the 18th century in England with the term Porter, a name that was given to dark brown beers by the local street workers(porters).  Another term also used around the same time period to distinguish the darker and stronger porters was stout.   As the years past and roasted barley broke onto the scene the stout/porter relationship began to separate.  Stouts began to take on their own style with the help of Arthur Guinness, continuing to use more roasted barley then dark malts.

Porter

Porters are basically described to be dark in color, have medium body and have a good balance of malty sweetness to hop bitterness.  Porters have three unique sub-styles; a brown porter, robust porter and a Baltic porter.  Porters are usually known for using crystal, black, and dark malts.  They generally are medium to high in hop bitterness.  Baltic porters are brewed imperial and are usually around 8% ABV, they are malty up front with characters of dark fruit, raisins, toffee coming through.  Check out the latest BJCP guidelines to grab more specific details on the different porter sub-styles.

Stout

Stouts are basically described to have a roasted barley character, to be dark in color and have medium to low hop bitterness.  Stouts come in six unique sub-styles; a dry stout, sweet/cream stout, oatmeal stout, foreign stout, American stout and imperial stout.  The most common being the dry Irish stout ( recipe), which was made famous by Guinness and is from Ireland.  Generally most stouts are brewed using  a pale malt to make up about 80-90% of the grist and a roasted barley to make up about 10% of the grist.  This roasted barley usually attributes to a coffee like taste.  There bitterness forms with the hop additions made mostly at the start of the boil.  Most stouts are full in body and flavor making them a great winter beer.  Check out the latest BJCP guidelines to grab more specific details on the different stout sub-styles.

a dry Irish stout beside a German hefe

Conclusions

Stout – Generally dark and full in body with a roasted barley taste.

Porter – Generally dark and medium in body with a good balance of malty sweetness to hop bitterness.

Having said that, the bad news is that both styles have examples of using characteristics of the others.  There are full bodied porters and medium bodied stouts out there.  Cross over between the two styles exist especially by the micro brewers of today.  Regardless these two dark beer styles do have distinct characteristics and I hope I helped alleviate any confusion you may have had.  Here is a direct comparison between two of the most popular dark beer styles.

  Dry Irish Stout Brown Porter
Aroma Coffee like roasted barley taste, slight chocolate, cocoa notes. Low to no hop aroma Malt aroma with mild roastiness, slight chocolate. May have aromas of caramel, grains, bread, nut or may be sweet. Moderate to no hop aroma
Appearance Dark brown to black in color with a thick creamy tan/brown head Light brown to dark brown in color.
Flavor Moderately roasted, dry at times with a coffee like finish. Some creaminess, medium to no hop flavor. Malt flavor with mild roastiness. May have secondary flavors of coffee, licorice or biscuits. Medium low to medium hop bitterness
OG 1.036 – 1.050 1.040 – 1.052
FG 1.007 – 1.011 1.008 – 1.014
IBU (Bitterness) 30-45 18-35
SRM (Color) 25-40+ 20-30
ABV (%) 4-5% 4.0-5.4%
Commercial Examples Guinness, Murphy’s Stout, Brooklyn Dry Stout, Goose Creek Dublin Stout Fuller’s London Porter, Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, Burton Bridge Burton Porter

Interested in comparing beer styles? Check out our article Wheat Beer Styles: Weiss vs Wit.  Feel free to comment on any thoughts regarding dark beer styles below.


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  1. [...] is a great winter beer.  To learn more about stouts and how they differ from Porters check out Dark Beer Styles: Stout vs Porter.  Below is a 5 gallon All-Grain home brew recipe for a dry Irish [...]

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