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Porter vs Stout – Which Dark Beer Should You Choose?

Oct 2023 | Last modified: November 14, 2023 | 9 min read | By Patrick Norton

You walk into your local bar or bottle shop, craving a dark beer that is rich and comforting. You ask yourself one question: “How do I choose between porter vs. stout?”

A glass of porter and stout beer.

It’s clear that both dark and strong beer styles are similar to what you’re looking for, but you wonder: “What’s the main difference between the two?”

What’s the Difference Between Porter and Stout?

As a rule of thumb, porters are “small,” and stouts are “big.”

Stouts are generally darker in color, more full-bodied, and higher in alcohol than porters.

Porters are typically sweeter than stouts, with flavor notes of chocolate and toffee imparted by roasted malts. Stouts are brewed with roasted barley, contributing to their drier finish and bittersweet chocolate and coffee flavors.

When comparing porters and stouts, we find many similarities and a few important differences in their history, characteristics, and brewing methods. As we guide you through this comparison, we’ll touch on each of these, shedding light on the difference between these dark beer styles.

History of Porter and Stout

Porter and stout beers have a rich history dating back centuries, intertwined with the British brewing industry. They’re known for their robust flavors and remain popular today.

Let’s look at the origins of porter and stout beers below.

Origin of Porter Beer

The origin of porter can be traced back to 18th-century London when it was first invented as a combination of brown, mild, and aged ales. At the time, most beers needed to mature in a barrel before being ready to consume.

The incorporation of aged ales in original porter blends meant that these beers were ready to drink right away. This turned out to be incredibly important in quenching the relentless thirst of the London dock workers who lined the River Thames.

In honor of these dock workers known around the place as “porters,” this beer style quickly became known as “porter.”

Origin of Stout Beer

As the demands of London beer drinkers developed, so did the porter. The original porter blends were lower in alcohol, at around 4% alcohol by volume (ABV).

To satisfy workers who had endured a particularly rough day on the docks or were short on time for the pub, higher alcohol versions of porter were made available.

Brewers originally called Porter beers at around 5 or 6% ABV as “robust porters.” Porters with even higher abv or alcohol content were called “stout porters” or “extra stout porters.”

Over time, stronger versions of Porter were dropped from these names, and the beers became known only as “stout” or “extra stout.”

Guinness’s 7.5% ABV “Foreign Extra Stout” began to be exported from Dublin in the mid-19th century, solidifying the strong black beer’s label of “stout” in all countries lucky enough to receive a shipment.

Characteristics

Today, the lines between porter and stout are blurred. Modern brewery chooses to have their liberties when creating and labeling beers of each style.

As a result, there is more overlap between porters and stouts and more diversity within the two styles now. However, one thing remains relatively consistent: porters are “small,” and stouts are “big.”

Porter Beer Tastes and Textures

The color of porter is medium brown to black. They are generally opaque, though when held up to the light, they may reveal highlights of burgundy.

They are medium to full-bodied and range from dry to sweet. Their aroma is a bit lighter.

The flavors are chocolate, toffee, nuts, and caramel. They are hopped to provide moderate bitterness and aromas of resin, earth, fruit, and flowers.

ABV depends on style, though most porters are around 5-6% ABV.

Stout Beer Tastes and Textures

Stouts can be dark brown but are mostly opaque black.

They are full-bodied and often have a drier, more bitter finish. Their aroma and flavor are defined as fresh coffee, bittersweet dark chocolate, and toast.

Modern sweet stout styles may be packed with additions such as fruit, lactose, cacao nibs, and spices. They are hopped to add bitterness but rarely hopped for aroma.

ABV ranges from medium to high, with today’s Guinness only 4.2%ABV, though popular imperial stout styles often above 9%.

Brewing Process

Many beer enthusiasts are familiar with porter and stout, dark flavor profiles. Still, only some know that the brewing methods behind these two popular top-fermented styles have many variations.

Let’s explore the unique brewing techniques used to craft these two below.

Porter Brewed With Roasted Malt

Porter recipes do not generally contain roasted or malted barley. Instead, the brewery or even brewers choose dark roasted malts to give porters their subtle notes and color.

These malts include brown malt, chocolate malt, and, less commonly, black malt.

Stout Brewed With Roasted Barley

Stout recipes almost always contain roasted barley. Without first being malted, roasted barley gives stouts a deeper color, drier finish, and coffee-like flavor.

In stout recipes, roasted barley is added in small amounts to the ingredient list, made up mostly of pale and dark malts.

What Are Some of the Best Porters to Drink?

In this section, we’ll introduce you to some of the best porters available today.

Founders Porter

Michigan, USA – Robust Porter – Founders Brewing Company – 6.5% ABV

With a nod to the English porter of old, Founders Porter is marketed as a “robust porter.” Its higher alcohol percentage, silky black color, creamy tan head, and robust flavor of chocolate and caramel prove this beer’s strength when poured.

Founders Porter is more hoppy than traditional porter styles, offering a bite of bitterness and a full bouquet of hop-derived aroma.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Oregon, USA – Porter – Deschutes Brewery – 5.5% ABV

Brewed with five grains, including wheat and chocolate malt, this beer has a deep flavor and is lusciously creamy on the palate.

Deschutes says Black Butte is “surprisingly balanced,” owing to its rich chocolate and coffee flavors complemented with freshness from Cascade and Tettnang hops.

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

Colorado, USA – Vanilla Porter – Breckenridge Brewery – 5.4% ABV

Dosed generously with vanilla from Madagascar, Breckenridge’s Vanilla Porter is dessert in a glass. Standing strong on its backbone of dark roasted malts, this beer is dark mahogany in color, presenting flavors of chocolate and roasted nuts.

For those seeking even deeper flavors, Breckenridge also brews an Imperial Vanilla Porter aged in rum barrels.

What Are Some of the Best Stouts to Drink?

In this section, we’ll give you a list of some of the best stouts to drink today.

Guinness Draught

Dublin, Ireland – Irish Dry Stout – Guinness – 4.2% ABV

When talking about the best stouts, you must first talk about Guinness. Today’s Guinness: Guinness Draught is the 1959 revision of the recipe tailored to be poured with the famously cascading nitrogen gas.

Underneath the creamy white head atop a well-poured Guinness Irish stout is a perfectly balanced stout with a light, smooth body and rich flavors of coffee and chocolate.

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro

Colorado, USA – Milk Stout – Left Hand Brewing Company – 6.0% ABV

Left Hand’s Milk Stout is brewed with three colored malts, rolled oats, and roasted and flaked barley. When spiked with lactose sugar, the result is amazingly smooth with flavors of chocolate, fresh coffee, milk, and caramel.

Packaged into a can or bottle with nitrogen gas, the “Nitro” version of this milk stout takes a page out of Guinness’s book and translates it into this silky, sweet, and modern stout.

Founders Breakfast Stout

Michigan, USA – Imperial Stout – Founders Brewing Company – 8.3% ABV

Founders Breakfast Stout is enjoyed at any time of day. It is a fitting ode to the morning routine with flaked oats and two types of coffee included. Bursting through its cinnamon-colored head are intense aromas of freshly roasted coffee.

With a high ABV and abundance of chocolate thrown into the brew, Founders Breakfast Stout is the perfect wake-up call.

FAQs: Porter vs. Stout

Many beer enthusiasts have questions about these two dark and flavorful brews. In this section, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about porter vs. stout, helping you navigate the world of dark ales with confidence.

Which Is Smoother, Stout or Porter?

Generally, stouts are smoother than porters.

In stouts, grains such as oats and flaked barley add smoothness. In the milk stout style, lactose sugar is added to contribute milk-like smoothness and sweetness.

The smoothest stouts, such as Guinness Draught, are served containing nitrogen gas. Compared to carbon dioxide, which offers the fizz to most beers (including porters), nitrogen has smaller bubbles, resulting in a smoother mouthfeel.

Which Is Heavier, Porter, or Stout?

Usually, stouts are heavier than porters.

Stouts are often described as bolder or more full-bodied than porters. The greater palate weight of a stout is contributed by its higher alcohol content and greater sugar concentration needed to balance roasted barley’s bitterness.

Which Is Sweeter, Porter, or Stout

The answer can be one or the other, depending on how you define sweetness there. Generally, porters have sweeter flavors than stouts, but stouts contain more sugars.

Is Guinness a Stout or a Porter?

Guinness is a stout. To be specific, it’s an Irish dry stout. Interestingly, though, the first versions of Guinness were named “West India Porter.” The beer was renamed as “Foreign Extra Stout” in 1840.

Concluded: Porter vs. Stout

Porter vs. stout, stout vs. porter: a comparison that has been going on for centuries.

With both beers constantly evolving, what will always remain the same, however, is their purpose. Either way, porters and stouts exist to quench our thirst, warm us from the inside out, and comfort us after a long day.

So, when trying to decide between a porter and a stout, consider your personal preferences. If you want a lighter beer with a sweet flavor, go for a porter. If you prefer a heavier beer with a more pronounced bitterness, choose a stout.

Don’t overthink it. Take your pick.

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