Porters vs. Stouts. Really, what is the difference?
/pôrdər/ 1. dark brown bitter beer brewed from malt partly charred or browned by drying at a high temperature.
/stout/ 1. a kind of strong, dark beer brewed with roasted malt or barley.
What’s the difference between a porter and a stout? This is a question that has come up on multiple occasions, especially in a beer-driven city like Denver. And it’s surprisingly not an easy question to answer. Not even Merriam-Webster dictionary can straighten this one out. If you ask your local bartender, you may want to order another round because the answer probably will take a while.
What we know is that porters surfaced in London sometime around the 1800s when brewers decided to make their lives a little easier by combining a mixture of styles from almost empty kegs. Thus, the porter was born. We also know that ‘stout’ is derived from the term a ‘brown stout,’ which simply meant the strongest version of a porter. So at one time they really were one in the same.
We set out to answer this age old question and found ourselves, deliberating at Denver Beer Co.’s Barrel Room with three goals in mind.
• To determine what defines a porter and what defines a stout.
• Is there a difference in taste?
• Finally, which well-known and not-so-well-known local favorites will be best in show?
So the tasting begins…
We needed six judges who would sample eight local stouts and porters and take a few to go. It was a surprisingly easy task.
Jason ZumBrunnen, Cofounder, Ratio Beerworks
Tim Thwaites, Owner/Yo Momma Joke Master, Coda Coffee
Dana Johnson, Brewery Specialist, Birko Corporation
Amber Bauer, Quickdraw Beerslinger, Denver Beer Co.
John Giarratano, Owner/Chief Yeast Wrangler, Inland Island Yeast Laboratories
Abe Straus, Beermaster Flash, Mayfair Liquors
Jason Buehler, Head Brewer at Denver Beer Co. & Beer Styles Guru
Nick Bruno, Chief Brewguy Extraordinaire at Denver Beer Co.
From Left To Right
Odell Brewing Co. Cutthroat Porter, Dry Dock Vanilla Porter, Left Hand Brewing Black Jack Porter, Denver Beer Co. Graham Cracker Porter, Copper Kettle Brewing Mexican Chocolate Stout, Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout, Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout, Avery Brewing Co. Out of Bounds Stout.
Eight tasting glasses and two pretzels later, the judges defined porter and stouts with three words each and answered our initial questions.
Porter | Chocolate-y, Malt-Forward & Roasted
Stout | Dark, Heavy & Grainy
After a bit of a discussion, it was also decided that the defining characteristics of porters and stouts are very interchangeable and are brewer dependent. It’s a vast category and, as someone said it best, “The first stout could have been a porter.” So you can call a stout a stout or a porter and the consumer won’t be able to tell the difference.
Finally, the best in show.
The Portiest-Porter: Odell Brewing Co. Cutthroat Porter
The Stoutiest-Stout: Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout