Blind Taste Off 8

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…

    The Judges

    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

    The Referees

    Jason Buehler, Head Brewer at Denver Beer Co. & Beer 
 Styles Guru

    Nick Bruno, Chief Brewguy Extraordinaire at Denver Beer Co.

    The Challengers

    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.

    The Findings

    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