Unless you’re a fairly big beer fan you probably don’t even know what a Porter is but you’ve probably heard of a Guinness Stout. Stouts dominate the dark beer market and Guinness is one of the most recognized beer brands in the world. The reason Stout is able to overshadow the Porter is because of its ability to encompass so many unique characteristics. Everything that a Porter is able to do or convey, a Stout can do just as well. Of course many home and craft brewers enjoy the Porter style because of its history and variation in flavors and style guidelines.
Porters are beers that didn’t evolve from anything else but were created and engineered in 1722 to meet consumer demands. This style is considered to be the first “industrial” beer because of its manufactured quality. During England’s industrial revolution this beer style blossomed but was eventually swallowed up by large brewing companies who sacrificed flavor for cheap adjuncts and quality began to decline.
The Porter is still alive and well but not considered to be “mainstream” quite yet. Small breweries in the U.S. and U.K. still produce Porters in a limited quantity. They struggle to compete with the larger brewers but have found a nice niche in the market.
The shortcomings of the Porter are well documented but without this style the Stout would never have evolved – to take its place and outlive it. Stouts fall into four main styles: Classic, Foreign, Sweet and Imperial. Each of these styles has distinctive and unique characteristics. Stouts can vary widely in almost every category. They can be sweet or bitter, low or high alcohol, no hop flavor or aroma to a lot. The only consistency between them is that they all have to be at least 40 SRM (dark in color).
Stouts are not only more widely available than Porters but they are more clearly defined. The word Stout was first used in 1677 in the quote “We will drink your health both in stout and best wine.” Of course Stout was simply a word referring to a “strong beer”. When patrons in bars would want a strong Porter they would ask for a “Stout Porter” and although there wasn’t a clear definition of what this meant the customer would usually receive what they wanted. It wasn’t until 1817 that barley was able to be roasted and this would probably be the beginnings of Stouts. Before this time Stout Porters were probably dark brown in color and not the typical pitch-black we have come to know today. Stout was first documented in 1820 as meaning something different than a Porter.
There is no other beer style more synonymous with a brand. Guinness and Stout go hand in hand and the Guinness Stout is considered to be the classic rendition of the style. The Guinness Brewery went from producing 7,500 barrels in 1800 to 1,500,000 barrels in 1900. Eventually Porter production began to wane and were overpowered by the demand for this slightly different style.
Other than the fact that Porters can be lighter and contain a bit more hop bitterness than Stouts, there is no real difference. Stouts are able to do everything that a Porter is able to and can easily jump the thin lines that separate them. The main reason that brewers differentiate between the two may be due to marketing purposes. Stouts have become the dominant dark beer and in order to put themselves in a separate category they call the other dark beers they create Porters. Despite the history that Stouts were stronger than Porters, the Porters being made in the U.S. tend to have stronger and more pronounced flavors when compared to the Stouts. Craft beer is about differentiation and there is no better way to differentiate yourself than by simply changing a name.
So what is the real difference between the Porter and the Stout? History. Stout is the son who evolved and eventually dethroned his outdated father. Stout remained in control for the following centuries and is still in control today. Either way these styles are packed with flavor and have some of the most beautiful beers you will ever lay your eyes on. Their mysterious black color and bold, roasted flavors separate them from the rest of the beer world. Stouts can be Porters and Porters are craft Stouts.