Porter Vs. Stout: Are These Two Ales As Different As They Say?

by Karl Updated on March 7, 2021

Interested in the world of dark ale? The difference between stouts and porters is likely a question you have asked yourself.

You might’ve thought a lot about it, but the truth is, the recipes for these two ales are no secret that even brewers can learn how to make their own.

The difference between porter and stout can be heavily debated. Some brewers may say there’s no difference at all, while others could argue extensively about the differences between them.

While you should try them yourself and make your own comparisons, you will definitely gain some insights by reading this blog post.

Porters and Stouts

Both porters and stouts are dark beers.

Porters have a chocolate character to them, as they are often made with chocolate malt.

Stouts have a coffee flavor, which is strong and bittersweet.

Regardless of their subtle differences, I think they are both delectable beers and I would definitely drink them year-round.

The Difference Between the Two

History

First of its Kind: No Need to Age

Porter beer dates back to 1722. A London brewer named Ralph Hardwood created a beer consisting of one-third of each: beer, ale, and strong beer.

He called this “Entire”, which later on became known as Porters. Porters were the first of its kind, as it arrived ready to drink.

Most beers during that time had to be left to age when they arrived. This makes porters the original ready-to-drink beer. Stouts emerged when porters were growing in popularity.

The Beginnings of Stouts

As brewers experimented more with porters, a stronger porter was created. This is what we call a stout porter. While porters originated from London, stouts originated from Ireland.

Stout is another word used to describe strong. While there were many “stout” beers before porter beers came to be, what we know today is the extra stout porter that came about around the 1820s.

Porters and Stouts are Related

Since stouts and porters have an intertwined history, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Some brewers even argue they are one and the same.

Appearance

Stout and porter beers vary slightly in color. Stouts are black, while porters are dark brown. Though there is a slight difference, it is difficult to tell them apart visually as they look very similar.

Flavor

Stouts have a roasted, bittersweet, coffee-like flavor.

Porters are a dark brown ale brewed with chocolate malts, or sometimes brown malts, roasted barley, or specialty malts. They taste almost the same, with only slight differences in the notes of their flavors.

There is even such a thing as a chocolate stout, where they have dark chocolate flavors, like that of a porter.

Chances are if you like one, you would like the other as well. There is only a subtle difference between the two flavors.

Roasted Barley and Malted Barley

Typically, a porter would not have roasted barley character, while stouts would have it. Otherwise, a porter would typically be brewed with different types of malts, such as brown malt.

However, each brewery is different, and some may even use roasted barley to brew porters.

Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines for Stouts and Porters

It’s difficult to tell the two styles apart, mainly because of their many beer styles. Both porters and stouts have similar variants, thus blurring the lines between them.

There are a lot of brands on the menu to choose from, some bottled, and some on tap. There are also many recipes to try for those craft brewers reading this, meaning there are also many styles.

Each brewer can even experiment with the types of malts used in their brew.

Here is a guide from the Beer Judge Certification Program on the different criteria for the style of stouts and porters. This gives a clearer description of each of the beer styles.

While this guide highlights the difference between the styles of beer, it is important to note that these are no longer the current guidelines. Because of the experimentation of different beer recipes, realistically, each beer would vary depending on how each brewery would brew their beer.

Robust Porter

Commonly seen in American variants of porter, the robust porter has a roast malt or grain aroma.

There is the presence of coffee or chocolate notes. This porter is dark brown to black, with little clarity. The flavor is medium-sweet to dry, depending on the brew.

It is substantially dark. Although very similar to a stout, it lacks the roasted barley character that the stout has. This has an ABV of 4.8-6.0%. An example of this would be Deschutes Black Butte Porter.

Brown Porter

Also known as London Porter. This porter has a mild roasted malt aroma.

It is medium brown to dark brown, and there should be fair to good clarity. It has a mild to moderate roasted malt flavor and varies in bitterness.

This is a fairly substantially dark ale. It has softer flavors and usually less alcohol than the robust porter, with an ABV of 3.8-5.2%.

Dry Stout

The dry stout has prominent roasted barley and roasted malt aromas. It is black and with no clarity.

There is a moderate amount of sharpness in the flavor. This would have medium to high hop bitterness, which provides a dry finish. This has an ABV of 3.2-5.5%.

Sweet Stout

The sweet stout has mild roasted grain aromas, coming in with a very dark amber to black color.

The dark roasted grains and malt make the flavor, just like the dry stout.

But unlike the dry stout, this has medium to high sweetness. The hopping is moderate and tends to be lower than the dry stout, which emphasizes the malt sweetness.

Lactose is sometimes added to the sweet stout for additional residual sweetness. High carbonate water is essential for this type of stout. This typically has an ABV of 3.0-5.6%.

Oatmeal Stout

The oatmeal stout has mild roasted grain aromas, with low to medium fruitiness. It has medium to no diacetyl, and little to no hop aroma. Oatmeal stout is black with a thick and creamy head.

It has a medium sweet to medium dry flavor profile. The complexity of dark roasted grains is prominent.

There is medium hop bitterness with the balance being toward malt (it may have a slight nuttiness). It is full-bodied, smooth, and silky. Not to mention, it has an oily or mealy texture due to its oatmeal character.

In terms of sweetness, it is sweeter than a dry stout, but not as sweet as a sweet stout, with an ABV of 3.3-6.0%.

Foreign Extra Stout

The foreign extra stout has prominent roasted grain aromas, with medium to high fruitiness.

This occasionally has the aroma of alcohol. It is a very deep brown to black color, and the clarity is usually concealed by its deep color.

It ranges from sweet to dry flavors, with obvious, but not sharp, roasted grain character.

There is medium to high hop bitterness and has a medium-full body with a creamy character. Drinking this feels like a warm hug.

This also has a higher alcohol content than other stouts, with the exception of the imperial stout, with an ABV of 5-7.5%.

Other Styles of Stout and Porter Beers

While the style guide mentioned many of the traditional styles, there were a couple of important recipes that were left out.

Baltic Porter

These are actually lagers, rather than ales. While they are not top-fermented, they do have some characteristics of London brown ales that became porter beers.

They originated in the Baltic states and have influence from Russian Stouts.

Imperial Stout

This is the boldest and strongest ale. They have the most dominant roasted notes. They range from very dark brown to jet black.

Rich and similar to barley wine, it is a popular style in the Russian Imperial Court. This has the highest alcohol content among stouts, with an ABV of above 9%.

An example of this type of beer would be Giles Golden Imperial Ale from The Fort Collins Brewery.

The Result: Which Style Is Right For Me?

If you’re an avid beer lover like myself, I would say that it’s a must to try both, because no words can truly describe them.

Because really, there’s no one true or absolute answer to which style is right for you.

Trying to compare a stout and porter is like trying to compare coffee such as arabica or robusta.

There are people who prefer one over the other, but there is no clear winner. Whether you prefer stouts or porters is completely up to you.

But if you want to try just one, then go for the Porter if you want something lighter to ease yourself into the world of dark beers. Go for the Stout if you want a stronger flavor.

But don’t take my word for it, try the menu out for yourself!

Hopefully, this was the answer to the question about the porter stout difference.

Karl S: Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.