Author Topic: Great Beer Blog - So what IS the difference between porter and stout?  (Read 3598 times)

Offline narcout

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Re: Great Beer Blog - So what IS the difference between porter and stout?
« Reply #30 on: April 29, 2011, 08:34:18 PM »
Has anyone called Sierra Nevada to tell them they do not understand what a modern porter and stout are? How did they take the news?

I heard they were pissed.

Offline tubercle

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Re: Great Beer Blog - So what IS the difference between porter and stout?
« Reply #31 on: April 30, 2011, 06:29:03 AM »
The steak got its name the same way the beer did, didn't it?

  That was always my understanding.
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Offline tumarkin

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Re: Great Beer Blog - So what IS the difference between porter and stout?
« Reply #32 on: April 30, 2011, 07:16:19 AM »
The steak got its name the same way the beer did, didn't it?

  That was always my understanding.

maybe going back to the origin of calling steak houses "porter house", but from wikipedia ....

"The origin of the name 'porterhouse' is the subject of much conjecture but very little knowledge; it has been claimed that the name derives from a Massachusetts stockman and proprietor of the now defunct Porter House hotel in Porter Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zachariah B. Porter,[1] or from a New York City porter-house proprietor, Martin Morrison.[2] The Oxford English Dictionary suspends judgment, observing that the cut is "freq. supposed to derive its name from a well-known porterhouse in New York in the early 19th cent., although there is app. no contemporary evidence to support this". Yet another theory is that the name arose from the Porter House Hotel, situated in the city of Flowery Branch, Georgia, just northeast of Atlanta, on what was, in the late 19th century, a new railroad that connected New York City with New Orleans."

also turned up this fun little fact.... when Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) toured Europe in 1878, he didn't think much of the cuisine. He requested that a "pan-fried porterhouse steak with mushrooms be ready for him upon his arrival back home."

Mark Tumarkin
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Gainesville, FL

Offline thatguy314

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Maybe it's just me, but I don't think it's as complicated as you guys are making it out to be.

First of all, porter and stout are relative.  I don't think all porters and all stouts have a lot of overlap.  I think we're talking about what the BJCP calls a robust porter, and its relationship with what the BJCP calls a dry stout or an American stout.

Just to get it out of the way, brown porters (e.g., Fuller's london porter, Sam Smith Taddy Porter) are different beasts all together.  They're more like roasty english brown ales, than they are like stouts.  We're talking about beers like Anchor Porter, Edmond Fitzgerald porter, Deschutes Black Butte, Bell's Porter, and Founders porter.  I say these beers because I think they are very illustrative of the style.  Again with stout, we're talking about dry stout (Guinness, Murphy's, Beamish, Victory Donnybrook) and American Stout (Sierra, Deschutes Obsidian, Shakespeare, etc.,).  I don't think we'd thnk that porter is close to a milk stout, and imperial stouts are kind of their own beast altogether.

Now that I think I've defined the area of confusion, I think that we can really talk about what the basic difference is between the two.  In the modern world, not based on any historical definition, I think there's really a single factor that defines the difference between porter and stout.  It's not the use of a single ingredient, but rather it's the balance of the ingredients used.  Stout is a roast dominated beer with a supporting malt character The upfront and principal note in a stout is the roast.  Typically you'll see robust barley, but it's not necessary.  Shakespeare stout is primarily chocolate malt.  The roast malt is always in high %, and it's the dominant flavor of the beer.  On the other hand, porter is a malty beer with a significant roast character.  In porter the roast is one player among many flavors, and while prominant should always be well balanced by a strong malty note, usually from crystal or mellanoidin rich malts.  I see a lot of homebrew porters that are just all roast.  That is a bad porter.

Take sierra, deschuttes, and many other good breweries and you'll see that balance defines the difference between their stout and their porter.  I think that's what has lead to the black malt / roast barley differences between stout and porter.  Black patent, when used in the same amounts as roast barley, has a much milder taste.  As a result its easier to get a supportive role with it than with roast barley.  However, roast barley needn't be excluded from a good porter.  Edmond Fitzgerald, which is arguably the best robust porter in the country, uses roast barley (see December 2009 issue, no longer online).

I haven't played with brown malt a lot, though my friend Ken, who is probably the best porter brewer I know, is in love with the stuff.  From what I understand, is that the reason it helps to brew such a nice porter is precisely because it captures the qualities which I spoke of.  It has a mild roasted character and a toasty biscuity character.  When used it adds roast blended with a complex mellanoidin-rich maltiness that makes a porter.  If you used it in a stout, it  might distract too much from the upfront roast that dominates the style.

So where does this put us?  I've been to plenty of breweries where they have a porter that's really more like a stout, and occasionally, a stout that's much more like a porter.  Just because these examples exist, doesn't mean they're good examples.  If a small brewery served you beer they called an IPA that wasn't bitter and barely had any hops (yes I'm speaking about your Fire Island Beer Company) most of us wouldn't accept that its an IPA.  Doesn't mean its a bad beer, it's just not an IPA.  Same goes for these beers.

These is my understanding of these styles.  It's not as simple as a lot of disctinctions I've heard, and there probably is a narrow style space where there is some signficant overlap between a very roasty porter and a very malty stout.  However, I've yet to have a good example of stout or porter that has changed the way I think about it.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2011, 08:47:22 AM by thatguy314 »

Offline thomasbarnes

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I have made my own brown malt before -- it is not difficult.  Daniels and Mosher provide guidance in their books.  Not sure how historically accurate it actually tastes, but it's not for a lack of effort.  To me it tastes sort of like burnt toast.  Think somewhere between dark Munich and chocolate malt.  Yummy and complex in reasonably small amounts.

Ah, but 18th century brown malt was "blown malt" - I imagine it was something like brown malt but popped like popcorn. It was apparently quite tricky to make; a lot of malt kilns burned down as a result.

My opinion is that the porter vs. stout debate is specious. Yes, stout originally started out as a strong porter, but both stout and porter have evolved so much over the last 300 years that the exact definition of porter/stout depends on which brewery you're talking about and which year. Martyn Cornell (writer of Zythophile blog) describes four variants in his book "Amber, Gold and Black." Personally, I think he's wrong; there are more likely 6 or more historical variants in England alone. If you want raw data (e.g., grist bills, hopping rates, pitching temperatures) for 19th and early 20th century English porter/stout, so you can make up your own mind, check out Ron Pattison's "Shut Up About Barclay Perkins" blog.

In any case, modern porter (with the exception of Baltic porter) is a revival of an extinct style. In England and Ireland, porter died out in the 1940s or 50s. In the U.S., it mostly died before Prohibition, with the exception of oddities like Yeungling Porter. It was then revived by American homebrewers and craft brewers like Anchor and Boulder, in the late 1970s, then revived in the U.K. by English brewers like Fullers and Samuel Smith in the early 1980s. IIRC, Taddy Porter was specifically created for the U.S. market after Samuel Smith joined forces with Merchant du Vin (its U.S. importer). So, the BJCP guidelines and whatnot are perfectly correct in breaking it out into its own category, since modern brewers deliberately made the distinction between porter and stout. "Robust Porter", for all that it is a modern invention, is a valid description of U.S. revivals of porter, while "Brown Porter" represents U.K. revivals.

If you're brewing for your own pleasure, porter/stout is whatever you want it to be. If your brewing from a historical recipe, it's what the recipe writer claimed it was. If you're brewing for competition, it's what the style guidelines say it is.

Offline Will's Swill

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Well said.
Is that a counter-pressure bottle filler in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?