By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
With all of the different styles of beer being produced these days, there is bound to be some overlap. In some cases, it can be downright impossible to tell the difference between certain types of brews and we end up relying on the bartender to tell us what we’re drinking. The two styles that seem to have the most overlap are the porter and the stout. Both are dark and robust, so an untrained palate may not be able to detect subtle distinctions. Whether you want to brew your own or sample some of Oregon’s best, we’ve provided a guide and brief history to help you determine the difference between these two black, beautiful styles.
The invention of roasted malt was most likely an accident. You can imagine that a maltster might’ve simply dozed off on the job and left the grain in the kiln for too long. Or perhaps one adventurous person decided to experiment with the cooking process. In any case, documentation shows that roasted malts were employed by brewers making porters in Britain in the 1700s. The method allowed for the production of beers that had a lot more flavor. Additionally, brewers could use the roasted malts to hide off-flavors. Today, it’s generally accepted that porters use only roasted malts, such as chocolate and black malt. And when compared to stouts, porters tend to have a lower alcohol content and much fuller body.
Stouts haven’t always been large, roasty beers. In the early days of brewing, water was often not safe to drink and even when it was it usually tasted terrible. But beer helped solve both of those problems. There was plenty of experimentation with alcohol content — it could run as low as 3 percent and as high as 15 percent in various concoctions. And that’s not what defined the stout — neither did the degree of color. Its distinction was that it was a single-mash beer. After the mashing process was complete, brewers would skip sparging (running water through the grain bed to extract the remaining sugars and blending it with the wort) and instead use that liquid to make the first batch. This beer would be the largest in gravity and receive the name “stout.” Today, the stout is a dark, roasty beer that has a higher alcohol content than a porter and a dry finish. The dry, roasty notes come from the addition of roasted barley to the mash.
Stouts and porters are the great black beers of the brewing world. With marketing gimmicks and breweries mislabeling their beer, it can sometimes be tricky to determine what you are drinking. Just remember to ignore all the fluff and taste them all. A little history and a lot of experience just might help you someday create a style beer drinkers will be talking about in 300 years.
Portly Porter [AG]
Portly Porter [Extract]
By Brian Yaeger
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the winter, Oregon gets fewer than nine hours of sunup. That’s a lot of darkness. Beer-wise, darkness is something our brewers do very well. Some of those stouts and porters get a big spotlight while others, pardon the expression, are generally left in the dark. There’s no arguing that Deschutes’ The Abyss is a world-class imperial stout or that Barley Brown’s Turmoil deserves to be the award-winning Cascadian Dark Ale that it is. But there are more than 200 breweries across Oregon. Some simply get less lip service; some stellar beers may be overlooked. So in honor of wintry dark ales, especially as imperial stouts get their major love-fest this Valentine’s Day at Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts, take a moment to try and seek out these other opaque and obscure onyx beauties.
Seaside’s eponymous brewery, Seaside Brewing Company gives the arcade and taffy-laden town what it really needed: a brewpub. Their imperial stout, Black Dynamite, lives up to its name in that it’s pitch black and explosively tasty. The beer with bourbon-soaked vanilla beans and cacao nibs (also getting the bourbon treatment) is a show-stopper from first chilled sip to last warmed drop that has the sweetness to not just pair with dessert but replace it, yet the bitterness and roastiness to enjoy snifter after snifter.
At the southern end of the coast in Brookings is Chetco Brewing Company. Michael Frederick and his wife Alex Carr-Frederick launched Chetco as a nanobrewery using their friend James Smith’s 1.5-barrel homebrewing system as their commercial setup. It’s how they make their super-small batch but mighty Block & Tackle. This stout achieves a unique viscosity after aging for six months, and the resulting notes of Baker’s chocolate achieve the right balance between a sweet and dry stout -- just ask the World Beer Cup judges who awarded it a silver medal.
Speaking of award-winning south coast breweries, the aforementioned James Smith is the brewer at Arch Rock Brewing Company in Gold Beach. Although he medaled at last year’s Great American Beer Festival for his lager, State of Jefferson Porter pours a chocolaty brown hinting at the deep chocolate flavor buried under the mocha aroma. Yes, there is a robust maltiness that suggests molasses and brown sugar, but it’s not syrupy on the tongue. The brew is rich from the roasted malts and holds up from first sip to last, then back to first.
In mid-Willamette Valley, two tiny breweries are making some of the most unique stouts in the state. Santiam Brewing is the passion project of nine buddies, only some of them homebrewers, who collectively formed the brewery and cozy tasting room in Salem. Pirate Stout is a rum-barrel aged “tropical export stout” (7.9% ABV) with a fudgy base of chocolate malt and de-bittered black malt that sails through the Bahamas in a dark rum barrel picking up a crew of toasted coconut flakes. Fans of Malibu Rum and Mounds bars are the obvious targets, but the allure of this rich, sweet, voluptuous stout is very easily enjoyed as the meal, not just dessert.
While farther down I-5 in brewery-happy Eugene, Viking is technically a brewery but I like to call it a braggotery since every brew they make has a large honey content. They make a bourbon-aged stout with Meadowfoam honey, which naturally tastes like toasted marshmallow giving it an overall s’more character. But they also make Winter Squash Porter featuring 150 pounds of delicata squash that is hand-roasted and given a honey backbone courtesy of turnip honey. The result is reminiscent of Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from their neighbors at Oakshire Brewing but bottles are even rarer to find.
One last pick from a brewery truly off the beaten path is the Chocolate Stout from Dragon’s Gate Brewery in Milton-Freewater near the northeastern corner of the state. Le Morte D’Arthur is a milk stout with cocoa nibs that was once described as a “Fudgsicle, but beer” and has developed a local cult following. Therefore, if you’re heading to this farm-based brewery near Washington’s wine country, bring a growler to share this decadent treat with friends.
Finally, even in Portland there are rare jewels to be treasured. Ex Novo Brewing Company is the most altruistic brewery, donating 100% of its profits to local charities -- but their new Moonstriker is still pure hedonism. This stout is a collaboration with Moonstruck Chocolates and debuted at the Holiday Ale Festival. It features nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and, of course, Moonstruck cocoa along with a fiery kiss of habanero. The result is a creamy, dreamy Mexican hot chocolate stout.
Clearly, the force is strong on the dark side of Oregon’s less-heralded brews.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.