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]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.