Porters and Stouts are both are dark, moderate in alcohol, and have aromas and flavors of coffee, chocolate, and toasty malt. Much like Pale Ale and IPA, Porters and Stouts can also confusingly overlap.
Porter is a style rich in history, dating back to early-1700s England. There are many versions of the story of porter, but the truth is there is little evidence the proves any of these stories to be true. We’re not even sure if the modern American Porters (more robust malt character, more aggressive hops, and increased alcohol) or modern English Porters (lower alcohol and caramel-forward malt flavor) even resemble the Porters of the past.
There are a few things we can be sure of however, like the difference between a Porter and a Stout. Historically, there is none. In previous generations, Porters of higher strength were called, “Stout Porters,” (kind of like a precursor to the use of Imperial) which eventually became simply known as Stout.
Typically, Stouts will have more roasty character than Porters, due in part to their use of highly kilned barley, that is not malted first, providing roastiness, but not body or sweetness. Maltsters must monitor the roasting process very closely, as the tem- perature can get high enough to catch fire and turn to charcoal! Some maltsters offer debittered black malt – black malt that has had its husk removed. The intent is to produce a malt with the roast character, but without the bitterness associated with the husk.
Both Porters and Stouts are great with a range of foods. If cheese is your thing, try an American Porter with a sharp cheddar, or aged Gouda. Imperial Stouts are great with pepperjack or a funky blue. Oftentimes the creaminess of the cheese and the toastiness of the malt recreate a grilled cheese flavor resulting in happy memories of a gooey cheese sandwich on a chilly fall day.
Is dessert more your speed? Classic pairings, like Porters and peanut butter desserts, Stouts with espresso dark chocolate truffles, and Sweet Stouts with cream puffs or eclairs, are sure to impress. Don’t forget the savory side – mole, BBQ, and roasted meats all go great with these roasty gems!
Virginia is the Products, Programming, and Educational Director for Craft Beer Cellar. In addition to being a Certified Cicerone, she is an Introductory Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Her home base is Chicago, but she’s often found in the Boston area, or wherever her passion for good food & drink takes her.
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