Ah, the age-old battle between porters and stouts. Both are dark, craft beer styles...but how are the two different from each other? If you were looking at the two side by side, you probably wouldn't be able to tell the stout from the porter, but if you give them a careful whiff and a swig, there's certain differences you *might* be able to taste and smell (or should be able to taste/smell depending on which beer nerd you talk to). But the biggest differences between the two styles are historical.

Porter vs. Stout: What's the Difference?

What's the Difference Between a Porter and a Stout?

The most common answer you'll find for the difference between porters and stouts is this: stouts often contain roasted flavours and notes of coffee while porters do not. Historically speaking, porters usually have a lower ABV than stouts do, but this is not always true today. Porters are typically made from malted barley and stouts are made from roasted, unmalted barley...but again, not always the case. According to the BJCP, a porter is described as: "A substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character" whereas a stout is described as being, "fairly strong, highly roasted, bitter, hoppy (and) dark."

To be totally honest though, if you ask two different brewers or beer enthusiasts what the difference is between porters and stouts, you'll probably get two different answers. At the end of the day "porter" and "stout" are often used interchangeably because there are so many similarities between the two.

What Came First, Porters or Stouts?

The one thing almost everyone can agree on is that porters came first...way easier to answer than the classic chicken vs. egg debate.

As far as geography is concerned, the classic porter craft beer style was created in London in the 1700s. The style continued to develop for quite some time and eventually some brewers began making porters stronger, or more stout. Hence, where "stout" comes from as it was essentially a derivative of the original porter and was originally called a "Stout Porter." Confused yet? Keep reading, it gets worse.

Porter Beer

Both the 2021 Brewers Association Style Guide (AOB) and the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guide (BJCP) recognize a few different designations, or sub-styles, of the Porter beer style as it is brewed today. While there is some variance between the two style guides, the common denominator is that most of these porter designations tend to be more full-bodied than their stout counterparts.

Porters Recognized by Both Style Guides:

  • English Porter / Brown Porter. This is the original Porter, often including "English" or "Brown" in the style name to differentiate it from other porter designations. It can range from a medium-light brown to a dark brown, and should contain no burnt flavour characteristics.
  • Baltic Porter. A strong, European beer brewed with lager yeast and cold-fermented. Almost black in colour.
  • American Porter. Defined by the BJCP as, "A substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character." Typically stronger than their English counterpart.

AOB Porters:

  • Robust Porter. A very dark porter in which fruity esters should be present.
  • Smoke Porter. As the name suggests, Smoke Porters should have a "mild to assertive smoke malt aroma and flavor." Typically dark brown to black in colour.

BJCP Porters:

  • Pre-Prohibition Porter. An earlier American take on the English porter, but made with American ingredients and endorsed by George Washington himself.

Stout Beer

While stouts were originally brewed as a derivative of porters, they are arguably now more popular than porters. Brewers everywhere still struggle to identify the differences between these dark craft beers, but you'll typically see breweries feature more stouts on their tap lists than porters. Stouts tend to leave a wee bit more room for experimentation during the brewing process. Below are the stout designations officially recognised by the two primary style guides.

Stouts Recognized by Both Style Guides:

  • Sweet Stout or Cream Stout. Defined by the BJCP as: "A very dark, sweet, full-bodied, slightly roasty ale that can suggest coffee-and-cream, or sweetened espresso."
  • Oatmeal Stout. A dark stout that contains, as the name suggests, oatmeal flavours and characteristics.
  • American Stout. A dark, roasty, stout with low sweetness and high bitterness. American hops tend to increase the strength and bitterness of this stout designation as it compares to other stouts.
  • Imperial Stout. Expect big, bold, intense flavours from the Imperial Stout. "Roasty-burnt malt with deep dark or dried fruit flavors, and a warming, bittersweet finish." (BJCP)
  • Irish Stout. Also known as a "dry stout", this is a black beer with strong notes of coffee. The style was made popular by Guinness.
  • Foreign Extra Stout. According to Growler Mag, "Export stouts can be considered scaled-up versions of Irish dry stouts, whereas tropical versions are more like strong, sweet stouts. Export versions are moderately dry with assertive roasted-malt flavor and moderately high bitterness." Also called Export Stout.

AOB Stouts:

  • British Style Imperial Stout. From the AOB: "Extremely rich malty flavor, often expressed as toffee or caramel, and may be accompanied by very low roasted malt astringency." This style was originally called the Russian Imperial Stout.

BJCP Stouts:

  • Irish Extra Stout. Falls somewhere between the Irish Stout and a Foreign Extra Stout, and is often thought to be very closely related to the original porter style developed in London and will have roasted coffee notes as well as dark chocolate.
  • Tropical Stout. Similar gravity to Export Stouts, but sweeter and not as bitter. The style was born in the Caribbean and used to be listed in the BJCP as a sub-category of the Foreign Extra Stout. It differs from the Foreign Extra Stout in that the Tropical Stout uses indigenous grains and adjuncts in the brewing process.

Brown Ale

Now that we've beat the topic of "porter vs stout" to death...let's answer one more question. What's the difference between a brown ale and a porter? Brown ales and Porters might look similarly when poured into a beer glass, and they even have some of the same flavour and aroma characteristics. However, brown ales (whether English or American...both style guides recognize both designations separately) typically don't have any of the roasted flavours you might find when drinking a porter or stout. The English Brown Ale spawned from the English Mild Ale, and can range in colour from a reddish/copper brown to a dark brown. The American Brown Ale came after the English Brown Ale and uses American ingredients.

Porters & Stouts Mixed Case: A Bit of Everything

Congratulations! You've officially learned all about the differences between porters and stouts. Now it's time to get your hands on this cracking Porters & Stouts Mixed Case filled with 12 beers from 12 different breweries. The mixed case includes four porters and eight stouts, each of them dreamy and delicious. With nearly 200 five-star reviews, you can't go wrong with this case of beer.

One happy beer drinker writes:

"A wonderful and delightfully tasty blend of porters and stouts. So unlike Guinness. You will be amazed at the variety and will discover a few favourites that would have remained unknown." --Colin, November 2020 (5 Stars)

Porters & Stouts Mixed Case - 12 Beers

Beers in the case as of 1 April, 2021:

Stouts:

  • Vocation X Yeastie Boys Breakfast Club Stout
  • Siren Broken Dream Stout
  • Loch Lomond Silkie Stout
  • Saltaire No. 5 Stout
  • Fourpure Last Train Oatmeal Stout
  • Wiper and True Milkshake Stout
  • Moor Stout
  • Wild Beer Co Millionaire Stout

Porters:

  • Thornbridge Market Porter
  • Tiny Rebel Stay Puft Porter
  • Magic Rock Common Grounds Porter
  • Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Porter

Porters vs. Stouts Today

As you can see, there's not necessarily a clear difference between porters and stouts and this is a battle that will likely continue as long as beer keeps being made, or until pigs fly. In the meantime, it's probably okay to use "porter" and "stout" interchangeably because honestly, no one really knows the difference anyway. Regardless of whatever dark, delectable, malty, roasty beer you're drinking, you can be sure you won't regret a single sip.