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Column: Stout or porter? Here’s how local beer experts decipher between the two similar styles
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Is this a stout or porter? - photo by Kelsey Podo

If you’re not sure what the difference is between a stout and porter, you’re not alone. 

I usually classify porters as sweeter, milder and more chocolate-forward compared to stouts, which typically offer a robust body with hints of bitter coffee. However, every so often, a rogue stout comes along touting a flavor profile of a porter, and then I’m back to the drawing board wondering why I ever tried to decipher between the two in the first place. 

Are brewmasters toying with us? Is there actually something that sets the two styles apart? 

To clear the fog, I decided to reach out to Left Nut Brewing Co.’s brewmaster, Rick Foote, and owner, Pap Datta. 

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Datta shared that porters came before stouts around 300 years ago. Legend has it, porters were popular with the luggage porters, hence, the name. 

Datta said the stout arrived later as a more robust, bitter and roasty beer, oftentimes containing higher alcohol content.

The original porters, he explained, were blended in the early days at taverns and bars. As the beer was conditioned in wood barrels, he said it would impart different properties from barrel to barrel, even adding funky and sour notes to the beer. Datta said the open flame kilns used to make malted barley also brought different flavors to the beer.

“Stouts emerged as more of these establishments experimented and created bolder versions of the porter,” Datta said. 

In terms of technicality, Foote said a stout can be distinguished by the use of roasted barley in the brewing process. However, this rule isn’t set in stone. 

“I’ve read and seen that it’s whatever the brewer says it is,” Foote said. “If a brewery brews a porter, then it’s a porter. If the brewer thinks it’s a stout, then it’s a stout.”

Stout common notes: Coffee, molasses, dark chocolate 

Porter common notes: Milk chocolate, nuts, toffee

Although stouts may seem to reach higher alcohol-by-volume — such as imperial stouts which climb up to 10% — porters can also strike a bold figure. 

Foote said Baltic porters are known to have 10% or higher alcohol-by-volume and can offer slightly bitter coffee notes like a stout. 

When asked about his personal take on the difference between stouts and porters, Foote replied, “Porters are a wimpier version of a stout.”

So, here’s the takeaway folks. There’s no true way to decipher between the two, but there are characteristics that can help, in most cases, to identify one or the other. If you’ve forgone reading the label, hone in on your tastebuds and search for the notes. 

Porters generally (key word, generally) offer a mild and smooth experience of roasted nuts or chocolate. Stouts tend to embrace coffee notes and a richer, more roasted flavor. 

If you’re wanting to conduct a blind tasting of the two dark brews, pop over to Left Nut Brewing Co., located at 2100 Atlanta Highway in Gainesville. 

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