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Stout & Porter
Dark beer lovers: you are at the right page! This page is solely about porters and stouts. Two very different styles, yet equally dark. High ABV percentages and the richest flavors. A bittersweet symphony of aromas and flavors. Have a look at our beers!
So, if you thought the history of the India Pale Ale was confusing and interwoven with slick marketing myths; buckle up, you're in for a wild ride.
The history of and difference between a porter and a stout.
In our modern day and age, the difference is neglectable. Taking a look at color, ABV percentage, and brewery description of what's out there, they're actually pretty similar! But is a porter the same beer it was hundreds of years ago? We could ask the same question for the beer that was -- according to history -- invented by Arthur Guinness, and that would become the quintessential example of its now-called style, the stout ale.
According to many distinguished beer historians, the stout was nothing else but a strong porter. The term stout meant and means 'strong and thick', hence a stout beer was a robuster version of the porter. Problem solved, right?
Let's dive a little deeper into the dusty and moldy pages of beer history to test our theory. Where did a porter come from, and what kind of beer is it? A quick search on the world wide web tells us a porter is named after the so-called carriers, men (and women) who would offload the trade ships in the busy harbors of England. These porters would carry its heavy goods to warehouses and markets, and beer would be a staple in their 18th century diets due to the dual-function of hydration and calorie intake. A porter (the carrier, not the beer) would easily consume 2.000 calories a day, just from beer. Pubs and inns would be more of a gas station than a rest stop, with beer being the dominant choice of drinks -- hurray!
The blending of beer
If that beverage was crucial for your well-being, you'd better make sure it's a tasty one. So what would they order? One of these may or may not have been the mythical three-threads ale. The story is, inns would serve more than just one kind of beer. If they would serve two different ones, they could increase the size of their portfolio from two to three in one simple step: blending! A mild ale or young beer would be blended with an old and stronger beer -- a beer that was meant to be matured and could take in some brett characteristics. Both beers would usually have a shade of brown or amber, with pale malts being more expensive to produce. A bloke by the name of Harwood would come up with the idea that instead of blending three different beers, you could just blend the mash and produce one single beer with all the features the beers would have unblended, and would become the first true porter beer, named after the nameless masses that would drink his beer; the carriers or porters.
Problem is, there is absolutely no proof to support this theory, and the name of Harwood would be first identified with porter almost a century after the good man passed.
Of course it's always fun to appropriate beer history, and another theory would state that porter beer would come to England from The Netherlands through the sea ports, where a similar working class named poorters would enjoy this dark and nutritious beverage since the early 14th century. Again (and unfortunately), nothing to support this theory fully.
So what is (f)actually true?
Wherever it came from, porters were hugely popular, especially in England, ever since the eighteenth century. The industrial revolution would greatly increase the beer brewing industry through various inventions, transforming this industry from local and with a small capacity to the huge factories of these modern times. Porters were mass produced, but a truly black beer would not come into fruition until 1817 when black malt was introduced. In 1836 Guinness advertised in a newspaper with their Double Brown Stout Porter, taking away any doubt that porter and stout were interchangeably used even in earlier times. Porter beers almost certainly came from English brown ales, and given their name to indicate a difference with other darker beers in order to compete against the rising popularity of a beer that would become more available during the industrial revolution, the pale ale.
Living through an almost full century, porters and stouts would remain the choice of the masses in England, but two World Wars halted this popularity, when raw ingredients became scarce and the quality of beer in general plummeted. Porters became known for lesser quality, whereas stout beer developed into that stronger and more robust cousin. More recently, porters have again become more favored by breweries to produce, and are now frequently a little stronger than the evergreen Irish stout; the tables of history turned.
But the difference between them is still neglectable, and often it is up to the brewers to name their beer one or the other. Porters and stouts are now in many instances brewed with the goal to age them, mature them on barrels that are often taken from other beverage industries. We even have a choice when it comes to substyles within both; sweet or milk stouts containing unfermentable sugars, Russian Imperial Stouts, Baltic Porters, the list goes on and on. And to be honest, this makes it all the more confusing.
The difference in flavors
Not everything in this beer world is black and white, not even when it comes to porters and stouts -- seeing as there were pale porters and stouts marketed in the nineteenth century -- so we've asked both connaisseurs and beer lovers to describe the difference if they perceived one. Conclusion: Porters are often a tad bit lighter in color and body, and would lean more to some sweeter, nuttier and maltier notes, whereas stouts were considered a bit thicker, more full, with aromas and flavors reminding of bitter chocolate and coffee.
So whatever you think is the main characteristic that is the fine line between a stout and a porter, we recommend not thinking about the semantics too much but just go and enjoy the beer that's in front of you. If it's an Uiltje, the more cheers to you!