stout and porter
sub-categories: Stout, Milk Stout, Dry Stout, Nitro Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Breakfast Stout, Imperial Stout, Pastry Stout, Porter, Export Porter, Imperial Porter, Baltic Porter, India Porter
ABV: 3.5% - 18%
key characteristics: dark, rich, roasty
Best drunk fresh, Imperial Stouts are great for ageing. store in fridge or cellar.
Stout and Porter, two terms that are historically intertwined. Traditionally, a Stout was just a strong Porter, but these days this doesn’t really apply. Today, Porters tend to be a bit more robust, bitter, roasty, whereas Stouts tend to be smoother, creamier, and more coffee-like in flavour.
Towards the latter end of the 18th century, the porter was the most popular style of beer in the world, and British breweries were famed for being the best at producing it, and especially in London. Today, Stouts and Porters come in all shapes and sizes, both traditional in method or with lots of added ingredients and even barrel aged. The world of Stouts and Porters is big and varied, so let’s dive straight in with a run-down of popular styles in the modern beer scene…
A simple Stout is a type of ale which features a more significant amounts of darker malt, giving it a roasty, chocolatey, coffee flavour with a smooth mouthfeel and pronounced bitterness. One of the most common styles of Stout out there is Milk Stout. Sometimes branded as “Sweet Stout”, this is similar to a regular Stout but with added lactose sugar. This added sugar sweetens out the beer, thickens the body and adds smoothness and fullness to the mouthfeel. Many modern breweries have taken the Milk Stout style and amplified it, but more on that in a bit. Milk Stouts in their pure, standard form are accessible, easy-drinking beers which are ideal for a pub trip in the middle of Winter.
Dry Stouts, on the other hand, go the other way to a Milk Stout and are (as the name suggests) drier and more robust. Dry Stouts have become ubiquitous with Ireland and are sometimes called Irish Stouts; I doubt we need to even mention the most famous example of this style, but it rhymes with ‘vinous’. This style is what most people picture when they think of Stout and a lot of beers marketed as a ‘Stout’ will often be a take on this Dry style. They’re robust and bitter, with heavy notes of caramel, burnt toast and coffee, and they’re delicious. They’re often served on nitro, and then could be classified or marketed as a Nitro Stout; these beers are the same but with added nitrogen gas which heightens the creaminess and smoothness of the beer.
We’ll lump Oatmeal Stout and Breakfast Stout together as they both sound like Breakfast items. Oatmeal Stouts lie between the world of Dry Stout and Milk Stout; the added oats soften the mouthfeel resulting in a creamy, silky beer, but they’re not as sweet as a Milk Stout and not as dry as a Dry Stout. Many Oatmeal Stouts come in Imperial forms – but we’ll get to that in a bit. Breakfast Stout is like an Oatmeal Stout as it contains oats to add smoothness, but also adds some coffee and (often) chocolate to the mix – not sure chocolate is considered part of a balanced breakfast but let’s run with it. These beers can be great; they’re soft, smooth and pack a punch in terms of flavour. They’re usually slightly elevated in ABV to a standard Stout, but aren’t quite ‘Imperial’ in strength – speaking of which…
Imperial Stouts are true showcase for what you can do in brewing. Due to the style’s history, these beers are often called ‘Russian Imperial Stout’ as they were exported to the Russian court in the late 19th Century and were supposedly popular with Russian aristocracy – and it’s not hard to see why. Imperial Stouts are dark, intense, rich and boozy. Traditionally, anything above 7% ABV was considered Imperial, but many these days can creep up to 16+%. A lot of Imperial Stouts today are barrel-aged (usually in a Bourbon barrel), to add depth of flavour and complexity. With these beers, expect intense flavour that you’ll struggle to get in most other styles; Imperial Stouts are rich, decadent, boozy, chocolatey, and an absolute treat.
A variation of Imperial Stout that has emerged with craft beer is the Pastry Stout. Not always Imperial strength, the Pastry Stout is a Stout that usually has added lactose and flavourings, be it artificial or natural. These beers can be sickly sweet, but if done well can easily replace any dessert. Popular flavours include peanut butter or pecan and maple. A lot of beers in this style don’t officially call themselves Pastry Stouts, but if the beer has added elements to it, it’ll usually be slightly sweeter than your standard Stout.
When talking about Stouts, we should really be talking about Porter as that’s what Stouts technically are. These days, Porters are a bit more robust with dark coffee, slightly burnt toast flavours and slightly higher carbonation levels than Stouts, but the lines are often blurred between the two terms. A beer labelled as Export Porter is simply a Porter with a slightly higher ABV, although not as high as beers marketed as Imperial Porter which is very similar to an Imperial Stout.
One interesting variation on the Porter style is the Baltic Porter which is technically a style of Lager as it uses Lager yeast and is fermented and conditioned at cold temperatures. These beers can be super interesting and delicious if pulled off – and the cold fermentation adds flavours to the tune of dried plums, berries and even banana amidst the usual dark, roasted coffee and chocolate notes. These beers are usually above 7.5% ABV and are often barrel aged for added complexity of flavour.
India Porters are remarkably similar to Black IPAs – but you could say the same the other way round. These are porters that are more heavily hopped, meaning there are some citrusy, earthy and floral notes that cut through the dark roasty malts. There are some truly great examples of this style in the modern beer scene, but if you’re not sure where to start try The Kernel Brewery’s take – it’s an absolute classic.
We’ve barely scratched the surface with Stouts and Porters. Other than the IPA, Porters and Stouts have been completely transformed by modern brewing, and there’s always new and interesting flavours being added to them. Stouts are some of the most rewarding beers out there as the roasted malt provides more bitterness and complexity than the paler stuff.
These beers are great Winter warmers, and we recommend pairing them with classic comfort foods like chocolate cakes or rich stews – Imperial Stouts are great with strong, long-aged cheese like Gouda. If you’re new to the world of modern darker styles, we recommend you start small and work your way up as the stronger stuff can be intense. Imperial Stouts will always be there waiting for you eventually – especially considering they age so well.
Stock up on Stouts & Porters for winter and shop for them here
credit where credits due. the majority of content in this part of our website has been written for us by Dan Lyons; a talented beer writer, homebrewer and all round beer enthusiast.