Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Porter or Stout

Porter and Stout. Two distinct styles or variations of one? You should be familiar with my opinion by now.

I know that I've already banged on about this more than most of you want to hear, but two things have prompted me to return to the subject:

  1. finding some more evidence
  2. Zythophile's post on a similar theme yesterday
OK. Here's my first new quote:

"Stout, brown stout, &c. are varieties of porter, differing only in their strength."
"A Cyclopaedia of Practical Receipts" by Arnold James Cooley, 1845, page 190

This is the second:

"Porter is much weaker than strong ale. The average specific gravity of porter-wort, according to Shannon (as deduced from his strength by the saccharometer), is 1.0645, which indicates 60 pounds per barrel of saccharine extract. Hence the reason why it is so much less glutinous and adhesive than strong ale. The fermentation which porter undergoes is, we believe, much less than that of ale. But we have no very accurate information on the subject. According to the experiments of Mr Brande, brown stout, which is the strongest porter made in London, contains 6.8 per cent, by measure, of alcohol of the specific gravity 0.825. If he had given us the specific gravity of this porter before distillation, it would have enabled us to determine in some measure the error in the attenuation, as indicated by the saccharometer."
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1824, page 488

(The bold is my addition, to make the most relevant passage easier for you lazy gits to spot.)

Both sources say unequivocally and explicitly that Brown Stout is variety of Porter. Now let's see - which sources do the BJCP quote? Oh silly me, I was forgetting. They don't provide any references to back up their claims, do they?

I'm sure I can find lots more sources that say the same: Stout is a type of Porter. But I can't see the point. Where's the evidence saying the opposite? If you can find any (published before 1900), send it in. I wager I'll easily be able to find more references that back me up.


brendan said...

I think you've nailed it, at least historically. So the next question should be: is the current perceived divergence real or cognative dissonance based on a mistaken assumption?

Ron Pattinson said...

That's a very good question, Brendan. I just wish I understood it.

My own personal experience of tasting modern Porters and Stouts is that there is no clearly definable difference between the two. But bear in mind my experience of American beer is very limited.

brendan said...

Before my mind was destroyed by Academe, I could communicate clearly. What I meant to say is, is the modern differentiation real and based on a mistake, or not real and only a naming issue?

If anyone took BJCP guidelines to heart it would be the first wave of American craft brewers, many of whom got their start as homebrewers. In my experience they seem rather close in flavor, but disparate in carbonation.

Boak said...

Yes, it's interesting that when you taste American porters and stouts, they do tend to follow the BJCP flavour profiles quite carefully - eg Anchor Stout vs Anchor porter.

In the UK, I've had very stout porters and very weak and watery stouts. I don't think British brewers are that bothered about either historical accuracy or guidelines.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

My experience in tasting modern beers matches Ron's: porter and stout seem to be mostly interchangeable. Imperial stouts are stronger, but for "plain" stout and porter it seems to be much the same.

My experience of US micro stouts and porters is not vast, but must cover at least 25-30 different ones.

If you wanted to research this properly it ought to be possible to study the RateBeer data.

hey_kevin said...


I 100% completely agree on your historical analysis on porter v. stout. As for the BJCP influenced (dominated?) american micro scene, my tasting experience suggests that for a lot of brewers porter = chocolate malt and stout = either roast barley for "dry" stout and black patent and/or roast barley for any number of strong stouts, especially imperial stouts.

The interesting thing for me for me is the tag "imperial porter" which in my experience especially with american beers means strongish, 6.5%-8% roughly, loads of chocolate malt, something to soften the mouthfeel, like wheat or oats. Some of these beers have coffee in them (or make 2 versions, one with coffee and one not) usually they are top fermented. The interesting thing for me with these beers, is their similarity with the new scandinavian beers with the moniker "porter" My experience with these is rather limited, but examples I'm thinking of are Nogne O, Olfabrikken, Norrebro. If I'd had it I'd be tempted to put Mikkeler beer geek breakfast in there as well. As far as I know none of these are from the bottom-fermented "baltic porter" family, which my experience is probably limited to Zywiecz, Okocim, Saku.

Rambling Rambling...



Zythophile said...

I don't think British brewers are that bothered about either historical accuracy or guidelines.

THAT, Ron, is the understatement of the century so far ...

Ron Pattinson said...

Boak, I'll admit to quite liking Anchor Porter and thinking that it isn't that far away from a London Porter.

Zythophile beat me to it, but I think you're right about British brewers. I may nick it.

Kevin, I wouldn't like to say how much the character of American Black Beers has been influenced by the bjcp. That you so often see the question "What's the difference between Porter and Stout" on beer forums suggests that many American drinkers are confused.

Baltic Porter. Something else I should investigate properly. In Denmark, you see Porter and Stout used on the label of a single beer. I'm talking about the established lager breweries here. Wiibroe had a beer which said Imperial Stout on the main label and Porter on the neck label. There was another brewery that used the Danishified spelling Stowt and Porter on their label.

Breweries around the Baltic usually only brewed strong Porter (I guess because they had only seen export-strength beers), but didn't call it Stout.

In Holland, on the other hand, the yalways called in Stout.

I'm wandering. In Scandinavia, what they call Porter is really an export Stout. They pre-date lager brewing. A couple - Carnegie Porter from Sweden, for example) are still top-fermented. Many brewers switched to bottom-fermentation (in Poland, for one) of their Porters after they started brewing lager after 1870.

Scandinavian micros brew Porters in the export Stout tradition because this is what their drinkers expect. Their Stouts, when imitating the modern Irish style, are weaker.

I find all this fascinating. I love seeing how styles colonise and mutate. But it is very confusing if you don't know the history.

Kristen England said...


Just ran across your set of blogs and am really wondering whats all this hoo haa about the BJCP guidelines. I'm not sure I get what you are on about especially when it comes to citations. You also talk about the guidelines influencing a lot of brewers in the US. That may be true to a point only insomuch as the CAMRA good beer guide has influenced newer UK breweries. People will use information anyway they see fit. I would be very much remiss if I didn't point out how much a lot of American brewers absolutely hate guidelines of any kind. They don't want you to pigeon hole their beers they brew what they want. Rightly so! Then out of the other side of their mouth they enter professional beer contests and give their beer style 'labels' in order for them to win. Winning beers get more respect and people buy them more. Makes sense. How can these people have it both ways. You can't curse something and then use it for your own purposes only to curse them again after you are finished with them.

The US brewers seem to be leading the way in creating new beer 'styles' b/c they apparently can't get enough hops, malt, etc into a beer and don't have enough sense to know when enough is enough. This is spreading like wildfire through the brewing community in the US and is going to far. EVERYONE has to make a beer thats 1100 and has been aged in a bourbon barrel. These are the same idiots that say Chiswick bitter and Brain's Dark taste like water and have no character. So much for subtlety and quaffability. Continuing, the two biggest countries I see influenced by the BJCP guidelines are Denmark and Sweden. They are relatively new to microbrewing and a lot of the breweries use the guidelines as a tool for their line ups. But I digress, styles are only a snap shot in time and are ever changing. They are only meant to be an example and not the end all of everything. If nothing more they are a good tool so people can be on the same page when talking about a certain beer type.

When people are talking about porter and stout the lines usually get hazy. Stout was (is) very much derived from porters back in the day but has forged its own niche now. There are a lot of similarities in each. Roasted barley can be a good ingredient to hang your hat on when talking about stouts but some stouts don't use it and some porters do There are a lot of porters that use only black malt for roasted malts and there are a lot of stouts that use only black malt. However, when looking overall at the two 'styles' there is a middle ground in which you can differentiate them from each other. Extremes of the different porters and stouts are always an easy cop out but most people miss that there is a lot of crossover between the two and always will be.

As far as real difference, yes, there is but I think the cognative difference is more important. If I gave you a delicious beer that was in the middle ground somewhere of porter and stout and served 20 people and told them it was a porter and 20 more and called it a stout I don't think you would have many people saying that it was more one than the other. Most people just want to be told what it is and they will be happy. If you asked all these people why it was a porter or stout and vice verse Im sure they could come up reasons for both. Case in point, if you had a pint of Hook Nortons Double Stout and one of RCH Old Slug porter can you argue either way for either? The double stout has black malt and brown malt. Old Slug has crystal malt and black malt. There are a lot of similar flavors in each. I, personally, would say the Old Slug is more porter like b/c of the crystal malt, dark caramel flavors. The double stout is much sharper with a darker quality. Some people may say different. The point is, I believe that historically these beers had a much more distinct stylistic difference than they do today. Maybe the term porter/stout should be relegated to the past but the term Portout or Stouter just sound stupid to me. ;) In practical use, the terms today do seem to be more cognitive than real.

Kristen England, Ph.D.

Ron Pattinson said...

I occasionally kick the BJCP precisely because they don't bother to provide any evidence for their assertions.

My whole point with these posts was to highlight what Porter and Stout were like in London (where the style originated) 1800 - 1936. That's why I published all the details about the grists. For as long as both Porter and Stout were brewed in London, the malts used in them were basically the same. Quite often literally the same because they were party-gyled.

I don't know if you've read all my posts about Porter and Stout. If you haven't, take a look. I have plenty of evidence to back my point of view.

The splitting (or attempt to split) Porter and Stout into two completely different styles, I would argue is of much more recent origin. I can't find any historical evidence of it the UK or Ireland.

Has the BJCP influenced American micros? The Brewers' Association style guidelines are very, very similar. Those are used to define the categories for the GABF competition. Does no-one try to win a medal? If you don't "brew to style" you won't win.

Kristen England said...


I would very much agree that splitting porter and stout is of recent origin.

I wouldn't say so much the guidelines have influenced the US microbrewers rather than the other way around. You as about citations and the style guidelines. Its simple. As I said before these are only a snap shot in time. A lot of the information on the styles are based from a plethora of resources. Jackson, Protz, Breweries, Journals, other writings. They are not meant to be the end all but give an idea of what certain styles taste and smell like. The numbers are based off the commercial examples that are used and other good examples of said style. If you go the the BJCP website you will see all of the guidelines and how they have changed over time. The more we learn the more we change things. The more styles evolve the more they change the guidelines and not the other way around.

I do not need to find a massive collection of numbers that justify the things I say about a style, correct? If I say, 'Wow, this porter has a nice dark caramel flavor with some chocolate notes' I dont need to use any sort of citation correct? Generally acknowledged ideas and information do not need a citation. Historically German brewers used Decoction mashing in all of their lagers. Thats a fact. A simple difference between US pale ales and UK pale ales on a whole is that the US focus a lot less on the caramel-type malts and more on the hops, would you not agree? Now if one takes all this info and breaks into specific groups, it still doesn't need citations unless I make a very specific argument about a very specific beer. The overall heading of a style category isnt nearly as important as the subcategory its just a way of combining similar styles. All the scottish ones 60,70, etc are all based off historical styles and their equivalent starting gravities (shilling dependent). The Belgian and French were grouped b/c of similarities...biere de garde is in the genre as Saison. And so on. Is the the grouping of styles that bother you guys?

Basically what you are saying is that if the guidelines had a bibliography/citation index you wouldn't have a problem with them?

As for competitions, thats a completely different game than just making good beer. In theory one is supposed to make an spectacular example of style. Same goes for the GBBF. If I enter a dark mild in the golden ale category it will get crapped on b/c its not a golden ale. Thats the name of the game and everyone knows it going in.

Ron Pattinson said...

What I'm saying is that the bjcp gets lots of things wrong without explaining why. Their lager definitions don't mention more than 50% of lager styles. They can't even manage to accurately define modern European styles. Yes, a few numbers would help, actually. I'm amazed, as you say you have a Ph.D., that facts seem to mean so little to you.

I'm glad you mentioned Scottish Ales, because what the bjcp says about them is almost total fantasy.

There's plenty of stuff in their guidelines about the history of styles, much of it wrong because it's based on recent beer writings. I don't believe for a minute that they've looked at any old brewing manuals, let alone actual brewing records.

Kristen England said...


Have you ever written anyone an email detailing what are incorrect? I, for one, would love that help! Facts are very important for me so try and not bash my fud (read PhD) so easily. I have looked into a lot of the old brewing manuals. De Clerk, probably more than anyone else, really put traditional brewing practice on the map and what works and what doesn't. In all seriousness, can you put together a list of sources for me? Brewing manuals, records, etc etc. I have a lot of good stuff but am always looking for more.

50% of lagers!? Which lagers are these b/c now you've completely lost me? As for defining European beers, which beers are so poorly described?

So the definitions and tastes of the Scottish beers are all made up? These were just imagined?

Numbers are great. They give the specifics of how big the beer was and how it finished, alc, etc. Tax records are good for deciphering ingredients. However, historical beers massively difficult to discuss as Roger Protz has talked about on many occasions. How do you explain what a historical beer would have tasted like without any explanation other than 2 lines of 'strong' and 'good' comments. Factoring in how the ingredients where made, the lower quality of ingredients, fermentation temperature, yeast heath, etc etc. The hardest things about historical styles are the fact that there are so few produced exactly as they once were. Not to mention, if they were produces as they once were, would any want to drink them? :)

Ron Pattinson said...

I don't think the bjcp would pay much attention to me. I could be wrong, but walls and smashing my head against them aren't high on my list of things to do this week.

I try to explain something about lagers here:


Scottish Ales - the bjcp guidelines say that 60/- is the same colour as 70/-. I've had a couple of 60/- ales (Maclays and Belhaven). I suspect two more than whoever wrote the bjcp guidelines. Dark Mild is all I can say. Any smokiness is fantasy.

I can give you a very long list of sources, if you want. Look at my posts. I always give the sources of my information. For Porter and Sout the majority comes from the brewing records of Barclay Perkins, Truman, Whitbread and Reid - four of the largest London Porter breweries.

Ron Pattinson said...

Kristen - are you the same Kristen England who's Continuing Education Director of the bjcp?

Kristen England said...

Aye, although a stone or two heavier now ;)

Evan Rail said...

As a guy who lives in the Czech Republic and who occasionally writes about beer, I'd like to second Ron's comment that the BJCP guidelines for lagers seem off by 50% or more. To me, the BJCP lager categories sometimes look like a map that was sketched by a man who had never been to the country he was trying to depict. ("Here be monsters!")

I don't remember seeing kvasnicové pivo listed in the BJCP, and the "Vienna lager" guidelines don't cover the variety of amber beers brewed here in the Czech lands. The wide range of golden beers here hardly conform to the "Bohemian Pilsener" guidelines, and our strong darks don't fit easily in either the BJCP's "dark lager" or "Doppelbock" categories.

Perhaps the beers I'm drinking here actually don't exist...

Lew Bryson said...

Kristen - are you the same Kristen England who's Continuing Education Director of the bjcp?

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