What’s the difference between stout and porter?

Two overlapping coloured circles shaped like a Venn diagram sit behind an illustrated glass of stout and an illustrated glass of porter, with the title ‘Compare and Contrast: Stout vs. Porter

Are stout and porter the same? Nope! We’ll show you the interesting differences — and delicious similarities — between these two popular dark beer styles

It can be a challenge to tell stout and porter apart. These dark beers may look like identical twins, but they’re not interchangeable.

Here, we’ll outline the differences (and similarities) between the ingredients, flavours and strengths of these dark beer styles. Plus, we’ll share a few tasty ways to incorporate stout and porter into your menus.

Are stout and porter the same?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Historically, no, stout and porter aren’t the same.

Porter was the first to emerge, originating in England in the 1700s. Legend has it that a bartender first created this dark style by blending together three different beers. It was a hit with the porters who worked in the local markets, which gave the brew its name.

Stout began as an offshoot of this new porter style. So, while stout and porter aren’t the same, they are relatives. True to its name, stout referred to a stronger, “stouter” version of porter.

This new beer style was better at withstanding long sea journeys, so it soon became a popular export. When it originated, stout had a thicker, more rounded mouth feel. Porters were medium-bodied, thinner and less creamy.

Both styles fell out of favour around the First World War and almost disappeared with Prohibition. Thankfully, breweries in North America started making them again in the 1970s. Today, brewers are reimagining these classic dark beers, and many stouts and porters have a lot of similarities.

Do stouts and porters use the same ingredients?

Traditional stouts and porters differed in strength and in one key ingredient: barley. Porters were brewed with malted barley. Stouts were brewed with roasted barley. Today, brewers sometimes mix and match these types, but the distinction often still holds true.

Is porter sweeter than stout?

This is a great question. Yes, it is, because it’s made with malted barley, which adds a touch of sweetness. Flavour notes such as chocolate and caramel tend to rise to the top.

Stout is less sweet, because it’s made with roasted barley. It develops flavour notes of coffee and mocha as a result.

Are there different styles of stout and porter?

There are! Like other beer styles, stouts and porters have evolved wherever they’ve travelled. For example, in the 1800s, the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) added their own unique spin to create Baltic porter. Meanwhile, Russian brewers crafted another special style known as imperial stout. (More on both of these below.)

The experimentation hasn’t stopped, either. Many modern brewers around the globe continue to test the boundaries and see what new variations they can create.

Here are three varieties each of stout and porter that remain popular.

  • Imperial stout. Most historians agree the English created this version of stout. They designed it for the imperial court of Catherine the Great, the empress of Russia, which gave it its name. It was much stronger than earlier versions and was around nine per cent alcohol by volume (ABV). It also had a more pronounced flavour than earlier recipes. Today, “imperial” refers to a strong stout and is interchangeable with the term “double.”
  • Milk stout. This style originated in the 1800s, when brewers added lactose, a type of milk sugar, to the recipe. This lent both sweetness and creaminess to the resulting brew. Fun fact: Beer was often served with breakfast and lunch in this era, so the name “milk stout” made it sound more nutritious.
  • Oatmeal stout. True to its name, this stout incorporates oats in the mash. This addition gives the brew a silky texture and a touch of sweetness (though, it’s not as sweet as milk stout). In the 19th century, oatmeal stout was also seen as a healthy alternative to other beer styles.
  • Baltic porter. Like imperial stout, this brew is a stronger cousin of traditional porter. Throughout the 1800s, it was exported to the Baltic region. There, local brewers created their own recipes using lager yeast instead of ale yeast for added crispness. This powerful porter offers caramel, licorice and toffee flavour notes.
  • Robust porter. The name says it all: Robust porter has a stronger personality than classic porter. It’s made with bitter and roasted malts, which add hints of cocoa flavour. The sweetness from the malts still comes through, but you can also taste a touch of hop bitterness in this dark beer.
  • Coffee porter. This java-scented brew (like its lesser-known cousin, coffee stout) has become prominent over the last 30 years. Adding coffee to a traditional porter recipe makes total sense, too. It gives the beer a roasty, nutty character that’s super-appealing.

Can you substitute stout for porter?

It depends. If you simply want to sip a dark beer, then you can definitely substitute stout for porter (or vice versa), whenever you like. The taste profile will be a bit different, but you’ll get a glassful of rich, palate-pleasing flavours.

If you’re cooking with dark beer, substituting stout for porter can work if you keep each style’s typical aromas and flavour notes in mind. It’s a delicious experiment, and fun trying to taste the differences for yourself.

Cooking with stouts and porters

Stouts and porters work incredibly well in recipes. They’re often added to stews and desserts, where their typical flavours shine. But, as always, there’s plenty of room to experiment with them in other dishes.

We’re big fans of these beer styles, so we’ve created a bunch of recipes that show off their best features. Why not start off with an icy, refreshing Porter and Cold Brew Slushy Cocktail? It’ll change your iced coffee game forever. For a main course, our Hearty Irish Stew with Stout is a great cold-weather warm-up. It’s packed with tender beef and root veggies braised in a rich stout gravy.

The caramel and coffee flavour notes in porters and stouts also make chocolate desserts sing. First, we recommend our creamy Beer-a-Misu. A stout-and-espresso soak makes the ladyfingers in this classic dessert ultra-tender. For a deliciously simple treat, try our Fudgy Chocolate Stout Brownies. We dressed up a quick-and-easy boxed brownie mix with rich stout to give it the ultimate fudgy flavour.

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