Saturday, January 10, 2015

What is (not "was") the difference between a stout and a porter?

Roast barley, earlier.
A while ago the mighty zythophile was able to clarify: "historically, to say roast barley is a differentiator between porter and stout is wrong".

Of course, "historically" there's a great deal of truth in that.  Naturally, it depends what you mean by "historically", but we'll let that stand. But what about non-historically? Or, as we might say, "now".
It occurred to me that I had an interesting reference staring at me from a bookshelf in the office. To wit; CAMRA's "Good Bottled Beer Guide" (Update: Jeff Evans's, I should say).  This doesn't list every stout and porter currently brewed (or even at the time of publication), and of course it's only British beers, but I feel it's an interesting selection.  What's particularly valuable is that it lists ingredients for most of the beers it covers.

How many beers are there that we can be sure the brewers are calling stouts and list their ingredients?
Let's have a quick look...
29 stouts, 21 with roast barley.
15 imperial stouts, 13 with roast barley.

And the "porters"?
23, 5 with roast barley.

There's a handful where it's hard to tell if they're being thought of as a stout or a porter. And a couple explicitly referred to as sort of hybrids (both contain roast barley, FWIW).

So let's consider the incidence of roast barley in stouts v. porters.

Imperial Stouts: 87%
Other Stouts: 72%

All stouts: 77%

Porters: 22%

So, you pick up a bottle conditioned stout, it's more than three times as likely to have been made with roast barley than a random porter.  That's to say, the majority of stouts are made with it (based on this selection), while the majority of porters exclude roast barley.

Now you might argue, as does Mr Cornell, that this distinction has no "historic validity", and you'd have a good point. You might even choose to stress that here we have "beers being called porter" rather than the true descendants of historical porters.  But you know, history tells us mostly about change. And clearly, now isn't entirely like then was.

diachronic approach to the "porter" / roast barley question?  Or a synchronic one? As someone who brews beer nowadays, it's quite clear:

What's the difference between most modern, British stouts and porters? Well for one thing, and much more often than not, the use of roast barley.


Paul Bailey said...

Isn’t roasted barley supposed to impart a less harsh taste to the beer than black malt? Personally I prefer the much smoother and more rounded flavours derived from chocolate malt. Does that make the beer a porter though?

StringersBeer said...

I'm largely of the opinion that what makes a beer a porter is the brewer calling it one.