Porters and Stouts, along with Sours and Gose, are the styles that alienate most beer consumers.
The flavours are so big and bold, and a world away from, say the beer “from up here”, that trying them can seem like a chore rather than a passion.
A lot of consumers think that there is a seasonal window for drinking them, and to a certain extent, I think they are right.
Whilst I can still enjoy a good dark beer at night during our warmer months, I would struggle with a big bold dark beer on a day when its 39deg in the shade, or with fresh fish coming off the bbq, sitting around the pool on a summers arvo. However, come our cooler winter nights, I can cut loose and really start to enjoy and explore the bold flavours that you find in dark beers.
Stouts and porters were the traditional dark beers, but over the last five years we’ve seen craft brewers bringing out darker ales, such as black IPA’s, using dark and chocolate malts to produce colours that are more akin to squid ink than those deep burnt orange coloured Indian Pale Ale, and it’s made the differentiation between dark beers harder than ever.
Trying to wrap your head around the difference between stouts and porters can be confusing, even for long term hop heads. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) a Stout is defined as “a very dark, roasty, bitter, creamy ale,” while a Porter is described as “a substantial, malty dark ale with a complex and flavourful character.” To put it simply, Porters are generally lighter in colour and alcohol than Stouts with a range of chocolate, coffee and caramel flavours, but without the burnt, roasted qualities usually reserved for Stouts. Originally Stouts were simply a stouter, stronger version of Porters, and Double, Triple and Imperial Stouts soon followed, eventually the Porter suffix was dropped, and Stouts and Porters became two different standalone beers.
With the advent of independent craft brewing however, breweries have pretty much used the terms interchangeably, with style guides being thrown out the window while brewers are letting their creative juices run wild.
It means now that as you wander down the aisle of your local craft bottleo, you find porters that taste dark and roasted with high ABV sitting beside rich, sweet stouts with low ABV, or stouts that have been brewed with cacao, caramel, coffee or coconut added to them to provide an extra layer of depth and complexity to the brew.
The use of oats and lactose has also come back into practice, it stopped in the 50’s and popped back up again in the late 80’s (roughly) producing sweeter and more viscous style stouts that are, unsurprisingly referred to as Oatmeal Stouts and Milk Stouts. This happens because the lactose is not fermentable and is left behind when the yeast has done its work, the sweetness of the milk balances against the bitterness of the hops and roasted grains, while the oats have a high content of proteins, lipids and gums which increases the viscosity, giving an oat stout a silky smoothness in the mouth.
Generally, you will find that an oatmeal stout will be less sweet than a milk stout, will have a fluffy longer lasting head in the glass, and will be silkier on the tongue, helping to spread out the sometimes jarring, bitter flavours of a stout, which all help to make it a great first-timers drop.
Fast forward to the present day and brewers are still experimenting: we’ve now got peanut butter stouts, salted caramel and chocolate, even mid-strength session stouts, and it will never be a hard and fast line between the two.
A couple of easy to find, locally sourced darks, that wont break the bank:
Pirate Life Stout – many years ago, I shared a chocolate and sticky date pudding, this, is that dessert in a can. It’s a malt driven 7.1% stout with chocolate, caramel, with some dark dried fruit notes, creamy mouthfeel from the use of oats, and an earthy spiciness in the finish.
4 Pines Stout – a dry Irish styled stout with a malt bill as long as politicians expense list. Opens with aromas of coffee, chocolate and caramels, a touch of sticky date pudding in there too. On the mouth its driven by that huge array of malts, loaded with dark chocolate, some burnt toast, and dark roasted coffee notes, the finish is long and lingering with a smooth round bitterness. The only beer that is approved for space too I might add 5.1%ABV
Cascade Stout – sometimes simpler is just better, and that’s just what you get here. Good from the bottle, better from a glass, it’s a rich quality stout, with a short finish so you never get tired of the flavours. Strong espresso aromas, flavours of coffee and dark chocolate on the tongue. It’s probably a little dry to do a full afternoon session on but a few hours with a few mates over a few bowls of oysters would be perfect.5.8%ABV
Black Hops Eggnog Stout – the beer that started it all for Black Hops, and while it doesn’t contain actual Eggnog it doesn’t contain a lot of the elements: nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla bean and French brandy. It’s silky smooth on the tongue, creamy chocolate, vanilla and subtle spice and nutmeg, the brandy comes through as the beers warms. Jumped up to 5.8%ABV too.