There are two beer styles with histories that reflect the darkness of their content. Stouts and porters with their ominous, dark hue can be quickly regarded as the drink of beer fanatics. Needless to say, that hasn’t been always like this…
The dawn of the black beer
When talking about the history of beers (focusing on the part that we can humanly comprehend) 17th century England might come to mind. If you’ve read the first part of our beer historical journey you surely remember that the real break-through in the world of beers were brought on by the industrial revolution. As factories opened and the village folk began orienting towards London, beer production moved from the cellars of small taverns (alehouses to be more precise) to the grounds of recently formed beer factories. This is where our story begins.
Docks and factories began filling up with thirsty workers who needed a place to go after the shift to let off steam. Problem was, the drinks at the watering holes of London was much closer to, well, water than the cask ales the workers were used to in their local “public houses”.
We all know that there are few forces as unstoppable as a bunch of disgruntled longshoreman. Beer factory owners knew it just as well so they began working on a solution to their washy, weak drinks.
What they needed was new ingredients.
They started mixing their cheap, substandard brown malts with locally sourced hops and although it kicked their beers into next gear, it was still far from satisfying the customers. So they had to keep going.
The solution was brought on by the agricultural achievements of the industrial revolution. Thanks to a new malting technique their managed to transform their barley from the weak brown malt into deep dark and much more potent, an almost black malt. This “magical ingredient” made their brownish ales into a deep, dark demonic drink. And the thirsty workers into carefree beer-drinking citizens.
In their honor, the new beer were christened porter which means carrier or transporter.
Stout or Porter?
If you would pour a few pints of porters and a few stouts for us to identify them we would most likely mess them up more than a few times. The line between the two styles has begun to be blurred together nowadays. However, it was not much different when stouts first appeared.
As this new, black beer started spreading through the pubs of London and more and more breweries started showing up with their own porter-incarnations, a few tricky companies (as they always do) began differentiating themselves from the competition. More hops and more malts lead to stronger and even blacker beers which lead to more satisfied customers. These customers started calling the new, more powerful beers stout porters, the term they used for strong bulky characters back in the days.
In time, these strong porters detached from their parents and became known simply as stouts. This separate identity grew further in the 1800s with an iconic Irish brewery. And this might just be enough for all of us to say the name in synch:
Arthur Guinness’ legendary beermakery became the most popular brewery on the Island of redheads by reforming the stout. The best indicator of their success is most likely the fact that the famous recipe has hardly changed during their 200 years of reign.
The secret of the Guinness Irish Stout is in the processing: instead of the sophisticated malting of porters, the cheeky factory made the decision to send their barley right into the roaster. There is a less romantic explanation for this however than the renegade spirit of Guinness: there was a much lower tax on plain barley then on its malted version at the time.
And this Irish savvy had more benefits than expected. Besides creating much darker beers, the method lead to a caramelly, roasted, distinctly bitter taste their stouts, differentiating it greatly from the English porters. The masses loved the new flavor and for a long time you could simply differentiate between the two types of beers the following way:
- Porter: sweeter, malty beer, with less intense flavors
- Stout: darker, creamier and more bitter with a dominant roasty taste
Today it would be difficult to say this with real conviction.
The Hungarian stout and porter situation
We were saying it wouldn’t be easy to tell a stout and a porter apart today without reading the label.
This is due to the experiential spirit of (craft) breweries and the increasingly sophisticated technologies has turned the market towards the free interpretation of stouts and porters and individuality took the place of strict formulas and production methods.
This might be the reason that a few porters could just as well be called porters and vice versa. It’s pointless to ponder whether porter or stout is your preferred style. We recommend that – like breweries – don’t be afraid to experiment with black beers, be it milk stout, coffee stout, Russian imperial stout, imperial porter or whatever they happen to call them.
In case you’re only getting acquainted with these brews, you’ll always find a few carefully selected ones but you won’t regret picking up one from the following list either:
- Monyo Lazy Pirate
- Fehér Nyúl Russian Imperial Stout
- Mad Scientist New York Moccachino (milk stout)
- Reketye Dr. Banghard (double porter)
- First Chocolate Vanilla Imperial Stout