Through a glass darkly.
St. Patrick’s Day this year may be less about a bar crawl and more about relaxing at home, but that is no reason not to pour yourself a well-deserved pint. Chances are good that you may be pouring an Irish stout — or is it a porter? Or is there even a difference? Read on.
What Is Porter?
Porter can be defined most simply as a strong, dark beer. The dark color comes from the use of dark malts in the brewing process. Nowadays, grain used in beer fermentation has been roasted in a kiln. But back in yore, grain was roasted over open flame and aged in wood barrels. The open flames added dark color, as well as differences in flavor.
Porter originated in England over 300 years ago. It allegedly got its name because the dark, malty beer was popular with the boaters and porters who carried goods throughout the city. Porter achieved higher, more consistent quality due to timing: Its invention coincided with the start of the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, beer brewing (along with many other things) became more streamlined and mechanized. In fact, it was in 1759 that Arthur Guinness — yes, that Guinness — took out a 9,000-year lease on a large, dilapidated Dublin brewery.
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What Is Stout?
Historically, stout meant a stronger, fuller-bodied — or “stout” — porter. Both were, and remain, made from dark roasted grain. Today, the general consensus holds that porters are brewed with roasted malt, and stouts use unmalted roasted barley. The unmalted roasted barley gives stout its typical coffee notes.
But these are not hard and fast rules. Today, the words are often used interchangeably, and recipes may use elements of both styles, depending on the flavor profile the brewery wants to achieve.
Extra Credit: How to Correctly Pour a Pint of Porter or Stout
Tilt a clean, dry pint glass at 45 degrees and pour slowly and steadily, letting foam settle if necessary at three-fourths full before filling to the top. Cans of stout should be fully chilled for thee hours or more before serving.
Cheers, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!