It’s Time to Stop Picking Stouts Over Porters

While stouts may have more popular in recent years, brewers are ushering in an adventurous new age for porters. Here are six beers revitalizing the classic style.
Deschutes Black Butte XXIX 29th Birthday Reserve / Photo courtesy of Deschutes Brewery / Facebook

After “what’s the difference between an ale and a lager,” one of the most common questions asked about beer is “what’s the difference between a stout and a porter?” With such strong similarities between their aromas and flavors as well as their structures and balance, it’s difficult to get a grasp on what exactly the difference is between the two, if any.

The answer is, there are no strict differences. Historically and presently, the two styles are similar in overall profile and ingredients used. A stout was considered a stronger version of a porter or, if you prefer, a porter was originally perceived as a lighter stout. Porters can also vary widely, resulting in a bitter roasty beer or a sweeter chocolaty one and everything in between.

Some of the more robust bottlings are perfect candidates for your cellar, mellowing and evolving into even more complex, layered selections of pure enjoyment.

But the strange thing is that most people are comfortable with stouts but not with porters. Stouts are more recognizable, more available and, for some reason, more defined. People feel confident in what they can expect from the contents of a bottle of stout; the same isn’t as true with porters.

But porter’s day has come. Now is the perfect time to cozy up to the style, especially with the broad range of exciting bottlings available from American brewers.

Interpretation and personalization are key to finding some stellar selections. While there are traditional offerings, like English or Baltic porters, the thrill of the category lies in the newer, more adventurous American porter selections being developed by domestic brewers. They often involve the use of additional ingredients (like coffee, chocolate or spices) and techniques (like oak aging in various­ barrel types).

Some of the more robust bottlings are perfect candidates for your cellar, mellow­ing and evolving into even more complex, layered­ selections of pure enjoyment. Deschutes Brewing’s Black Butte Birthday Reserve and Heavy Seas’ vintage-dated Blackbeard’s Breakfast are two excellent examples, sure to bring a smile to your face now and for years to come.

Whether you drink them now or cellar for later, stock up today.

Give In to the Dark Side of Belgian Beer

Deschutes Black Butte XXIX 29th Birthday Reserve (American Porter; Deschutes Brewery, OR); $16/22 oz, 93 points. Deschutes’ 29th Birthday Reserve is an interesting one: A porter brewed with cocoa, Saigon cinnamon and cayenne, with 50% aged in Bourbon and rum barrels. It’s always a rich and robust limited-release selection, with strong profiles and bold flavors that suggest some cellaring may be required for optimal enjoyment, and this one follows in the same vein. It pours an almost black color, with a frothy tan-colored head that shows good retention. The woody, spicy notes from the Bourbon and rum aging are upfront on the nose, but grounded by a core of lush, mouth-filling flavors of caramel malt, roasted nuts, caramel, prune, fig and fresh vanilla ice cream. Hints of tilled earth, cocoa powder and soaked oak lend depth and complexity to the overall experience, as well as a slight astringency that carries through to the close. The mouthfeel is dense and broad, but lifted on the finish thanks to a spicy hit of cayenne and lingering warmth. abv: 12.2%

Avery Brewing Co. Botanicals & Barrels Coconut Porter (American Porter; Avery Brewing Co., CO) $13/22 oz, 91 points. Brewed with approximately four pounds of toasted coconut per barrel, then aged for three months in Bourbon barrels, this porter is a bold and flavorful brew, perfect for those seeking liquid decadence. The toasted coconut character leads the profile on the nose and mouth, but is perfectly complemented by additional notes of caramelized brown sugar, roasted malts, vanilla bean and sweet spice. There’s a definite woody presence, with notes of Bourbon-soaked dates, bittersweet cocoa and pepper that unfold on the palate. It’s smooth and velvety in texture, with ample carbonation to keep it from feeling too unctuous or cloying, and pleasant warmth and spicy lift to the close. abv: 11.4%

Heavy Seas Uncharted Waters 2017 Blackbeard’s Breakfast (American Porter; Clipper City Brewing Company, MD); $10/22 oz, 91 points. This porter is brewed with coffee from Maryland-based Chesapeake Bay Roasting Co., then aged in Bourbon barrels. It might not be ideal for those looking for a mellower drinking experience, but if you’re in the market for powerful, robust and roasty flavors wrapped in a cozy, warm blanket, then this is one to consider. Aromas of freshly roasted coffee beans are front and center on the nose, with additional notes of vanilla bean, woodspice and dark plum rounding it out. Those notes follow through to the smooth and rich palate, which boasts a creamy texture and subtle bittersweet–cocoa-like astringency that continues on the close. Channel your inner pirate and share this strong selection with your mateys. abv: 10%

Anchor Coffee Porter (American Porter; Anchor Brewing, CA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. This new release from California icon Anchor Brewing is a nod to the building’s history as a coffee roastery prior to becoming the brewery. A collaboration with local roaster Four Barrel Coffee, it’s made from a base of Anchor’s standard Porter, brewed since 1972, with Four Barrel Flash-Chilled Coffee added during secondary fermentation. The resulting brew is a selection that’s not shy on upfront coffee aroma and flavor, with supporting tones of roasted malt, toasted peanut skin and dark-chocolate caramel. The palate is full and smooth, with ample carbonation to keep the rich, sweet flavors in check. abv: 6.7%

Left Hand Black Jack Porter (American Porter; Left Hand Brewing Co., CO); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 88 points. A classically styled porter, this pours a deep, dark brown color with a frothy tan head. The nose leads with powerful, attractive notes of coffee, roasted malt and cocoa that follow through to the medium-bodied palate, though with a bit less intensity. It’s surprisingly easy-drinking, with decent carbonation and a pleasant, soft astringency that graces the finish. abv: 6.8%

Tumwater Brewing Porter (American Porter; Fish Brewing Company, WA); $8/12 oz 6 pack, 87 points. This is a solid, well-made and easy-to-like porter, perfect for entertaining. It pours a dark brown-black color with a medium off-white head, calling you to the glass. Scents of roasted malts and light coffee are at the core of this brew, with a soft charred-husk flavor and mild astringency on the finish. abv: 5%

Published on January 12, 2018
Topics: Beer
About the Author
Lauren Buzzeo
Managing Editor, Print, and Tasting Director

Reviews wines from South Africa and Languedoc-Roussillon. Reviews beers.

Buzzeo joined Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2006 as a tasting coordinator, and eventually became Tasting Director and Senior Editor, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the tasting and review program. Most recently, Buzzeo assumed the role of Managing Editor. Since coming to Wine Enthusiast, she has made it one of her personal missions to promote the acceptance of cross-drinking, encouraging everyone to embrace finely crafted libations across all beverage categories. Buzzeo is also an avid homebrewer and a member of the AHA (American Homebrewers Association). Email: lbuzzeo@wineenthusiast.net.




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