Beer 101: Beer Styles — Stout and Porter

08-29-2016, The BeerVibe Crew

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Styles guidelines and what defines a particular style can often change, which is another indication of just how complicated a subject beer has become; what you think you know this year might change the next, so the year that the styles guideline is published is important if you want to keep up to date. Without bogging down on too many details; we will examine a few of the better known beer styles, how they can be described, and a little of their history.

For many of us the trip a swig of beer takes from our lips, across the length of the tongue, and down the throat is a short and quick one; too short and quick to reveal the many details of the beer itself.

At Beer Vibe we describe beers in terms most readers will understand. However, if you see words like diacetyl and esters describing a beer style; what are these words supposed to mean for you? These are just two out of several terms and qualities of beer that the true beer professional understands and finds important. By itself, the word diacetyl may make you think of acetylene; and the word ester might make you think of polyester. Neither of these terms would seem to describe something you would want in your beer. In actuality, diacetyl is the chemical C4H6O2 that gives butter its buttery flavor and appears in some imported ales and is usually undesirable in beer. In brewing it comes from yeast. Does your beer taste like butter?

Esters come about when the ethanol joins with fatty acids and acetyl coenzyme to form ethyl acetate; which can give beer a fruity flavor and the fragrance of pears, roses, and bananas. That may or may not be desirable in beer. If the esters are strong enough, the beer may be reminiscent of a cleaning solvent. Yuck! Esters also come from the yeast. Does your beer taste fruity? It can often be the flavor of esters.

In these articles on beer styles, we will rely heavily upon the authority of the Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines, and the Beer Judge Certification Program’s (BJCP) 2015 Style Guidelines. You could never persuade these people that they take beer too seriously. Listed in the BJCP’s guidelines are as counted, more than 118 district styles of beer under 34 major categories. The following quote is from page x in the BJCP’s 2015 Style Guidelines:

Do not infer that membership in a style category somehow relates beer styles with each other. The only reason why they are grouped together is to assist with managing the scale and complexity of competitions.”

They know how complex beer is.

We will examine briefly Stouts and Porters.

Quick research shows there is little to no difference between them, depending upon whom you ask. There are two ideas where the term porter comes from. One is that it describes the popular strong and nutritive beverage consumed in England by porters and others engaged in hard manual labor. This idea goes back to a document written at some time in the 1720’s.
Another idea is that as early as the 1300’s a beer called poorter was brewed in the Netherlands and exported to England.

Stout can refer to someone who has a heavy build, or to an object that is both strong and thick. The word can mean strong, proud, and brave. It came to describe strong porter beers.

Today porters and stouts are dark top-fermented ales brewed at warm temperatures. Descriptions of stouts and porters in the BJCP guidebook show them to be brown to black beers with some fruity-esters permitted, and “diacetyl” either absent or negligible. Stouts are made with plenty of roasted malt or roasted barley (which give the drink a characteristically dark coffee or chocolate flavor), and hops, water, and yeast.


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