Sunday, 7 March 2021

A Porter and Stout argument

Porter and Stout. How many happy hours have I spent arguing about them on the internet? Too many.

But it's been a while. People won't discuss beer history with me much on BeerAdvocate any more. I've no idea why.

Often I can't be bothered getting involved in discussions on other platforms. Better things to do with my time and all that. But on a Beer Channel YouTube video called "Porter and Stout: What's the difference?" there was a comment of such unbridled idiocy, I just couldn't help myself.

"Due to old malting techniques, when maltsters of yesteryear were kilning malts to make crystal/caramel malts for ambers and browns, the grains closest to the heat got charred, and they were sold off for dirt cheap, essentially under the notion that these black grains were burnt/ruined/undesirable.  Brewers made a beer from that burnt "garbage" that most folks thought was quite acrid and disgusting, but it was much less expensive to brew with, and thus made for a cheap pint.

"Porter" is a profession.  Sailors who move boxes at a port of call are called porters.  Impoverished porters would drink these cheap, burnt beers because they could afford them, and they wanted a buzz after all their back-breaking work.  Thus, brewers named the dark junk after the folks that were hard up enough to drink it.  The porter beer was born.  

Any and all beers that are darker than a brown ale are considered a porter.  The grains are burnt beyond any style, thus it's just rubbish fit for a porter.  However, people with coin to spare started drinking the swill on purpose.  Since the burnt grains didn't have a lot of fermentable sugars (as you mentioned), people complained that porters didn't have enough alcohol.  Enter the notion of adding more "good" base grains in with the burnt ones.  The result was a porter with a significantly higher ABV, and people referred to this as a "stout porter."  "Stout," by definition meaning "strong and thick."  Thus, a stout IS a porter.  It is just a strong porter."

As seen some incoherent rambling on the history of Porter, but this takes the biscuit. Crystal malt in 1720? Only a century too early. All beers darker than Brown Ale are Porters? That's such a weird claim.

"By BJCP guidelines, all beers are porters once they reach a Standard Reference Method (SRM) of 18.  The SRM scale originally went from 0 - 40, with 0 being the straw color of Bud Light, and 40 being absolutely black.  These days, there are two beer styles that go as darks as 80 SRM, and those styles are Foreign Stout and Imperial Stout.  Still, to be precise, these beers may not have "porter" in the name, but they are absolutely stout porters, as all stouts are.  These days, as we just love abbreviating names, we've favored to drop the word "porter" from "stout porter," and that's why they're just colloquially referred to as stouts."

Oh, I get it. The BJCP says everything over 18 SRM is a Porter. The BJCP has come out with some weird stuff in the past, but I'm pretty sure they've never said that. And they didn't exist in the 18th century so how the hell could they have defined what was Porter and what wasn't?

"The reason modern Guinness today is called an "Irish Stout" is to differentiate it from a porter, because it's actually really low ABV, and Guinness doesn't want you to think about that.  By calling it a stout, they're hoping you'll think it's some big, strong beer, when in actuality, it's one of the lowest-calorie beers on the market.  Guinness was originally called a stout because the beer they made when this whole story was unfolding was a stout.  It was completely different.  It is not easy to find, but every year around Saint Patrick's day, Guinness puts a box collection of their foreign extra stouts on sale around the world, and those are the original recipes for their beers that awarded them the status of stout.  When they started making the modern day Guinness with the nitro widget in it, they continued to call it a stout because the nitro makes it taste thick & milky, but without the nitro, it really isn't a thick beer; it's extremely thin."

He really doesn't get beer history and how Guinness Extra Stout slowly evolved into its current form.

Luckily he has some great sources for all this twaddle:

"My sources for all this: #1 I am a brewer myself.  #2 The booked titled "The Search for God & Guinness" which is the history of the Guinness family, and the origins of several beer styles, including IPA, but that's another story.  #3 Brewer calculators will tell you the standard ABVs and SRMs for any beer style."

Wow, he's read a whole book about Guinness and he's a brewer. I'm guessing home brewer. They're usually the ones who come up with nonsense like this. And have unshakeable belief in it.

This is only the beginning. It gets way crazier and illogical. When he starts claiming Porter originated in Germany.


Martyn Cornell said...

Of the many books about Guinness the brewery and the family, "The Search for God and Guinness" is among the worst

Ron Pattinson said...


just from the title, I assumed it was crap. But you never know.

Armed with that, being a home brewer and having brewing software, who can teach you anything new about beer history?

Why did I waste my time reading all those books, brewing records and newspaper articles? What an idiot I was.

Michael Foster said...

That last line! Hahahahaha

Velky Al said...

Wow, using a book that focuses more on what Arthur and kids did with their cash as a reference for the history of porter and stout??? That's just daft.

Ron Pattinson said...

Velky Al,

how can I compete with that? All I've done is visit the Guinness archive. (Where they have a copy of "Porter!".)

Tuopillinen (Jouni Koskinen) said...

Jesus. "The Search for God and Guinness" is horrendous. It's a book on conservative christian values masquerading as a book on beer. I made the mistake of listening it as audiobook a while ago. Also, I'm pretty sure that none of those "facts" appeared in the book. The beer history part of the book was pretty much what you can gather by visiting Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.