A short primer on stout

Mike Buhler
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A while ago I promised to spend some time explaining more beer styles. So far, we’ve discussed the history of the wildly popular IPAs and more recently a synopsis of Belgian iambics. Now why don’t we talk about stouts and their predecessors, porters?

Guiness is the most common example of dry Irish stout in the world and is available in almost any country you would visit. It also happens to be the lowest calorie beer around. — Submitted photo

Most Newfoundlanders will recognize Guinness as a common beer around the province, and know that it is a dark, thick-looking beer in the glass.

This is the most common example of dry Irish stout in the world and is available in almost any country you would visit.

It also happens to be the lowest calorie beer around.

Before we get into stout, let’s go to the beginning and look at porters and where they began.

Porter came to life in the 1700s in England amid the labourers known as porters. These were men who carried heavy loads of goods from boats to warehouses or warehouses to markets, and carrying big loads all day was thirsty work.

A common drink at the time was known as “three threads” where a publican would pour from different casks into the glass, creating a beer that was a blend of two or more “threads.”

The story goes that Ralph Harwood, owner of Bell Brewhouse in Shoreditch, created a new beer for the owner of the Blue Last, a working class pub frequented by porters. This new beer was called “Entire,” and was brewed to replicate three-threads beer.

It was more convenient to pour one beer instead of three. This was taken on by porters as their favourite pint, and soon after the beer was referred to as “porter.”

What makes this story more interesting is that the first reference of this lineage seems to have come from John Feltham’s article in The Porter Brewery published in 1802, years after Harwood’s death. Apparently almost all histories of porter are based on this article, despite the article’s unproven basis in fact. Modern day historians seem to have reached a consensus that the true definition of porter’s history cannot be truly verified. That’s OK. I think we can live with a little romance around a lovely style of beer.

The term stout also started gaining ground in the 1700s to describe stronger beers of different types, including stout porters.

This went on for a time and gradually porters started losing favour; by the late 1800s, porters were replaced by stout porters and the name was simplified to stout.

Guinness is the most common stout in the world. In draft form, it is powered by nitrogen instead of the traditional carbon dioxide, which gives it that dense creamy head. What you may not have known is that the sales of draft are outsold in the world by their Foreign Extra stout which is more bitter and higher alcohol; the flavour is quite different, too.

The Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guide gives descriptions for stouts and porters with commonalities of dark brown to black colour, give or take medium body, and roasted malt flavours including chocolate, coffee, toffee and licorice.

The key difference being no burnt roast flavours in porter. The esteemed beer writer Stephen Beaumont does not differentiate between these styles, as he sees too many where the beer could be either.

Stop by your local NLC and buy two classics: Fullers London Porter, Guinness and also Storm Coffee Porter, then taste them against each other to come up with your own conclusions. Finally, pick your favourite and pour it in a glass with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a yummy dessert: a stout float.


Mike Buhler is a certified cicerone. Email him

at mike@beerthief.ca, or check out beerthief.ca

for information on beer club offerings.

Organizations: Guinness, Bell Brewhouse

Geographic location: England, Shoreditch

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Recent comments

  • Brad
    June 06, 2014 - 10:14

    The Millstreet makes a really good stout as well it is called Cobblestone and in my opinion is smoother than Guinness as they also use Nitrogen for carbonation.