Properly differentiating between a porter and a stout is pretty difficult but they have some significant similarities that make them quite popular especially the way breweries in the US tend to make them. The one thing that generally identifies porters and stouts is their dark, almost black color.
The flavors can vary quite widely depending on what the brewers tend to focus on. One reason a lot of people love porters and stouts is that they tend to be on the sweeter side. It is common to see chocolate or coffee used to give flavor to these beers.
Most porters and stouts have some form of roasted malt that gives it a unique flavor. Sometimes oatmeal is used to create a silkier brew. You sometimes see these beers served “on Nitro.” This style of serving a beer works great with porters and stouts because the Nitrogen gas helps to make the beer appear creamier due to the much smaller bubbles it forms.
When ordering a porter or stout, pay close attention to the way it is described on the menu. If you don’t see a description, ask the bartender to describe the flavor so you can get an idea before ordering or ask for a small taste. I frequently will ask for a taste before ordering an unfamiliar beer because you don’t want to drink a full pint of something you don’t enjoy.
Porters and stouts vary widely in the alcohol percentage. Some go as low as 4.5-5.5% and many breweries make imperial or double porters or stouts that are around 8-9% with some especially strong brews hitting 12% or higher. Most imperial porters or stouts focus on chocolate or coffee flavors to help balance out the stronger alcohol content.
Imperial stouts and porters also tend to pour much thicker and are sometimes compared to motor oil because of how thick they can get. Other flavors that can be quite prominent in stronger porters and stouts are some plum and ripe fruit flavors from certain varieties of malts. You can always ask where a flavor in your favorite beer comes from if you are tasting it at the brewery.
Local Favorites: Green Flash Double Stout, Alesmith Speedway Stout, New English Zumbar Imperial Stout, Ballast Point Porter, Imperial Porter, and Imperial Stout, Council Brewing Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Rough Draft Vanilla Stout.