Beer 101: Stouts and porters


In the land of dank, piney, citrusy, hoppy IPAs, other beer styles are sometimes forced to play second fiddle. But as the mercury drops, craft beer fans start leaning towards the dark and sturdy styles of stouts and porters. With profiles including such heavenly notes as chocolate, coffee, caramel and espresso, these two are perfect for cold-weather comfort.

Get a basic know-how and start writing a checklist of must-trys with these stout and porter varieties around San Diego.


The more ubiquitous of the two styles, the stout name derives from the production of porters. Historically, there was a range of porters brewed of varying alcohol strength, and the name “stout” referred to the stronger version. In the hands of American craft brewers, the style has taken off like wildfire.

Irish dry stout: Made world-famous by Guinness, this lighter ABV version has the distinctive character of roasted barley, which lends the dry sensation. Often served on nitro.

Local examples: Societe The Pugilist, Pure Project Milagro, Half Door Colemans Stout

Milk stout: This style grabs its name from the addition of lactose, a milk sugar, which lends the beer roundness and a bit of sweetness. Notes may include coffee, milk chocolate and cocoa powder.

Local example: Wild Barrel Hipster Latte, Thorn Street Udder Respect, Eppig Count Maltula, Belching Beaver Milk Stout and Peanut Butter Milk Stout

American stout: The U.S. version of the classic English stout carries intense roasted malt character, predominant coffee notes, and may include the use of citrusy American hops.

Local examples: Monkey Paw Mighty Joe Young, North Park Beer Co. Beaufort Black

Oatmeal stout: Made famous by Samuel Smith, this style incorporates, you guessed it, oats in the mash. These brews tend to be smooth and round on the palate, with a hint of sweetness, making it a definite people pleaser.

Local examples: Modern Times Black House, Acoustic Ales Unplugged, Thirty-Two North Hello Darkness

Imperial stout (aka Russian imperial stout): With the highest alcohol content of the bunch, intensity strikes at every sip. These hardcore stouts express notes of dark chocolate, toffee, espresso, nuts, caramel, spice and dried fruit. Note: RIS was named for imperial stouts produced and exported from England to the Russian Imperial Court of Catherine the Great (the lady had taste). Imperial stouts may be aged in bourbon or whiskey barrels.

Local examples: Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper, Karl Strauss Wreck Alley, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Bitter Brothers Little Sister, Mike Hess Umbrix, Fall Brewing Nucular Strategery


While traditionally lighter in body style, there are some porters that challenge the stout in intensity. Deriving its name from a beer that was popular among English “porters,” the style is characteristic from stouts in its lack of roasted barley character. It shows notes of bitter chocolate, coffee, toffee, caramel, toast and nuts.

While traditional English offerings usually land in the “brown porter” category, American brews often fall in the “robust porter” category with more roasted grain and slightly higher alcohol. American brewers may include coffee, chocolate, or smoked malts to ramp up the flavor.

Local examples: Second Chance Tabula Rasa Toasted Porter, Longship Funeral Pyre Smoked Porter, Resident Brewing Gaslamp

Baltic porter: A less common, more robust style, originally named for being shipped across the North Sea. Look for caramel, licorice, smoke and dried fruit notes of plums, raisins and currants in this unique porter version.

Local examples: Amplified Ale Works Midnight Toker, Stone Smoked Baltic Porter

Imperial porter: An amped-up version of the original, these porters are higher in alcohol and more intense in flavor with roasted malts, cocoa and caramel. Some breweries add adjuncts like coffee and vanilla to increase the profile.

Local examples: Ballast Point Victory at Sea, Duck Foot London Calling (gluten-free)