Most novice beer drinkers have a tough time telling the difference between a stout and a porter. This is definitely not something to be ashamed of. At first sight, a pint of each side by side might look exactly the same. Both are very dark (to pitch black) in appearance. Sometimes, even taking a sip won’t help differentiate the two.
The difference actually comes down to one, simple ingredient. It’s all about the malt being used in the brewing process. Stouts are usually brewed using un-malted roasted barley while porters utilize malted barley. This means that while both will have a chocolate-like, robust flavor notes, stouts are usually more bitter with more coffee flavor and porters are maltier, sweeter, and usually have less bitterness. But with all the experimentation going on in craft beer, it’s often a matter of splitting hairs.
Both beer typers are terrific brews to drink as the weather begins to turn colder. But just like stouts, there seem to be countless porters on the market — so selecting just one (or three) to savor isn’t an easy task. To help you choose, I decided to once again turn to the magic that is the blind taste test.
I picked eight well-known porters and sampled them blindly, using only my sense of smell and taste.
Part 1: The Taste
I love a good blind taste test. In my opinion, there’s no better way to rank alcohol (especially beer). This is because, without the ability to peep glossy, fancy, colorful labels, there’s nothing to sway me in any direction. My ranking is based solely on two of my senses: my senses of smell and taste.
Literally, that’s it. I’m simply looking for roasted malt, chocolate, slightly bitter, warming flavors. No awards or hype can sway me!
Here’s our eight beer lineup:
- Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald
- Anchor Porter
- Ballast Point Victory At Sea
- Deschutes Black Butte
- Founders Porter
- Oskar Blues Death By Coconut
- Bell’s Porter
- Left Hand Death Before Disco
It’s time to get our roasty porter on!
My nose was first met with scents of bitter chocolate and an overall fruity aroma but not much malt. The palate is highlighted by caramel, dried cherries, and coffee. The finish is slightly more bitter than I’d expect for an American porter.
A lot is going on with this beer’s nose. There are notable aromas of caramel malts, dark chocolate, freshly baked bread, and slightly bitter hops. The palate is a great mix of freshly brewed coffee, bitter chocolate, sweet caramel, and a gentle, nutty sweetness.
On the nose, I found notes of chocolate and malts and a slight fruitiness, but that was about it. The flavor is all chocolate, roasted malts, and some coffee. All in all, not a bad beer, but fairly one-dimensional.
From my notes: “Not as sweet as I’d like for a porter.”
Complex aromas of freshly brewed coffee, caramel malts, vanilla beans, and a nutty sweetness are prevalent on the nose. Sipping it revealed more slightly bitter coffee, roasted barley, dried cherries, toasted vanilla beans, and just a hint of spice at the finish. All in all, a very pleasurable, warming beer.
On the nose, this beer is loaded with caramel malts, espresso beans, bitter chocolate, and a slight fruity sweetness. Taking a sip brought forth hints of caramelized sugar, dark fruits, coffee, and fudge. The finish is slightly bitter, dry, and fruity.
It starts with aromas of roasted malts, dark chocolate, and a slightly nutty sweetness. But that’s about all. The nutty flavor continues with the palate. There are also notes of bitter cocoa, caramel malts, and just a hint of fruity flavor at the very end. Overall, a decent beer.
This beer has a very complex nose of freshly brewed coffee, chocolate fudge, caramel malts, and the gentle aroma of pine trees. Sipping it revealed hints of espresso beans, a gentle nutty flavor, dark chocolate, and toffee. It’s a nice mix of sweetness and bitter flavor.
This beer’s aroma is highlighted by scents of chocolate fudge, sticky toffee, vanilla beans, and a lot of roasted coconut smell. Tasting it, I found that it isn’t as sweet as expected and that wasn’t a bad thing. There was a lot of coffee, milk chocolate, and coconut. Overall, it’s a very pleasurable beer.
Part 2: The Ranking
Now comes the good part. After all the nosing and tasting, it’s time for actual ratings. If you didn’t skip ahead, you already read the tasting notes for the blindly tasted porters. To make these notes, I simply breathed in the beer’s aroma and took notes of the various aromas therein. After that, came the most important part: the sipping. I tasted each beer and took note of the flavors and how well they worked together (or didn’t). Now, it’s time to rank them. Keep scrolling to see where your favorite beer landed.
8) Left Hand Death Before Disco (Taste #3)
Average Price: $10.99 for a six-pack
I can definitely get behind the mantra “death before disco” and it’s a great name for a beer. This bold, rich, beer is brewed with CTZ and Cascade hops for a spicy bite along with a deluge of malts that include 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Carafa, Crystal. It’s known for its coffee-like, sweet flavor.
There are no bad beers on this list. It’s simply that this beer wasn’t as flavorful and sweet as I would prefer for a classic porter.
7) Anchor Porter (Taste #1)
Average Price: $11.99 for a six-pack
Introduced way back in 1972, Anchor Porter was the first modern American porter style beer in America. Brewed with caramel, chocolate, black, and roasted pale malts, it’s well-regarded for its creamy, rich, chocolate flavor.
This beer leans heavily into fruit and caramel with malts, chocolate, and coffee falling somewhere in the background. I’d prefer more balance.
6) Founders Porter (Taste #6)
Average Price: $10.99 for a six-pack
Founders Porter sometimes falls under the radar due to the popularity of many of Founders’ other beers. Known for its liberal use of chocolate and caramel malts this year-round brew has won countless awards over the years.
There’s not a lot of negative things that can be said about this beer. It’s fairly well-rounded and complex. The only slight problem is the nutty flavor that seems to dominate every sip.
5) Bell’s Porter (Taste #2)
Average Price: $12 for a six-pack
Yet another extremely well-known porter, Bell’s Porter has won many awards over the years. It was created to be the perfect fall beer as it has the nutty sweetness of a brown ale and the roasted coffee flavors of a wintry stout. It’s the best of both worlds.
This is a good example of a beer that ticks all the boxes. It’s fruity, nutty, and loaded with coffee and chocolate flavors, and is rounded out with slightly resinous hops.
4) Ballast Point Victory at Sea (Taste #4)
Average Price: $14 for a six-pack
Ballast Point is well-known for its lighter beer, specifically its Sculpin IPA. But you definitely shouldn’t sleep on its darker beers like Victory at Sea. This imperial porter gets added flavor from being infused with vanilla as well as coffee beans from San Diego’s Caffe Calabria.
This is a great example of a big, bold porter loaded with seasonal flavors. The vanilla and coffee flavors make this the kind of sweet sipper I would enjoy all fall and winter.
3) Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald (Taste #5)
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
When you think of shipwrecks, you might not think of the Great Lakes. These northern behemoths are littered with them. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was a freighter that sank in Lake Superior in 1975. Along with getting a song in its honor by Gordon Lightfoot, it also got a beer. Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald is an award-winning, year-round porter known for its slightly bitter, slightly sweet flavor.
This is a well-made, complex porter. All of the various flavors are working in unison and each seems to have its place in this well-balanced beer.
2) Oskar Blues Death By Coconut (Taste #8)
Average Price: $12 for a four-pack
First released in 2015 (and had spawned myriad variations since) Oskar Blues Death By Coconut is an Irish-style porter brewed with chocolate and coconut. As the name indicated, it’s the kind of beer fans of Almond Joy bars would appreciate.
This beer is outstanding. It’s sweet, loaded with chocolate and coconut, and pleasantly warming. It’s perfectly bittersweet.
1) Deschutes Black Butte (Taste #7)
Average Price: $11 for a six-pack
Oregon’s Deschutes is one of those breweries that seems to brew nothing but bangers. Its well-known porter is no different. Deschutes Black Butte has been brewed since 1988 and has continued to gain fans over the years. Brewed with 2 Row, Chocolate, Wheat, Crystal, and Carapils malts as well as Cascade and Tettnang hops, there’s a reason this bold, highly drinkable beer is one of the most popular porters in America.
When it comes to complexity, it will be hard to beat this porter. It’s filled with everything porter fans enjoy. It has roasted malts, chocolate, coffee, and just a hint of piney hops.
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