Friday, 6 June 2008

Beer O'Clock: What's the Craic on Stouts & Porters?

Stu takes you through the subtle differences between Stout and Porter, a distinction requiring the most thorough and demanding research ...

pc_stout_and_porter It’s not all that clear where Porter ends and Stout starts but the two beers are so inextricably intertwined that I’ll leave the untangling to the late great 'Beerhunter' Michael Jackson, who sums it up well in Porter casts a long shadow on ale history.

To keep things simple: both styles of beer are black (or at least very dark brown) and can range from sweetish to dry, toasty to roasty, and malty to very bitter. They are not always heavy and filling, though they do tend to reside at the more robust end of the spectrum (as opposed the the leaner black lagers like Black Mac and Monteith’s Black). Stouts tend to be darkened by the grainier, coffee-like roasted barley with Porters being darkened by ashy black malt.

To taste Stout and Porter in their very best form, one should experience them hand pulled through a beer engine. This gives the beer a silky, creamy character from the lower level of carbonation – like you’ll have most likely experienced in a Guinness - but in this form the beers will tend to be a lot fresher, more flavoursome and showing far more vitality (Guinness is actually pumped full of nitrogen, which keeps the beer from going off, but severely dulls its flavour). That favourite ale house of mine in Mt Eden always has the exceptional Galbraith’s Grafton Porter on handpull. The Malthouse, right in the heart of Wellington, has a couple of handpumps that currently carry Tuatara Porter and either Three Boys Oyster Stout or Invercargill Brewery’s Pitch Black (the two best black ales in New Zealand according to the results at BrewNZ last year). The Twisted Hop in Christchurch occasionally brews a scrumptious Oatmeal Stout.

Slightly easier to find, though fizzier and unfortunately no longer available in bottles, is the very fine Speight’s Porter. Full of chocolate and fruity coffee notes, it is on tap at all of the Speight’s Ale Houses littered around the country and is certainly the best example of mainstream black ale in New Zealand. It is possible the only one left since DB Vita Stout went AWOL.

As for bottles on the supermarket or bottle store shelves: You can’t go wrong with trusting the simple descriptive labels on Emerson’s London Porter and Oatmeal Stout, and there is still one keg of their excellent, hop-filled May Day Stout left on Regional Wines and Spirits fill-your-own taps. I got a pleasant surprise from the strong Green Man Stout the other day, this strong export-style stout is a beer that I’m spotting more and more around the place. Renaissance Elemental Porter is a strapping version full of ashy black malt and a big wad of hops and is recommended for the more daring amongst you. For those lucky enough to have a very special beer retailer, or bar, seek out the Townshend No 9 Stout (from the tiny Townshend Brewery in Upper Moutere) which was recently awarded best Stout/Porter at the NZ International Beer Awards.

On the import front: Young’s delectable Double Chocolate Stout graces plenty of retail shelves and if you are very lucky, you might just come across the amazing Fuller’s London Porter – an absolutely outstanding and complex example of porter (possibly my beer of the year, so far).

So put another log on the fire tonight and pour yourself a stout or porter… Once you go black, you might never go back.

Next time I’ll take a midwinter break from the beer style crusade, and respond to Neil Miller’s The Best Beer Names in New Zealand, with The Next Best Beer Names in New Zealand.

Slainte mhath, Stu

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