The best stouts and porters: taste tested

Beer expert Mark Dredge shines a light on the murky complexities of dark ales, stouts and porters. And St Patrick’s Day (17 March) is the perfect excuse to enjoy a pint or two, with one of Mark’s top stout and porter recommendations. Sláinte!

The best stouts and porters: taste tested

What are stouts and porters?

Stouts and porters are classic British ales and the most distinctive-looking beers on the bar, pouring dark browns and black with a creamy white foam. It’s the grain used for the beer that gives the colour (and a lot of the flavour), and thinking about what happens in cooking helps explain the process better.

Barley is the main brewing grain, with wheat and oats also common. Barley needs to be turned into malt before it’s brewed with, and a key part of that process happens in a kiln, where the grain is roasted. As with a slice of bread under the grill, the longer the grain is cooked, the darker it gets – it’s the same Maillard/browning effect. The kiln is where a lot of beer’s base flavours come from, and it’s no coincidence that many of them are reminiscent of the bakery or coffee shop: bread, biscuit, tea, toast, marmalade, caramel, dried fruit, chocolate and coffee.

Chocolate and coffee flavours

There are dozens of different types of malt, and for each recipe a brewer usually combines pale base malts (providing the sugars that ferment into alcohol) with more highly kilned malts to add flavour and colour. In a stout or porter, only around 10% of the malts will be roasted, but that’s enough to create a dark beer with a chocolate or coffee-like flavour – think of it like a chocolate cake recipe, where a relatively small amount of cocoa is used compared to the rest of the ingredients.

Did you know?

There’s a misconception that a pint of Guinness or other stout is as calorific as a roast dinner. Calories in beer mostly come from the alcohol, regardless of style, so a pint of 5% lager (230kcal) contains more calories than a 4% stout (200kcal, similar to a glass of wine). But who’s counting?

Five of the best stouts and porters to try

Loch Lomond Brewery Silkie Stout, Scotland 5%

Scottish oats give a creamy texture alongside roasted barley, chocolate and fruity coffee flavours. Cools down a spicy chilli. Available from lochlomondbrewery.com (£3/440ml),

Loch Lomond

Elusive Brewing Morrisman, England 5%

Brewed with cacao nibs, cocoa and vanilla, Morrisman smells like a chocolate truffle but remains dry and roasty. Try it with chocolate stout cake. Available from elusivebrewing.com (£4/440ml).

Elusive

Anspach & Hobday The Porter, England 6.7%

This robustly malty porter has flavours of dark chocolate, bitter espresso, liquorice and juicy berries. Great with lasagne or steak and chips. Available from anspachandhobday.com (£3.50/440ml).

Ansach

Fuller’s Brewery London Porter, England, 5.4%
The archetypal Porter. Lightly roasted, some unsweetened cocoa, toasted nuts, and a smooth, balanced finish. Good with pie and mash. Available from Waitrose, £2.

Fuller's

Wiper & True Milk Shake, England, 5.6%
A chocolatey and vanilla-scented Milk Stout (meaning it’s brewed with lactose) with a creamy sweetness and lasting fruity cacao depth. Pair Milk Stout with cookies. Available from Wiper & True, £3.50.

Wiper and true

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