quiet revolution seems to have taken place in the craft beer market. Where once only IPAs could hold the roaming eyes of beer nerds, there is now a thirst for ranges of porters and stouts, especially very high alcohol “imperial” versions that seem to disappear from shelves as quickly as they appear. Some of these dark beauties have achieved such cult followings that the only way to get them is to wait in long lines directly at the brewery or by trade.

But, while stellar examples have become a collective muse on these shores, their poetic value in the brewing history of the British Isles comes more from the 300 year history of the style there than from any swashbuckling Yankee innovation. We spend endless hours tasting porters and stouts and enjoy their many comforting variations. But what is after all, the real difference between a “porter” and “stout?”

The stock answer is that a stout grist is mostly pale malt with some roasted barley; whereas a porter grist uses malted dark malts. This may be current brewing convention. However, brewing historian Ron Pattinson puts it this way on his blog:

“Porter has…come to mean a dark malt liquor, made partly from brown or black malt, the caramel in which gives it the sweetness and syrupy appearance, and containing four or five percent of alcohol. Stout is a stronger porter…containing six or seven percent of alcohol” (Hand-book of Industrial Organic Chemistry, Samuel Philip Sadtler, 1900).

Much more could be written, but let’s go to the actual drinking of plain old porters and stouts, porter with spices or coffee added, London style porter, imperial porters, imperial stouts and more. If you are interested in learning more, have a look at Ron Pattinson’s books or his blog “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins” where you might be surprised to read about the historical existence of “pale stout.” Otherwise, do the best thing and take your taste-buds to the pub nearest you and conduct some research of your own.

Woodcock Brothers Porter (5.9%): Nice chocolate roast with some sweetness – similar to a dry hopped black IPA or an Export India Porter. Required drinking!

Bellwoods Lost River Baltic Porter (8.5%): Roasty with light barrel, dark honey, with some alcohol notes. Similar to Fatheads Baltic Thunder. Very refined and worth a trip to Toronto to pick some up.

NY Beer Project CMS Nitro (Coffee Milk Stout) (On Nitro) (5.8%): Roasted coffee balanced with a perfectly balanced blend of roasted malts and chocolate on solid bed of malty and milk sugar sweetness. Sampled on nitro at the pub – show a great cascading creamy head. Check out NYBP and get a glass for yourself!

Community Beer Works Stout Affective Disorder (5.4%): Malt and milk stouty nose with dried coco powder giving way to slight smoke and roasted malts – pairs perfectly with Shepard’s Pie.

Nickel Brook Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout (9%): Potent cherry coffee nose with long lasting bite of hops, sweet dark fruits with a port like profile and a very long hoppy finish. From Ontario – get this.

Southern Tier Brewing Porter (5.8%): Mild nose with notes of caramel and burnt sugar with hints of dark sugar – similar to Fullers London Porter. Try with a Blue Cheese Bacon Burger.

Saranac Chocolate Orange (Baltic Porter with Cacao and Orange Peel) (9%): Nose on this beer hints at big sweetness but is followed through with a pleasant full body and great smooth flavors of orange and chocolate. Similar to Southern Tier Choklat Oranj. Find this and drink it!

Four Mile Chocolate PB Porter (8%): Very dry, with light roast and faint peanut butter flavor which makes this beer very drinkable and strong enough to be a great night cap. Pair with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

12 Gates Brewing Coffee Porter (5.1%): Dark sugary coffee nose with strong coffee flavor, body, and finish. Pair with biscotti.

Four Mile Brewing Stout (7.7%): This beer tends to the imperial side; finishes bitter with notes of persimmon. Almost chewy. Very nice; similar to Founders Stout. Pair with curry samosa.

Big Ditch Brewing Vanilla Oatmeal Stout (6.8%): The aroma on this is like that encountered when unwrapping a Hershey’s Chocolate Bar. Creamy mouthfeel with a sweet finish. Similar to Left Hand. Try with chicken pot pie.

Ellicottville Brewing Company Chocolate Cherry Bomb (8.2%): Lots of vanilla, malted milk flavors with some earthy elements. Something to savor at the EBC after a day on the slopes. Pair with salted caramel chocolate. A winter treat!