Porter vs. Stout: Just say you want the “Entire Butt”

By Amy Tindell


As a fan of darker beers, I was shocked that I did not actually know the difference between a stout and a porter. Fortunately, it was simple to rectify this gap in expertise, and in the end, I found that my ignorance was completely excusable.

Most historians seem to agree that beers labeled as porters first appeared on the London scene in the 18th century. One popular tale of porter’s origin maintains that brewers and servers tired of tapping three separate kegs for the current beer styles: beer (brewed with hops), ale (brewed without hops), and twopenny (the strongest beer). As a solution, they created a brew called “three threads” by blending those styles into one full-service cask. Another account reflects the origin of porter as the “Entire” or “Entire Butt,” where the first, second and third (weakest to strongest) mashes from the same malt were mixed and fermented together to create one beer, rather than the traditional technique of fermenting them separately to produce three different strength beers. Whatever the origin of the beer, its name seems to have derived from the occupations of London’s laborers who came to prefer it over other styles.

Once brewers began to produce porter on an industrial scale, they began to vary its strength, labeling the stronger and full-bodied versions as “stout porters.” Stout as a distinct style was born when brewers and consumers eventually dropped “porter” from the end of the description.

Today, the difference between porters and stouts is fuzzy, and the designation is the prerogative of the brewer. However, there are some rough guidelines for categorizing the two styles. Stouts tend to be darker, stronger, and use less water than porters. They are characterized by a grist that is 80-90% pale malts and 10% roasted barley, which lends an espresso or coffee aroma and flavor. Porters, on the other hand, tend to be lighter, sweeter, and hoppier. They are known for using crystal, black, and chocolate malts, which add a mocha aroma and flavor.

The stout-porter boundary becomes even fuzzier when you discover the spectrum of brews available within each style. Stouts are available with the labels “dry” (strong roasted coffee aroma and pronounced bitterness), “sweet” (brewed with lactose to sweeten the beer), “export” (brewed to a higher strength), “oatmeal” (smoothed by the incorporation of oatmeal), and “Russian imperial” (brewed to higher ABV with more hops). Porters, not to be outdone, are available with the designations “London” (the classic, sweeter version), “American” (hoppier), and Baltic (stronger and sweeter).

Of course, the only way to truly understand these categories is to compare them side by side. While blurred lines separate the porter from the stout, the only inexcusable action would be to consider myself an enthusiast without doing just that.

Native Inspiration

By Amy Tindell

It turned out that we were a bit over-enthusiastic and showed up at Aztec Brewing Company about half an hour before it opened. As we turned away from the locked doors, a friendly face smiled through the glass and welcomed us to the tasting room. We thanked the friendly face profusely, then took the stools down from our pick of the high-top tables, and enjoyed the breeze coming in through opened back doors.


The original Aztec Brewery was founded in Mexico while the US was suffering through Prohibition. Once those North Americans came to their senses, the brewery set up shop in San Diego. About 30 years later, the brand went on hiatus after it was purchased by a Midwestern competitor, until it was re-discovered by John Webster in 2008. Using the Aztec name, Webster and his partners Claudia Faulk and Rob Esposito opened a small brewery and tap room in 2010, and by 2012 enjoyed sufficient success to expand to a 15 barrel brewing system.


Sitting in our stools as their most enthusiastic customers, we ordered a flight with beers spanning Aztec’s broad spectrum of styles. Starting with the darkest beer, Aztec brews the Cacao Chocolate as a classic porter, but then ages it on cacao nibs, which adds to its creaminess and balances the bitterness from the hops with semisweet chocolate flavors. The Aztec Amber, an altbier, poured a clear dark amber and smelled of malts and fruits. The taste was similar, with notes of biscuit, toffee and caramel, with a bitter finish. The altbier won medals in 2012 and 2013 at the San Diego Beer Festival.

After our first tastes, the friendly face came to our table with complimentary glasses of two new beers, the Hibiscus Wheat and the Simarillo IPA. None of us being particular fans of Hefeweizens, we were all surprised by how delicious the Hibiscus Wheat tasted. Inspired by a Mexican hibiscus tea, Aztec incorporates hibiscus petals, ginger and allspice into the brew, giving it a spicy character with floral notes and citrus fruit flavors. It feels crisp in the mouth and finishes with more hibiscus flavors. The Simarillo IPA, featuring Simcoe and Amarillo hops, offered a malty backbone supporting citrus hop bitterness. The beer was light and refreshing at 6.2% ABV.


Although reluctant to give up our monopoly over the Aztec tasting room, we decided to explore a similarly-themed brewery in the same Vista, CA business park called Indian Joe Brewing. Indian Joe Brewing was inspired by owner Max Moran’s Great Uncle Joe, a Luiseño Indian from North San Diego County. Following family traditions, Great Uncle Joe learned to brew outstanding beers in the early 1900s, diligently crafting his recipes using natural ingredients, including some with medicinal properties, that he collected from the local landscape. Moran’s father continued the tradition by introducing him to local brewing techniques, eventually motivating him to ride the wave of the popularity of nearby breweries like Stone and Ballast Point to carve our his own success. In 2012, Moran opened the brewery and tasting room.


The tasting room features a delightfully kitschy saloon set within the warehouse of the brewery, complete with fire pit and stringed lights. Moran himself was active behind the bar and amongst the tables, greeting regulars and chatting about his beers. We examined the long and intriguing list of approximately 25 beers currently on tap to fill in our flight request form.


We all agreed that the standouts were the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter, the American Indian Red Ale, the American Indian Pale Ale, and the Blueberry Hefeweizen. The Chocolate Hazelnut Porter turned out to be quite aptly named, styled as a robust porter with creamy chocolate and hazelnut flavors, full-bodied and smooth in mouthfeel. Indian Joe offers to top it with whip cream, but we declined: the taste was too good to mask. If you’re into malty reds, then the American Indian Red Ale was brewed for you, featuring caramel malts, roasted nutty flavors, and a sweet, smooth finish. The American Indian Red is definitely the best red I’ve tasted in awhile.


On the fruitier side, the Native California IPA weighs in at 9.1 ABV, but I noticed the alcohol only to the extent that it balanced the bitterness of the hops. Indian Joe brews this IPA with elderberries, adding a delicious fruity and slightly sour flavor to the traditional high ABV IPA. The Blueberry Hefeweizen, at 7.2 ABV, featured real pieces of blueberry and a slightly purplish tint peering through the glass. The brew offered sweet blueberry flavors, complimented by wheat and malt notes, finishing with a tart sourness. This Blueberry beer is unique in the strength of the blueberry flavoring and resulting tartness, so definitely worth a try if you find yourself in Vista.

We realized quickly that with 25 beers on tap, we couldn’t be too ambitious, especially since we were in California where everyone drives everywhere! Even though there remained some serious outdoor exploring and eating to check off our list, we still stopped to admire the very large and flashy motorcycle on the way out the door.