We love us some cold-weather beers.
And on the top of that list is usually a brown ale or a porter.
But what’s the difference between the two?
It’s sometimes hard to tell. These styles meld together, and what they’re called depends on what the brewer intends.
To give you a short answer, brown ales are usually lighter and maltier, while porters are darker and more robust.
The key is in the malt profile and the brewing methods used.
To understand these brews more deeply, let’s dive into their histories and characteristics.
Brown Ale 101
In the 1600s, London brewers started using the term “brown ale” for their mild ales that had… you guessed it, a brown hue.
In the 1700s, these ales were made with only brown malt and light hops.
But around 1800, brewers started using cheaper pale malt instead of brown malt.
This pale malt was cheaper and yielded more products.
Then, brown ale disappeared for about 100 years until Manns Original returned it.
Drawing from British influences, American brown ales lean into medium-roasted malt, caramel, and chocolate flavors.
They usually have a moderate to strong hoppy bitterness.
These ales often have a fruity hint from the yeast and a malty toastiness that can range from buttery to nutty, licorice-like, or even reminiscent of raisins.
Main Characteristics of Brown Ale
- Medium body
- Malt-forward flavor profile
- Subtle to mild hop bitterness
- Hues ranging from brown to dark brown
Porter, an old-school English brew, traces its roots back to the lively streets of 18th-century London.
Its name nods to its popularity with the hardworking porters in the city’s heart.
They then mixed up old, sour, brown, and pale ales to create it.
They even called it quirky names like “entire butt” and “three threads.”
But just like other classic English beers, it almost disappeared during and after WWII.
It regained its groove during the 70s and 80s when microbreweries boomed in the US.
Today’s porter tastes burnt or super roasted, with hints of nuttiness, chocolate, and coffee.
It’s got a bit more hoppy kick than your average ale, and it’s dry and rich with a gentle malt flavor.
And to get that deep, dark color, brewers throw some black malt into the mix!
Main Characteristics of Porter
- Medium to full body
- Toasty malt flavors with hints of chocolate and coffee
- Moderate to high hop bitterness
- Hues ranging from dark brown to black
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Porter vs. Brown Ale: The Key Differences
The difference starts with the malts that each brew uses.
Brown ales go for a mix of brown malts, which gives them that malt-forward taste and lighter color.
Porters mix pale, amber, and black malts to create bolder roasted flavors and a darker hue.
Brown ales keep things simple with a single infusion mash.
Brewers add hot water to the grain in one go.
Porters use a technique called decoction mashing.
Brewers take out a part of the mash, boil it, and put it back in.
They can do this a few times over, which makes the flavor more intense.
Brown ales usually keep their hop bitterness on the down-low, using hops to balance the malt’s sweetness.
On the other hand, Porters crank up the hop bitterness, especially the American variety.
Body and Mouthfeel
Brown ales are typically light and smooth, making them an excellent choice for an easy drinking session.
Porters are a bit more substantial.
They retain a fuller body since they pack more malt and go through a more intricate brewing process.
Brown ales usually hang out on the lower side of the ABV scale.
This lighter ABV gives brown ales a friendly, easy-to-drink vibe, ideal for extended drinking sessions.
Porters sit higher on the scale, making them appear more hearty.
This is a drink that you’ll want to savor for a while.
Brown ales are easy to pair with roasted meats, grilled veggies, and cozy stews — perfect for a weekday dinner.
Porters bring their intense flavors to the table, making them suitable with smoked meats, indulgent chocolate treats, and sharp cheeses.
Porter vs. Brown Ale FAQs
Nope! Brown ales and porters are not the same.
While they share similarities, they are distinct beer styles with different flavor profiles, brewing methods, and historical backgrounds.
They generally tend to have slightly higher ABV than brown ales. We’re talking 5%-10% ABV.
Porters are darker and more complex brews, so they’re less suited for easy drinking.
We wouldn’t say so.
Sure, porters can contain essential nutrients and antioxidants from their ingredients, but also alcohol and calories.
So, like other alcoholic beverages, moderation is still vital.
The beer world is a flavor-packed adventure, and the difference between porters and brown ales keeps things interesting!
With their distinct characteristics, these brews offer a taste of history, culture, and creativity in every glass.
So, the next time you’re at a bar or browsing the beer aisle, try to grab both!
Whether you’re team brown ale or team porter, there’s a brew for every palate and every occasion.
Furthermore, if you’re in search of additional ideas, explore…