Dark beers have an undeserved reputation among the uninitiated as being strong and heavy. Generally speaking this is not the case at all. There is nothing like the first sip of a nice cold porter on a hot summer day. While there are indeed some sub-classifications of the stout style that are high in alcohol and almost chewy in mouth feel, a large percentage of these two styles which originated in The United Kingdom during the 18th century are light and easily quaffed on a hot day. The dark colors come from roasting the malt, which in turn adds different flavors such as caramel and chocolate to the beer. The stout style tends to be the heavier of the two, though probably the best-known Guinness Stout is very light indeed both in alcohol content and ease of consumption. At the other end of the stout scale is the quite formidable Imperial Stout which is a sipping ale and can contain as much as 12% alcohol by volume (Budweiser is 3.2% by comparison).   

 Porter was first brewed in the 1720s and according to the story was the favorite drink of the porters of that era. Strong versions of Porter were known as Stout Porters, which was eventually shortened to Stout. These two styles have been revived quite successfully by the American craft brewing industry. Here in California there are many great examples of the complete range of both styles. Anchor Brewing makes one of the best American Porters and Anderson Valley Brewing’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout is a classic.

The general rules for pairing these beers is very loose and is dependent of the particular beer. I have had good luck pairing porters with beef and game with pairing stouts with chocolate. However the aforementioned Anchor Porter paired nicely with a Venison Chop and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout went very well with a Smoked Prime Rib of Buffalo with Espresso Barbecue Sauce. I have paired Russian River’s Porter with Skate done Mexican style and Ostrich with Old No. 38 from Northcoast Brewing. So as you can see the possibilities are endless. As I have previously stated it is always necessary to try the individual beers before a good food match can be even considered. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

So please do not be put off by preconceived notions or generalizations and try a beer before deciding you do not like it. Almost every pub I have been in will let you sample their beers before you invest in a full pint.


Chef Bruce