Embrace winter head-on with porters and stouts, recommends Alice Galletly
If you’ve been bemoaning the arrival of winter with its short days and wild weather, you’re not alone. But like every season, winter has its upsides. Now is the time for huddling indoors, filling the house with the aroma of slow-cooked braises and stews and, best of all, sipping on rich, belly-warming beers.
Pale ales and wheat beers are good refreshers for summer, but it’s the sweet, roasty flavours of stouts and porters that we tend to crave during the winter months.
With their full malty bodies and flavour profiles that range from dark chocolate, coffee and smoke to liquorice, raisins and berries, these beers are made for sipping and savouring by the fire.
Here are a few things worth knowing as we embrace the dark side this winter:
What’s the difference between a porter and a stout?
Ask this question loudly in a craft beer pub and you’re likely to start an argument that will extend into the small hours. The short answer is “It’s complicated”, and an even shorter one would be “None”.
Historically, stout was just a name for strong versions of porter, but these days that no longer holds true.
Today’s porters will often be lighter in colour and body than stout, but that’s not a hard and fast rule either. The biggest difference tends to lie in the type of malt used in brewing. Porters usually use black malt, where the barley is malted (soaked in water to germinate and then dried) before being roasted, while stouts use barley roasted directly from the harvest. Both have similar roasty, coffee and chocolate notes, and if you’re a fan of one then you’ll almost certainly like the other.
With their complex range of flavours and rounded malty bodies, porters and stouts pair beautifully with a wide range of savoury and sweet food.
We asked chef and food and beer matching expert, Martin Bosley, for some specific ideas. “There are no hard and fast rules,” says Martin, “but I work on a ‘dark meats, dark beers’ principle. Try pairing them with dishes like roast rib of beef with blue cheese sauce; beef and oyster pie; slow-cooked lamb necks with barley and winter vegetables; and dense chocolate cake (on its own or with a slice of blue cheese).”
Using any glass with beer is better than drinking straight from the bottle (where you’ll miss out on all the gorgeous, complex aromas), but to do things properly get the purpose-made Stout Glass from Spiegelau.
It was designed in partnership with two leading stout brewers in the United States – Left Hand Brewing Company from Colorado and Rogue Ales from Oregon – and is shaped to accentuate the typical aromas of stouts. (Naturally, it will also work well with porters).
Though most of us are inclined to drink beers straight from the fridge (which in most homes will be set around 4C°), beers will emit richer flavour and aroma when they are warmer. For porters and stouts the ideal serving temperature is 8-10°C.
Which porters and stouts should I try this winter?
New Zealanders are spoiled for choice when it comes to buying good beer. To help narrow the search, we’ve listed five porters and stouts worth shouting about:
1. Yeastie Boys - Pot Kettle Black (RRP$6.99) For those still craving the fresh, hoppy beers of summer, Pot Kettle Black is the dark beer for you. Styled as a “South Pacific Porter”, PKB has all the rich, dark, roasty qualities of a traditional porter, but with a good dose of zesty citrus hops to liven up the party.
2. Coopers - Best Extra Stout (RRP$5.99) This rich and hearty stout from Coopers Brewery in Australia is loaded with roasted coffee, savoury smoke and soy notes propped up by a thick, malty body. It’s also one of the best-value beers on the market, so a great choice for stocking the pantry over winter.
3. Emerson’s - London Porter (RRP$8.99) Based in chilly Dunedin, Emerson’s know a thing or two about brewing beers for cold weather. The London Porter is toasty and dry with mellow hop aromas, a smooth, creamy body and a refreshingly bitter finish.
4. 8 Wired - iStout (RRP$12.99) Bigger, bolder (the ‘i’ stands for ‘imperial’, which denotes a higher alcohol or more intense beer), iStout is a gorgeous, pitch black beast of a beer. With notes of chocolate, coffee, liquorice and berries, it’s delicious over ice cream or sipped as a nightcap. And at 10 per cent alcohol it’s best to share!
5. Three Boys - Oyster Stout (RRP$8.99) It’s one of New Zealand’s best-loved stouts among beer geeks and for good reason. Three Boys’ Oyster Stout is brewed with real Bluff oysters, which give a rich, silky body and hint of savoury brine. There’s also dark chocolate, smoke and fruit, with a lip-smacking bittersweet finish.
FOUR OTHER FAVOURITES
1. Monteith's - Black (6pk RRP$16.99) Monteith's have blended five premium malts to create a deep, coffee-heavy beer. This dark brew is crispier than most sweet darks, without the harshness that can often be found in stouts. Try it with rich blue cheese or fresh oysters.
2. Mac's - Black Mac (6pk RRP$15.99) This smooth porter sits at a manageable 4.8 per cent alcohol with hints of caramel liquorice and chocolate. It's also made from 5 different malts then topped with Fuggle hops (hops with a mild, grassy armoa, often used for adding flavour and bitterness to a brew).
3. Speight's - 5 Malt Old Dark (12pk RRP$25.99) Speight's jumped on the dark beer bandwagon with this beauty in 1992. It's made from 5 malts, giving the beer a rich, creamy, chocolate flavour with a hit of coffee. The Speight's folk recommend drinking it with NZ cheese or chocolate desserts.
4. Speight's - Distinction Ale (12pk RRP$25.99) While this last beer isn't a stout or porter, it packs a full flavoured punch. The malts are roasted for caramel and butterscotch sweetness, and the hops give it a slight bite. Enjoy it during the colder months with hearty dishes such as steaks, venison and casseroles.
All featured stouts and porters are available in Liquorland stores.