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We Asked Brewers About Brown Ales vs. Porters

We Asked Brewers About Brown Ales vs. Porters
Jordan Palmer

Ah, ’tis season of winter beers. As the days and nights turn colder in the northern parts of the nation, the bite in the air invites us to turn from the lighter beers of summer to the bigger, bolder and richer beers designed to be sipped by the fire, enjoyed with hearty menus or served at warmer temperatures.

The three most popular winter styles, outside the realm of barrel-aging, involve stouts, porters and brown ales. While most can adequately describe stouts, the differences between porters and brown ales are often misunderstood. To better understand the styles, I asked some breweries in the St. Louis region to provide clarity on the topic. 

Is it a Brown Ale or a Porter? What’s the difference?

Dave Johnson of Missouri Beer Company

There’s usually a big difference. Brown ales should be sweeter and not have much of a roasted malt flavor. There is more of a difference between brown ales and porters than stouts and porters.

James Rogalsky of Old Bakery Beer Company

Porters tend to skew darker than brown ales. There’s more of a chocolatey leaning-toward-roasty character in a porter. Brown ales are nutty, leaning-toward-chocolatey. ABV and IBUs tend to be similar so, to me, it’s all about the number of roasted malts that are used and where the flavor profile lands in that spectrum of malty-nutty-chocolatey-roasty. There’s probably more confusion and ambiguity between porters and stouts, to be honest.

Brown Ale
From Old Bakery Brewing:

Brian Nolan of Friendship Brewing Company

We are very proud of our Wentzville Brown Ale, and also several of our porters. Having spent some time in New England years ago, I formed my perspective on porters there in a pretty traditional sense. There certainly can be some overlap in characteristics between an interpretation of a brown and porter; for me, a porter is a little more expressive in mouthfeel and viscosity, less translucent then our brown. A little more earthy and roasty with less hop presence, but definitely close relatives

Anne Mauldin of Mother’s Brewing Company

The quandary of style is a timeless topic for beer lovers and always the perfect excuse to pop the crown on another bottle. The Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines have six entries for styles containing the word “porter” or “brown,” as does the Great American Beer Festival style list. The most important difference comes down to where it counts most: flavor.

In general, our brewhouse expects anything called a porter to exhibit more pronounced roasted malt bitterness. The malt character in a brown ale tends more toward the caramel or chocolate side of dark malt. But before you even get to drop one, there are clues in the appearance. Porters tend toward the brown-flirting-with-black and opacity. Our brown ale, Three Blind Mice, is a deep chestnut with a strong garnet red tinge. Just another example of how the beautiful complexity of ingredients and processes in brewing open a whole world of sensory bliss.

Brown Ale
From Mother’s Brewing IG –

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