Stonch is stirring the pot with a post labeled: "Debunking beer myths #1 - Stout is Irish, and evolved from Porter." He's done some fairly easy research, and concludes that Guinness was not the first brewer of stout, that it was first brewed in London, and that porter evolved from stout, not vice versa. He's got backup from Dr. Michael Lewis and Ron Pattinson (who, if you don't know, you oughta).
Pretty bold stuff, and it only gets better in the comments, where a fellow signing himself John Brewer says (among other things):
But my main point is that we must take ANY beer style info from the USA with a large pinch of salt. The Americans abolutely LOVE to categorise beer - 'porter MUST be different from stout because it has a different name, therefore let's make some neat categories and specify in what ways it is different'. They rewrite history for the sake of convenience.
I agree, to some extent, because I think the whole discussion is very revealing about the differences between American and English beer geeks. Stonch's main points seem to stem from finding the word "stout" in brewing records prior to Arthur Guinness's claim of inventing stout porter in the mid-1700s. But I wonder, as I did in a comment on Stonch's blog, whether "stout" in 1650 meant "bitter black beer" or just "stronger beer."
Stonch also rightly points out how bizarre it is to call Guinness and a sweet stout by the same name -- stout -- when they are so wildly different. He doesn't even bring up imperial stout. Look at the beers called "stout": dry stout, export stout, foreign stout, imperial stout, American-style imperial stout (the GABF just added this one), milk stout, American stout, sweet stout, oatmeal stout, cream stout, chocolate stout, fruit stout (okay, those last two are just stouts with stuff in 'em)...
Are we really supposed to keep a straight face while saying these are all variations on a theme? These are all dark ales. But "stouts"? That's like saying the beers in Germany and eastern Europe are all lagers: dry lager, dark lager, export lager (whoops, there is one called that), strong lager, bitter lager, strong sweet lager, really strong ice lager, and dark strong roasted lager. Oh, yawn-ho. How much help is that? Even the Germans would object to that much objectivity.
I appreciate the need for categories (more than most of the Brits, much less than most Americans): they give a framework for the brewer, they give a welcome guide to the consumer for finding beers they like. But they are meant to be a framework, not a rack, a Procrustean bed forcing all beers into strait confines.
Yes, I know, stop me now, you've heard all this before and it's not an issue, American brewers are innovative blahblahblah. Yeah. Well, maybe we should take a look back past all the stuff we think we know about beer styles, the stuff we've read in the popular beer books and the back-labels of beer bottles and the brewery websites, past all the beer dogma, as a brewer friend of mine puts it. Maybe we should take a look at how there were no carefully delineated beer styles until the 1970s, which, I might remind you, was hardly a golden frickin' age of brewing.
And then maybe we could take a look at the prestigious and respected Brewing Industry International Awards, a British brewing competition that's been going on for over 110 years. Beers in this competition are put in nine categories: canned or bottled lagers and ales; draught lagers, ales, and cask ales; non- and low-alcohol beers; strong beers (7+%); dark milds, stouts and porters; and specialty beers. The categories are then split up into "bands" of alcohol content, or, in the case of the specialty beers, fruit, wheat, and other, and the strong beers into lager, ale, and dark.
I've talked to people who think this is ridiculous, pitting non-similar beers against each other, and I've talked to people who think it's brilliant, because it puts beers of similar drinking patterns together...and after all, they brew the stuff to drink, not to be judged.
Compare it to the 75 carefully delineated categories of the GABF.
And that's pretty much my point. We see things differently in the U.S. and the U.K., and stout is just the tip of the eisbock, as it were. Some things are not going to make sense, some things are not going to produce fruitful discussion, though it may be fun.
In the end, though, we can still all sit down and have a pint. Just don't serve Stonch a Guinness.