IPA vs Stout – The Differences and the Similarities

Recently I was sitting at my local bar when somebody asked if I could explain the difference between a stout and an IPA!

Are you kidding me, I thought. They’re completely different beers – one is as black as the night and the other is a light brown to copper color. One has an overwhelming hoppy flavor the other doesn’t.

I could go on but I won’t – basically, they’re about as different as two beers can get.

But then I got to thinking, does an IPA have anything in common with a Stout? And if you can now get Black IPAs, when exactly does it become a stout, or how is it different from a stout?

Let’s take a look at these two incredibly popular styles of beer, from the flavor profiles to the signature ingredients, and investigate what makes a stout “stout” and an IPA an India Pale Ale.

IPA vs Stout – The Similarities

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Let’s start by looking at what these two beer styles have in common.

Not much you may think, but they are both beers. In fact, they both fall under the category of ale rather than lager, and they do share a similar background having both originated in 18th-century England.

IPA vs Stout – What Makes Them an Ale

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Beers can be split into two categories – ales and lagers. What makes a beer an ale or a lager generally comes down to the yeast which is used and the different fermentation methods.

Ales use a top-fermenting yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, where the yeast rises to the top of the brew as it ferments and turns the sugars into alcohol.

Lagers will normally use a bottom-fermenting yeast called Saccharomyces pastorianus, where, as you have probably guessed by now, the yeast drops to the bottom of the wort/beer as it ferments.

Top fermenting yeast, the S. cerevisiae, requires warmer temperatures to ferment and tends to have a stronger tolerance to alcohol, which is why so many ales can have a higher ABV such as stouts and IPAs.

Lagers, or bottom-fermented beers using S. pastorianus, ferment at much cooler temperatures and take much longer to brew, often being kept in colder conditions for several months in a process known as lagering.

Both stouts and IPAs use the bottom-fermenting yeast and therefore are classified as ales (however, some of the newer Cold IPAs use a strain of lager yeast but tend to be brewed at warmer temperatures, so are still classed as an ale unlike an India Pale Lager or IPL).

That’s where the similarities seem to end.

The Origins of IPA vs Stout – It’s All in the Name

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Stouts originate from the beer style of Porter, which was very popular in 18th Century England, especially in the taverns of London (see my blog “Stout vs Porter: What’s the Difference?” here).

The word “stout” in old English was originally used to describe something which was strong, so the stronger Porter beers became known as “Stout Porters”.

It wasn’t until later in the 18th Century when Irish brewers adopted this style of beer that the “Porter” name was dropped and they became simply known as Stout.

The IPAs of 18th-century England were simply stronger pale ales with more hops thrown in. Officially they could have been called “Stout Pale Ales” but that would just be confusing, yes?

Instead, IPAs were eventually named after one of the regions the beer was initially produced for shipping to – India. Longer sea journeys and tropical climates meant that brewers had to produce a beer that would last longer and not be spoilt with off flavors on arrival.

Adding more hops, a natural astringent, and boosting the alcohol content produced a stronger version of a Pale Ale with a pronounced hoppy flavor which became very popular.

It’s thought the name India Pale Ale, or IPA, wasn’t originally used when the beers were shipped to India but was instead used by ex-pats returning to the UK who demanded this popular style of ale they had become accustomed to while on placement in India.

Imperial Stout vs Imperial IPA

Then we get into the whole Imperial debate. There are both Imperial Stouts and Imperial IPAs (although Imperial IPAs are more commonly known by the name Double or Triple IPAs nowadays in the US craft beer scene).

Imperial Stouts again originated in 18th Century England whereas the Imperial IPA seems to be more of an invention of the US craft beer producers in an attempt to push the boundaries of the modern American IPA.

Imperial Stouts were produced by the English brewers to fulfill the needs of the beer lovers of the Russian Imperial Court and the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia.

Originally discovered by Peter the Great on a journey to London, the Russian court had a great fondness for English Stouts and Porter types (stronger Porters became known as Baltic Porters, again referring to the region to which they were originally exported).

Although many argue that the ABV of export beer was increased to make the longer journeys across the freezing Baltic seas to Russia and to help preserve the ales, it is more likely that the extravagant Imperial Court of Russia simply preferred more extravagant and bigger stout beers to show off their opulent wealth.

Today, you will still find many of the Imperial Stouts of the US referred to as Russian Imperial Stouts (The BCJP simply classifies them as Imperial Stout Category 20C).

In fact, most of the Imperial Stouts in the world are now produced by US craft breweries, hence them falling under the umbrella classification of American Porter and Stout by the BJCP.

In contrast, Imperial IPAs are widely seen to be an innovation of American brewers, first developed in the mid-1990s.

Imperial IPAs almost certainly didn’t exist in 18th Century England and were never referred to as such as there was no official guide to beer styles in those days dictating how strong an IPA should or shouldn’t be.

Imperial IPAs are more commonly referred to as Double IPAs (BJCP classification 22A under Strong American Ale style) and seem to have been developed in answer to the American craft beer drinker’s love of a more hoppy beer.

Double the hops and double the strength, Imperial is just used as a descriptor to mean a stronger ale.

Much bigger than an English or traditional American IPA in alcohol strength, bitterness, and hoppiness, they would certainly have appealed to the extravagant tastes of the Russian Imperial court.

Unfortunately, the harsher climate of Russia meant they would prefer the darker winter-style beers, whereas an IPA is seen more as a popular summer beer.

IPA vs Stout – The Color

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Let’s now get the most obvious difference out of the way – the distinctive colors of each style of beer. Stouts and IPAs have very different colors. Well, at least most of the time.

A stout will have a darker, coffee-type color, sometimes jet black, although many stout producers (including Guinness) would argue they have a dark ruby-like hue to them too. IPAs will predominantly have a lighter (although not as light as a Pale Ale) caramel or amber color.

Most stouts are made with a base grain that uses roasted malts, barley, or other chocolate-colored malts, while an IPA will normally consist of lighter-colored malts, hence the color.

Black IPA vs Stout

A common mistake many beer aficionados make is to assume that all dark beers are porters or stouts. However, there are now black lagers (Schwarzbier) and, to make matters even more confusing, black ales such as a Black India Pale Ales

A Black IPA will intentionally be crammed with many of the dark roasted malts which characterize a stout, but the main difference is that a Black IPA will be more abundant in hops, which are piled on later in the brewing process for the familiar fruity and bitter taste of an IPA.

Often referred to as Cascadian Dark Ale, it follows a style that originated in the Cascadia region of North West USA and Canada.

A good example of a Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale would be Blindfold by Sierra Nevada which weighs in with an ABV of 6.8%, but with a bitterness of 70 IBUs, there’s no chance of mistaking it for a stout.

A good Black IPA will feature the malty roastiness with a hint of chocolate you expect from a stout but with those citrussy piney flavors and aromas you get with an IPA.

Different Flavor Profiles of IPA vs Stout

We may have just touched on flavor above, but this is the other key difference between an IPA and a stout.

Strong flavors often found in a stout include caramel, coffee, chocolate, dried fruits, and, often, hints of hazelnuts too. With these decadent, dessert-like tastes most stouts will have a more creamy, silky, and full-bodied consistency than IPAs.

The flavor profile of an IPA couldn’t be more different if it tried. An IPA, especially the American IPAs, will have more of a citrussy, fruity, and floral taste which comes from the hops, often with a touch of woodiness or pine.

They will normally have much less body than a stout and won’t feature that creamy texture of a stout, but will have a more bitter (in a good way) taste and can be a bit more watery.

If a stout is a dessert course beer, then the IPA is a palate-cleansing appetizer.

IPAs tend to go well with spicy foods where the hops can cut through the spice, while a stout is a good beer for dessert courses, hearty stews, casseroles, or even fuller-flavored cheeses (I just love an Imperial Stout with a good Gorgonzola….it’s like a full-on assault on your taste buds!).

IPA vs Stout – The Signature Ingredients

The four key ingredients of all types of beer are water, malts, hop, and yeast, including both stouts and IPAs. So what causes an IPA to have such a different distinct flavor to a stout?

Hops are the answer (you weren’t expecting that, were you?). An IPA is often called a hop-centric beer or hop-forward, while a stout’s flavor is more driven by the malts it uses, with very few hops used compared to IPAs.

Both are flavorful beers, but a stout relies on rich, roasted barley to create not just the color of the beer but also those sweet rich malty flavors.

A few hops may be added for a slight bitterness and to prevent a beer from becoming too cloying, but nowhere near the abundance of hops used in the brewing of an IPA.

In comparison, an IPA will be overloaded with hops to give it a bitter, edgy flavor. American hops will offer fruity, citrussy big flavors and aromas to an IPA, while English IPAs, which use more traditional English hops, will have an earthy, herbal, and often floral-like aroma and flavor.

Most IPAs will use a similar base malt of pale or light malts, but some specialty malts can also add touches of caramel or toffee-like flavors to an IPA. However, it’s a fine balance, and the hops should always be the star of the show.

Black IPAs may use roasted malts for their color and to impart a slightly malty flavor, but the abundance of hops which they are followed up with definitely keeps them in the hop-centric IPA category.

IPA vs Stouts – Different Varieties

Just like any category of beer, both stouts and IPAs have many different varieties or sub-categories.

Although Imperial Stout and Imperial IPA may share the Imperial label, as we saw earlier, they are two very different styles of beer.

However, try going into a bar and ordering a West Coast Stout and you will probably be laughed out (by the way, Sierra Nevada’s first-ever brew was actually called a West Coast Style Stout, but it’s not a name that stuck, or a style that stayed around!).

Types of IPA

Different types of IPA include:

  • English IPA
  • American IPA
  • West Coast IPA
  • East Coast/New England IPA (NEIPA)
  • Session IPA
  • Double or Triple IPA (Imperial IPA)
  • Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale
  • Hazy IPA
  • Brut IPA
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The English IPA is considered to be the grandad of all IPAs and uses English hops, malts, and yeast to produce a slightly hoppier pale ale with hints of floral or herbal tastes.

American IPAs, such as a West Coast IPA, will focus more on American hops with their big bold citrussy and fruity flavors.

An East Coast or New England IPA will normally use English hops and/or yeast for a flavor more similar to those traditional IPAs of England but with only a slight American twist.

Most IPA varieties get their unique flavors and aromas from the blend of hops used and extra methods of hopping such as dry-hopping or torpedo-hopping, but fruit and herbs are also commonly added as extra ingredients.

Types of Stout

Here is a list of the more common types of stout you will find:

  • Milk Stout
  • Dry/Irish Stout
  • Oatmeal Stout
  • Oyster Stout
  • Chocolate Stout
  • Pastry Stout
  • Barrel-aged Stout
  • Imperial Stout
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Unlike IPAs, stouts get their flavor primarily from the malts used rather than different hops. Added ingredients to create unique varieties will include different specialty malts or dairy products.

Remember, stouts are known as creamy, malty beers, after all. An oatmeal stout will add flaked oatmeal as well as roasted barley for a fuller, creamy texture.

Pastry stout is a catch-all category used to describe a stout that has sugary or sweet ingredients added to them like liquified cookies or cake.

Other ingredients added to stouts can also include seafood, in the case of traditional oyster stouts, and some American craft brewers even add bacon or scrapple to the breakfast stouts.

The coffee flavors of stout can also be enhanced with the addition of various coffee beans or fresh espresso and chocolate flavors with the addition of imported dark chocolates.

The flavor of a stout comes from those base malts and ingredients rather than hops.

IPA vs Stout – Final Thoughts

So, hopefully, you now understand the difference between an IPA and a Stout. Yes, they are both beers, even ales, rather than lager, but a Stout is much more malt-orientated than an IPA, which tends to be a hop-forward beer.

Although varieties like a Black IPA or a dry-hopped Stout can somewhat blur the lines between the two types of ale, in general, if you are looking for a hoppy beer, choose an IPA, if you prefer those rich, decadent malt flavors, go for a stout.

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