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Beer style spotlight: Porter



I woke up this morning and as I do every day, I looked out my window on my way to make a coffee and I was greeted to a frosty view and it reminded me that the winter is settling in and there’s nothing like a beautiful porter on these dark cold nights. 

If you ask many people to define a porter you’re likely to receive an unclear response. If you go a little further and ask for clarification between a porter and a stout you’re going to get an even worse response. 

In this Beer style spotlight, we’re going to talk in a little more detail about the origins of the porter and give you a few tasty porters you need to try and get your hands on. 

The birth of the porter

When ever I try to explain to people what a porter is I’m constantly reminded what Joshua Bernstein says in the complete Beer course 

Few styles have been as bastardised, misinterpreted, tweaked

The porter dates back to the early eighteenth century and originally came from London, England. 

You can’t really talk about the Porter without talking about the cleverly named beer called Brown Beer. Before the Brits first encountered the Porter, the Brown Beer was without a shadow of doubt the cities favourite beer style. Right at the end of the seventeenth - early eighteenth century pale ales were taking over the hearts of the Londoners so a bunch of brewers decided to create a hopped up brown beer which was a lot sweeter than the original brown beer due to the longer fermentation times. Once fermented the beer was then put into some large barrels which were called butts and then matured for months which helped to mellow out some of the harshness of the malt and hops and the flavours from the wild yeast which was present due to poor sanitation. 

This new beer quickly became London’s newest favourite style especially with the porters, who’s job would generally need them to carry/ cart large items around the city, kind of like today’s deliveroo. So after a hard day at work, porters would generally end the day with a few pints which was paired with oysters. 

As we said, nowadays we're used to see many different takes on the porter and there are some incredible porters out there for you to try. So head to your nearest store and pick up a couple today!  

Did you know ?

In 1814 there was a brewery which was brewing at the now Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Rd, had a couple of the ageing butts explode which then flooded the streets of London with more than 323,000 imperial gallons (1,470,000 L) of beer which destroyed two homes and killing 8 people in the process. 

Commercial Examples

We stumbled upon an amazing post over at paste magazine and we’ve picked a few of our favourites from their list.

Anchor Porter 
City: San Francisco, CA
ABV: 5.6%
Key ingredient: Northern Brewer hops
Perfect for: Reflecting on the history of American craft brewing
The verdict: Anchor refers to this beer as the “definitive American porter,” and it’s hard to disagree with that from a historical sense—it may have been the first modern, American version of the style when it was introduced in 1972. When compared to the rest of the lineup it’s actually surprisingly unique, with a pronounced anise/licorice flavor and a subtle minty tone from the Northern Brewer hop variety, which you very rarely see used as a flavor hops in 2015. 

Stone Smoked Porter 
City: Escondido, CA
ABV: 5.9%
Key ingredient: Peat-smoked malt
Perfect for: Baby back ribs, done low and slow
The verdict: A nicely charred-tasting porter with smoke flavor that doesn’t hit you over the head, Stone’s longtime offering is still among the better ones in its weight class. It also stands out for a significant charge of piney hops—who would have expected that from Stone, right? A great introduction to smoked beers for those who have never experienced the savory quality that smoked malt brings to an ale, and a big part of the reason that smoked malt is seen in dark beers so often. 

Founders Porter 
City: Grand Rapids, MI
ABV: 6.5%
Key ingredient: A large percentage of chocolate malt
Perfect for: A big slice of birthday cake
The verdict: There were a lot of porters on this table in the same ABV range as Founders Porter, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any of them with such a depth, volume and complexity of flavor. As one taster wrote, “So much flavor for 6.5.” It’s a classic, style-defining take on American robust porter that bombards the taste buds with extremely rich dark chocolate, coffee and a touch of smoke, backed up by lightly floral hops. Drinking it side by side with some of the other ones on the table and comparing it, this beer’s virtues become only more apparent. It’s still one of the best commercial porters that anyone has ever made. 

Anyway, that's enough of a history lesson for today but maybe as you crack open your next bottle of porter, you'll have a little more information about the history of the beer and I hope it'll help you when you brew your next porter or when a buddy asks if a porter is a stout. 

Keep brewing!