Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 12- Porters

14 04 2010

Beer historians (yes, there are such things) know the origins of very few beer styles.  Beers created two-hundred and fifty years ago or earlier, we are pretty sure of where they come from: IPAs, Stouts, American Lagers, Vienna Lagers. But after that, the history gets pretty fuzzy. Unfortunately, that is right about the same time porters were developed. So, whereas we know who created the Oktoberfest beer or the Irish Stout, we only have pretty good theories of who developed the Porter. What we do know is this, around the time Pale Ales and Bitters became popular with the upper crust muckity-mucks in 18th century England, darker brown ales became more popular with working-class types. Also at this point, beers were poured off of casks. It was the job of the bartender to mix and blend the kegs as they aged. At some point, a darker, richer blend of brown ales became popular and brewers began to create beers that resembled these beers.

After that, there are some stories that float around. Some may be true but they are also disputed. In other words, we are not quite sure. Many historians believe the original porter was based off of a particular blend called “Three Threads.” Unfortunately, the first citation of this was mentioned in a history of porter that largely misinterprets brewing terminology of the time. What is most likely more accurate was that as blended and aged brown ales became more popular, brewers were able to more accurately and scientifically brew their beers using hydrometers and thermometers. Using science, porters were able to be recreated on a greater scale, thus making them the first industrially brewed beers.

It is largely believed that the name of the beer referred to the working-class drinkers of the beer. Presumably, this beer was very popular with the men who acted as porters, moving merchandise from one location to another within the cities.

Porters are a direct result of the Industrial Revolution in England. The use of hydrometers and thermometers helped make a more consistent product. Malt became roasted at more consistent rate. And the use of a new mechanical roasting drum allowed for darker and smokier malts. The use of “black patent” allowed for porters to get richer, darker, and roastier without getting smokier. And as English trade became more common to other parts of Europe, the Porter spread with it. Porter in Ireland soon became known as “stout” and bold, boozy, roasty Robust Porters were sent to the Colonies in America and Continental Europe. It is well documented that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin both had a taste for porters. And even bigger Baltic Porters were designed to survive the trip to the Russian Baltic States.

Photo Credit: Mostlymuppet CC

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 12- Porters
Sub-Categories:
Brown Porter, Robust Porter, Baltic Porter

Aroma: Mild to Rich malt aroma showcasing earthy maltiness of chocolate, coffee, toffee, caramel, biscuit, bread crust. Hops should not be present. A very yeast that gives off little to no fruity esters.

Appearence: Light to dark brown but never black. Ruby red highlights with a persistent off-white to tan head. Dark and opaque but should be very clear.

Flavor: Very malt forward with nice, complex, roasty sweetness of chocolate, coffee, toffee, caramel. There should be no to little black patent notes (burnt, smokey, bitterness). Should finish dry to sweet–never cloying. On some bigger Baltic Porters, licorice and purple fruit is acceptable. Some may even be lager-like in the dryness. Hops should help balance and help add to the clean, dry finish. A Continental hop, particularly Noble Hop should be used.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full bodied. Baltic Porters will be particularly full bodied and smooth. Very dry and clean on the back end. Slight carbonation. Some larger porters will have a slight boozy warmth to them.

Ingredients: The grainbill is predominately darker grains, particularly chocolate and caramel types. Brown porters rarely have Black Patent malts while the Robust and Baltic Porters may. Spicy European hops will be used. And soft water or burtonized water will help with the smoothness.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
1.040-1.090
Final Gravity: 1.008-1.024
SRM (Malt Color): 17-35
IBUs: 18-50
ABV: 4.0-9.5%

Commercial Examples;
Brown Porters:
Fuller’s London Porter, Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, Burton Bridge Burton Porter, RCH Old Slug Porter, Nethergate Old Growler Porter, Hambleton Nightmare Porter, Harvey’s Tom Paine Original Old Porter, Salopian Entire Butt English Porter, St. Peters Old-Style Porter, Shepherd Neame Original Porter, Flag Porter, Wasatch Polygamy Porter
Robust Porters: Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Meantime London Porter, Anchor Porter, Smuttynose Robust Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Boulevard Bully! Porter, Rogue Mocha Porter, Avery New World Porter, Bell’s Porter, Great Divide Saint Bridget’s Porter
Baltic Porters: Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland), Okocim Porter (Poland), Zywiec Porter (Poland), Baltika #6 Porter (Russia), Carnegie Stark Porter (Sweden), Aldaris Porteris (Latvia), Utenos Porter (Lithuania), Stepan Razin Porter (Russia), Nøgne ø porter (Norway), Neuzeller Kloster-Bräu Neuzeller Porter (Germany), Southampton Imperial Baltic Porter

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One response

14 04 2010
Stephen

Oh nice, I was going to ask why you thought they were called porters, but you answered me first!

I think it’s interesting that darker beers were associated with the working classes. Historically, bread had a similar distribution, with upper classes eating white bread, and the poor eating dark bread.

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