Let’s Transport Back into Time…
Take a walk on the dark side – they have more than cookies. While the cookies may be immaculate and satisfying to the wildest of sweet tooths (sweet teeth?.. oh well) there is something else that may satisfy the gullet, and that would be Porter beer.
Porter beer was developed in London, and so recorded as Porter in the 1800s, but was developed in the 1700s by a man named Ralph Harwood. Porter is the first beer to be made at breweries instead of pubs themselves, as the process of making Porter was quite different, and required much more work and space than did “regular” beers. Entire (the original name for Porter – which was named Porter for its popularity among the British transportation workers) was actually a blend of three different beverages, those being ale, beer, and strong beer.
Porter is often compared and contrasted to Stout. It is no wonder: as time went on people developed versions of the drink – plain Porter (or simply Porter), Export, Stout, and Extra Stout (the latter being known simply as Stout). These versions developed in Ireland when Porter reached the land in 1776, but mostly with pale malt. Black malt had not been available until 1817. Just enough dark malt is added to give the signature color and ‘burnt’ flavor.
The Russians eventually got a hold of this Porter stuff and made a variation known as Imperial Stout. There was also a large British community in Russia at the time – hence the importation (the diplomats loved the stuff!) .
At some point or another Porter beer reached the grand US of A. Porter beer had almost been completely wiped out of existence – thanks lagers and Prohibition! The Anchor Brewing Company in 1972 saved this brew of beer from becoming extinct in the US. Later, other breweries began to brew Porter. It was not long before the British followed suit in brewing again as well.
Porter. Stout. Extra Stout. What’s This about?
Let us be clear on the Stout versus Porter issue. Stouts are generally more dry and have a distinct ‘crispness’ to them, while Porters have a distinct malty taste to them. It is in the taste. They can be the same in alcohol content, color, process for fermenting – all of that. It generally comes down to taste.
Both drinks are opaque ranging from a dark, dark shade of brown to just about black. The differences between the two are oh-so marginal. Their smells differ marginally as well – while both may air essences of chocolate and coffee, Porter will (sometimes!) have a smoky note to it as well. It’s safer to bet on the higher notes of chocolateliness of Porter to identify it, as Stouts are more noted by their “nuttiness.”
The flavor of Porter is more creamy than is Stout. They both may share a hoppy taste (as neither must be hoppy). Stout may have a more caramel flavor while Porter will have a roasted malt flavor (not to say that Stout will not ever have a roasted flavor). Stout will come in many varieties from sweet to dry, whereas you will find that Porter is more malty and more hoppy in general. Porter will have less of a hoppy aroma than will Stout (which may or may not have a hoppy aroma). It’s a really weird situation…
But let’s keep it in the family of Porters.
Click HERE to visit the TTS store filled with original products!
Types of Porter Beers
Okay, let’s talk about three types of Porters: Baltic, Brown, and Robust.
Baltic Porters are going to be rich in maltiness, in sweetness, and contain notes of caramel, coffee, toffee, and/or licorice. This is going to have a rather fruity flavor – it will not be hoppy, sour, or burnt tasting. It will most likely be the most delicious of all beers for those who do not even care for beer. It will feel much like lager when you swish it around in your mouth. It may also at times be called an Imperial Porter. While the color of this will come very close to black (even with hints of red) it should never be black.
Brown Porters are going to be less roasty than the Baltic variety, and have greater caramel, toffee and/or nutty overtones. Trace amounts of black malt characterizations may be present for a higher chocolate profile or depth. Brown Porter is more of a pretense to Stouts than other versions, as the color can be noted as just about the same – ranging from light brown to dark brown, having the faintest of red tinting. The smell of if may be hoppier than the Baltic Porter, but is not a necessary characteristic.
Robust Porter, as can be guessed, is the most roasty in smell, and will be characterized by a burnt smell and taste (of course, a pleasant burnt – think of a flavor-enhancing burn, like grilled food has, versus a flavor conflagration, like what happens to toast after 3 minutes). You will definitely be able to taste the malt, and with the maltiness, chocolatiness, and coffeeness, you will get a range of sweet balance from dry to moderately sweet. Fruitiness will be at a bare minimum, if present at all. The color – it will be the darkest of the Porters, even black, with deep red tinting.
Best Breweries in the US
If you are looking to try some of the best Porter beers in the US, there are quite a few breweries that rank quite well amongst the consumers. But to keep the list shorter than this article, here are three as cited from Paste Magazine:
Ale Syndicate Richie uses more of a malty and fruity taste for their Porter. Their use of the fruit tones in their brew makes them a huge name as one of the best brewers of unflavored Porter there is, being extremely rich in flavor.
The Alaskan Brewing Company delivers more of a smoky flavor to their brew being the overtone, and the fruitiness and maltiness being supporting roles for the robust smokiness. It’s so distinct that the brand can be smelled.
Founder’s Porter prefers to brew heavily with a dominating chocolate tonality. It is definitely a robust Porter with a reversed flavor profile than the Alaskan Brewing Company – as Founders is heavy on the chocolate, coffee, and fruit notes, and light on the smokiness. They are a force with which to be reckoned.