What is Porter Beer?

A glass of English Brown Porter

Porter is a dark beer style that originated in England during the 1700s. It is brewed with top-fermenting ale yeast and has a deep ruby brown to black color. The use of dark, roasted malt adds hints of chocolate and caramel flavors.

Who were the London Porters?

London had thousands of registered porters in the 18th century. There were two main groups. There were the “Fellowship Porters.” Fellowship Porters hauled “measurable” goods (corn, coal, and salt) from ships on the river to city destinations. “Ticket porters” wore a pewter “ticket” or badge stamped with the coat of arms of the City of London. Ticket Porters were divided into two separate groups. “Uptown Porters” carried goods about the city and wore a white apron and the “ticket.” The other group was known as “Waterside Porters.” Waterside Porters worked on the city’s piers and quays, doing the jobs that Fellowship Porters wouldn’t touch.

Thousands more men combined casual Portering with unskilled jobs such as sedan chair operatives.

What is the origin of Porter Beer?

The earliest specific mention of porter by name is in a pamphlet published in 1721 by Nicholas Amhurst. He writes about dinner at a cook’s shop where he dined “upon beef, cabbage, and porter.”

Cesar de Saussure began writing to his family while living in England one year later. He wrote about all aspects of everyday life in London. He notes the available beer type in a letter dated 29 October 1726. He notes especially, “beer called porter.”

“Another kind of beer is called porter, meaning carrier, because the greater quantity of this beer is consumed by the working classes. It is a thick and strong beverage, and the effect it produces, if drunk in excess, is the same as that of wine; this porter costs threepence a pot.”

Beer historian Martyn Cornell agrees that the name is associated with these hard-working laborers. This workforce played a much more significant role in London life than acknowledged today.

When was Porter Beer first brewed?

In the 1773 publication of The Complete English Brewer, George Watkins noted:

“Thus, in brewing porter, they make three and sometimes four mashes; strengthening them with a little fresh malt, or running them as they call it a greater length, that is, making more beer from the same malt, according to their pleasure. These several worts they mix and make the whole of such a strength as experience shews them porter ought to have, and this they work up and barrel accordingly. In the same manner, if a butt of porter be too mild, they will throw into it a small quantity of some that are very strong and too stale; first dissolving in it a little isinglass. This produces a new tho’ slight fermentation; and the liquor, in eighteen or twenty days, fines down, and has the expected flavor.”

Porter could be made on a large scale and was one of the first beer styles to be aged at the brewery and dispatched in a condition fit to be drunk immediately. The Publican could tap the keg on delivery rather than wait a week or two to let the beer or ale “rest.”

London brewers such as Whitbread, Truman, Parsons, and Thrale were the primary producers of Porter.

Who first brewed Porter Beer?

Whitbread Brewery in London

It is hard to find a history that doesn’t claim that Porter was first brewed by Shoreditch brewer Ralph Harwood from the Bell Brewhouse.

However, a different version is given by a brewer called John Tuck. In 1822 he published the Private Brewer’s Guide to the Art of Brewing Ale and Porter.

Tuck said that early in the 18th century, London’s brewers, who sold a “heavy and glutinous” brown beer, were pressured by the brewers of paler beers, which were popular with the country gentry now buying themselves houses in the capital.

Tuck claims that in 1720 London’s brewers brought out an “improved” brown beer “started, well hopped, into butts, and … kept a considerable time to grow mellow.”

He said this was the “intire butt beer” that caught on with the working or Portering classes and became known as Porter.

What’s the difference between Guinness and Porter?

The two beer styles are very similar. Both can be dark brown to black in color, opaque but not cloudy.

Stouts tend to use roasted barley that Porters do not. Also, Stout is typically heartier and thicker than Porter. Both styles are often brewed with chocolate, coffee, vanilla, oatmeal, fruits, honey, maple, nuts, and other ingredients.

How many kinds of Porter Beer are there?

There are five basic Porter–Style beers; English Brown Porter, American Porter, Robust Porter, Smoked Porter, and Baltic Porter.

English Brown Porter

What is English Brown Porter?

English Brown Porters echo the characteristics of the original entire porter style; very dark brown with a red tint. Almost opaque, it should be clear when a light is shown through it.

The nose has notes of roasted grains, chocolate, toffee, and undertones of coffee or licorice. Without Stout’s harsh or bitter notes, the mouthfeel is not as thick as Stout’s.

English Brown is brewed with Fuggles hops and British Pale Ale, brown, crystal, and chocolate malts. These Porters are between 4.5 percent and 6 percent ABV, with an IBU range of 20 to 30.

American Porter

What is American Porter?

The American Porter is based on English Brown Porter but has a distinctly American character. American Brewers are experimental. Some opt for a big hop bitterness. Others brew Porters as mild as the English style.

American Porter is generally medium brown to black in color, with chocolate, coffee, and vanilla hints. Barrel-aged Porters aged in whiskey barrels are also being introduced. American Porters range from 4 – 7% ABV.

Robust Porter

What is a Robust Porter?

Robust Porters have a more pronounced bitterness and roasted malt flavor. It comes closest to Stouts. The difference is that the roasted flavors come from malt, not the roasted barley of Stouts.

Robust Porters have the bitterness of black malt offset by caramel and malt sweetness, between 25 to 40 IBUs, and between 5.1 – 6.6% ABV.

Smoked Porter

What is Smoked Porter?

Smoked Porter is based on Robust Porter with smoky flavor added by wood-smoking the Malted Barley. Brewers are particular as to the type of wood they use. Each imparts a different taste. Smoked Porters range from 20 to 40 IBUs, and range between 5.1 – 8.9% ABV.

Baltic Porter

Why is it called a Baltic Porter?

Initially brewed in England, the style is commonly brewed in Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Poland, and Russia.

Baltic porters are the exception to the porter’s ale classification. They are lagered and cold-fermented with lager yeast.

Baltic Porters are deep ruby to black and opaque, full-bodied with a balance of smoke, and roasted malt, between 35 to 45 IBUs, with a silky mouthfeel, and between 7-10% ABV.

How to Serve Porter Beer?

Porter Food Pairings

English Brown and Robust Porter pair well with grilled meat and gruyere cheese and are excellent with desserts that include chocolate and peanut butter.

American Porters are a perfect match with grilled or roasted chicken.

Smoke Porters have a natural bond with grilled sausage, smoked BBQ, campfire fair, and a special treat with campfire-cooked s’mores.

Baltic Porter has the strength to add something special to prime ribs.

Porter Tastings with The Old Growler

The Old Growler & The Master Sommelier Taste Twin Barns Burlwood Porter

The Old Growler “Tasting Encore.” Sinebrychoff Porter, from Finland.

The Top Five Brands of Porter in America

(8 June 2022)

(Tap on the bottle for more information.)

#1. Founders Porter

#2. Deschutes Black Butte Porter

#3. Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter

#4. Oskar Blues Death By Coconut

#5. DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus Porter