Porter beer history dates back to the early 1700s in England with London brewer Ralph Harwood. At the time this London porter was called an ‘Entire’ and was actually a single beer based off of a previous version called 'Three Threads' which combined three beer styles (old ale, new ale, and mild ale) to create its unique taste. The name ‘Porter’, however, did not surface until the 18th century when the beer style grew hugely popular among the dockworkers and other laborers who bared the nickname ‘porters’. This byname stuck and the official title became Porter.
Porter’s reigned supreme into the 19th century until pale ales and pilsners became the top choice of Europeans. When the stout beers emerged and it came time to choose between stout and porter ale, and people began preferring stouts, desiring a dark beer that they claimed was a bit stronger than a pale malt Porter. World War I drove Porter production down even further, and by the 1940s after the prohibition, the brown beers had become nearly obsolete.
Today there are a few variations of the original, the most common ones being a Brown Porter, a Robust Porter and a Baltic Porter.
The Brown Porter is said to have moderate aromas and flavors of brown malt and light roasted qualities with possible hints of chocolate, caramel, nuts, or toffee. The hops presence is not strong and has low fruity elements on the nose and palate. The clarity of these brews is fair and their color can range from light brown to dark brown with crimson hues. Brown Porters typically have a light tan head and light to medium body complexity with fairly high carbonation. The ABV range is between 4 - 5.4% and they have IBU’s between 18 - 35.
The Brown Porter is said to have a moderate aroma and flavor profile of brown malt and light roasted qualities with possible hints of chocolate, caramel, nuts, or toffee. The English hops presence is not strong and has low fruity elements on the nose and palate. The clarity of these brews is fair and their color can range from light brown to dark brown with crimson hues. Brown Porters typically have a light tan head, and light to medium body complexity, with fairly high carbonation. The ABV range is between 4 - 5.4% and they have IBU’s between 18 - 35.
Robust Porters deviate slightly from the Brown Porter in that the flavors and aromas are more robust, hence the name. They retain stronger roasted or burnt malt characteristics, which often come from the use of black patent malt. They are hoppier yet have similar notes of nut, chocolate, toffee, and bread-like smells and tastes that can be detected. Although these are somewhat staple qualities of Porters, Robust Porters tend to be stronger and sharper than other varieties of Porters. Medium brown to almost black in appearance, these dark brown ales have reasonably high carbonation and complexity. The Robust Porter’s ABV range is 4.8 - 6.5% and its IBU’s are between 25 - 50.
Baltic Porters originally come from countries near the Baltic Sea and are derived with influences from both English Porters and Russian Imperial Stouts. However, they are also often intertwined with Imperial Porters due to their similar stature. These brews are typically rich in flavor and complexity with a large malty-sweet personality. Baltic Porters are not overly sweet, though, and contain the typical chocolaty, toffee flavors with some dark fruit, licorice or coffee in the finish. This style is very dark brown and can contain some reddish or copper hues accompanied by a long-lasting head. They are full-bodied and have a high carbonation but remain smooth through the finish. Their ABV range is between 5.5 - 9.5% and their IBU’s are between 20 - 40.
While these are the main styles of Porters, there is also an American Porter which has many avant-garde qualities and a wider range of hoppiness.
The members in our Craft Beer Club have experienced each of these brew styles and will certainly be discovering more in our future monthly shipments. We have featured an Organic Porter from Butte Creek Brewing as well as other award-winning brews in our long list of featured Porter beers.
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