Porter is a dark style of beer developed in London, England from well-hopped beers made from brown malt, or well-roasted barely. The name was first recorded in the 18th century and is thought to come from its reputation with street and river porters. The London Porter became the first beer brewed worldwide with a substantial production occurring in several countries, including Ireland, North America, Sweden, and Russia by the late 1700s.
Let’s back it up a little though. All early mentions of porter trace back to the year 1722 and the London brewer, Ralph Harwood. Harwood named his original creation, “Entire.” The Entire was originally comprised of equal portions of three different beers, which included: beer, ale, and strong beer. Due to its three-part composition, the blend once known as Entire later became “Three Threads.” The brown beer was swiftly recognized as the top choice for workers and gained the name Porter, for it was specifically enjoyed by the porters who were working at the markets and delivering the delicious product to the pubs.
Since Porters require a significant aging period, they were one of the first beers to be produced in and by Porter breweries instead of pubs. The huge vats needed to store the beer for the long aging time permitted only larger breweries with these resources to produce it. As time went on, the porter styles evolved. Taxation increases leading to milder versions, and the malt roaster leading to the availability of black malt.
In 1776, Porter made its way to Ireland where Guinness took hold of the style. The Irish made a version utilizing mainly pale malt along with a perfectly measured amount of black malt to instill the beers classic dark color and burnt taste. The different names for the style such as export porter, stout porter, and extra stout porter led to the creation of Stout.
Porter and Stout have an intertwined history. Stout, referring to a dark beer, supposedly came into existence because strong porters were sold as: extra porter, double porter, and stout porter. The original term stout porter was eventually simplified to merely stout. As a whole, there are very few differences between Stouts and Porters. In fact, they are so similar that the terms and brewing techniques for these dark beers eventually became interchangeable. The two have more in common than they have distinctions.
Porters were known in America and Britain in the late 1700s, but had separate stylistic evolutions, and whether they were brewed as a Porter or Stout, remained greatly popular until their fall out around the time of World War I, and complete disappearance with Prohibition. By 1940, the British Porter style niche fell entirely to Stouts. The Irish however managed to hang on to the Porter style until 1974, with Guinness as its last producer. Finally, Porters in East Germany survived the longest being produced through the 1990s, but the styles were mostly Schwartzbiers, or Black Lagers, rather than being Porters or Stouts.
Leave it to Americans to bring back this beer style! Although Lagers had taken over since the 1850s in America, most Western breweries still produced Porters until the Prohibition. In 1972, Anchor Brewing became the first American craft brewery to revive the style and brew a Porter post-Prohibition. Others began following Anchors lead soon after.