What is Porter beer?


Porter beer? Never heard of it? You’re not alone! Porter beer has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years thanks to the growth of craft breweries and as the nights start to draw in, these hearty dark beers are a winter favourite. In this latest Bier Company blog we’ll explore the origins of Porter beer, the different styles and how best to serve it up.

Porter beer is a strong tasting ale that is brewed with dark malts. Typically Porter ale has a deep brown colour, chocolate and caramel flavours and hearty characteristics. Porter has evolved many times of the years with various technological, ingredient and customer preferences driving changes. It is considered to be the first incarnation of Stout and today both terms are often used interchangeably.


Where did Porter beer originate from?

Porter is thought to have originated in 1722 thanks to London brewer Ralph Harwood. Originally branded as ‘Entire’ it gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution in England, particularly with street and river porters who carried goods around the cities at the time. This rich dark brown beer was quickly recognised as the number one choice for workers and to reflect this was rebranded as ‘Porter’.

By 1776, Porter had gained quite a reputation and had made its way over the seas to Ireland where several versions were created by local brewers. Irish porters tended to consist of mostly pale malt with a hint of black malt to give it its signature dark colour. This led to it being known as ‘Plain-Porter’.

Guinness also took hold of the style and started brewing it a few years later. It became such a success that ‘Export’, ‘Stout’ and ‘Extra Stout’ versions were produced. Hence why Porter and Stout have such an intertwined history. Extra Stout, the primary beer produced by Guiness today, originates from Porter.

Porter beer was also popular in America during the late 1700s and remained popular until WW1 when it all but disappeared because of a prohibition order. Porter remained popular until the 1940s in Britain but fell out of favour shortly afterwards. The last Porter was produced in Ireland, by Guinness infact, in 1974 before they concentrated their efforts on producing the traditional Irish dry Stout you know and love today.

Porter had a renaissance in the 1980s thanks to the growth of British craft brewers who sought to bring back forgotten beers from times gone by. With a growing emphasis on smaller artisan beer producers, Porter beer has once again found its place on our shelves with both independent and major British breweries producing this much loved beer.


What’s the difference between Porter and Stout?

“Is it a Porter or a Stout?” Good question! One thing we are pretty confident about is that Porter is where it all began and the term ‘Stout’ came about thanks to Porter. Over the years there have been so many variations of both Porter and Stout that in reality there is much crossover between the two styles but here are some of the core characteristics to look out for when comparing the two:

- Porters tend to be more malty and full-bodied

- Stouts are drier, contain roasted flavours and traditionally use unmalted barley

Both Porters and Stouts, will typically be dark brown or black in colour and can have high or low hop rates. Historically Porters had a lower ABV but today both can be high or moderate in alcohol content. In reality the term; ‘Porter’ and ‘Stout’ are now used interchangeably because there are so many similarities between the two.


Are there different styles of Porter?

Looking to try some Porter beer? You’ll typically find five key styles available, some of which have been formally classified by the BJCP. Here’s what you can expect from each:

1. English Porter
Characterised as a moderate-strength brown beer with classic roasted flavours. English Porter is known for having a chocolate-caramel and malty profile often with hints of bitterness. London-type porters often use brown malt as a characteristic flavour and you can expect an ABV of between 4%-5.4%.

2. American Porter
Typically stronger than English Porters averaging 4.8%-6.5% ABV. These American Porters are typically more hop focused and roast-forward. Expect a dark brown colour with a slightly burnt, chocolatey flavour profile. The use of dry hops means that they usually have a medium to high bitterness profile.

3. Baltic Porter (also referred to as Imperial Porter)
A Baltic Porter is normally more complex than an English or American Porter. With a dark reddish-brown colour, this rich, malty Porter contains notes of sweet caramel, toffee and liquorice. It is usually moderate to high in strength, you're looking at 6.5%-9.5% ABV, with a full-bodied and smooth mouth feel.

4. Robust Porter
Robust Porters have a roast malt flavor, with hints of cocoa and caramel, but no roast barley flavour. Their caramel and malty sweetness works in harmony with the bitterness of black malt. Robust Porters tend to have an ABV of 5.1%-6.6%.

5. Smoke Porter
This style of Porter is robust thanks to the wood-smoked malt. Brewers will favour different woods to smoke the malts resulting in different flavour profiles for each Smoke Porter. Expect a dark brown colour, medium to full body and a strong roast character. Smoke Porters can typically range from 5.1% to 8.9% ABV.


How is Porter best served?

Porters are best served at a temperature between 7–10°C (45-50°F) in a (Bier Company!) pint glass. They are better served a little warmer to avoid missing out on the full spectrum of rich flavours.

Looking for some food pairing ideas? Porters taste great with meaty, smoked foods. Think wholesome stews, braised beef brisket, smoked bacon and barbecued sausages. Dark, heavy Porters also pair well with mellow blue cheeses. You could even pair your Porter with a bit of chocolate cake for dessert!


Try Porter beer with Bier Company

Ready to try some Porter beer? We’re delighted to offer ‘10 Coffee Porter Mocha CBD’ as part of our Bier Co x Brew by Numbers craft beer box. This creamy and smooth bodied Porter is a collaboration between Brew by Numbers, HASBEAN and Green Machine which combines the mocha-coffee flavour profile with a liberal amount of high-quality liposomal CBD. You’ll enjoy notes of sweet chocolatey coffee making it rich, complex and delicious.

And that’s not all, this set features 5 further exceptional craft beers from Brew by Numbers, showcasing a range of styles and hops. You’ll even get a selection of yummy Bier Nuts and beer mats for the ultimate tasting experience. So what are you waiting for, come and try some amazing Porter beer today!

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