What is a porter?

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First Posted: 3/18/2014

Style: Porter (American and English)

Brief history: The background story of porter is a bit muddled due to the seemingly ever-changing history of the beer that is also directly tied to the history of stouts. The beer does not so much have a birth as it does a slow transition, rising as its own style from English brown ales. The style was also not initially called a porter; in fact, it did not have a name. Rather, it was about the popularity the beer had amongst river porters. The style also changed over the years, initially being produced using roasted malts, changing to all pale malts with burnt sugar for coloring, though very illegal. Soon in the early 1800s, a roasting machine was invented that could evenly roast all the malts for repeatability, giving way for the porter style to flourish. The English style grew in popularity and soon gained a fondness in America where, over time, the American Porter style developed. This style has a bit more hop presence when compared to English variations.

Standard characteristics: The style is malt-forward, with English brewers using very little hops while American brewers tend to be a bit heavier-handed with them. However, the beer should have perfect balance and not be overly cloying on the palate. The color is fairly dark, being brown to black in appearance. The typical ABV for this style ranges between 4.0 and 6.5 percent.

Nose: The aroma is filled with roasted malt scents, typically exemplified by bitter chocolate and coffee. There is usually little to no hop aroma, though American versions have subtle hop aroma, but it is very much a background note.

Body: The body is medium and can be medium-full in feel. Porters, especially those that classify themselves as “imperial porters,” can cross the line between porters and stouts in the body of the beer and can be very full. English style tends to have a creamier feel than the American varieties.

Taste: The strong roasted malt flavor is in the forefront of all porters, with many noting tastes of chocolate and coffee from the malts, especially in the English variations. Hops make a slight appearance on the palate if you pay close enough attention to the flavors, but they are not a dominant flavor.

Food pairing: Porter work very well with roasted and smoked food, barbeque dishes, and a wide variety of desserts, especially those that are chocolate-based.

Recommendations: Porters are very approachable for anyone, whether they are new or used to the full-flavored craft beer styles. The porter style is one that nearly all breweries have some variation of on their beer list, so there is certainly no shortage of available porters to try. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

• Deschutes Brewery, Black Butte Porter

• Samuel Smith, Famous Taddy Porter

• Founders Brewing Company, Founders Porter

• Sierra Nevada Porter

• Fuller’s London Porter

• Odell Brewing Company, Cutthroat Porter

• Stone Brewing Co., Stone Smoked Porter

• Great Lakes Brewing Co., Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

• Anchor Porter