I do. I love them. Really and truly I do. True I enjoy a good stout as much as the next gal but sometimes I don’t want an entire meal in a glass and here is where the porter really steps up to the plate. Porters have many of the elements that make a great stout –roastiness, rich malt, creamy mouthfeel, bitter aftertaste– while retaining that amazing drinkability of a middle of the road ale. In honour of this (assumed mutual) admiration I thought I would devote an entire post to the wonder that is dark brown ale.
First a little bit of a history lesson: Like many other well-known beer styles dark brown ales were being brewed in London for a generation before the term ‘porter’ was ever applied to them. In Tasting Beer Mosher suggests that far from being invented “porter emerged over a generation or more, transforming itself from an assemblage of brown ales into a pedigreed family of chestnut-colored brews that eventually came to named for the transport workers who were its most visible enthusiasts”. Porters are considered to be the first industrialized beers i.e. brewed and exported on an industrial scale. There has been a great deal of evolution in the style known as porter. Porters were first brewed from moderately kilned ‘brown’ malt. Then they were brewed more efficiently using the extract-rich pale malt but this meant the loss of the trademark appearance. Finally, burnt sugar was added to the process to re-capture that signature dark brown appearance; however, the addition of burnt sugar did more than just darken the beer it also changed the fundamental flavour. In 1817 Daniel Wheeler invented a roasting kiln for making black malt and once more ‘porter’ became an entirely different tasting beer. In addition to changing tastes there are different types of porter including Baltic Porter based on beers exported from England to Russian in the eighteenth century, Philadelphia Porters, which were famous for their quality and George Washington’s patronage, and German Porter had its day in the mid to late nineteenth century in response to the success of English porters. Sadly, the rising popularity of stouts did little to solidify the place of the porter in the beer pantheon, and when Guinness stopped production of it’s porter in 1974 the style seemed to be “officially dead”.
Luckily something this good never truly stays dead and thanks to the resurgence of craft brewing the porter has found its way back into our beer drinking arsenal. So what exactly constitutes a porter? According to the Beer Judge Certification Program the prototypical porter has the following characteristics:
Flavour: Creamy roasty-toasty malt, hoppy or not (I love the term roasty-toasty btw)
Aroma: Roasty maltiness, little or no hop aroma
Balance: malt, hops, roast in various proportions
Gravity: 1.040 – 1.065
Alcohol: 4.0 – 6.5% by volume
Colour: 20 – 50° SRM
Bitterness: 20 – 40 IBU plus, low to medium-high
Thirsty yet? One terrific example of the re-birth of the porter is Alice a renaissance Baltic porter from our eclectic friends at BrewDog. According to the brewers Alice is “decloaked and radically reinvisaged…a 6.2% sacred union of one 300-year-old recipe and two cross continental hop varieties. A delicate mirage of chocolate, red fruit and burnt sugar”. Alice is a very good girl. She is a deep clear brunette with a suitable amount of caramel head. The nose is an incredible mix of malt and burnt; like sweet bread that has been over toasted. There is even a touch of sourness on the nose. Alice has a sticky almost chewy mouthfeel with a fig-like flavour that gives way to a slightly bitter aftertaste. The body is deceptive because the flavours trick your palate into thinking you are drinking a heavy dense beer but the low ABV makes it imminently drinkable. Excellent fall to winter beer.
Overall a 5 out of 5
*Thanks as always to Randy Mosher (2009) Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink