Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #7 – Porter

In this edition, we will look at another one of my favourite styles – one which was invented in London in early 18th Century. Porter!

One much-debated theory as to the origin is as follows: Some 300 years ago, the working classes were fond of a beer type called Three Threads, which meant three thirds. This was a blend of brown ale, well-matured old ale (also known as “stale”) and Twopenny pale ale (so called as it cost an expensive tuppence a quart). This was a problem for London brewers, as these beers came from outside of London, as country brewers could make pale ale with coal-fired kilns which gave maltsters control over the temperature of the killing process, thereby producing paler malts.

A tax on coal in cities forced London maltsters to use wood-fired kilns, which produced darker malts that are no good for pale ale. However, improved brown malt from Hertfordshire enabled London brewers to make a beer from one cask or butt. Originally, called “entire butt”, it soon became known as porter.

Similarly debatable is the origin of the name porter. The most widely-believed theory is that the name was derived from the occupation of its drinkers, namely the porters working in the markets, docks and streets of the capital. Ben Truman and Sam Whitbread were quick to pick up on the increasingly popularity of porter and came to build their empires around the style. Porter was the first mass-produced beer as a result of economies of scale that could be achieved. It could be fermented at a higher temperature than other beers, meaning that in pre-refrigeration times it could be brewed for longer periods of the year and in larger batches (a large volume of beer produces more heat during fermentation).

Sadly, World War 1 had a catastrophic effect on the style when the UK Government banned the manufacture of dark roasted malts, as they required additional energy consumption which was needed for the war effort. It wasn’t until the real ale revival of the 1980’s that saw porter come back to the fore. Meanwhile, the Irish had no such ban…

So, what is porter like? It was originally dark brown in colour, not black, but developed to be darker with the arrival of darker malts, which were produced by a malt roaster, in the same way that coffee beans were roasted in a coffee roaster. They are well-hopped beers and modern-day versions can contain additional ingredients added such as pumpkin, honey, vanilla, plum and chocolate. Porters are generally lower ABV than their sister style, stout (which I will cover in a future edition).

Famous local examples of porters include Elland 1872 Porter (6.5%), which won Champion Winter Beer of Britain in 2010, 2013 and 2015, plus Supreme Champion Beer of Britain in 2013. It is dark ruby in colour, made with pale, amber, brown and chocolate malts, Northdown and Target hops and has a coffee and bitter chocolate aroma. Another popular porter is Hambleton Nightmare Porter (5%), which was Champion Winter Beer of Britain in 1997. It is also a dark ruby red colour and is made with Halycon pale malt and Northdown hops. It has a roasted grain and spicy hop bouquet with hints of chocolate and dried fruit. Other examples of the style from our branch area include Wold Top Marmalade Porter (5%), Samuel Smith Old Brewery Taddy Porter (5%), Little Brew Porter (5%) and Hop Studio Porter (4.3%). So, what are you waiting for? Take a trip on the dark side!

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