What is a Porter?

The porter has a very interesting history and a fair amount of disagreement on what it is and should be, leaving the question of exactly what is a porter beer?.

Originally, a “porter” or porter beer was not a single beer at all but a combination of beers mixed together based on customer requests. The British have a custom of mixing cheaper and lighter beers with heavier more expensive aged beers (i.e. a black and tan). The combining of these beers would create what was called an “entire beer”.

Apparently, there was a particular combination that was particular to the porters around Victoria Station in 18th century London. These porters were rumored to make a meal out of this heavier darker beer (sounds like a good lunch hour to me). Eventually, around 1730, a brewer named Harwood brewed a beer based on this combination. It was heavily advertised as richer and more “nourishing” than a regular ale, which spoke to porters on lunch break. The porter was officially born.

Tasting Notes

In general, the porter is a top-fermented beer that uses black or chocolate malts to create a beer that ranges in color from dark brown to almost black.

The taste of a porter should be spicy, chocolaty and be dominated by a distinctive dark malt or roasted grain flavor, with a slight sweetness. They also tend to be well hopped and the hoppiness can range from bitter to mild.

Often compared to, or confused with Stouts, porters tend to have a lower alcohol content, lighter body and malt character, and a slightly sweeter taste… and they were here first. The stout actually gets its name from a porter. The name “stout” for a very dark beer seems to have come about from the name for a strong porter – “extra porter” or “stout porter”. The name would eventually be shortened to just stout.