Style Profile: Porter

Posted on August 25th, 2009


Porter is a style that traces it roots to beer cocktails of the 18th century. Although the only modern beer cocktail that most people know is the Black & Tan, in centuries past it was fairly common to mix several beers in one pint glass. A bartender in 1720s London might be expected to blend frequently as many as six different ales into a customer’s pint. As we mentioned in our article on cask ale, (which is how all beer would have been served at the time) beer on cask should really be consumed within a few days after it’s been tapped as it begins to grow stale and loose its flavor rather quickly. of course not all pub owners followed these rules, and there was plenty of stale beers being served in London pubs.

Black & Tan

Black & Tan

Additionally, many of the working class poor could only afford the weakest and cheapest of ales. As a result, many in the lower classes took up the habit of mixing half a glass of fresh, quality ale with half a glass of the cheap, stale stuff. A particularly popular beer cocktail at the time was known as “Three Threads,” which usually combined pale ale, new brown ale and stale brown ale. In order to save the bartenders some time and energy a brewer by the name of Ralph Harwood developed a heavier beer which was designed to mimic the taste of the “Three Threads” brew, much in the same way you sometimes see pre-bottled Black & Tans today. Harwood’s Entire, as it was known soon became quite popular after its release in 1722, particularly among the cities hardworking porters. It was only a matter of time before this style of beer, which was heavier and smokier than most beers at the time took on the name porter, which it’s still referred to today.

Porters later gave rise to stouts, a darker and more robust version of the style, which were originally known as ‘stout porters.’ Although the two styles remain closely related and similar in flavor, there are a few key differences that warrant the separation of styles, that’s a topic for another style profile though. Porters are typically made with pale malt base with the addition of black malt, crystal, chocolate or smoked brown malt, but as with many styles, there is a tremendous amount of leeway  in what many brewers will call a porter. Hops tend to be low in the mix, although American porters may have a moderate hop presence.

What’s your favorite porter? Next time you try one let us know what you think about it by tweeting your beer and adding the ‘#mybeer’ hashtag.