Beer History’s Forgotten MVP: Porter

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Now that fall is starting to wane and winter is coming on fast, it’s the perfect time of year for what I like to call a “transitional beer.” By this I mean a beer that complements two seasons decently, but complements the transition between the two seasons perfectly. For the end of fall/early winter, I find the best choice to be a good, sturdy porter.

Porter is an often forgotten beer style that bridges the gap between brown ales and stouts by embracing the nutty, caramel, molasses character of brown ales as well as the roasty flavors of a stout. If this isn’t enough to ignite your taste buds, then perhaps the history of the style will!

The porter originated in England during the 18th century. Prior to that time, publicans would brew and serve three generic types of beer: fresh beer, aged beer, and strong beer. Most pub-goers would prefer a mix of the three to balance out the flavor and strength (much like present day blended whiskies). One, most likely idealized, account of the origin of porter claims that publicans created one beer that embraced the flavors of all three because they were tired of having to mix the different strains. However, more likely, brewers experimented with the traditional brown beer by adding more hops and aging longer to create the style now known as porter. Whichever the case, the new dark brown, medium strength concoction became immediately popular with the working class of England in the 18th century. As a result, the beer was dubbed “porter” after the English word for the working class handy-man.

Porters remained the top selling beer in the United Kingdom throughout the 18th century, even spreading in popularity to the American colonies. A couple fun facts: many accounts claim the George Washington’s favorite style of beer was porter! In Ireland, Arthur Guinness began brewing what he called a “stout porter”, or porter of considerably more strength and roasty character in the late 1770s. This “stout porter” would eventually drop the name “porter” to embody a new style—the stout.

By the mid 19th century, however, porters were waning in popularity due to the invention of more precise ways to cook the malt. This resulted in the creation of “pale malt”, the building block of the two most popular beer styles in the world to this day: pale ale and pilsner. By the mid-20th century, because of war time taxes, rationing, and overall changing tastes, the porter style was almost in extinction. It took old fashioned brewers in the US like Yuengling, as well as up and coming micro breweries, to reinvigorate the old English style. Today, porters still struggle with popularity behind brown ales and stouts. But if you are looking for a happy medium between the two that complements food better than either, look no further than the porter. For some great suggestions of porters to try, read on below!

Beers to Try
1. Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Robust Porter
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A great porter, embodying the robust style by bringing a more developed malt character with fig, nuts, and molasses flavors to complement the roastiness.

2. Founders Brewing Company’s Porter
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A definite winner. I highly suggest this porter to anyone looking for a great session porter with all the flavor you want.

3. Scuttlebutt Brewing Company’s Porter
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Not bad overall, nothing revolutionary but definitely a solid choice. Roasty and medium bodied.

4. Anchor Brewing Company’s Porter
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A really, really great porter from a brewery that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. A delicious mix of nutty, dark fruity, and roasty characters that drinks malty but not mouth coatingly-so. Highly recommended.

5. Highland Brewing’s Oatmeal Porter
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A great mix of roasty, fruity, and bold flavors that finishes smooth and crisp. A great late fall quaff that can be either sipped or gulped.

6. Samuel Smith’s The Famous Taddy Porter
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A nice English porter that brings great roasty flavor, sweet malty finish, but a smooth and medium bodied swig.

7. Fuller’s London Porter
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Probably the best porter in the world. Straight out of London, this porter exhibits roasty, chocolatey, and nutty flavors with a perfect balance and bold flavor and aroma.

Beer and Food Pairing
The beauty of the porter is its ability complement almost any type of hearty meal, without overpowering it. Try one with grilled, seared, or barbequed meats, hearty casseroles or stews, spicy chili, or even Mexican food! One great pairing I have personally enjoyed is a Chicken Mole Negro dish with the Fuller’s London Porter. Don’t believe me? Try it and see!

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