You know one of the best things about beer? I mean, other than the drinking it (and the happy after effects)? The best thing for me is that the history of beer is really the history of civilization. We saw this with the backstory of IPAs and we also see it with our next Beer Style of the Month, good ol’ Porter!
Now, as sexy a style that IPAs are, porters are a bit the opposite. If IPAs are like the cool kid, porters are a bit like your grandpa. You feel like they’ve always been there and always will be, but that they’re just a little less spunky. And while that might seem true, that they are dependable but old school, porters were born in a time of monster economic and social upheaval – the English Industrial Revolution – and for a significant amount of time, porters were the be all and end all. THE original cool kid.
Porters might have been named after the working class men who would move freight from the ships into the cities and beyond, or maybe not. Their historical roots were supposedly born out of mixing of three different beer strains to create an entire drinkable and lovely beer – this is not the case. But they definitely could not have been produced or consumed without the massive advances of technology, transportation and influx of super thirsty workers.
Born originally using brown malts and aged in large wooden vats, porters were both a bit lighter, a bit smokier and certainly contained some funkiness from the friends they picked up from the wood, like Brettanomyces and lactobacillus. Actually, fun little trivia note: the word Brettanomyces actually means British fungus in Greek. But technology advances soon created new ways to roast and toast and kiln, and from this comes what will be the new porter: mostly pale malt with a bit of black patent malt: making the beer cleaner, crisper, roastier; no mas smoke, no mas funk.
And what’s the difference between porters and stouts? Well, sometimes it’s hard to know. Back in the day, stout just meant stronger – you could even have a pale stout. But stouts became their own style: darker than porters, usually stronger in alcohol, usually roastier, usually thinker – but not always! Styles, remember, are always in flux. Soon, though, porters went by the wayside, stouts took the dark mantle and we might have been talking about an exstinct style except for…American craft brewers! (Screw you, Macro Man) And thank the maker for it, because, while IPAs are still the king of craft, and sours/Brett beer might be the hipster hot ticket, there are some days, some meals, some feelings that can only be paired with our old friend porter. Old school? Maybe, but old school can still be sexy sometimes.
A MIX-A-SIX OF PORTERS FROM THE WORLD OF HOPTRON
Porter: Anchor Brewing, San Francisco CA
Window Seat: Baxter Brewing, Lewiston ME
Porter: Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo MI
Gonzo: Flying Dog Brewing, Frederick MD
Porter: Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids MI
Tanillo: Knee Deep Brewing, Auburn CA