Brown Porter, the Working Man’s Beer

Last week I said I don’t have a favorite beer, but I have a few favorite styles. Like Belgian Wit, Brown Porter is another favorite. Although it’s usually called Porter, it’s full name distinguishes it from Robust and Baltic Porters, which are delicious in their own right.

Many well-known American Porters actually fall into the Robust Porter category, because of course, we Americans like everything bigger and bolder. Brewers in the 1800’s, most notably Arthur Guinness, turned Porter up a few notches and brewed a “Stout Porter” (but that’s a story for later).

The style is almost 300 years old, dating back to the early 1700s. It quickly became the favorite beer of London’s porters, men who carried things for a living. Before forklifts, conveyor belts and cranes, hardworking men moved things around. As you can imagine, this left them tired and thirsty at the end of the long day. The beer they loved pays homage to them and became known as Porter.

TaddyPorterLike Belgian Wit, Porter was virtually dead at the beginning of the 20th century, but the craft movement brought it back to life. Nearly every brew pub and craft brewery in the 90’s had Porter on the menu, and it’s still a popular beer for American brewers.

Porters have a light chocolaty flavor and a touch of roastiness. However, they lack the more pronounced roast of it’s stronger cousin, Stout. Many have a slight fruitiness, from the yeast esters produced in fermentation. Porters are well balanced, with the hop bitterness and malty flavors complimenting each other well.

Flavored Porters are becoming more common, especially Vanilla Porters. Boulder adds chocolate to its Shake, a Chocolate Porter that tastes like a milk shake. Terrapin’s Liquid Bliss is a decadent Chocolate-Peanut Butter Porter. Pumpkin Porters show up every fall, but those are an abomination before the beer gods.

Porters measure around SRM* (color) of 20-30, or light to dark brown. IBU* measures from 18-35, but it’s not like 35 in a Pale Ale, the rich malts balance the bitterness. Porter alcohol contents are between 4-5.4 ABV*, it was a session beer before session beers were cool.

Commercial Examples

Picture courtesy of Blackstone Brewing Co.
Picture courtesy of Blackstone Brewing Co.

One of the best examples of English Brown Porter is Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter. It’s easy to find in the US, try one next time you need a beer at the end of a hard day’s work. It’s bitterness and malt are perfectly balanced, with a light roast and chocolate flavors, fruity yeast esters, a hint of nuttiness and a dry finish.

On this side of the pond, one of my favorites is Nashville’s own Blackstone’s St. Charles Porter. It’s remarkably similar to Sam Smith’s version. I’ve got to wonder if Kent didn’t have Taddy Porter in mind when he first crafted his homebrew recipe many years ago. Regardless, it’s a worthy American example of a classic British beer. St. Charles is also the Great American Beer Festival’s most decorated Brown Porter, with 7 medals to it’s credit.

Other examples to try are Fuller’s London Porter, St Peters Old-Style Porter (not to be confused with Old Style, which is Chicago’s “beer”) and Yazoo Sly Rye.

Food Pairings

Because of the roast, Brown Porter is a great match for grilled steaks, burgers and chicken. It’s not a coincidence that there’s a steak called a Porterhouse. Ribs work too, especially with sweet, smoky BBQ sauce. Porter is also a versatile beer to pair with desserts. Chocolatey desserts are a natural match, but don’t be afraid to try fruity desserts too. Vanilla works well with Porter, even a simple dish of ice cream will go well the beer. And then there are peanut butter desserts which are perfect with Porter’s chocolaty flavors (obviously, Mr. Reese knew something about pairing).

Next time you find yourself wanting a beer after a tough day of work, grab a satisfying Porter. Cheers!

All quantitative specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide.
*Standard Reference Method
*International Bitterness Units
*Alcohol by Volume