The Session — Beer Blogging Friday
The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.
This month's topic was the Porter beer style as chosen by Mark Lindner at By the Barrel.
What Beer Geeks Need to Know
To better understand the beers you enjoy and also assist with those next beer decisions — a helpful bit of knowledge is a better understanding of the recognized beer styles.
There are two primary bodies, The Brewers Association and The Beer Judge Certification Program that have devised systems for describing and categorizing beer from around the world, and indeed, history. And then online beer nerve centers like Beer Advocate have developed a tangential system for beer styles based largely, but not entirely on these other two systems. So, depending on what you’re reading, a beer can be classified as more than one beer style. When describing beer style for the purpose of this writing, we will be using the Beer Judge Certification Program styles, which are also the official styles of the Cicerone Certification Program.
What You Should Know - in One Minute
Below is the basic knowledge we all should know about this beer style.
- Porter is a beer style with multiple sub-styles. Depending on how the brewer chooses to name their version, here are some common terms you may come across: Brown, Robust, Baltic, English, American.
- Porters originated in England about 300 years ago, and are precursors to stouts. They were said to have been favored by porters and other physical laborers.
- Porters vs Stouts: Porters came first. All stouts are types of porter, but not all porters are stouts — only the stronger ones.
It was 1955 when Johnny Cash first cried out Hey porter! Hey porter! Okay, for the record — pun intended — he wasn't trying to order a dark beer. This was his first recording for Sun Records, it is a great song and porters are among the best beers found on the market.
A Beer With Style
According to the 2008 BJCP, there are three sub-styles. From lighter to bolder, they are Brown, Robust and Baltic.
Brown Porter - Originating in England, porter evolved from a blend of beers or gyles known as “Entire.” A precursor to stout. Said to have been favored by porters and other physical laborers.
Robust Porter - This is a stronger, hoppier and/or roastier version of a porter designed as either a historical throwback or an American interpretation of the style. Traditional versions will have a more subtle hop character, while modern versions may be more aggressive.
Baltic Porter - This is a traditional beer from countries bordering the Baltic Sea. It is derived from English porters and influenced by Russian Imperial Stouts. You may also see these described as an Imperial Porter. Any time you see imperial on a beer, think bigger and bolder.
A Porter by Any Other Name
The Beer Judge Certification Program official beer styles changes occasionally. And there were some changes in 2015, to what you call a porter. If you look at the newly released 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, the robust porter has become somewhat aligned with the American porter and the brown porter with an English Porter. Somewhat, I say, in that the technical data does not perfectly match.
As an example, the Samuel Smith Taddy Porter was labeled a Brown Porter in 2008 and now an English Porter. Sierra Nevada Porter was a Robust Porter is now an American Porter.
2015 BJCP Notes
Baltic Porter - Traditional beer from countries bordering the Baltic Sea, developed indigenously after higher gravity export brown or imperial stouts from England were established. Historically top fermented, many breweries adapted the recipes for bottom-fermenting yeast along with the rest of their production.
English Porter - Originating in London around 300 years ago, porter evolved from earlier sweet, Brown Beer popular at the time. Evolved many times with various technological and ingredient developments and consumer preferences driving these changes. Became a highly popular, widely-exported style in the 1800s before declining around WWI and disappearing in the 1950s. It was re-introduced in the mid-1970s with the start of the craft beer era. The name is said to have been derived from its popularity with the London working class performing various load-carrying tasks of the day. Parent of various regional interpretations over time, and a predecessor to all stouts (which were originally called “stout porters”).
American Porter - A stronger, more aggressive version of pre-prohibition porters and/or English porters developed in the modern craft beer era. Historical versions existed, particularly on the US East Coast, some of which are still being produced.
Pre-Prohibition Porter - A historical note about the porter before Prohibition. It was, “commercially brewed in Philadelphia during the revolutionary period, the beer gained wide acceptance in the newly formed mid-Atlantic states, and was endorsed by President George Washington.”
PortersBJCP Vital Statistics (2008 and 2015)
- Brown(2008) : IBUs: 18 – 35 SRM: 20 – 30 ABV: 4.0 – 5.4%
- Robust(2008) : IBUs: 25 – 50 SRM: 22 – 35 ABV: 4.8 – 6.5%
- Baltic (2008) : IBUs: 20 - 40 SRM: 17 - 30ABV: 5.5 - 9.5%
- Baltic (2015) : IBUs: 20 - 40 SRM: 17 - 30 ABV: 6.5 - 9.5%
- American (2015) : IBUs: 25 – 50 SRM: 22 – 40 ABV: 4.8 – 6.5%
- English (2015) : IBUs: 18 – 35 SRM: 20 – 30 ABV: 4.0 – 5.4%
Note: IBU means International Bittering Units and is a measure of a beer's bitterness, SRM means Standard Reference Method and describes a beer’s color, and ABV means Alcohol By Volume and describes a beers potency.
Porters to Try
During the winter seasons, there usually are a good number of porters to choose from. Here are a few of my favorite.
Samuel Smith Taddy Porter - Samuel Smith beers are among my favorites, regardless of the style. The English porters tend to be dry and not as full as the American versions of this style. They make for excellent sipping and pair well with many meals — try with scallops, meals with mushrooms, steaks and beef stews.
Ballast Point Victory at Sea - This is a big dark beer, full of coffee and vanilla flavors but not to the point of distraction. Luscious!
Smutty Nose Baltic Porter - This is the boldest of the porter styles and drinks like a stout. It is full of roasted grain flavors and makes a great cool weather, late evening sipper.
Founder’s Porter - This brewery doesn't yet get to Maryland but can be found in Virginia and Pennsylvania. If you happen to be traveling to these states, Founder’s beers are good to seek out and especially their porter.
Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter - Same story as with the Founder’s Porter, its not available in Maryland but is worth seeking out in neighboring states.