Hey Porter

Looking into the origin, history and the current versions of Porter

Written by Richard Dakin, Beer Writer on 19th June 2017

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I have a romantic penchant for Porter; that dark voluptuous, velvety-smooth textured mouth-feel, the initial sweetness of the un-fermented dextrinous sugars, followed by the fullness of the multi-malted body and finishing, at the rear sides of the tongue with a gentle, tingling 'hit' of resinous bitterness.

Not always so, though. The Brewery History Society describes various accounts of porter and how it started life, in London circa the 1720s, but citations are, at the very least scarce; and can they be relied upon? Perhaps suffice to say that this account is a mixture of sources which sit alongside the folklore; and let's face it, some of the 'sources' may have been drinking porter! It is most likely that porter started as a mix of three beers; ale, beer and twopenny, a beer of three threads (three strengths) and was named after the hard-working London porters, who would have found pleasurable sustenance in the dark, full flavoured and satisfying beer (liquid bread). It was able to stave off hunger when food was scarce. However, it was a quite variable beer, when compared with today's porter, as malted barley was not easy to convert and roast consistently.

Porter developed towards our contemporary style, a century later, with the invention of black patent malt. This was accredited to Daniel Wheeler, who in 1817, patented the very high drying of malted barley (British patent no. 4112), heated to around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, without burning it, in something akin to a coffee roaster. This proved to be cost-effective in producing a 'stout' beer; and porter, stout and porter-stout appear to have become synonymous from that time. One account states that records show that Whitbread immediately took stocks of the newly patented malt, soon to be followed by Barclay and then Truman. In 1769 Arthur Guinness became influenced by London porter (also called single stout or 'plain'). Additionally, he made double (or extra), with foreign stout for export.

Which, brings us to the present time, where Porter is becoming, perhaps for the first time, a fashionable tasty treat; less as a 'liquid bread' and much more, a satisfying accompaniment to, perhaps, a lovely pork fillet, a light chicken salad or a more filling vegetarian shepherd's pie, with porcini mushrooms. In fact, any food you might wish to add a little savoury accompaniment to, a rich, full bodied porter would compliment in a similar manner. Contemporary porter tends to be a little 'softer' in character than stout which, perhaps, contains a little more black patent malt. As with all culinary choices, it is 'horses for courses', but the following is a selection to pair with food, or to savour in a somnolent posture, on the sofa of a cosy pub snug:

Starting with a classic, Fuller's Brewery, Chiswick ‘London Porter', 5.4 % which has a predominantly dark roasted malt nose, with a grassiness from the Fuggles hops. A sweet start, then a tartness of dark chocolate follows with a quite full mouth-feel and ends with a moderate bitterness.

From Kissingate Brewery, Horsham, West Sussex - 'Powder Blue' 5.5% is a blueberry porter. With a full bodied, dark roasted backbone and subtle blueberry and raisin notes, it finishes with a gently gathering bitterness.

Guinness Brewery, Dublin, 'West Indies Porter' 6.0% is a modern interpretation of their 1801 recipe and is complex, mellow and hoppy, with notes of toffee and chocolate.

Complete your Porter experience with a little mature cheddar or a Roquefort, sheep's milk blue cheese, for that well defined, delicious, meal finale; and indulge in romance!