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23rd Nov 2017 | Beer Guides

Style guide: Porter

Porter was once the lager of its day, drank by everyone. But then we nearly lost it. Here's the story of its fall and remarkable rise

(Courtesy of the British Library)

We nearly lost porter. The beer that London drank, the beer that inspired Arthur Guinness, the beer that was the first to be mass produced. But we nearly did. Porter, dark and hugely satisfying to lug back on a winter’s night, was as popular by the end of the 18th century as lager is today, yet on September 9, 1940, Whitbread brewed its last one.

Today, browsing Beer Hawk alone, there are more than 20 from across the world. Imperial porters, smoked porters and even a marshmallow porter. Thank the beer gods we still have porter.



Flavour. The original porters probably tasted smoky and a little sour, but today it is chocolate, coffee and caramel that dominates, just like in the Haandbryggeriet Norse Porter.

Additions. The robust porter is a blank canvas. Coffee, chocolate, smoked malt, coconut, plum and, in Birra del Borgo’s KeToReporter, tobacco leaves, have all been added.

Hops. Early porters were probably somewhat hoppy but generally, hops take the back seat in British porters. Not so in Anchor’s Porter, a quintessential American porter.

Strength. Porters are usually around 4% to 5.5%, but ‘imperial’ versions can hit 9%. Yeastie Boys ‘South Pacific’ Pot Kettle Black is 6%.

Malts. Porters celebrate the malt. Dark roasted malts, caramel and chocolate malts are commonplace and give the distinct roasty flavours.

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