Saturday, December 8, 2012

Porters: Not Just the Other Dark Beer

It's fairly well known that porters preceded stouts.  In fact, "stout" was a descriptive used to describe porters, essentially meaning "strong," and eventually "stout porter" just became "stout."  Porters used to be fairly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, until they eventually fell out of favor and were cast aside for the most part by breweries  (for a better, more comprehensive history on such things, check out the works of Randy Mosher and Garrett Oliver).  What we know of porters and stouts and what's popular now, it's hard to imagine a time when porters ruled.  It's hard to imagine porters as being anything other than an offshoot of more widely available stouts and not the other way around. 
A good question that I've always wondered is, what's the essential difference between a stout and a porter?  I don't have an answer, though a common one seems to be, stouts have roasted barley and porters don't.  But, apparently, this is not always the case.  For me, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what's different.  Perhaps a bit more of a burnt or toasty taste, and perhaps not as smooth or creamy, though not always.  There's a lot of overlap in the styles, and I'd venture to say that the defining line is rather fluid. 
Anyway, as I'm getting more in more into this beer thing, I'm experiencing more porters, and I'm finding some good ones.  Here are a few worth trying:

Smuttynose Robust Porter 
A bold tasting porter, worthy of being called "robust."  Flavors of chocolate, malt, coffee, licorice, caramel come through, along with smokiness, toastiness, and spiciness. Smooth and bursting with flavor. One of the better porters out there, particularly for the price. 

Founders Porter
Strong milk chocolate and coffee flavors at the front, with dark chocolate and toastiness following.  A good mixture of sweetness and bitterness.  This porter doesn't come across as flashy, but it excels at what it has.  For me, top of the list for porters.  Unfortunately, Founders is not distributed to Maryland. 

Kona Pipeline Porter
The first time I tried this porter was in October at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival in Disney World, where it stood out among the beer offerings. It's quite tasty and smooth with a nice coffee heavy profile that retains solid notes of a more traditional porter. 

Fuller's London Porter
Deep flavored porter that has a nice mellowness.  Creamy and consistent from start to finish.  A classic porter from one of the traditional English breweries.  In your porter discovery adventures, this is one you must try.

Others to try: Samuel Smith's The Famous Taddy Porter, Anchor Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Williamsburg Alewerks Washington's Porter, Evolution Lucky 7 Porter
My wish list: Ballast Point Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Stone Smoked Porter, Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, Port City Porter

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