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Porter is a style of beer that was developed in London, England, in the early 18th century. It was well-hopped and dark in appearance owing to the use of brown malt. The name originated from its popularity with street and river porters.
The popularity of porter was significant, and it became the first beer style to be brewed across the world, and production had commenced in Ireland, North America, Sweden, and Russia by the end of the 18th century.
The history of stout and porter are intertwined. The name "stout", used for a dark beer, is believed[by whom?] to have come about because strong porters were marketed under such names as "extra porter", "double porter", and "stout porter". The term stout porter later was shortened to just stout. For example, Guinness Extra Stout was originally called "Extra Superior Porter" and was not given the name "Extra Stout" until 1840. Today, however, there are not many distinctions between stouts and porters; the terms are used by different breweries almost interchangeably to describe dark beers, and the two styles have more in common than in distinction.
The 18th and 19th centuries
Glasgow's Anderston Brewery was founded about 1762 and became famous for its porter. In the 1790s, they exported their porter to London, calling it 'London Porter' in the false notion it was brewed in the city.
In 1802, John Feltham wrote a version of the history of porter that has been used as the basis for most writings on the topic. Very little of Feltham's story is backed up by contemporary evidence; his account is based on a letter written by Obadiah Poundage (who had worked for decades in the London brewing trade) in the 1760s. Feltham badly misinterpreted parts of the text, mainly due to his unfamiliarity with 18th-century brewing terminology. Feltham claimed that in18th-century London, a popular beverage called three threads was made consisting of a third of a pint each of ale, beer, and twopenny (the strongest beer, costing two pence a quart). About 1730, Feltham said, a brewer called Harwood made a single beer called Entire or Entire butt, which recreated the flavour of "three threads" and became known as "porter".
Porter is mentioned as early as 1721, but no writer before Feltham says it was made to replicate "three threads". Instead, it seems to be a more-aged development of the brown beers already being made in London. Before 1700, London brewers sent out their beer very young and any ageing was either performed by the publican or a dealer. Porter was the first beer to be aged at the brewery and dispatched in a condition fit to be drunk immediately. It was the first beer that could be made on any large scale, and the London porter brewers, such as Whitbread, Truman, Parsons and Thrale, achieved great success financially.
Early London porters were strong beers by modern standards. Early trials with the hydrometer in the 1770s recorded porter as having an original gravity (OG) of 1.071 and 6.6% alcohol by volume (ABV). Increased taxation during the Napoleonic Wars pushed its gravity down to around 1.055, where it remained for the rest of the 19th century. The popularity of the style prompted brewers to produce porters in a wide variety of strengths. These started with Single Stout Porter around 1.066, Double Stout Porter (such as Guinness) at 1.072, Triple Stout Porter at 1.078 and Imperial Stout Porter at 1.095 and more. As the 19th century progressed, the porter suffix was gradually dropped.
The large London porter breweries pioneered many technological advances, such as the use of the thermometer (about 1760) and the hydrometer (1770). The use of the latter transformed the nature of porter. The first porters were brewed from 100% brown malt. Now, brewers were able to accurately measure the yield of the malt they used, and noticed that brown malt, though cheaper than pale malt, only produced about two-thirds as much fermentable material. When the malt tax was increased to help pay for the Napoleonic War, brewers had an incentive to use less malt. Their solution was to use a proportion of pale malt and add colouring to obtain the expected hue. When a law was passed in 1816 allowing only malt and hops to be used in the production of beer (a sort of British Reinheitsgebot), they were left in a quandary. Their problem was solved by Wheeler's invention of the almost black (kilned) patent malt in 1817. It was now possible to brew porter from 95% pale malt and 5% patent malt, though most London brewers continued to use some brown malt for flavour.
Until about 1800, all London porter was matured in large vats, often holding several hundred barrels, for six to 18 months before being racked into smaller casks to be delivered to pubs. Ageing all porter was found to be unnecessary. A small quantity of highly aged beer (18 months or more) mixed with fresh or "mild" porter produced a flavour similar to that of aged beer. It was a cheaper method of producing porter, as it required less beer to be stored for long periods. The normal blend was around two parts young beer to one part old.
After 1860, as the popularity of porter and the aged taste began to wane, porter was increasingly sold "mild". In the final decades of the century, many breweries discontinued their porter, but continued to brew one or two stouts. Those that persisted with porter, brewed it weaker and with less hops. Between 1860 and 1914, the gravity dropped from 1.058 to 1.050 and the hopping rate from two to one pound per 36-gallon barrel.
The 20th and 21st centuries
During the First World War in Britain, shortages of grain led to restrictions on the strength of beer. Less strict rules were applied in Ireland, allowing Irish brewers such as Guinness to continue to brew beers closer to prewar strengths. English breweries continued to brew a range of bottled, and sometimes draught, stouts until the Second World War and beyond. During the Second World War, because of the Irish Free State's official policy of neutrality, this period was not technically considered wartime, but the country suffered similar resource scarcities and consequent rationing to the United Kingdom, thus this period was officially named the Emergency there. They were considerably weaker than the prewar versions (down from 1.055–1.060 to 1.040–1.042) and around the strength that porter had been in 1914. The drinking of porter, with its strength slot now occupied by single stout, steadily declined, and the last porter was produced in 1941.
The Anchor Brewing Company started brewing a porter in 1972, and was bottled in 1974 that kickstarted the revival of the style which began in 1978, when the Penrhos microbrewery introduced a porter. A little later, Timothy Taylor began to brew a porter, as well. Now, dozens of breweries in Britain are making porter, with Fuller's London Porter winning gold and silver medals at the 1999, 2000 and 2002 International Beer and Cider Competitions, and CAMRA's Supreme Champion Winter Beer of Britain silver medal in 2007, with Wickwar Brewery's Station Porter winning gold in 2008.
Many breweries brew porters in wide varieties, including pumpkin, honey, vanilla, plum, and chocolate. Specialized porter brews continue the tradition of ageing in barrels, and the use of bourbon barrels is not uncommon.
Porter was first brewed in Ireland in 1776 and, although Arthur Guinness did not start brewing until 1787, he had phased out all other types of beer from his Guinness Brewery by 1799. Beamish and Crawford in Cork and Murphy's Brewery followed suit and abandoned ales in favour of porter. The move from porter to stout was made when Arthur Guinness realised that he would pay less tax if he used unmalted and roasted barley in his beer.[dubious ]
In Ireland, especially Dublin, the porter was known as "plain porter" or just "plain". This is the drink referred to in Flann O'Brien's poem "The Workman's Friend": "A pint of plain is your only man." By contrast, extra-strong porter was called "stout porter". The last Guinness Irish porter was produced in 1974, though the company launched a "revival" based upon a 1796 recipe in 2014.
After the invention of malted barley roasted until black to impart a darker colour and distinct burnt taste to the beer in 1817, Irish brewers dropped the use of brown malt, using patent malt and pale malt only, while English brewers continued using some brown malt, giving a difference in style between English and Irish porters.
Today, porter remains an important style in the burgeoning Irish craft-beer scene. A number of notable Irish craft breweries such as Trouble Brewing in Kildare produce highly regarded interpretations of the style. As with Guinness stout, many porters from Irish craft breweries are carbonated with nitrogen/CO2 blends when served on draught. However, all-CO2 carbonation remains more common for canned and bottled variations.
Porter was being commercially brewed in the United States in the 18th century, especially in New England and Pennsylvania. After the introduction of lagers in the United States in the 1850s, breweries began brewing their porters with lager yeast rather than a top-fermenting one. In addition, these American porters often included adjuncts such as maize, molasses, and Porterine. Porterine was developed in America as a brewer's tool, added in the wort of lighter beers, to add colour and flavour to emulate that of a porter. Porterine is made from the slow cooking of corn syrup, which concentrates the sugars in the substance. With this concentration comes the caramel-like colour and consistency of Porterine. With the advent of the craft brewing movement, many microbreweries produce porters and stouts with traditional methods, as well as the American techniques.
Baltic porter is a version of imperial stout that originated in the Baltic region in the 19th century. Imperial stouts exported from Britain in the 18th century were popular in the countries around the Baltic Sea, and were recreated locally using local ingredients and brewing traditions. Early versions were warm fermented until the late 19th century, when many breweries began to brew their porter with cool fermentation, so are technically lagers. Baltic porters typically have a minimum gravity of 18° plato and a high alcohol content, even over 10% ABV. They are produced in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden, and the United States.
Baltic porter is a specialty of many Polish breweries, with the country's oldest being produced by Żywiec in 1881. Finland's Sinebrychoff has been brewing Baltic porters in Helsinki since the 1860s, while Estonia's Põhjala is a newcomer specialising in barrel-aged porters. In Denmark the word "porter" is synonymous with "imperial stout" and Wiibroe's Baltic porter (now brewed by Carlsberg) is known by both names. Porter was brewed in Germany from 1853 until 1990, when production ceased in East Germany after reunification. In 1998, the Hoepfner brewery of Karlsruhe resumed production of an old recipe. It was followed by other brewers such as Neuzeller Kloster Brewery and Bergquell Brewery who brew an 8% abv Baltic porter.
Baltic Porter Day, started in Poland in 2016 by Marcin Chmielarz, is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of January.
Porters of the Baltic region
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