Porters & Stouts
Masters Table 1999
By Adrian Tierney-Jones
Everyone is familiar with stout and if you want a pint
of the black stuff chances are youll think no further
than a Guinness. This characteristically dry stout, with
its trademark roast barley giving that burnt taste so beloved
of drinkers and the lingering if subtle smack of hops in
the finish, is king. Guinness is the nearest a mass-produced
beer has come to being a cult with a host of its own traditions.
The stout has to be given time to settle beneath its creamy
head while bar staff often engrave a shamrock on top of
the pint with a final flourish of the tap. You can even
eat it: Guinness is commonly added to that staple of pub
grub: the steak, kidney and stout pie. Its also a
classic accompaniment to seafood. Even in these health-conscious
times the prevailing wisdom is that a glass of Guinness
is good for you. But how many of us know about stouts
older cousin porter, a full-flavoured dark beer with a rich
Porter is believed to have first appeared in the 1720s
in Shoreditch in London. Legend has it that the name comes
from its popularity with the porters working in the area.
By the early 19th century London brewers were building bigger
and bigger vats as demand rose. This was not without its
problems. In 1814, one of these monster containers at the
Meux Brewery in Tottenham Court Road burst and eight people
were killed in the flood of porter that followed.
The strongest porters were called stout porters, which
evolved into todays stouts. They tasted different
from porter because of the amount of roast barley used which
produced that familiar burnt edge to the taste. Porters
on the other hand used brown malt which produced a fruitier,
less drier flavour. As the British Empire expanded, some
of the porters were also brewed for export. These had to
be strong enough to survive the overseas journeys so they
were heavily hopped to resist infection and the alcohol
strength was higher: this kept the beers for much longer.
The exported brews were called Imperial Porters or Stouts
and were especially popular in Russia before the revolution.
Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout (see tasting notes),
Courages Imperial Russian Stout (a classic which was
recently consigned to history) and Edwin Tuckers Empress
Russian Porter (10.5%) are excellent survivals of this robust
However, 30 years ago porter looked set for the history
books. It had started to lost out to stout during the years
of World War One, when the British government banned the
use of dark, highly roasted malts in an attempt to conserve
energy. Ireland remained free from the ban and Guinness
had a clear run for the market. As the years progressed
porter consumption in the UK declined as drinkers plumped
for paler and less stronger ales. Whitbread, one of the
great porter breweries, rolled out its last barrel during
the war. Throughout the 50s and 60s the nearest most drinkers
got to a pint of porter was the sight of the word engraved
on the windows or sculptured on the stonework of traditional
pubs. As for Guinness, it brewed its last porter in 1974.
Porter was dead. Or was it? A new emerging breed of micro-breweries
was to prove this wrong.
These days if you look beyond Guinness and its mainstream
rivals Beamish and Murphys, you will find a wealth
of both porters and stouts produced by micro-breweries and
regional breweries. These porters and stouts are packed
with flavour, aroma and a stupendous, lip-smacking finish.
Many drinkers consider them to be infinitely superior to
the mass-produced stouts which are often chilled to the
point of tastelessness, though Guinness bottled Special
Export Stout (8%) with a nose of roast barley, banana and
fruitcake richness and flavours of coffee, licorice, fruitcake
and hops is a connoisseurs delight. As for porter,
many small breweries have resurrected ancient recipes and
given modern drinkers a flavour of the beverage that was
the tonic for the working man in the 18th and 19th century.
Our Old Growler (see tasting notes) was the first
porter to be brewed in this country for many years,
says Ian Hornsey at the Nethergate Brewery in Suffolk about
their porter which took first prize in last years
CAMRAs Winter Beer of Britain awards. It was
based on a 1750s recipe from a London brewery and we originally
brewed it as a Christmas beer in 1987. It was so popular
that the following year we launched it as Old Growler. The
reason I did it is that I collect lots of old brewing recipes
and Im also a fan of dark beers. Besides, porter is
part of our brewing heritage.
Guinness has the stout market so tightly sewn up that many
drinkers are unaware of the variety of stout styles. Samuel
Smith make a much celebrated Oatmeal Stout (5%) which is
superbly balanced and smooth-tasting and a wonderful accompaniment
to a whole range of foods including goulash, seafood and
bread and cheese. Oyster stout is rarer. Marstons
bottle-conditioned Oyster Stout (4.5%), is a dark, rich
and smooth beverage and exquisite with seafood. The name
suggests the inclusion of oysters in the beer but this is
not the case with Marstons, though extract of oyster
was common in stouts made from the 1920s to the late 1950s.
More recently, Isle of Man brewers Busheys occasionally
make an oyster stout which uses a small amount of shellfish
flesh in the boil alongside the hops.
Finally theres sweet stout, better known as milk
stout of which Mackesons is the most famous example.
There is no milk in milk stout by the way. The sweetness
comes from the addition of milk sugar (lactose), which once
allowed many brewers to put forward their beverages
supposed health properties. This wouldnt do for the
men from the Ministry of Food who in the years after the
war put a ban on the use of the word milk.
Whatever their style, todays revived porters and
traditional cask-conditioned stouts have bags of flavour
and aromas which will revive the most jaded palates. They
are excellent with food or just savoured on their own. The
lighter ones are thirst-quenchers all year round while during
the winter the imperial stouts and porters are great fortifiers.
The last three CAMRA Winter Beers of the year have been
porters or stouts, which certainly suggests that there is
a market. In 1997, it was Hambletons Nightmare Stout
(5%), the following year Old Growler and this year the small
Cumbrian brewery of Dent won the ultimate accolade with
their strong, full-flavoured stout TOwd Tup (6%).
Porters and stouts are the great survivors of brewing
history. So next time you want a pint of the black stuff
think beyond the Guinness.
King & Barnes bottle-conditioned Old Porter (5.5%)
Dark-brown in colour with reddish highlights, with a thick
creamy head. There is toffee, coffee and fruit in the nose
with toffee and coffee following on in the well-rounded,
mouth-filling flavour. A subtle hoppiness in the finish
balances any trend towards oversweetness. Its a warm,
flavoursome and complex beer from one of the great family
Dublin Brewing Companys DArcys Dublin
Guinness has a rival! This young brewery only set up shop
near the Liffey in 1996 but is already been winning fans
with this classic dry stout. Black in colour with brown-red
highlights, it packs a powerful nose of chocolate, coffee
Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout (7%)
Recreation of the beer style which was very popular
in Imperial Russia. It's a rich and flavour-packed beer,
with a deep black-chocolate colour and a powerful nose which
is a mix of coffee, fruit cake and roast barley, while on
the palate there's a complex blend of espresso beans, rich
fruit, hops and malt. A superbly balanced beer with a rich
and warming fruitiness in the finish. Best served in a brandy
glass so that the aromas can be fully released. Is excellent
as a classic after-dinner dessert beer accompanying espresso
coffee, stilton and walnuts, bread and butter pudding or
rich, filling trifle.
Nethergate Old Growler Porter (5.5%)
Named after head brewer Ian Hornsey's late boxer dog, this
is reddish brown in colour with hints of toffee and hops
on the nose. There's also toffee, chocolate and hops on
the palate rounded off with long and complex finish which
includes the pleasing bitterness of hops. Very moreish beer
and utterly delicious. Ian Hornsey suggests that it is wonderful
for cooking, especially in steak and kidney pies as well
as accompanying traditional English foods such as roast
beef and Yorkshire pudding. The brewery also make Umbel
Magna which is Old Growler with added ground coriander seeds.
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