Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 21
Let's try some porters
Jan. 25, 2001
One of the most obvious approaches to hosting a beer tasting with a theme is
to build it around a single style. We'll show you how -- in this case with
examples from the porter family.
We decided on porter because Hoepfner Porter from Germany is January's
selection from the Michael Jackson Real Beer Tour -- and we do in-office
tastings of the beer the club offers each month. (A bit of full disclosure:
Since the club is part of Real Beer we have a financial interest in having
you and your friends join.) While we guarantee you'll like the beer, if you
don't have it on hand you can still enjoy this tasting.
The history of porter is long and interesting. Jackson writes: "... no style
of beer is so shadowy and elusive. It is not a spirit, but it is a recurrent
ghost among beers." Because porter -- perhaps called that because of its
popularity with workers who toiled in the produce markets of London -- hit
its stride in the 1700s at the same time a national transportation network
came into existence in Great Britain, it became the first nationwide style of
beer anywhere in the world.
Porter gave birth to stout, stout became more popular and better known and
porter virtually disappeared from the face of the earth. While American
microbrewers played an essential role in reviving the style, they also
sparked U.S. interest in porters from other countries -- and we learned that
great porters were also made outside of England.
You aren't going to be able to find all these porters in your local store,
but that's OK because you'd overwhelm your taste buds if you did. There also
may be other porters, particularly some brewed locally, you will want to
We do suggest, however, that you try to get at least one from each of four
groups. Just don't expect the beers within any one group to be exactly alike.
The Okocim Porter, for instance, is a hefty 8.1% alcohol by volume and truly
a restorative beer. The Saku is lighter in body, more refreshing than
Continental porters: Hoepfner Porter (Germany), Saku Porter (Estonia)
Okocim Porter (Poland), Zwiec Porter (Poland).
British porters: Fuller's London Porter, Flag Porter. (Note: The Flag Porter
is brewed with a yeast retrieved in 1988 from a ship that sunk off the
southern coast of England in 1825, pretty much at the height of the London
American porters A: Left Hand Black Jack Porter (Colorado), Portland Haystack
Black Porter (Oregon), Bert Grant's Perfect Porter (Washington), Bell's
American porters B: Full Sail Imperial Porter (Oregon), Great Lakes Edmund
Fitzgerland Porter (Ohio). For competition purposes, American porters are
divided into two categories: brown and robust. These two are robust enough to
be easily mistaken for stouts. They are beers your taste buds won't forget
for a while.
As always, we suggest you scribble down a few notes as you try the beers.
Compare the sweetness, the chocolate notes (in the aroma, the palate?), the
body, if you find a beer roasty, coffee-like, even burnt. If you have two
American porters on hand, compare them to each other, then to their porter
cousins. The American porters use a top-fermenting yeast, the Hoepfner a bottom-fermenting yeast. Notice a difference in fruitiness?
Don't be shy about discussing what you taste with others at the table. You'll
be surprised what you'll learn.
Brewed by Hoepfner Brewery in Germany
Michael Jackson's tasting notes:
Mahogany to black color; smooth, toffeeish, palate; powerful "burnt"
character enwrapped in a rounded finish.
Brewed by the Elgood Brewery in England
Tasting notes from Roger Protz:
The beer is enormously complex. It has a dark, tangy, slightly smoky and
nutty aroma underpinned by Fuggles hop pepperiness. In the mouth there is a
distinct bitter fruitiness reminiscent of blood oranges, and the finish is
rich in fruit, hops and bitter chocolate and becomes intensely dry.