Beer Education: Porter

(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. Cloudspotter members.) 

Here at Stormcloud Brewing Company, we currently have an exciting new beer on tap – our Londonesque Porter. This beer is styled after the historical British-Style Brown Porter, but with a tasty Stormcloud twist: Belgian yeast and Michigan hops. The Oxford Companion to Beer describes porter as,“a type of dark beer that first saw life in the 1700s, built London’s greatest breweries, slaked the thirst of America’s revolution-minded colonists, and then traveled the world, morphing as it went to meet the changing needs of time and place.”¹ The Complete Beer Course also states that, “Great Britain’s porter [was the] the launching pad for every dark brew.”² Since the porter has done so much, I want to share with you a bit more about it.

It all began in London in the 1700s, when the city’s water was such that it favored the production of brown rather than pale beers.³ These early beers were simply referred to as brown beer, for which several varieties of recipes still exist.¹ Faced with economic challenges, brewers deviated from these recipes for ones with barley malted over wood fires – because coal was taxed and wood was not.³ Unfortunately for them, London’s beer drinkers still preferred the old brown beer, so brewers of this new style were forced to buy pale and stale beer to blend with their existing ale.³ This beer was known as “three threads,” and grew in popularity. It was only a matter of time until someone figured out how to make a single beer with the same profile as these three blended ones. Zymurgy magazine shares that, “according to a legend that has become dubious historical fact, the beer that became known as porter was first brewed by Ralph Harwood, owner of Bell Brewhouse in Shoreditch in the East End of London.”³ According to The Complete Beer Course, “Londoners lapped it up, especially the hardworking Porters who hoofed heavy freight off ships and ferried parcels and merchants’ goods around town”² — which is exactly how this beer got its name. Porter created a commercial industry that enabled beer to be made in such quantities that production costs were cut, generating new fortunes for the new breed of brewing entrepreneurs.³ It was such a popular ale that it is considered the first mass-produced commercial beer.¹ One example of how big these porter batches were: once a vat’s corroded hoops suddenly broke free, sending more than 200,000 gallons of porter gushing out, destroying homes and killing eight people.² In modern America, you usually see two dark beer styles that are similar – porter and stout. According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, “some porters were brewed stronger, either for home or for export. These particularly rich beers were referred to as  ‘stout porters,’ and it is generally accepted that the most full-bodied and stout porters served as the genesis of stout as a somewhat operate beer style.”¹

Color: The Brewers Association’s book The Guide to Craft Beer states that the color range for the English-Style Brown Porter should be between 20 and 35 SRM.⁴ (See image below for reference.) Beer writer Joshua M. Bernstein calls their color “the darker end of the color spectrum: the deep, dark brown of a farmer’s muddy boots or the dyed black locks of a goth.”² I tend to think of the color as something more romantic -say dark chocolate fondue, or the sparkling brown eyes of someone you love. Our Londonesque Porter lands right at 25 SRM.

Aroma: The Beer Judge Certification Program 2015 Style Guidelines assert that the aroma, “may have a chocolate quality” and may also be “caramelly, nutty, toffee-like and/or sweet.”⁵ When doing a tasting of the Londonesque with one our brewers, we noticed gentle wafts reminiscent of baker’s chocolate as well as notes of dark coffee, caramel, and an ever-so-subtle toffee scent.

Flavor: The Guide to Craft Beer suggests that English-Style Brown Porters have a similar flavor and aroma saying they have “caramel and chocolate.”⁴ They also mention a “low to medium hop bitterness” and state that the IBU (International Bitterness Units) should range between 20-30.⁴ Our Londonesque Porter is 30 IBU. The Oxford Companion to Beer describes the flavor as, “predominant notes of rich chocolate as well as hints of coffee, caramel [and] nuts.”¹ During our tasting we picked up on a delightful swirl of coffee and caramel, with a dark chocolate backbone and dry finish.

Pairing beer with food has been one of the favorite parts of may craft beer journey. I love how well flavors can play together and enhance certain ingredients, as well as cause tastes to dance across the palate. With the British-Style Brown Porter, specifically our Londonesque, I turned to some experts for advice.

The Brewers Association recommends roasted or grilled meats, Gruyere cheese, and chocolate peanut butter cookies.⁴ Brewmaster and food pairing expert Garrett Oliver goes into greater detail, recommending several dishes. In addition to grilled meats, he states that, “grilled vegetables on a skewer will team up with this beer, the smoky sweetness of the veggies latching onto the roast in the beer.”⁶ Oliver also shares that, “Good sweet Italian sausages are delicious with porter, but venison sausages are even better.”⁶ Craving a Rueben? You’re in luck! The porter pairs well with “a Reuben sandwich or almost anything on pumpernickel bread, which features harmoniously chocolaty flavors.”⁶ Last but not least, when it comes to dessert, “especially those made with chocolate, porter can really shine.”⁶


¹ Oliver, Garrett, editor. “porter.” The Oxford Companion to Beer. 1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 660-64

² Bernstein, Joshua M. The Complete Beer Course. New York, Sterling Epicure, 2013, pp. 175-77.

³ Protz, Roger. “Porter: The Granddaddy of British brown Beers.” Zymurgy, Jan. 2002, pp. 20-25.

⁴ Brewers Association. “English-Style Brown Porter.” The Guide to Craft Beer. Brewers Publications®, 2019, p. 84.

⁵ Strong, Gordon, and Kristen England, editors. “13C. English Porter.” Beer Judge Certification Style Guidelines. 2015 ed., BJCP, Inc., 2015, p. 25.

⁶ Oliver, Garrett. The Brewmaster’s Table. HarperCollins, 2003, pp. 138-39.

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