By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Porter is a complicated beer, but drinking it is really easy. Porter was one of England’s first beers blended in the 1700s to please consumer tastes, first in pubs and later in breweries. Although accounts vary, publicans blended various amounts of the regular brown ale, young beers and stronger aged ales or sour beers according to consumer tastes. The blends became so popular that breweries began producing aging and then pre-mixing them before sending them off to the pubs as “porters.” Before porters, beer aging had been done in the pubs.
For more than a century, porters were the drink of choice in England in the 1700s and 1800s, finding fans in Russia and the Baltic countries and eventually in America. Wherever they went, brewers adapted the style to regional tastes. Stouts, by the way, began as shortened monikers for “porter stouts,” the stronger version of porters.
In America, porters and stouts enjoyed a popular following, with the name “porter” falling off in the early 1900s in favor of stouts, and then completely disappearing during and after Prohibition.
But obviously, that’s not the end of the story.
A few experimental Western U.S. breweries began brewing porters again as early as the 1970s and several British breweries also revived the style. Today, dozens of Oregon breweries produce porters seasonally.
Is there any difference between porters and stouts? Yes, and no.
According to BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), there are three kinds of porters: brown porter, robust porter and Baltic porter. Porters are described as more malty and full-bodied than stouts, but alcohol content, top or bottom fermentation and color can be the same for both a porter or a stout.
In Oregon, the dark palette of the porter invites as much experimentation as pale ales, prompting vanilla, chocolate, coffee, coconut and, of course, hop additions to the mix.
My advice? Forget the complicated history that brings this delicious style to our shores and enjoy your porter for what it is.
Following are a few Oregon porters recommended by the participants in our monthly blind tasting:
Deschutes: Black Butte Porter, Bend 5.2 percent ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewery Description: An extremely smooth and drinkable porter with notes of rich chocolate and coffee, a luscious creaminess and a roasted finish. Cascade, Bravo and Tettnang hops with chocolate malt.
Consumer Comments: Complex flavors; best of the bunch. Multiple flavors, you just gotta love it. Bright and refreshing. Is there such a thing as a lawnmower porter? It’s this one. This is the best! Could drink this anytime. Malty without overt sweetness. Tastes the way a porter should taste. Outstanding. Bananas, cola, smooth and creamy.
Hop Haus: Cocos Nucifera Porter, Gresham 5.5 percent ABV, 34 IBUs
Brewery Description: Creamy mocha head. Coconut flavor doesn’t overpower. Hints of cocoa and coffee with a creamy finish.
Consumer Comments: Intense, great with Indian food. Nice and sweet. Rich and creamy; a night by the fire. Nutty, smooth. A comfort on a rainy evening. Interesting taste: sweet but not chocolate. Sweet notes. Simple and tasty. A delicious breakfast beer.
Rogue: Mocha Porter, Newport 5.3 percent ABV, 54 IBUs
Brewery Description: Ruddy brown in color, a bittersweet balance of malt and hops with a light cream finish.
Consumer Comments: Lively, sparkling. I’m waking up with this one! The perfect afternoon delight. Crisp and smooth. I could drink five of these. Refreshing. Crisp and good.
Ordnance: Of Chimpanzees Porter, Boardman 5.3 percent ABV, 27 IBUs
Brewery Description: This full-bodied porter showcases locally roasted coffee from Home Town Coffee Roasters. Tasty any time of day.
Consumer Comments: Well-crafted coffee notes. Bitter in the best ways possible — not like writing my alimony check each month. Light coffee and malt flavors. Good coffee flavor.
Silver Moon: Snake Bite Porter, Bend 5.5 percent ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewery Description: A robust porter, Snake Bite continues to win awards with its rich and creamy body, English hops to blend with the toasted malt bitterness and a deep chocolate finish.
Consumer Comments: Light and bright. A little flowery effect. This one would be good with a meal. Nice and balanced. A winner: smooth, crisp and complex. Unique. Enjoying this — toasted marshmallows.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.