Friday, March 04, 2016

In Praise of Porter. (The Session: Beer Blogging Friday.)

Session 109: Porter The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, begun in March of 2007 by Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer and Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

On the first Friday of every month, a pre-determined beer blogger hosts The Session: Beer Blogging Friday. He or she chooses a specific, beer-related topic, invites all bloggers to write on it, and posts a roundup of all the responses received. For more information, or to ask to host, go to the home page.

For The Session: Beer Blogging Friday #109, Mark Lindner —of By the Barrel: The Bend Beer Librarian— is the host.

For The Session 109—my first as host—I would like us to discuss porter. It seems that this highly variable style has not been done in The Session before.

“The history of porter and the men who made it is fascinating, for it deals with the part that beer has played in the development of Western Culture. Conversely, of course, much of porter’s growth was the result of profound changes in the nature of British society. It is also a microcosm of how our industries have developed; events in porter’s history explain the structure of the modern brewing industry, not only in Britain, but in the other major Western countries.

Porter is intimately tied in with the Industrial Revolution, in which Britain led the world. Through the growth it enabled the brewers to achieve, it was instrumental in the development and technological application of a number of important scientific advances.” (Foster, Terry. Porter. Brewers Publications. P. 17).

I am not talking about your long dead relative’s porter—although you might be—but about all of the variations currently and previously available. Hey, feel free to write about the porter of the future or some as-yet-unrecognized sub-style of porter.

I am not a librarian, and none of my long-departed relatives ever owned breweries (that I know of). But I believe that the history of our heritage —whether beer or otherwise— can show us our common roots and point to our common (or uncommon) futures. Beer as liquid history? To repeat, yet again, this trope: well, yes.

As to porter substyles, I believe there is porterPlatonic or 'I can't define it but I know it when I taste it'— and then there are other things, infused with kitchen-sink ephemera. Give 'em a great name, like Double Imperial Coconut Killer ale, but, please, be honest and respectful: not porter. Modifiers heaped upon modifiers yield differences of kind not degree.

I began brewing at home in the late 1980s. Porter was my go-to brew. In 1992, I trepidatiously entered an enth-generation batch in the Spirit of Free Beer, a contest organized by B.U.R.P.Brewers United for Real Potables— a Washington, D.C.-area home brew club.

1992 Porter (01)

The recipe was not complex —especially as contrasted with today's so-called 'extreme' beers of high alcoholic strength and exotic procedures— but, at 5.5% alcohol by volume, it was flavorful enough to garner a silver medal.

I went on to brew professionally, but porter would remain insinuated in my soul. That bakers chocolate nose; whiff of dark fruit and pine cone; chocolate-malted body; more-ish but not boozy; that brisk slap of a finish.

At the risk of sounding elegiac: is porter dying in the U.S.? I find it harder and harder to find examples on tap or in bottle. If so, that would be a shame: a neglect of tradition and a loss of a delicious thing.

But, then, when I can still drink something sublime like this, I smile, mollified.

Port City is the American Small Brewery of the Year, 2015.
Porter from Port City Brewing (of Alexandria, Virginia) won Silver Medal at 2015 Great American Beer Festival, at which the brewery took top honors as Small Brewery of Year.

  • For ths history and brewing of porter, I read folk such as Terry Foster, or beer-historians such as Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson. I avoid BJCP and GABF guidelines, as they are third-party designs, without the imprimatur of primary sources. I wait for a latter-day vatted example.
  • I will admit that I've cribbed myself. In December 2015, I wrote
    I went on to study at the Siebel Institute of Technology and then brew professionally for a decade. Later, as a beer salesmen, I would never refer to myself as an 'ex-brewer.' The yearning to brew remained too intimate and too strong. Rather, I regarded myself as 'brewer without portfolio.' Good brewing insinuates itself into one's soul.
    ... but porter, nonetheless, was the beginning of that journey for me.
  • Mr. Lindner is a librarian: an essential profession, particularly in today's digital age. My father — whose birthday I honored on 1 March with a Guinness Stout (if not a porter, at least in the family)— while not a librarian, was a lover of books and libraries. Please consider donating to the American Library Association.

  • For more from YFGF:


  1. Should you be in VA this autumn I am brewing a classic porter with Three Notch'd on their pilot system. Should be available in the tasting room in September.

  2. Thanks for your contribution to The Session #109.


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