Porters and Stouts originated in England in the 17th to 18th Century. Porters came first - stouts were stronger variations of porters. Porters were the first beer to be brewed on a large, commercial scale, and were named for the common laborers (porters) who drank them.
A porter is a malt based beer, primary brewed with chocolate, dark roasted, and caramel malts, which give the beer both its flavor and color. Porters are typically sweeter than stouts due to the lack of black patent malt & roasted barley.
Porters are divided into three BJCP categories: Brown, Robust, and Baltic/Imperial Porter. We tried examples of all three.
According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), Brown Porters should have a malt aroma with mild roastiness, and may also have a chocolaty quality. They may show elements of non-roasted malt character (caramel, grain, bread, nut, and/or toffee). Brown Porters are the original English version, and should use a sweeter and milder English hop, which leads to a moderate-to-none hop aroma.
We were fortunate enough to have two examples of this style - an English and an American - Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter and Left Hand Brewing Company's Blackjack Porter.
Samuel Smith Taddy Porter
Gina: This was one of my favorites. The nose was mild and it tasted a bit smoky. Very balanced and easy-drinking.
Mike: Chocolatey, with a sharp little bite on the front. Roasty toasty.
Matt: Roasty flavor, not much nose.
Kelly: Smoky. roasted, nicely balanced nose, does yummy have a smell?
Left Hand Blackjack Porter
Mike: Light color, malted-milk nose, a little funky. There's something I like about this one. Lingering licorice aftertaste?
Matt: Sour milk of magnesia, burnt, flavor lingers a bit too long.
Kelly: Burnt Tums, oily, overroasted finish.
Gina: This was unpleasant at first, having a sour milk nose and taste, but that mellowed as it warmed up. The mouthfeel was smooth and silky.
Robust Porters are the American answer to the milder English-style Brown Porter. They use more aggressive American hops to produce flavors somewhat similar to the brown porter, but with a noticeable to "moderately strong Roasty aroma (often with a lightly burnt, black malt character)" (BJCP).
This is a pretty wide open style, which is noted in the BJCP notes:
Although a rather broad style open to brewer interpretation, it may be distinguished from Stout as lacking a strong roasted barley character. It differs from a brown porter in that a black patent or roasted grain character is usually present, and it can be stronger in alcohol. Roast intensity and malt flavors can also vary significantly. May or may not have a strong hop character, and may or may not have significant fermentation by-products; thus may seem to have an “American” or “English” character.Our sample of the Robust Porter style was Sierra Nevada Porter.
Matt: Boozy nose floats out of glass, coffee flavor, earthy.
Kelly: Surprisingly great hop balance. Would love to pick up some more of this.
Gina: Light, hoppy nose with a thin, watery taste.
Mike: Soapy nose, bubbly soapy body, watery mouthfeel with a middle and back of tongue bite.
Baltic/Imperial Porters have a "rich malty sweetness often containing caramel, toffee, nutty to deep toast, and/or licorice notes. Complex alcohol and ester profile of moderate strength, and reminiscent of plums, prunes, raisins, cherries or currants, occasionally with a vinous Port-like quality" (BJCP). These are high gravity, high malt content beers that can be brewed as an ale or lager. They are brewed in Baltic countries and are influenced by Russian Imperial Stouts.
Our sample Baltic/Imperial Porter was a vintage 2000 Sinebrychoff Porter.
Kelly: Boozy chocolate, similar to breakfast stout.
Gina: The nose on this was chocolaty and smoky and the taste reminded me of Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Very Good.
Mike: 7.2%, Chocolate and alcohol, a tasty combo. Almost barleywine-like alligator of a nose, woody with a watery/slippery mouthfeel. Nice.
Matt: Took one off.
* * * * *
Thanks to Bob at World Class Beverages - particularly Bob, who provided the notes for this lesson.
Click here to access all of the beer school series of articles.