Blame it on ribs
In the 2010s my partner and I would regularly go to Duke’s Brew and Que ribs restaurant in De Beauvoir Town (an area in Hackney, London). They were ahead of the curve in brewing and selling their American-inspired craft ale. I really enjoyed their American pale ale and realised I’d never truly liked lager if I was honest with myself. I’d just drunk it because that’s what you drink. After a few years and a few trips I finally tried their porter and something clicked. I really liked porter. Another few years later and porter and stout are pretty much the only beers I like.
So for anyone else who’s not a fan of lager but has found themselves enjoying ales, here’s some of the stuff I’ve learned about porter and stout over the years. I’m not presenting myself as an expert - more someone who’s a few bits of internet research ahead of your average porter and stout drinker. I should also say: the most fun way to learn about porter and stout is just to buy some and try them out. I was drinking it for years before I started to get the first clue about what I was drinking, and it didn’t harm my enjoyment a bit. But if you’re looking for where to start, or looking for what to choose next, read on and you’ll hopefully get a tip or two.
A brief history of porter
The very short version of the stuff you can pick up from a few Google searches and a few Youtube videos is as follows. English porter was a popular style in the 1700s. Stout grew out of porter as a stronger version. The first few were literally called ‘stout porters’, eventually the ‘porter’ was dropped and the ‘stout’ remained. Nowadays the difference between the two is blurry and it’s easiest to see them as an interchangeable, collective term. What you’re (mainly) getting from porter and stout is a roasty, dark ale (owing to its common use of brown malt).
A quick guide to types of porter and stout
I watched an incredibly informative video about beer on Youtube. Below I’ve cribbed and summarised their summary of types of stout in case it helps you to think of what type you might like to try first:
- Irish stout e.g. Guinness - easy drinking
- Extra stout - stronger
- Foreign extra stout - stronger still
- Tropical stout - like foreign extra stout in strength but probably tastes sweeter
- American stout - a little more intense (burnt, espresso)
- Imperial stout - strongest of the stouts. A lot of brewers in UK name their strongest stouts ‘imperial’ stout. This is where ‘imperial’ used to describe the strongest version of a style comes from
- Sweet stout - moderate strength, often brewed with the addition of something. Like lactose, in which it’s called milk stout. Yeast cannot ferment lactose. Sugar remains through fermentation. Gives a sweeter, fuller bodied beer.
- Oatmeal stout - Oats will tend to give it a smooth texture.
There are specific types of porter too, with Baltic porter being maybe the most visible. You can find claims at defining exactly what a Baltic porter is but, to be honest, there are always so many exceptions to any rule that it’s not worth worrying about. The thing that all Baltic porters share is that they’re brewed in countries around Baltic sea. There may be a different approach taken to fermentation than you’d find elsewhere. But in any event: there are some cracking porters brewed in the Baltic region and they’re worth trying.
Recommendations to get you going
All that being said, here are some porter and stout recommendations from those I’ve had and enjoyed in recent years.
Beavertown Smog Rocket is a smoked porter. It’s got me into craft porter and stout back in those visits to Duke’s Brew and Que. The brewery eventually outgrew the restaurant (which is now closed) and today is called Beavertown.
I’m a sucker for sweet porter and stout. Hamerton’s Crunch Peanut Butter Stout and Amundsen’s Dessert Series are some of my favourites. I’ve been getting into Northern Monk of late and recently enjoyed their PB&J Cornflake Stout. Lervig’s 3 Bean Stout is something I’ve had many times.
Põhjala brews some cracking Baltic porter. I’m finding them harder to get hold of right now, with everything going on around the world, but you can still get them in some craft beer shops. Must Kuld is one of my favourites.
Closer to home, The Five Points Brewing Company in my home borough of Hackney has their Railway Porter that I’ve enjoyed many times.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just a handful that I’ve had the most often over the years. Cheers!
What are your favourites? Any porter or stout that you come back to time and again?