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The History of Porters and Stouts

The History of Porters and Stouts
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The approaching cold weather has inspired me to write about two of my favorite beer styles: porters and stouts. Often synonymous with winter, porters and stouts have complex and rich flavor profiles often tasting of coffee, dark or milk chocolate, and roasted maltiness. They are dark, sometimes black in color, often with a creamy mouthfeel. My mouth is watering at the thought. Without further ado, let’s dive into the history of porters and stouts.

Dark brown ales had been brewed in London for years before the term “porter” was applied to the style in 1725. It has been said that the name came from the porters, or hard-working people, who commonly drank this beer. English porters are known for their brown malt and chocolate-caramel-malty profile. Fuller’s London Porter is a classic example.

Porters were very popular in England during the Industrial Revolution. At the time, entrepreneurs built massive breweries with steam-powered engines that provided power and cooling systems, allowing for year-round brewing and storing. This was the beginning of commercial brewing and exportation. Large volumes of porters were exported to other countries like Ireland, and by 1779 Arthur Guinness began perfecting the porter.

Simultaneously, English inventors were working on ways to improve the brewing process. In 1818, Daniel Wheeler invented the drum roaster, a device used for kilning and roasting malt. Unlike traditional kilns that dried malt by placing it on a perforated metal floor, Wheeler’s drum roaster rotated over an open flame allowing the malt to cook gradually and without imparting an overly burnt flavor. For the first time, maltsters could adjust the time and temperature when roasting malts. This allowed brewers to experiment with different colors of malt.

Fast forward to 1959 and Guinness has perfected their recipe. With a skillful pairing of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, Guinness Draught with its jet-black color and velvety texture was born. To this day, Guinness is still the world’s most iconic stout. To celebrate three centuries of brewing, Guinness released a 200th Anniversary Export Stout. This stout is sweet and lighter in body than its color suggests, with toffee and chocolate notes and a bitter finish. It’s currently available in 11.2 ounce bottles throughout the Capital Region.

Many breweries tried to replicate the success of Guinness. As more stouts developed, experimentation naturally followed. Brewers began to tweak recipes by adding different ingredients and boosting the alcohol content. As a result, there are a number of variations of the style today including sweet stout, oatmeal stout, and imperial stout.

Sweet stouts, like Keegan Ales Mother’s Milk, are brewed with lactose, an unfermentable sugar that adds residual sweetness. One of my personal favorites, oatmeal stouts, have a silky or slick mouthfeel from the addition of oatmeal. Brown’s Brewing makes an award-winning oatmeal stout. Imperial stouts, like Sierra Nevada Narwhal, are intensely-flavored and high octane.

This concludes our history lesson of porters and stouts. While they are great year-round, I find them to be especially delicious on a cold winter night. Next time you’re at a bar or beverage center, have a porter or stout. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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MacKenzie Zarzycki
MacKenzie Zarzycki

MacKenzie Zarzycki was born and raised in Schuylerville, N.Y., where the beer flows like wine. Now a Certified Cicerone®, MacKenzie is on a mission to further her beer knowledge. When she’s not contributing to gotbeer.com, she’s nursing an unhealthy level of attachment to her dog, Kylie.

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