Just as summer begs one to reach for the cold, refreshing flavors of Pilsner, winter drives one into the comforting arms of porter. Porter, or a pint of the dark stuff, is the perfect companion for a fireside book. It’s the beer of comfort, like drinking a hug.
Porter, in short, is a variation of a pale ale that uses roasted malt. The roasting is important to remember, especially if you shy away from the dark stuff – dark beer is dark for the same reason that coffee is dark – the ingredients have been roasted. And in that, a good portion of the flavor is derived from that roasting process.
Porter gets its name from the porters in England. There are a few different creation stories for porter, but my favorite has always been this: A farmer brought his barley to the Covent Garden Market in London. The night before the market day a fire raged through the neighborhood and all of his barley was burnt. A brewer friend took pity and bought the lot of burnt barley at a reduced price. And since he had so little in the raw material, the brewer sold the beer cheaply to the porters in the market. Soon, the black beer was in high demand as the porters asked for more and more of it – a beer craze was born.
One of the best examples of the original style is Fuller’s London Porter (In fact, it’s often called the World’s Best Porter). Fuller’s is the only independent brewer left in the city of London, and they brew some of Britain’s best traditional ales. It’s a mild beer and moderate in alcohol content, which makes it a great place to start your porter education.
image via PintLog
Here in middle America, we’re lucky to have a few wonderful porters of our own. First, from our friends at Marshall Brewing Company, is Big Jamoke Porter. The Big Jamoke is a “bigger” beer than the Fuller’s, with more intense flavors and a higher hop content. But, if you’re a more experienced beer drinker, this great local beer will satisfy all of your porter needs. It’s widely available on draft throughout the winter, so go out for one while it’s still there.
image via The Thirsty Beagle
From Oklahoma City, is COOP Ale Works Territorial Reserve Oak Aged Imperial Stout. Stout, you ask? I thought we were talking about porter?! In the 18th century, a number of brewers made a stronger version of porter, extra-stout porter as it came to be known. Eventually, we dropped the extra descriptors on the name and just called it stout. So, stout is a porter that is higher in alcohol volume (these lines have been blurred some in recent years, so always check your ABV’s). There was a special stout made for shipping long distances which was even higher in alcohol – Imperial Stout. It is said that Catherine the Great was a big fan of Imperial Stouts – if it’s enough to get you through a Russian winter, it should more than suffice for the worst Oklahoma has to offer. COOP’s offering is not for the faint of heart. You can smell a faint trace of alcohol on the nose and the wood gives the beer an aggressive finish. This stout is meant to be sipped and savored, especially since there are less than 1,500 bottles in circulation.
A few more notes about porters and stout: I think it’s best to drink them a little warmer, especially the Imperial Stout. The colder a beer the less you taste of it, and I think these are best around 45-50 F. Also, put the beer in a snifter or red-wine glass. These beers are full of aroma and the more room you give them the better.
image via The Wall Street Journal
And finally, open your bottle like a man (even if you’re a woman). I’ve been really into horn bottle openers lately, especially this one made from springbok horn. Not only do you unleash a little inner-Hemingway when you pop the cap, it also makes for good protection if someone tries to take your beer from you.
image via Giraffe Bone