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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When the Porters Died

Some facts fail to register the first time. Later, you encounter them again and your world tilts on its access. Try this one on for size: porters died out in Britain. Absolutely and utterly. Kaput. Apparently Jackson, writing about them in the 70s, was doing forensic work. Given porter's near-ubiquity in American brewpubs, I would say the style is in no immediate danger of re-extinction. On the other hand, it makes me hopeful for gose.


  1. You've accessed my axis which axes the factses.

  2. Ron would know better, but I think the last Porters in Britain were brewed toward the end of World War II.

  3. Yes, they died out completely. Which means that modern porters are....a revival style. And that also means the way most of us define differences between porter and stout is also a recent development. With the possible exception of strength, the beers were essentially interchangeable for most of their history. But now we think think of them as differnet and as having differnet grain bills, etc. But that's all because early craft and homebrewers chose to define porter as a different type of beer than stout. Because when a style is revived, it's often done without a complete understanding of how it was brewed throughout its history. So the name is essentially used for a new "style."

    So the whole "stout is roastier and uses roasted barley" and "porter is less roasty and uses chocolate or small amounts of black malt" is a recent distinction.

  4. Craig, triangulating from available sources, I would say some examples were available in the 50s.

    Bill, that's largely true of British styles, but Dublin went their own way. The emergence of lagered Baltic porters is also distinctive. And then you have to include all those crazy sweet stouts the Brits made, which are DEFINITELY their own thing. (Martyn wrote about "meat stout" once, too, which--thank god--also died out.)

  5. We can also thank Jackson for milk stout, oatmeal stout and a host of other styles.

  6. The interesting thing about porters dying out in the UK, is that they didn't die in the US, altho' they did "evolve" somewhat since most of the survivors that lasted until the craft era were bottom fermented- i.e., Pennsylvania Porters.

    Notably Stegmaier Porter (the "classic" version with licorice added) and Yuengling Porter (both fitting the "PP" designation) but Falstaff's Narragansett brewery in RI was still brewing Narragansett Porter and the draft-only Ballantine Porter and Krueger Old Surrey Porter. The latter two were probably the same beer- tasted like a dark (w/porterine?) Ballantine XXX Ale - but were quite different from the Narragansett as I recall - and possibly top-fermented.

    There were dozens more porters from other PA and other Northeastern breweries in the 1940-60's, tho' most had died out (some when the breweries closed, of course)as bottled products - C. Schmidt's, Ortliebs, Gibbons (The Lion), Neuweiler's, Ballantine, Sunshine, Dawson's, Hull's and Harvard and others in New England, etc.

    Likewise, porters survived in Canada up until the craft-era, with the then Big Three (Molson, Labatt and Carling-O'Keefe) all offering porters.

    Certainly, there were many more porters in the post-Repeal>pre-Craft era US than stouts, even tho' the latter could be said to have been better known to the general public. In the early days of the craft movement in the US, it just seemed natural that Anchor and then Sierra Nevada brewed porters, since it was once such a common US beer style. (Anchor Porter even began as a bottom fermented beer, IIRC).

  7. re: JessKidden
    Great history lesson. Thanks.

  8. In the absence of Ron himself, his researches found Whitbread, at any rate, brewed its last porter in September 1940: Fuller's was still brewing porter in 1955 but seems to have stopped then or soon after, and all commentary suggests that was porter's last gasp in the UK. Guinness kept brewing porter (at 1036 OG) for the Belfast shipworkers' market until 1973, when it finally stopped. So between 1974 and 1977 no porter at all was brewed (commercially) in the British Isles. In 1978, however, Timothy Taylor brewed a porter again, and so did one of the "first-wave" British microbrewers, Penrhos.