Beer has been evolving for thousands of years just based on what is in written history. There is actual recorded history that goes as far back as the fifth millenium BC (5000 BC through 4001 BC). I have no intention of going back that far. Instead, I will start in the 18th century with the growing popularity of Porters.
Beer styles were originally driven by available ingredients, equipment, and water. However, in time as popularity grew technology, taxes and regulations, culture, and consumer appeal among the many factors shaped the beer industry into what it is today.
Belgium and France
Britain and Ireland
Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria
Porter was the first of the British ales. Porter was supposedly started as a blending of both fresh and aged beers that acquired a certain flavor and could be sold for a reasonable price. There is no documentation to support the claim but it said that a London brewer combined old and new beers in one barrel and this is what led to the beer now known as porter.
Porter was prevalent in London by 1726 and actually received its name from the very laborers “Porters” who were migrating to London during the early industrial revolution who embraced the affordable beverage. Given the rapidly growing popularity of porter beer, especially among the working class, it did not take long for it to have a tremendous economic impact. By 1780 some of the largest businesses in England were porter brewers. Some of the brewers were even as valuable as banks in terms of total capitalization.
Porter was the first beer to be industrially produced in large breweries for the masses. It grew in size by utilizing the very same marketing strategies still employed today, such as product lines and brand recognition.
Porter was originally made from cheap brown malt, which made it very inexpensive to produce. The malt was dried directly over a wood fire. Naturally, this charred and burned the malt, which gave it a smokey characteristic. Over time technological advances allowed for pale malts to be used. Thus, reducing the cost of production even more. However, there was a drawback. By using mostly pale malt and a little brown malt this caused the color of the porter to lighten. Since most people are unfamiliar with the brewing process this caused concern among consumers that the quality of the porter was not as good. Despite this not being true, to convince consumers that the porter was as potent as it always had been some producers used additives such as opium, hemp, and the juice of a berry used by fishermen in India to stun fish. As you can imagine these ingredients are no longer used as additives in today’s porters.
Thanks to Daniel Wheeler the roasting drum was invented in 1817. This allowed for pale malt to be roasted into what is called “Black Patent Malt.” Therefore, restoring the coloring to porter beer without requiring the additives.
The two most common porter profiles you will find are Brown Porter and Robust Porter.
- Normal ABV (4.0 – 5.4%)
- Brown coloring (who would have thought?)
- Moderate bitterness
Brown porter is typically toasty and nutty with some caramel notes and little to no hop flavor. This allows for a malty to slightly bitter flavor profile. There are also mild to moderate “roastiness” notes.
- Normal to Elevated ABV (4.8 – 6.5%)
- Brown to black coloring (again, no great mystery here)
- Pronounced bitterness (25 – 50 IBUs)
Robust porter, unlike the brown porter, uses black malt in its recipe. This creates a noticeable roasty flavor, which can also be accompanied by caramel or chocolate notes. However, the higher bitterness tends to prevent any sweet flavor coming through.
Relatively inexpensive malt originally primarily used in the production of porters. The malt is dried and burnt or charred to give it a smokey flavor. Brown malt eventually was mixed with pale malt to make porter production more cost effective. It was eventually almost completely replaced all together when Daniel Wheeler invented the malt roasting drum in 1817. This allowed producers to make porters with 90% pale malt while still preserving the coloring that distinguished a porter from other ales.
Traditionally characterized with contributing piney, citrus, resiny, tropical fruit, and catty flavors.
Traditionally characterized with contributing earthy, herbal, and woodsy flavors.
German and Czech Republic
Traditionally characterized with contributing floral, perfumy, peppery, and minty flavors.