Monday, October 15, 2007

Now that's a Stout Porter!

It was a good weekend for beer. Amber and I went to a beerfest in Wisconsin Dells called: “Wisconsin on Tap”. The event featured 27 Wisconsin microbreweries and Goose Island, a Chicago based brewery that got in on a technicality: they have “Wisconsin distribution.” I like some of Goose Island’s beers but we did not approve of them sneaking into a Wisconsin only beerfest, and didn’t drink any of their beers in silent protest. We’ll have a full review of the event later in the week, but to prepare you for some of the highlights I’ve decided to give some background on a type of beer perhaps less common than traditional ales and lagers, at least in the United States: stout.

When I first began drinking beer, I didn’t know that porters and stouts were essentially the same thing. I knew they were both similar in taste and appearance, but in my ignorance I assumed they were produced in different ways; although there are different types of stouts/porters, they are essentially of the same family.

Porters first arose in England sometime between 1730 and 1750, depending on who you ask. While some argue that the name porter came from the dark beer’s popularity among workers who carried food and goods through London, others dispute the authenticity of such notions, including Michael Jackson (the legendary beer critic, not the moonwalker). In any case porters were dark beers that generally used more roasted malts.

Brewers often made several different strengths of porter and would use certain adjectives to differentiate between the styles. Stout, long used as an adjective for “strong” beer, was used to designate strong varieties of porter. In fact, Guinness, perhaps the most well known stout in the world is a variety of porter. In 1799, the Arthur Guinness brewery stopped making ale and decided to focus efforts on its porters, one of which, the Guinness Extra Superior Porter, is the precursor of today’s Guinness Original and Guinness Extra Stout. Guinness produces dry or “Irish” stouts, but there are other varieties of stouts as well: imperial or “Russian” stouts, coffee, oatmeal, chocolate, milk and Baltic.

More to come on stouts when we discuss the Wisconsin on Tap beerfest. Now, go to your local Irish watering hole and enjoy some flavor and history by chugging a few pints of the black stuff (in moderation, of course).

Link of interest:

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Colin said...

Great little article :)

I remember hearing that porters/stouts came about from the use of burnt malts, because they were cheaper. Any credibility to that?

kyle said...

I drank too many Porters, now I am Stout.

RyanSimatic said...

From the linked article from Michael Jackson on

It has been argued that sharp increases in the prices of malt encouraged brewers to use less, offsetting the impact on flavour by kilning it more highly and adding more hops.

It seems it was slightly more complex than just a sharp increase in price, but that cheaper production may have indeed been a development factor.

According to

The fabrication of coke from coal in 18th century Britain allowed maltsters to develop a high-heat dried pale malt that had no off-flavors as were common from wood-fired kilns. Taxes on coal, however, made production of this malt more expensive than the brown malt used for porters and stouts. As a result, the lighter colored "pale" ale that was produced from it was more expensive to make, and thus higher in price.

The consistency of these these new pale ales made them ideal for export, which would have reduced the supply in the domestic market. Additionally coke was taxed, which made the production of the pale ales more expensive. Low demand and a preference for export would have for an expensive beer. Thus, the brown malt used in porters would have been ideal for making a working man's brew.

Additionally, economics played a role in the formation of Irish Stouts specifically.

Again from

Taxes–or the avoidance of them–also helped create Irish-style stout. In his book, Classic Stout and Porter, Roger Protz notes that Arthur Guinness II developed his famous recipe by using non-taxed unmalted roasted barley in the place of black malt in his porters to reduce their cost. The bitterness of the roasted barley set his brews apart from those of his competitors in England and Scotland. It was instrumental in making Guinness Foreign Extra Porter Stout, a stronger version that became popular in the colonies. Guinness Double Stout came to dominate the London market. Here again taxes were a factor. As Protz notes:

Guinness…priced Double Stout midway between those of London porter and Burton pale ale, which led to complaints from the English brewers about the tax-dodging activities of their Irish competitors. (page 51)

So to answer your question shortly, yes there is some credibility to that. Taxes and increased cost of production seemed to have made porters and stouts a popular alternative, and Guinness seem to have taken advantage of untaxed, unmalted roasted barley to undercut other British competitors, which in turn developed the family of porter and stouts further.