Porter started out as a house blend of beers: bartenders once mixed a number of different beers together for a pint tailored to the individual customer's taste. Eventually a brewer engineered a single beer that tasted like "Three Threads"—a popular blend of old soured beer, new brown or pale ale, and a mild ale. This new beer could be served immediately (it didn't need to be aged at the pub) and produced on a large scale.
Though dark in color, English porters aren't very high in alcohol. They have a hint of coffee-like bitterness from black, chocolate, or smoked brown malted barley, but not as much big roasted flavor as most stouts. A good porter is creamy and drinkable—if you think you don't like dark beers, you should give porters a chance.
Serious Beer Ratings
***** Our new favorite
**** Awesome, worth remembering
*** We'd consider buying this again
** There are probably better options
* No, thanks, I'll have water.
Ratings are subject to personal taste.
Very Pleasing Porters
Original Flag Porter Darwin Brewery, England, 5% ABV
This delicious dark beer mellows out as it warms. It's a little earthy, with a soft toasted hazelnut flavor and a firm coffee edge. We were reminded of heath bars and wheat toast. We could drink quite a few of this smooth session beer.
Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter England, 5% ABV
This mellow, drinkable porter has a smooth malt backbone. There's a hint of dry bitterness and rich coffee flavor. It's not a particularly exciting beer, but it's satisfying and well balanced.
Fuller's London Porter England, 5.4% ABV
This rich, well made beer has cereal-like malt flavors and slightly fruity notes-—we were reminded of chocolate cake with raspberry filling and chocolate covered espresso beans. There's also a whisper of oak flavor in this rich porter. Some of our tasters loved this, though others weren't big fans of fruity tang.
St. Peter's Old-Style Porter England, 5.1% ABV
This porter has a butterscotch and caramel syrup scent. It tastes a bit like a Butterfinger bar, with toffee and chocolate flavors and a hint of nuttiness, followed by a slightly bitter roast finish. One taster thought it tasted like coffee-flavored Nips candy.
Old Slug Porter RCH Brewery, England, 4.5% ABV
This beer is quite earthy and tasted a bit charred. It lacks the chocolate-milkshake flavors and some of the complexity we found in the other porters we tried.
Meantime Coffee Porter England, 6% ABV
While two tasters really liked this porter, several others couldn't finish their small portion. The bold coffee scent is followed up with a chocolate soda and canned coffee flavor—we were reminded of coffee with hazelnut creamer in it. This beer is not for everyone.
Not enough porter for you? Don't worry; we'll be tasting American-brewed porters over the next few weeks. If you have a favorite porter, let us know!
About the author: Maggie Hoffman and her team of tasters are always looking for their new favorite beer. Maggie also writes about cooking in a tiny New York kitchen for Pithy and Cleaver.