Porter: the workingman’s beer

By on October 22, 2014

The American India Pale Ale, a.k.a. IPA, is still the most popular style among beer aficionados. But as the seasons put a nip in the air, drinkers usually start looking for something a tad darker to warm their souls. Enter the workingman’s beer: porter.

The history of porter is as cloudy as the beer is dark. Porter, a dark ale made with browned malt, was once said to be a special brew created for the service industry porters. The validity of this statement is questioned by many beer historians; some argue the beer was simply a common form in 18th-century England and as it evolved so did the story of its origin. In the early days of porter, the brew was strong and high in alcohol content, but time weakened the brew where today’s commercial porters are usually around four percent alcohol by volume.

Yuengling’s Porter has become so popular in Pennsylvania that it’s what people receive around the county when they order “porter.”  (Photos courtesy of everydaydrinkers.com)

Yuengling’s Porter has become so popular in Pennsylvania that it’s what people receive around the county when they order “porter.” (Photos courtesy of everydaydrinkers.com)

Locally, porter has a strong connection to Pennsylvania. Colonists brought porter with them from England and it stuck (so much that American breweries outpaced their English counterparts in production for many years). Early Pennsylvania breweries excelled in making this style, none more famously than D.G. Yuengling & Sons brewery in Pottsville.

Once known as Pottsville Porter and now only as Porter (kind of like how nearly every Pennsylvanian orders a lager as a brand not a style), Yuengling’s brew is considered a Baltic porter making it closer to a stout. (The line between what separates a porter from a stout is extremely thin.) Beer historians and writers often consider American porters as a separate style and Yuengling’s porter is a good example why. Yuengling bottom ferments their porter as opposed to the more traditional process of top fermenting found in England. Yuengling’s porter has stood the test of time — while many brewers eventually gave up on the style — because it is a great beer. It also serves as the “black” in the company’s popular Black & Tan. Yuengling’s Black & Tan is reported to be 60 percent Porter and 40 percent Premium Beer.

Yuengling’s Black & Tan is comprised of 60 percent Porter and 40 percent Premium Beer.

Yuengling’s Black & Tan is comprised of 60 percent Porter and 40 percent Premium Beer.

Back in the day, Pennsylvania breweries that mostly made lagers used the same techniques to create their porters, which further supports the necessity for an American porter designation. Also in this state came the invention of Porterine, a beer additive used to create a distinct black color without the use of 100 percent browned malt (additives to replace browned malt happened early in the history of the brew). Porterine is a trade name of “a caramel color derived strictly from corn syrup. This product was originally formulated by The U.S. Malt Company to provide colloidal compatibility with malt beverage protein,” according to Mangel, Scheuermann & Oeters, trademark holder and supplier of Porterine in Huntingdon Valley.

Closer to home, Union Barrel Works in Reamstown offers a great porter. Their brew pours with a thick head, tastes mildly fruity, and gives off an expected malty aroma. Yard’s Brewing Company from Philadelphia has recreated a strong, Revolution-era porter inspired by letters from then General George Washington. Yard’s Tavern Porter is on tap at Bull’s Head Public House in Lititz. The name and designation may be a bit cloudy, but porters are great beers to reach for as the fall ushers in cooler days.

Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at 354-0609.

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