A Stout Lineup

Feed your brewing curiosity and discover the history behind stout beers and the porters from which they originated.

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It’s a rare craft beer drinker who has yet to experience the joy of an inky-dark stout or porter beer. These hearty beverages have been part of the brewing world for centuries, but where did these beer styles come from, and what makes a stout a stout and a porter a porter? Both have a long and closely intertwined history, but we wouldn’t have stout without porter, so let’s start there.

A Porter’s Drink

The true origin of porter is nebulous and shrouded in mystery. Because the beverage developed over time, it’s difficult to accurately credit one person with its creation. A common myth claims that porter came about from a mix of three draft beers known as “three-threads.” The only recorded version of this story is by London travel guide writer John Feltham in 1802, nearly 80 years after the first porter was likely brewed. Feltham claimed that it was common practice at the time for publicans to combine beers from two or more casks into one glass, a popular blend being “three-threads,” or three different beers. To simplify this process, a man named Ralph Harwood is credited by Feltham as developing a brewing technique that preblended the three-threads, making the favorable characteristics of the mix available in one cask, which eventually took on the name “porter.” Although Harwood was indeed a real man (a London brewer who went bankrupt in 1747, during the heyday of wildly popular London porter), there’s little evidence to support the rest of Feltham’s story.

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Feltham possibly confused three-threads with the “parti-gyle” brewing practice, an ancient style of brewing in which multiple beers are drawn from the same mash. The first is the highest strength, as it contains the most fermentable sugars. Depending on how many runnings are drawn from that mash, the last running can be as low as 1 to 2 percent alcohol. Porter was often made of a blend of various runnings, possibly leading to Feltham’s confusion.

It’s more plausible that porter came about in the early 1700s as an evolution of brown beer, a common beverage at the time. To prepare malt for brewing, it first has to be kilned. Brown malt was the cheapest malt to kiln at the time, as it could be kilned quickly at high temperatures. The more expensive malts were kilned slowly at lower temperatures, giving them milder flavors. The high heat gave brown malt some unpleasantly harsh flavor characteristics, but also gave it its color and roasty flavor. Eighteenth-century British brewers realized that aging highly hopped brown beer for six months greatly reduced its harsh and hoppy characteristics, making it an affordable drink for the working class. One group of workers who took a ravenous liking to it was porters, whose job it was to carry and distribute cargo throughout the city. They drank so much of the beer that it eventually took on their name.



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