What Is A Porter?

We all have our favorite types of alcohol, and most of us have some favored brands of alcohol as well.

What Is A Porter?

If you are young and looking to get drunk, you may reach for the liter bottles of vodka on the shelf, and maybe your favorite of them might be Smirnoff or whatever’s cheapest.

If you are older and looking to get a tiny bit buzzed, you may reach for the wine or the lager, with Jacob’s Creek or Peroni being some of the most bought. 

But if you are from the countries of the far north of the Atlantic – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, Germany, etc. – you may reach for something darker.

Something stronger to match the weather. There aren’t too many beers that are darker than a good old porter. 

But what exactly is a porter? We know of other alcohols originating from these areas – lagers and stouts – is a porter linked to these?

In this article, we seek to answer this question and give you a concrete description of exactly what porter is. 

Porter: The Definition

First, let’s start by defining Porter. A porter is an English style beer that originated in the port cities of London.

It was brewed using pale malted barley and has a strong flavor profile that can range from sweet and malty to bitter and roasty.

Porters were originally made to serve at public houses in Britain to service the workers and laborers in and around the dockland areas.

There are many crude stories of its creation, but they are all tied to port work, hence the name porter.

It should also be noted that the term porter does not just apply to one type of beer. There are many styles of porter that exist today.

Some are quite light, while others are very dark. They can be served warm or cold, carbonated or flat.

The History Of Porter

It is impossible to pinpoint the exact date when the first porter was created, but there are records that suggest that porter existed before the 1600s.

This implies that it could have been around for approximately 400 to 500 years.

The reason for the suggestion of this age is that porter is the ancestor to modern stouts, and they began appearing in the 1700s. 

There are many theories regarding the origin of porter. One theory suggests that the name comes from the word “porter” which means ‘porter’ in Middle English.

Another theory proposes that the name came from the French word ‘pote’, meaning pot. This would mean that porter was first introduced into France, where it was called potpourri.

Potpourri is a mixture of spices, herbs and fruit that is cooked and then set out to cool. Thus, we arrive at the idea that the first porter was indeed a potpourri. 

However, the most commonly held theory – one we mentioned earlier – is that the booze was enjoyed mainly by those who worked in and around the dock or port lands of London and other cities.

These areas were constantly assailed by the frozen winds of the Arctic and North seas and the continuous rains that occur in the UK.

As such, these workers wanted a beer that was heavy and warming to keep the chill off their back.  

There are two main groups of porters: Stout porters and mild porters.

Stout porters can contain up to 10% ABV and are usually served chilled. Mild porters can contain up to 5% ABV and are often served room temperature.

Stout Vs Porter: What Is The Difference?

Stout vs Porter

So now that you know what a porter is, let’s talk about how they differ. Stouts and porters are both types of beers that originate from the British Isles.

However, their flavors are vastly different. While porters tend to be sweeter than stouts, stouts tend to have more maltiness.

So basically, stouts and porters are similar but not identical.

In addition to their differing flavors, stouts and porter have some differences in terms of brewing.

For example, stouts use darker grains and higher amounts of roasted grain. Porters on the other hand tend to use lighter colored grains and less roasting. 

You will notice that stouts and porters share some similarities. Both beers use roasted malts and hops.

But they also have some differences. When comparing them side by side, you’ll see that porters tend to be more malty and sweeter.

On the other hand, stouts tend to be heavier and bolder.

Porters come in a wide variety of colors including brown, black, red, gold, copper, etc.

Their color may depend on the amount of caramel coloring used during production as well as the use of specialty ingredients, like coffee beans, chocolate, vanilla, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, etc.

In general, porters are much more complex than stouts.

Because of their differences, people tend to prefer either a stout or a porter based on personal preference. 

Can you get a porter in the US?

Yes, you can! You can find porters all over the United States. It’s easy to find a bar with a good selection.

The best place to find porter is at your local microbrewery. Many microbreweries make their own version of this style of beer. 

Porter can be a little difficult to get your hands on, and it is often overshadowed by the much more popular stout.

But if you look hard enough you can easily find a porter that will put a smile on your face. 

Best Porter To Buy

The best porter to buy is something you feel comfortable drinking whether you’re sitting down for an evening out or hanging out at home.

If you want to go for something that has some complexity, then try a London porter, something along the line of Fullers.

This is a great option because it’s got lots of flavor without being too overpowering.  

If you’re looking for something a bit more straightforward, go for an American porter, like Founders.

American porters have just the right balance of sweetness and bitterness. They aren’t too sweet and don’t taste overly bitter.

They are perfect when you need something light but still flavorful.


Porters are an old style of dark beer essentially, and they are wonderful to drink on cold winter nights.

They are the perfect kind of beer to have round a warm fire laughing with friends as a storm bellows outside.

If you are looking for a beer that provides atmosphere as well as flavor, then a porter is the way to go. 

Andrew Carr