Porters are beers made with brown malts, creating a deep, dark coloured ale. These malts give off richer flavours of coffee, chocolate, dark fruits and caramel, often with some vanilla and toffee swilling around in the glass too. Hops? Not too prominent a flavour here, mainly used just for bittering, and any hop flavour there is will complement the flavours of the malts.
We have our own smoked porter, Portstar Australian Smoked Porter (it won a Bronze and award at the Sydney Royal Beer and Cider Show a year and a half ago) and the smoked element to this beer is one that we are really, really fond of. Beers are “smoked” by drying their malt over an open flame, and burning different woods means the malts will take on different flavours. Think of the smells you get from different woods on a fire, or the flavours you find in smoked nuts, meats and others savoury foods. Smoking the malts is an excellent way to have a subtle impact on the flavour of the beer. We used cherry smoked grain for ours and it helps to enhance the flavours of the malts whilst adding incredible, smoky overtones to the beer.
Porter, more than likely, gets its name from the street and river “porters” who would sell this ready to drink beer from their carts or backpacks. History tells us that it came from London around the beginning of the 1700’s and began its life as a more aged and stronger than normal, dark brown ale. It was the first beer to be sent out of London breweries “ready to drink”. Before this most beer were sent out of the breweries very young and the ageing process was done by either the tavern owner or a middleman.
This style quickly rose in popularity which encouraged brewers to diversify it, thus creating a few different types of porter including: Extra porter, stout porter and double porter. Aging in-house was more costly for the brewers however they found that not all the beer needed to be aged and eventually a ratio of about 2 parts young to 1 part old was established as the industry standard for porters.
With the invention of some key brewing technology in the later part of the 1700’s -the thermometer and the hydrometer- brewers realised that the yield of fermentable material from brown malts was about two thirds that of pale malts. Malt taxed was increased to pay for a war (as that is always when taxes go up in old-time Europe) giving the brewers the incentive to use the higher yield paler malts and then add colouring. In 1816 a law was passed in Britain allowing only malt and hops to be used in the production of beer, leaving our porter brewers with a dilemma. Luckily, a man called Daniel Wheeler invented black malt (also known as patent malt because he was awarded a patent for it). This solved the problem as the brewers could drop the colouring additive and use a small portion, around 5%, of black malts in the mash bill.
These darker beers really get us going with their deep flavours and hearty body. Add the twist of smoke from a beautiful wood and you’re on to a winner. That’s why we tried to brew our Portstar Smoked Porter and are so happy that it came out as well as it did. An Award winner too! Come down to the brewery to grab a stubby and check out our award!