Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Should Porter Be Sweet?


After attending CAMRA's Revitalisation meeting I needed, er, revitalising.  In the Crown and Kettle I spotted a porter. I was in the mood for dark beer, so ordered a pint. It was very sweet. "Hmm". Later in the Marble Arch I ordered a different porter, again a touch on the sweet side, so I tweeted that.  Beers incidentally were from local brewer, Squawk  and the other from Summer Wine, both great brewers I hasten to add. Nothing wrong with either as such, but just too sweet for me. Another "Hmm". I don't really like beers that are too sweet and wondered if porter should be. Now "should be" is a bit pejorative I suppose and when I tweeted about the sweetness, Squawk Brewing responded by saying "That's just how we brew it". Fair enough (up to a point) and if it sells that way, why not?

But should it be sweet? When you want to know anything about Porter, you really need to consult the oracle. Well in this case the oracle's blog. Here's what Ron Pattinson has to say. Basically if you look at the apparent attenuation of porters when porter really was a thing, it just couldn't have been as sweet as some of the examples around nowadays. Is there a genuine misunderstanding going on here or is it something else, namely the dividing line between what is perceived as fashionable these days - porter - and what isn't fashionable at least by its availability at drinking strength - stout? Of course, nowadays, brewers call it a stout or porter to suit themselves it seems, but the artificial dividing line can often be one that falls between the degree of blackness and the degree of roastiness, though Ron's myriad of tables suggest no such thing. If you do want to know the difference between porter and stout, see Ron.  As far as I can tell there isn't really any, at least in historical terms.

Talking to a new brewer, Ken Lynch from Serious Brewing in Rochdale, he reckons that there is a gap in the market. His first cask beer is a stout at a drinkable 4.5% and a lovely black bitter and roasty drop it is too.  He, like me, likes stout and often can't find one.  His beer - and I have witnessed it happen - flies off the bar.  My two recent collaborations have been dark bitter stouts and they too have sold so well they are repeated. So, not many bitter stouts around, but they are popular when available.

Are brewers missing a trick here?

The only issue in using Ron as a source is that there is information overload, but nowhere that I have found does he suggest that porters are sweet.  I am far too lazy though to read very single article, though I gave it a fair shot until my brain rebelled, all tabled out.

The poorness of modern Guinness also presents an opportunity for stout brewers I would suggest. The photo is a pint of Serious Moonlight Stout.




30 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

The difference is who is your market.

If you're flogging it to Guinness drinkers call it a stout. You are then saying "Not Guinness but like Guinness" which might be enough.

If you're flogging it to CAMRA ale types call it a Porter. You are then saying "Recreation of historical beer". Enough of such types go for that.

The Beer Nut said...

As in so many things, I blame the BJCP. "often has a chocolate-caramel-malty profile" says guideline 13c English Porter, which may as well be writ in stone with breaches punishable by flogging, the way some brewers treat the document.

Dave Bailey said...

Apparent sweetness isn't just about attenuation, although obviously that does impact. Bittering from hops and astringency and roastiness from modified grains can balance residual unfermentable sugars quite well. Additionally, some malts can add apparent sweetness as you well know, reference crystal malt etc.

As for being true to style, I've always been a bit of a rebel against the style police anyway. I do what I want and only change things to make them more appealing, rather than to fit some historic style guidelines.

On the subject of historical records, malt in Ron's tables does not have any modern analysis cross reference. Techniques were different back whenever. I love Ron's work, and it is invaluable, but it is not always easily transferable to modern malt technology.

PY said...

What we need is an imperial session stout.

Tandleman said...

Fine chaps, but none of this explains the apparent sweetness of porters.

Agree of course with Dave, but I didn't want to go into huge detail. It is more the principle and fact that seems odd to me, though Cookie's reference to markets makes a bit of sense too.

Tandleman said...

I should add the BN is correct about BJCP which is another unwelcome intrusion into British Isles brewing thinking.

StringersBeer said...

See also here. But I've got no idea why folks want a sweet "porter" (i.e. cloying and gloopy).

Paul Bailey said...

BJCP?? Please explain for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the jargon.

StringersBeer said...

BJCP is work of SATAN

Tandleman said...

Paul. American thing. Beer Judges Certification Program I believe.

Jon: Some Arsey Twat A Nasty.

Paul Bailey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan said...

Isn't sweetness a way to make beers more accessible to many raised on soda pop and fruit juice? And helicopter parenting? You see it in the stronger beers as well as the fruity IPAs too. Fruit flavoured saison is a rejection of saison/'s core belief system. Kinderbiers.

Alistair Reece said...

Porter has become something of a rare beast in craft circles over here, but the ones that are about seem to get the balance of sweet and bitter just right for my tastes, even if the booze can be a bit much - as much as I love a pint of Port City Porter, at 8% it's not one for lunchtime.

I wonder though if the sweetness is part of the trend I am seeing of toning down the bittering hops in favour of flavour and aroma additions? Sure the IBUs might not change, and there is a sub-set of drinkers that want a 'smoother' beer, but I find dialing back the bitterness ruins the beer.

As for the BJCP guidelines, I think people have forgotten what the word 'guideline' actually means, they were not created to be the homebrew equivalent of Deuteronomy, just because people treat them as such doesn't detract from their usefulness.

StringersBeer said...

Thing is, we're all psychopaths which is why we like the bitter stuff. Regular folks like sweet things.

Matthew Curtis said...

Not a huge criticism here Peter, I like a nice dry stout or porter as much as the next communicator, but perhaps the issue here is that you've based your research on two pints? There seems to be plenty of great dry and bitter dark beers working their way through the pumps at my locals recently. As for BJCP guidelines I'd wager that the majority of small UK brewers couldn't give two hoots about these, instead focussing on making beer that tastes nice. To them at least.

Tandleman said...

No problem Matt, but that's not what I have been doing - that is basing my "research " on two beers, but what prompted the post in the first place, namely getting two sweet porters in a row on the same day in different pubs. That reminded me of other sweet porters I have had - we get them a lot in the Regal Moon - and of my conversation(as noted in the piece) with a brewer of roasty stouts who said he felt the same. Equally I said that if brewers want to brew sweet porters that's up to them.

It isn't an analysis of what dry and bitter dark beers are available, but a thought or two about sweet porters, nomenclature and the lack of bitter roasty stouts. If you come across dry bitter roasty stouts more often, then lucky you, though they won't taste as good unsparkled!

Curmudgeon said...

Taylor's Porter has always been a bit on the sweet side.

Paul Bailey said...

Porter should definitely not be sweet, but neither should it be too bitter. An ideal porter, to my mind, should contain plenty of coffee and chocolate flavours (and aromas), but without the dry, overly roast bitterness normally associated with stout.

What I am trying to say here is the grist should contain a good proportion of amber, brown or chocolate malt, but black malt and roasted barley are a definite no-no. Both contribute an acrid dry bitterness, which is fine in a stout, but not wanted in a porter.

Agreed Mudge, Taylor’s Porter is overly sweet, but then it was one of the first of the revivalist porters. Is it still brewed? It is not listed on the company’s website.

Tandleman said...

Paul. If you mean Ram Tam, it is just Landlord with added caramel. Thought it was still around but maybe not.

Paul Bailey said...

Ram Tam is on TT’s website, Peter; and yes it is just Landlord with added caramel.

I was referring to a comment that Mudge made, about Taylor’s Porter. I remember it from years back, and I know I wasn’t impressed with it at the time. I don’t think it’s brewed anymore; unless Mudge knows otherwise.

Tandleman said...

You know Paul I reckon I was mixing up Ram Tam with Porter. Mind you it you sold Ram Tam as porter, who'd know?

Tandleman said...

You know Paul I reckon I was mixing up Ram Tam with Porter. Mind you it you sold Ram Tam as porter, who'd know?

Curmudgeon said...

I remember many years ago having some Taylor's Porter with John Clarke in Ye Olde Vic in Stockport and us agreeing that it tasted rather like draught milk stout.

Matthew Curtis said...

These days I'm of the opinion that a porter, or any cask beer, tastes better unsparkled when its served roughly south of Derby - and they taste better sparkled when served roughly north of it. :)

Tandleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tandleman said...

Matt you are late to this party but glad to see you join in. I am the way the truth and the light. Been there done that. derby

You are right, except for judging the outcome. The line should be and will inexorably be extended to the Channel.

Tandleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tandleman said...

Matt - I mean you are wrong about Derby but right about south of it. It is an unsparkled town.

Martyn Cornell said...

Should porter be sweet? If you're recreating an authentic 19th century version, probably not: comments on the taste of porter in Victorian years describe it as tart, acidic and sharp. Even "mild" (unaged) porter had a taste that was probably dominated by roasty flavours. By the time we get post-First World War, however, when the OGs had fallen from 1050-plus to around 1036, and it was strictly a drink for old men, I suspect it probably had turned sweeter, which is why the earliest revived porters, based in 20th century recipes, were sweet. As a personal preference I don't like sweet porter either: Fuller's draught London porter, when it firs goes on sale, is always too sweet for me, and I try to wait for three weeks before drinking it, when much of the sweetness has gone and some proper age has transformed it.

Ron Pattinson said...

Tim Taylor's Porter was based on a Sweet Stout recipe. That's why it was sweet. I found it very disappointing for that reason.