In the modern world of beer where the trendy flavors come and go seemingly weekly and hot new breweries pop on the scene as quickly as you can add a new beer to Untappd, sometimes it’s good to revisit a classic style that has lasted through the ages.
With the huge amount of competition among breweries, brands often must look for differentiators to set them apart. We’re now seeing juice added to beers, like India Pale Ale variations reminiscent of mimosas and stouts that are (no joke) called pastry stouts. And yes, they taste pretty much exactly how you would think. Even before these innovations, for the past 15 or so years, the craft beer industry has been defined by the bigger is better mentality when it comes to bitterness, flavor, and booziness.
But a palate can only take some much experimentation, and it’s important to appreciate the simple beers in life. In this case, we’re talking about a nice, simple porter.
Some of the best porters and stouts are those loaded with adjuncts, like coffee and chocolate (in addition to the coffee and chocolate malts which already give certain iterations their names), but there’s a certain complexity and satisfaction that comes along with a beer made of just malts, hops, water, and yeast.
Named for the street and river porters that were typical consumers of the beer style when it first popped up in London in the 1700s, porters are generally less bitter and have a thinner body than their stout cousins, making them a great fall beverage. And while there are plenty of bourbon and rum barrel aged porters out there, we’re not talking about them right now. Instead, we wanted to focus on straight-up porter beers.
Here are four excellent, widely-available and seasoned porters — often overlooked in favor of the more robust stouts — made by legendary craft brewers that are perfect for sipping as the weather cools and leaves start to fall.
What didn’t Anchor help establish when it comes to American craft beer? Wanting to make a European-style beer when there were fewer than 100 breweries in America, Fritz Maytag settled on the English porter. Still made just how it first was in 1972, Anchor Porter presents much less roast characteristics than a modern porter and is highlighted by a dark fruitiness. It goes great with sweets, as seen above.
For a brewery now pushing out some of the finest mass-produced IPAs in the country, it can be odd to remember that Black Butte (along with Mirror Pond Pale Ale) is how the Oregon company, now in its 30th year, built its name. Chocolately, light-bodied, and less roasty than some of its contemporaries (and certainly fruitier), these characteristics are what made Black Butte Porter an approachable flagship beer.
Founders is known for some of its big dark beers full of bold flavors, like KBS and Breakfast Stout, but it is beers like Founders Porter that helped build the Grand Rapids brewery into what it is today. Renowned for most of its other beers, few beers provide such a clear stylistic example as this porter, which is full of chocolate and coffee and balanced by a nice hop bitterness. A word to the wise: Founders Porter is far more robust than the first two on the list.
Named after the famed ship that sank in Lake Superior in 1975, Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the fantastic beers made by Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company and is without a doubt a classic American porter. Edmund Fitzgerald is, in terms of roast malt level, the most intense of our four porters on offer. The beer is sharp and nutty, but with a bit more bitterness than even Founders. Still, it’s incredibly smooth and drinkable. It’s an annual tradition for many to crack one on the November 10 anniversary of the ship’s sinking while listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s song about the fateful journey.