Today we do not often hear the term Porter, but at one time it was the most popular beer in England, it was even rumored to be the favorite beer of George Washington. Porter brewing started around the late 18th Century and it was the time of Industrial Revolution when the world was rapidly transforming. Porter revolutionized brewing, as before then there was no common beer or large-scale breweries. Most of the brewing trade centered around home brewing or small pubs. And the pubs in London offered beers brewed on the premises including strong beer, aged beer and freshly brewed beer and patrons drank blends of the three. One common drink at the time was known as Three Threads.
The Myth of Porter
A common myth about the beginnings of Porter is that the pub landlords were getting sick of mixing up the different brews that they decided to create a beer similar to Three Threads that they called Porter. But this has been refuted by historians who say the most likely explanation was that the breweries making brown beer improved their recipe due to competition and this was the first Porter.
The First Porters
This new drink had more hops and was aged longer which gave its distinctive dark brown / black color. The actual name “Porter” was taken from the numerous London porters who took to the new beverage immediately and made it highly popular.
The Importance of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution made an instant impact on brewing in the UK. Massive breweries started to be constructed and it has been said that one brewery’s vat was big enough to hold two hundred people. The new steam engines of the day were used for power which allowed for twelve months of brewing so there was a constant and non-stop supply of beer. This period ended the small pub breweries and was the start of what we know today as commercial brewing.
Due to the improved transportation network of the Industrial Revolution it made it far easier for these giant breweries to transport their beer throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. But still there were some small regional breweries that found it hard to exist against this new cheap Porter. So the answer was to make Porter themselves and learn to compete, one such brewery was Arthur Guinness and they improved their Porter into a beverage called Stout-Porter. Within a century the Guinness brewery became the largest in the world.
The Demise of Porter
Porter remained immensely popular right into the 19th Century, when European beers such as pilsners and pale ales started to become really popular. If people wanted to drink dark beer, then stout was rising to the fore and Porter became less and less popular. Regional favorites were beers such as mild and brown ale and were really popular in the northern parts of the country. Beer drinkers now had a real choice of different kinds of beers to drink but Porter paved the way for the rest to follow.