Baltic porter round-up

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A long time ago, we bemoaned the lack of Baltic porters in Lon­don – dark, stout-like beers from Poland, Lithua­nia, Rus­sia and oth­er Baltic states. Light fizzy beers from these coun­tries are now amply rep­re­sent­ed in cor­ner­shops through­out this fair city, but not a hint of the dark stuff.

We’ve always been intrigued by the his­to­ry of these kinds of beers. They appear to have evolved as a hybrid of Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Stouts and “local” (i.e. lager-brew­ing) tra­di­tions. I won­der why the Porter name, then? Did they also owe some­thing to 19th cen­tu­ry porters?

The Beer Judge Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Progamme (BJCP) Style Guide­lines iden­ti­fy Baltic Porter as a style, and say:

Baltic Porter often has the malt fla­vors rem­i­nis­cent of an Eng­lish brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwarz­bier, but with a high­er OG and alco­hol con­tent than either. Very com­plex, with mul­ti-lay­ered fla­vors.

It also reck­ons the style derives “from Eng­lish porters but influ­enced by Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Stout”. So let’s see.

Thanks to the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val in August, and the Pig’s Ear fes­ti­val in Decem­ber, we final­ly got our paws on some prop­er baltic porters. Well, dark beers from that part of the world. We thought that by com­par­ing and con­trast­ing we might under­stand bet­ter if there is a uni­fied style or not.

Utenos Porter – 6.8%

Utenos, from Lithua­nia, are very pop­u­lar both over there and in cor­ner­shops in East Lon­don. Although it’s a dif­fer­ent brand from Svy­tu­rys, it’s actu­al­ly part of the same com­pa­ny, owned via Baltic Bev­er­ages. We weren’t over­ly impressed with their nor­mal lager (a Helles type), but the Porter was much more tasty. Then again, at 6.8% it should be. It was a brown-red colour, with a trea­cly- toast­ed caramel flavour – and not a huge amount else. Not very com­plex at all, but nice enough.

Black Boss Porter, from Browar Wit­ni­ca, Poland – 8.5%

Again, sweet-trea­cle flavours and not a lot else. Quite a heavy body, and remind­ed us a bit of Gui­ness For­eign Extra but with­out the bit­ter­ness. Not ter­ri­bly excit­ing, and we’d expect a lot more for 8.5%. How­ev­er, we would rec­om­mend the “Kozlak” (bock) from the same brew­er. This is a *mere* 5.8% but packs in much more flavour. As well as the hints of trea­cle, there are liquorice, choco­late and cof­fee notes – and it’s not cloy­ing­ly sweet!

Huvi­la Porter – 5.5%

The labels on the bot­tle are all in Finnish, but the brew­ery help­ful­ly pro­vides expla­na­tions of the beer on its web­site here. The Porter is made with British ale yeast (I sus­pect the oth­er beers above are lagers). We thought that it had a sticky but light body, with­out much aro­ma. It tast­ed very roast­ed, with hints of liquorice. Pleas­ant enough, and I’m quite intrigued by the brew­ery and their oth­er Eng­lish-style beers.

Well, that’s all the baltic porters to date. There are more to go, but no more in our cel­lar – we still haven’t seen Okocim Porter for donkey’s years, and have nev­er seen Zywiec Porter in Lon­don. (I had it on tap once in Poland and thought it absolute­ly hor­rid, but that was a long time ago and I reck­on it had been sit­ting in the bar­rel for about three years.) So far, the Baltic porters we’ve had are sweet and not par­tic­u­lar­ly com­plex.

I think I like the idea of a Baltic porter bet­ter than I actu­al­ly like any of the Baltic porters we’ve had so far. I won­der if today’s incar­na­tions bear any resem­blance to the 19th cen­tu­ry orig­i­nals?

PS: Not a *Baltic* porter, but while we’re on the porter top­ic; we did pick up a“Hazelnoot Porter” from the Klein Duim­p­je brew­ery in the Nether­lands, which we rather enjoyed. I remem­ber that the hazel­nut flavour was def­i­nite­ly present, but very sub­tle, and blend­ed beau­ti­ful­ly with the malt and hops. I’d hap­pi­ly drink this one again.

Boak

25 thoughts on “Baltic porter round-up”

  1. So the BJCP think: It also reck­ons the style derives “from Eng­lish porters but influ­enced by Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Stout”. Just shows how much they know.

  2. So the BJCP think: ‘the style derives “from Eng­lish porters but influ­enced by Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Stout”’. Just shows how much they know.

    Sor­ry. Cocked up the edit­ing on the first post.

  3. If only some­one would write the defin­i­tive his­to­ry of porters and stouts and throw some light on the mat­ter.

  4. What an inter­est­ing read. Actu­al­ly, “porter” even exists here in the Czech Repub­lic, in what must be the south­ern and west­ern extreme of the spread of the Baltic porter style.

    Here it is defined by Czech brew­ing law as a dark lager which must be brewed above 18°. For years our only reg­u­lar exam­ple was Par­du­bický Porter (brewed from four types of malt at 19° and fin­ish­ing with 8% ABV). It’s been around since 1891, though a few oth­ers seem to have sprung up in the last year or so.

    Does Par­du­bický Porter exist in Lon­don?

  5. Dont go to the BJCP for his­to­ry, they will tell you some­thing they heard from some guy in a brew­pub who once read a Michael Jack­son book.

    Go to Ron or to Zythophile. The lat­ers book is well worth read­ing, the for­mer should write one.

  6. Evan – thanks for drop­ping by. I’ve nev­er seen that beer in Lon­don, and we’ve been active­ly search­ing for dark beers from East­ern Europe for some time now. Sounds inter­est­ing.

    Kier­an – don’t wor­ry, I would nev­er dream of using the BJCP as a his­tor­i­cal author­i­ty. I always find it fun­ny to see what they think beer should taste like (cur­rent­ly enjoy­ing the dif­fer­ences between “north­ern” Eng­lish Brown Ale and “south­ern”.)

  7. Does Par­du­bický Porter exist in Lon­don?”

    Evan, no it isn’t export­ed to the UK. I picked up a bot­tle at the Pivni Galerie on my last but one trip to Prague and brought it back with me. I must admit, I wasn’t over­ly impressed.

  8. Hi, Jeff. I hear what you’re say­ing about Par­du­bický Porter! Its his­to­ry is cer­tain­ly com­pelling, though, and of course the beer itself can taste bet­ter or worse, depend­ing on how it is han­dled and so on. But I should prob­a­bly say it’s not always at the top of my own list either.

    How­ev­er, the new 18° spe­cial dark from the reopened brew­ery at Kout na Šumav? is in the same style, and that beer been very well received here, win­ning a brew­ers’ award last year. And Pil­sner Urquell’s new Mas­ter 18° dark real­ly is excel­lent. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, nei­ther of those beers are in bot­tles, as far as I know. Thus, Par­du­bický Porter…

  9. Ron – can’t wait to read it! Any chance of a post on your blog sum­maris­ing your find­ings so far?

  10. I’ve got 20,000 words on the his­to­ry of porter sit­ting on my com­put­er, only about half of which made it into Beer: The Sto­ry of the Pint.

    Remem­ber, Poland (and the Baltic states, and indeed Fin­land) in the 19th cen­tu­ry were ruled by the Russ­ian Tsar, so when Bar­clay Perkins was export­ing its Impe­r­i­al Russ­ian Stout (which only took off after the ban by the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment on Eng­lish ale imports, after 1821, accord­ing to the his­to­ri­ans) to the Russ­ian empire, that includ­ed War­saw, Tal­inn and Helsin­ki as well as St Peters­burg.

    Remem­ber, too, that in the first half of the 19th cen­tu­ry the dis­tinc­tion between “porter” and what we would think of as “stout” was still blur­ry to non-exis­tent, so beers up in the 7 or 8 per cent abv area, or high­er, could still be called “porter” rather than “stout”. So it’s no sur­prise to find that what are strong stouts to mod­ern West­ern Euro­pean eyes are still called “porters” by the Poles (and Scan­di­na­vians).

    It’s five years or so since I drank Okocim Porter, but I remem­ber it as (a) hav­ing what seemed a def­i­nite Brett char­ac­ter, sug­gest­ing age­ing in wood­en vats, and (b) deli­cious. I keep ask­ing my local Pol­ish ‘skep’ to stock the porters – if we all push for it, who knows …

  11. Giv­en Boak’s more than pass­able Pol­ish, and the fact that she’s got plen­ty of Pol­ish chums, I can’t believe we haven’t yet laid hands on a bot­tle of Okocim Porter.

    As she says above, she was a cal­low youth when she tast­ed it for the first time, and the pub where she had it was a bit of a dump (albeit a friend­ly, fun dump) so fin­gers crossed she’ll enjoy it more sec­ond time around.

    I *real­ly* want to drink it out of the dim­ple-style glass with pick­el­haube lid, as pic­tured in Michael Jackson’s 500 beers book…

  12. I have a DDR brew­ing man­u­al from the 1950’s with an excel­lent descrip­tion of how to brew a strong Porter. The last phase was putting it into casks and infect­ing it with Brett.

    There were a few brew­eries in East Ger­many that pro­duced a Porter, though I only ever got to taste one. As I recall, it was sim­i­lar to Pol­ish Porters.

    Rick­linger Land­brauerei in Schleswig-Hol­stein seems to brew a Porter using bret­tan­myces.

  13. I have a DDR brew­ing man­u­al from the 1950’s with an excel­lent descrip­tion of how to brew a strong Porter.

    Now THAT, Ron, is why I love you …

  14. Cheers for the porter name expla­na­tion – and there was me think­ing it was just eas­i­er for Slavon­ic tongues to say “porter”…

    Time to step up the cam­paign! I can’t believe all these shops import sev­er­al vir­tu­al­ly iden­ti­cal lagers and nev­er any of the dark stuff.

  15. Thanks for an inter­est­ing post – your whole blog is a great read.

    Here in Lithua­nia, we’re not even aware of exis­tence of “Baltic Porter” as a style. Dark beers are not too pop­u­lar in Lithua­nia (while the same can­not be said about strong ones, strong lagers from 6.5% to max­i­mum legal 9.5% are abound).

    Still the major brew­eries usu­al­ly have at least one sort of dark beer. Utenos Por­teris may be the most known, while Kauno Alus (http://www.kaunoalus.lt), who claim to use “open fer­men­ta­tion”, pro­duces decent Sena­sis Por­teris (“Old Porter”, 7%) and Birzieciu stout (8%). Anoth­er brew­ery from Kau­nas Horn (http://www.horn.lt, for­mer Ragutis) releas­es sea­son­al Hon­ey Porter (5.6%), whose toast­ed char­ac­ter is best to my taste.

    Recre­at­ed Butau­tu Dvaro brew­ery from Birzai, the tra­di­tion­al brew­ing region, is the only one to my knowl­edge that bot­tle non-pas­teur­ized tra­di­tion­al stout-ish beer. It’s called Tam­su­sis (“The Dark One”, 6%), has a very strong malt pres­ence, and is sold in neat 1 l bot­tles. Birzu Alus brew­ery from the same region is one of the old­est in the coun­try, based in 1686. Among a few inter­est­ing sorts (http://www.birzualus.lt/apie.html) it pro­duces dark Sen­ovi­nis (“Olde”, 7.5%). Unfor­tu­nate­ly this one, as well as many oth­er beers from small tra­di­tion­al brew­eries are only avail­able local­ly ad only on tap.

    Com­ing to Lon­don next week­end I can grab a cou­ple of bot­tles of the men­tioned for your test­ing plea­sure, B&B.

  16. Mar­ty­nas – inter­est­ing stuff. The only brew­ery I’ve heard of in that list is Utenos.

    Thanks for the offer to bring us beer – that kind of offer is always wel­come! We’re out of town on a beer-relat­ed jaunt the week­end of the 19th/20th (more about that on the blog near­er the time…) so I don’t imag­ine we’ll have chance to meet up.

    What are your plans for Lon­don? Let us know if you want any tips!

  17. Bai­ley, since we’re on top­ic, what place could you rec­om­mend for a good selec­tion of impe­r­i­al stouts?

    Just tried anoth­er porter which I guess you can call Baltic. It’s called “6”, brewed by Russ­ian brew­ery Balti­ka in St. Peters­bourg. They claim it’s pro­duced accord­ing to an “old eng­lish recipe.” It tastes real­ly good com­pared to the oth­ers I men­tioned, which is sur­pris­ing as oth­er Baltika’s beers I tried were quite crap.

    My plans for Lon­don is to spend a week vis­it­ing friends, prefer­ably in my favourite pubs. I’ll grab some bot­tles any­way and even if we don’t meet they won’t be thrown away I promise.

  18. In Lon­don, there aren’t many places where you can get a range of beers in one style. The Rake near Bor­ough Mar­ket has the best selec­tion of bot­tled beers. The Pem­bury Tav­ern some­times has Mar­cus Aure­lius from Mil­ton on tap, although it wasn’t on on Fri­day when we went. The Dover Cas­tle and the Fitzroy are Sam Smith’s pubs and are the two where I’ve most often seen SS Impe­r­i­al Stout.

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