Baltic porter round-up


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.


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. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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”.)

  6. “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.

  7. 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…

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

  9. 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 …

  10. 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…

  11. 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.

  12. 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 …

  13. 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.

  14. 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 (, who claim to use “open fermentation”, produces decent Senasis Porteris (“Old Porter”, 7%) and Birzieciu stout (8%). Another brewery from Kaunas Horn (, 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 ( 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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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