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.