Glossary entry for
porter

Porter is a variety of beer, distinguished both by recipe and by brewing process. Falling in-between ale and stout in the continuum of dark and bitter beers, porter is brewed in part from a specialized malt called chocolate (a.k.a. black) malt and from ungerminated barley. Traditionally, porters also contained honey. The name comes from its popularity among the working class porters (menial laborers) of England, the same association from which porterhouse steak takes its name. The invention of the porter brewing process is often attributed to one Ralph Harwood who began to market a product called "Mr. Harwood’s Entire" in 1722.

In the beer brewing process, one or another starch-rich food source (barley, corn, rice, etc.) is germinated under controlled conditions. When the seeds are germinated, a growth process begins which allows the stored starch to be converted to sugar. Nature’s plan here is for the sugar to feed the fledgling plant, as the yolk feeds the chick. Beer brewing capitalizes on this phenomenon to create sugars which are subsequently fermented. These germinated seeds are called malt. Beer brewing developed in colder climates, where high sugar foods, notably the fruits common to wine-making, do not thrive in abundance.

There are a zillion different ways of controlling the malt-making process. These variations, combined with the use of optional fermenting yeasts, temperature management, and waters of varying softness are largely responsible for the differences among styles of beers. The chocolate (a.k.a. black) malt used in making porter is created by wetting and heating malt at high temperatures in closed drums.

Contributed by Mary Berryman Agard

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