Behind the Barrels: Baltic Porter

Beer is a magical beverage, as old as human civilization and constantly changing with the times. Join us for a glimpse of beer's storied (and sometimes sordid) past and a peek behind the curtain at the process of beer-making as we break down what makes beer so dang awesome.

By now, the story behind IPAs is pretty well known--pale ales were made with higher alcohol and more hops to better survive the sea voyage from England to India. But before there were IPAs, there were Baltic Porters.

Back in the 1700s, porter was king. The first large scale industrial breweries sprung up in London to crank out cask after cask, and it wasn’t long before other countries caught on to the porter craze. Catherine the Great was reportedly enamored with the dark British beer, and London porter makers began brewing an extra strong version to meet her royal demand. Ships carrying precious porter made the trek to Russia, passing through the Scandinavian countries bordering the Baltic Sea.

Pale ales replaced porters as the most popular beer in London during the 1800s, but beer drinkers still clamored for high strength dark brews in the colder Eastern climates. Scandinavian and Eastern European beermakers picked up the tradition, brewing their own Baltic porters and adding new touches--some swapped the traditional British hops and barley for German varieties, and others turned to cooler fermenting lager yeast to create a softer, cleaner brew than their London-based counterparts.

Several of the earliest Baltic-based porter brewers are still brewing today, though the style was pretty much forgotten on the west side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. 

Our own Baltic Porter, Batch 30, falls somewhere between the two traditions. Half of this batch spent a year aging in red wine barrels, and was blended with freshly brewed Baltic Porter before bottling. This mix of young and aged beer is rich with chocolaty malt and dried cherry flavors--created by the barrel flavors and the warm temperature-loving ale yeast, not by any actual fruit in the brew. It’s smoother and sweeter than a stout, without any of the coffee-like roastiness, and more reminiscent of red wine than the flavors you may expect from a dark beer.