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10 best porters and stouts

Join the dark side with a classic-style winter warmer

Richard Hood,Nick Moyle
Monday 31 October 2016 14:17

With winter drawing in, drinkers’ thoughts start turning towards darker beers, their taste buds craving the roasted coffee and chocolate flavours that are ideally suited to comfort-supping in front of a crackling log fire.

The most common of these winter brews is porter, a beer that became popular among 18th Century London river porters and was, for a while, the most guzzled style in the land.

Over the years the style has been adapted to include numerous dark variations – including the more robust stout porters (commonly abbreviated to simply ‘stout’) and the booze-laden ‘Imperial’ and ‘Baltic’ porters – and is now brewed and enjoyed throughout the world. Regardless of name, we’ve opened up all of its variants for consideration in this list: so long as they’re black.

Here in the cosy IndyBest snug we love good porters and stouts, and have regularly featured star performers in previous round-ups. Marble’s ‘Chocolate Marble’, Fullers ‘London Porter’, Bell’s ‘Expedition Stout’ and Kernel’s ‘Dry Stout’ are just four to have received high praise already, so no need to repeat them in this list. Instead you’ll find ten new and tremendously tasty doses of dark booze, each one a worthy drop with which to welcome the advent of winter.

1. Samuel Smith, Taddy Porter, 5%: £2.69 for 500ml, Beers of Europe

Taddy Porter is a Yorkshire beer from a bygone era with sweet roasted malt and musky yeast aromas summoning images of pubs with nicotine stained walls and smoky log fires. Beneath a creamy tan head, figgy fruits and a dry, chalky bitterness await. A classic beer – who says they don’t make ‘em like they used to?

Buy now

2. 3 Fonteinen, Zwet.Be, 7%: £4.25, for 330ml, Beer Gonzo

Some beer historians suggest the original London porters would’ve had a sour twang to them, so perhaps this Belgian version is more authentic than it first seems. It has a distinctive aroma of Belgian wild yeast and presents some overripe cherry flavours before more familiar porter characteristics ease their way in. Uniquely, brilliantly Belgian.

Buy now

3. Hitachino, Espresso Stout, 7%: £3.69 for 330ml, Beer Hawk

This Japanese brewer decided its recipe for Russian Imperial stout was not nearly stout enough, so went out and made something so black and viscous, you could stand a spoon in it. Coffee bean additions bring an eye-opening caffeine hit – intense, dark chocolate flavours swirl in the inky vortex along with dark, ripe fruits and a flicker of vanilla. It’s a ridiculously rich, opulent treat.

Buy now

4. Truman’s Brewery, London Keeper, 8%: £19.99 for 750ml, Truman’s Brewery

There’s a reason for the hefty price tag. This is a launch beer from a new brewery resurrecting London’s famous Truman’s name and, like a fine wine, it’s designed to age – for up to a decade, according to the brewery. The beer is a double export stout, brewed to an 1880 Truman’s recipe, and is silky smooth with treacly chocolate flavours that have been sprinkled with nutty, bitter magic. A very special treat: call it an investment.

Buy now

5. Oskar Blues, Ten FIDY, 10.5%: £6.50 for 330ml, Beer Gonzo

Americans love brewing rollockingly strong booze so it’s no surprise they’ve taken to Imperial dark beers like drunken ducks to firewater. Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter and Evil Twin Lil’ B are worth investigating but we suggest you summon the courage to tackle this, the blackest of stouts from North Carolina. It’s a beast of a brew, securely contained in a shiny black can: release it to reveal chocolate flavoured bitumen, sneakily soothing with creamy molasses before an earthy bitterness and alcohol warmth slowly numb the senses.

Buy now

6. Founders Porter, 6.5%: £2.59 for 355ml, Beer Hawk

The folk at Michigan's Founders Brewery know a thing or two about the dark arts – their stouts and porters are highly coveted by fans of pitch black booze. This textbook porter pours thick and creamy, with a head that rises from the glass like a satanic Mr Whippy. It’s a robust, indulgent drink with a cast of flavours taken straight from a box of dark chocolates; caramel, cherry, coffee and nut, they’re all here.

Buy now

7. Bristol Beer Factory, Milk Stout: £3.10 for 500ml, Beer Gonzo

Milk Stouts, once considered to be of nutritional benefit to labourers on their lunch break, are brewed with lactose (milk sugar), giving them a slightly sweet and creamy taste to soften the roasted bitter edges. America’s Left Hand Brewing produces an excellent version but we’ve plumped for this full-bodied, bottle-fermented, British offering. Drink purely for pleasure, preferably when the working day is over.

Buy now

8. Five Points, Railway Porter, 4.8%: £2.69 for 330ml, Honest Brew

This is a modern London-style porter from Hackney, brewed with British East Kent Goldings hops and full of coffee and cocoa flavours. There’s a hint of chocolate fudge sweetness to help it slip down easily, and a muted dry, bitter finish to tempt you into pouring some more.

Buy now

9. Three Boys, Oyster Stout, 6.5%: £5.40 for 500ml, Beer Hawk

It may contain shellfish, but there’s nothing fishy about this award-winning booze from Three Boys Brewery. Pacific Bluff oysters add muscle to this full bodied stout, and bring with them a smoky brininess that accentuates sweet malts and a subtle boozy, bitter finish. Another world beating all-black from New Zealand.

Buy now

10. Titanic, Plum Porter, 4.9%: £2.09 for 500ml, Waitrose

Raise a glass and sink this Titanic if you want to be taken on a plum ride courtesy of Stoke-on-Trent’s fruitiest brewer. Containing actual fruit juice, it gives off huge aromas of plums and tastes like a beery breakfast of jam on toast with coffee – those roasted and bitter notes lingering in the background allow the fruit to show off.

Buy now

Verdict

There are some amazing modern porters available from countries as diverse as Japan, America, Belgium and New Zealand, but we think it’s Taddy Porter, a classic British beer, that deserves to take the dark beer crown.

Nick Moyle and Richard Hood are the Two Thirsty Gardeners. Their book, Brew it Yourself, is out now

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