In continuing The Brew Club’s English Ale Month, it is time to turn my attentions to a British Classic, Fullers London Porter!
Porter is unusual because it merits its own mention on some pub licences. Every pub in the UK has to bear the name of the licensee and the terms of the licence over the door “Bob The Brit – licensed to sell wine, spirits, beer and porter for consumption on and off the premises”.
It has what can best be described as a chequered history; it is said that in the 1700’s Porter (or ‘Entire’ as it was sometimes known) was mixed from all the beers that a bar stocked, Pale Ale (Bitter), Brown Ale, and an older (often stale) Brown Ale. The resulting brew tended to be dark, flavourful and reasonably potent, if somewhat implausible – I can’t see a busy barman going to all that trouble.
Either way, the popularity of the drink caused brewers to try and brew a beer that fulfilled these criteria (dark, flavourful, potent) and a new Porter Ale was brewed in around 1720 at The Bell Inn, Shoreditch. There were several wells in that part of London whose water was considerably softer than normal London water, and this softer water is a key ingredient of Porter; consequently other breweries in the area started to brew in the Porter style, including Samuel Whitbread in 1742, moving to Chiswell Street in 1750 where brewing continued until 1976.
The Chiswell Street brewery is now a conference centre, with its main room still named ‘the porter tun room’. The size of the room (which can hold a thousand people) gives an indication as to how big these tuns were, and thus how popular Porter was.
Legend has it that one of Samuel Whitbread’s brewing assistants in the 1740s was a young Arthur Guinness who returned to Dublin in the 1750s to brew a very similar dark ale.
Porter fell into decline in the sixties and seventies as breweries turned to low cost/high margin keg beers and lagers, but in recent years a number of breweries have resurrected the style, the best regarded of these being Fullers who brew at the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, West London.
Fullers Porter, at 5.4% is a faithful recreation of the style, it’s full bodied, rich and dark with a complex flavour that reflects the blend of Brown, Crystal and Chocolate malts used, carefully balanced with Fuggles hops.
And as for why this beer is called Porter? Well the perceived wisdom is that it was popular with the market porters (people who moved stuff) at the various street and wholesale markets in the area around the various breweries in the 18th Century -Whitecross Street Market, Petticoat Lane Market, Smithfield Meat Market, Billingsgate Fish Market and so on.
Enough history, on to the Fullers London Porter!
As you can see, on first pouring you’re presented with a substantial amber coloured head, but that quickly subsides leaving a thin head through the rest of the glass; there’s no noticable lacing. The ‘nose’ is one of rich, dark espresso, with the roasted barley really coming through. It actually smells more coffee than many modern coffee shop coffees!
The overall mouth feel is less than you might expect, it’s definitely an Ale, rather than a stout, and is considerably ‘thinner’ than some of the ‘chewier’ dark Belgian ales, but the flavour more than compensates. The flavour is full, with strong dark coffee giving way to bitter chocolate, with a hint of apple and spice… and then the hops kick in and you know you’re drinking a classic.
What I would say is, don’t even consider drinking anything else after Fuller’s Porter, it’s such a blast to your palate that anything else would pale into insignificance.
In recent reviews I’ve tried to be strict, but this simply has to merit four stars, if you find this on the shelf at your local beer shop then you’re in for a real treat. I wonder if it’s available on draught?