Catawba Beer 101 – Baltic Porter

Baltic Porter

The Baltic Porter is a strong dark lager with a similar history to the Russian Imperial Stout.

British brewers in the late 1700s, seeking to expand their reach into the continental beer market, decided to experiment with their own Plain Porter recipe. An Export version was developed that was stronger and hoppier – natural preservatives to help sustain the beer through its ocean journey to port cities on the Baltic Sea. Thus, the Baltic Porter was born.

Porters, in their early existence, were brewed by blending consecutive mashings together. The style was originally dubbed “entire beer” for its first few decades of existence. This dark ale eventually gained favor with the dock and street workers of London, also known as “porters,” who gave the beer style its slang name that stuck through the centuries.

Once they began exporting to the Baltic region, brewers learned that the journey across the North Sea provided favorable cellar-like conditioning since the journey was cold and relatively short. The higher ABV was welcomed by beer drinkers in the Baltic states, providing fortification against the cold. Later, they sent oak vessels and clarifying agents (isinglass and finings) back to Britain to be used in the brewing process.

Beginning in the late-18th century, the Baltic states decided to take brewing the Baltic Porter into their own hands.

Though the London version would continue to be revered as the best, each region had its own twist on brewing techniques for this strong porter, influenced by the availability of raw materials and varying temperature conditions. The farther you travel from London, the less similar Baltic Porters are to their historical origins.

As the story goes, the Russian empress believed it to be impossible to brew an exceptional porter or stout without water from the River Thames which runs through Southern England. She famously requested that a steady supply of these London-made beers be kept for consumption by her and her court, since she was very fond of them. Even in 1822 when the Russian government imposed a tariff on almost all British goods, porters and stouts were exempt and deemed a critical import to keep the empress happy.

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The Baltic Porter is a hearty beer, dark in color, with relatively high alcohol content (between 5.5% and 9.5% ABV).

It has many layers of complexity due to the fact that it borrows components from a few different styles. Sweet, malty, and robust, its flavor notes include toffee, chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut, with hints of licorice and dark fruit possible. The lightly roasted character compliments the beer’s smooth silky quality that creates the perception of full body and mouthfeel.

Baltic Porters typically use cold-fermenting lager yeast, which is a significant departure from its English ale origins, exemplifying the influence of German and Czech brewing methods in the Baltic region. This new hybrid style served to round out the flavors, resulting in an exceptionally smooth dark beer, which may can take several months, or even up to year to fully realize mature flavors and aromas.

Our Small Batch Baltic Porter is on the lighter side of the style guidelines at 6.2% ABV. This, combined with its smooth bottom-fermented lager character, makes it a dangerously drinkable dark beer for any season. Deep mahogany in color, it showcases the full-flavored complexity of the style, leading with rich malt, toffee, and dark fruits such as raisin, plum, and fig.

Cheers!