A Spiced Porter Made to Order


I have discussed blending of beers off and on for years, on this site since starting it July 2015, and before that on discussion boards and others’ blogs.

By blending, I mean the home blending of beers. The tradition of blending at the bar is old and well-established: the light-and-bitter, the bitter tops, the half and half, the Snakebite (has a cider element), the Black and Tan, list goes on.

The Calgary Red-Eye, which contains tomato juice, is a type of blend that Canada invented or at least popularized a long time ago, certainly in the pre-craft days. It is referred to in The Great Canadian Beer Book, a Toronto publication from c. 1975 I have discussed before.

The tomato is technically a fruit, yet few brewers to my knowledge have produced a Red-Eye among their range of fruit-flavoured beers. Time for a revival surely. I can foresee Red-Eyes that blend, say a tomato juice and two different forms of ale. Only the imagination limits the variations, and flavour-palette, possible.

At one time beer blends were popular at the bar but one encounters them less often today, here or in the U.K. It is a result of fashion more than anything else, but for this reason probably, doing similar at home has fallen out. Yet, the logic is as good as ever.

Many still consider it somehow wrong or a makeshift practice. It is not, in our view, as the main elements of beer are similar enough – malt, hops, yeast –  that combining different products simply “re-orders” the elements into a new and often pleasing combination.

Brewers have blended commercially for ages, it is too well established to document for the scope of these notes. For example, three threads and other numbered thread beers (two, four, etc.), on which we have written extensively, were at the basis of porter. (Some disagree with that, but we are firmly convinced of the link for many reasons, as discussed here and in other forums over the years).

Blending beers in this way can be likened to brewing itself, where different malt and hops are combined to obtain a pleasing unity of flavours. Brewing is a form of cooking, and blending finished beers at home is a form of kitchen art, just as making a smoothie is from fruit, milk, yogurt, spices, etc.

Some consider that beers of one brewery only should be blended but extensive trial shows us that beers from any source can be combined, provided only the final result is pleasing. For one thing, beers from one brewery may differ in yeast type used or other aspects so much that combining products from different sources achieves like with like more, were that the object.

Recently we combined Imperial and export stouts from Ontario and a London Porter with a (local) pumpkin ale, to excellent effect. Each contributed a valuable element in the mix even as each was pleasing on its own.

It made a kind of spiced porter, which has an independent history anyway if validation was needed (but it isn’t). If such a drink was presented as a usual finished beer to any drinker familiar with the style, a pumpkin or spiced porter, say, few would consider it wrong-tasting; au contraire. But anyone can do this, it is not rocket science.

I do it sometimes to use up ends of bottles and cans, but often to get a specific result from freshly opened containers. The carbonation in stored, partly filled containers is usually more than satisfactory as I close the bottles with temporary closures. The cans, left on their own, hold enough residual carbonation to make a good contribution to the result, even after standing a few days.

This avoids, too, wasting beer by discarding it, which saves resources and money, a preoccupation of our times.

It’s all malt, it’s all hops, and the other usual things that go in beer. One can re-arrange them to please one’s palate but apart professional or home brewers, few try it in my experience, even old hands at the beer glass. It really bears more exploration.

Here is an early Victorian reference to a spiced porter, part of a medical account. The context suggests an intention for the mixture to be a specific, or home remedy – the indication was to cure a head-ache. The drink may well have been heated, or in winter.

Spiced porter evidently could be based on a single type of porter, or, as porter was often mixed at the bar of young and old types, on a blend. “Purl”, a mix of gin and porter, and perhaps sugar, was probably also the base of some spiced beer.

These compounds broadly derive from the Wassail-bowls of early times along with cups, flips, and other mixtures in which beer figured. The professionalisation of brewing has resulted in practices seeming makeshift or amateur that at one time were widespread in most beer lands.

My drink was in effect a spiced porter, as the pumpkin beer used, Highballer Pumpkin Ale from Cambridge, Ontario, had a good dose of fragrant spices (as well as including some actual pumpkin). I hadn’t thought of heating the blend, but may try it next time, with the winter drawing ever near.




2 thoughts on “A Spiced Porter Made to Order”

  1. The best known written example of spiced beer is probably the mulled ale Rat mixes up for carollers in The Wind in the Willows.

    Black and Tan still shows up — Yeungling sells a bottled version. I hadn’t known until recently that the named had very unfavorable associations in Ireland.

    • Thanks, hadn’t known about Wind in the Willows, will check. There is a scene in a John Steinbeck novel where bar leavings mixed at random in a jug – a sort of continuing waste container that provided a drink – was consumed by the protagonists for its availability. I only read it once but it made an impression on me, the pathos aroused by the need to resort to such an expedient. Steinbeck brought out too though how the drinkers still felt grateful to have the balm.

      Of course what I’m talking about in the post is different, still though, at bottom all potable alcohol drinks are consumed essentially for their alcohol content, that part is common to the consumption of any form of booze. I think Steinbeck was trying to make that point, that the ever-changing jug was the very poor man’s cocktail – cocktails then being in ascendancy after Repeal of Prohibition – the same in its way as the fashionable mixed drinks offered by the best bars.

      Michael Jackson wrote in the 1970s that the Black and Tan had unfortunate associations in Ireland since the police force that sought to quell the Rebellion was known by that name, if I have it right.

      But whether he was actually correct, or it was one of his literary-style musings, is hard to say, or for me to say.

      There was a discussion some years ago online in which a number of beer historians discussed the extent to which the term Black and Tan for a mixed pint had been used in Ireland. As I recall some claimed they had never or rarely heard the term employed there, i.e., and that mixed beers were not much known in today’s Ireland. I’ll try to find this, but maybe some readers can help as well.


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