A Toronto Porter Enters the Pantheon

Great Porter at Creemore Batch House

Among the great stouts and porters – we use the terms interchangeably as historically it’s the same thing – our memory keeps a handful front and centre despite passage of the years.

These include Sinebrychoff Porter, a 7.2% porter that originated in Finland, now owned by Carlsberg. “Koff” porter, as it’s known, continued the 19th century English porter tradition. A few years ago, a sample at The Ginger Man in New York (draft) proved it as good as ever. Deep-flavoured, silky-sweet, decidedly bitter, yet with no harsh edges or raw burnt cereal notes.

Like many of the best porters it features a black fruit note probably contributed by the yeast, or perhaps the fermentation temperature.

Another in this pantheon was a bottled Murphy Stout, probably 5% abv, exported to the U.S. in the late 1970s, made at Lady’s Well Brewery, Cork, Ireland. This one had more of a burned wood taste, with the coffee notes still claimed in the company’s advertising, but in a moreish way few craft stouts attain today imo. Owned since the early 1980s by Heineken.

I recall buying this Murphy in Albany, New York, and a press story from 1977 confirms the export drive at the time. It’s interesting that the American Irish ethnic market was the target market, which shows you how the beer business has changed.

Carnegie Porter of Sweden, also now owned by Carlsberg, at 5.5% ABV impeccably upholds the old school. Its richness is almost Imperial in impact, at least the last time I had it.

The U.K.’s Courage Imperial Russian Stout, especially as brewed in the 1970s-1990s, stood tall in these stakes with its “burned fruitcake” taste. Its revival some years ago, sadly short-lived, didn’t quite reach the earlier standard but was certainly worthy. The first re-brewing, 2012 if memory serves, had a pleasing pear-like note from the fermentation and a fresh chocolately taste from the malts.

The first decades of Samuel Smith Imperial Stout, from Tadcaster, U.K., almost equalled those earlier Courage Imperial Russians, but recent bottles seem different to me, drier and less estery.

The Kernel, an iconic London craft brewery, has an outstanding Export Stout at 7.2% among a range of dark beers of interest. Fuller’s in London has made something similar. Of course Harvey’s in Lewes, U.K. brews its Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout to a fine palate with a touch of Brettanomyces yeast. 9% abv.

Just yesterday I had a local stout in the class of those above, Imperial Porter Winter Warmer at Creemore Batch House in Toronto (owned by Molson-Coors Beverage Co.).* At 8% abv, it reminded me a lot of the Koff and Carnegie. It has all the right elements but in the right proportions. The recipe was tweaked from last year – I spoke to one of the brewers – to decided advantage. The roast grain was slightly boosted, for example, and I suspect the finishing gravity was raised, making the beer maltier and richer.

A stylish depth bomb of a drink, it just gets better as it warms and decarbonates. The serving is nine ounces, which is plenty.

All these beers deserve the appellation black wine, and sometimes actually approach the vinosity of wine with age. Aging is another question in these annals, but net-net we prefer all these beers fresh and new.

Now, there are many good porters brewed in Ontario, don’t get me wrong. From Clifford Porter in Hamilton to various bourbon barrel and other strong stouts, creditable examples exist. Still, the group I just lauded stands apart for me. Is it the fact my palate was introduced to them first? Always hard to say, but hie down to Creemore Batch House and taste for yourself. It’s available in bottles for takeaway, too.

In the U.S. countless porters feature in the quivers of craft brewers. Of those that hit bull’s-eye, Anchor Porter, a gran-dad of the genre, and Oregon’s Black Butte Porter,** stand out for me. The latter is available on draft at beer bistro in Toronto.

At day’s end, porter, a brown beer probably introduced (London c. 1700s) for its lower cost due to lower-yielding roast malts, lays claim to the greatest beer style. When made really well, we are inclined to agree.

I’d like to have included Guinness in these stakes, but today it pasteurises and filters its beer and makes only a little of the older style. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, 7.5% abv, is a good beer but uses to my knowledge a proportion of raw (unroasted) barley in the mash, which detracts from the palate, imo. The Special Export, at 8% abv and made mostly from malt, is a better beer yet not quite in the class mentioned above.

Were Guinness to return to bottle-conditioning and all-malt brewing, we suspect the strong beers in the range would rank among the best anywhere.


*As for many breweries, strong porter is felt to be a winter brew, hence only available for a short time. The Winter Warmer deserves full-year availability, however, and would do well in that role, in our estimation.

**The original text stated Colorado for state of origin. See Comments with thanks to reader Michael Sherriff for the correction.


2 thoughts on “A Toronto Porter Enters the Pantheon”

    • Michael, many thanks, of course you are right. I was writing too fast. I corrected the text with a note to this exchange. All best.



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