Porter is a type of very dark, rich beer which is often high in alcohol. It's particularly popular in Great Britain and Ireland, where several breweries produce traditional porters, such as Guinness Stout. The strength of this beverage can be intense for people who are not used to it, but many find it worth a try. Many pubs carry a variety on tap, and you can also purchase bottled versions at markets and liquor stores.
The distinction between different types of beers can get confusing, especially in a crowd of beer fanatics. Essentially, a porter is made from malt which has been heavily roasted, imparting a smoky flavor to the finished beer and creating a distinctive dark color. The beverage is also allowed to ferment slightly longer, giving it a higher alcohol content, although modern versions are relatively mild in comparison with their ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries. This drink traditionally has a bitter bite, although some companies make honey porters or other more sweet versions of this beer.
The first written records of porters come from the 1700s, when it was apparently popular with the porters who carried luggage and goods throughout London. Over time, many breweries took to differentiating their porter by strength and style, leading to labeling like extra, double, or stout porter, the strongest type. Over time, stout porter came to be colloquially known as “stout.”
A well brewed porter has a complex flavor with hints of hops, acidity, and a slight bitterness. The head can be quite frothy and dense, and the beer itself is often so rich that it could almost be drunk like a meal. Dark beer pairs well with foods like a ploughman's lunch, bread and butter, meat pies, and hearty sandwiches on rye, sourdough, or other tangy breads.
Different porters can taste wildly different; Irish and British versions, for example, have distinctively different flavors. Porter is often served at room temperature, allowing the flavor and scent to develop more fully.