The once almost extinct style of Porter is alive and well in the State of Michigan. For the unfamiliar, Porter is a rich, malty, dark, and often roasted brew. This style evolved in England and became a favorite of the street and river porters of the city. Although the origin is somewhat cloudy and open to debate, it appears that porter evolved from the Brown Ales common in that day. Porter ushered in the industrial revolution and was the first beer to be made on a mass production basis. Porter gave birth to stout porter which eventually became known as stout and shortly after, porter fell out of favor. The style was later revived by American and English Micro-brewers and is quite common today.
Traditionalists will categorize Porter into three categories, English (Brown), American (Robust), and Baltic. While many similarities exist between the three, the differences are pretty apparent. English or Brown Porter has a generally roasted and chocolate flavor, and are often sweeter. American or Robust Porters are a bit more roasted and not as sweet, and can be dry hopped. Baltic Porters are usually sweeter and higher in alcohol. As with all beer styles, these descriptions are open to the brewer’s interpretation.
In Michigan, all three styles exist in many different interpretations. Classic examples of English and American Porters are brewed by many breweries and some of the more readily available include Bell’s Porter (Galesburg), Founder’s Porter (Grand Rapids), and Saugatuck Pier Cove Porter (Douglas). Baltic Porter is a bit harder to find but BARTS Baltic Porter and Dragonmead Full Fathom are great examples. As with many styles, Michigan Brewers take Porter to the extreme! Arcadia London Porter (Battle Creek) is made with eight different malts including a beechwood smoked malt which contributes an intense smokiness. Also from Arcadia is the limited release Shipwreck Porter which starts as a 12% alcohol Baltic Porter and then spends 20 months in 22 year old Bourbon barrels.
The most extreme of the Michigan Porters would have to be Right Brain Mangalista Pig Porter (Traverse City) which has four cold smoked pig heads and three bags of bones added. This beer won the Gold Medal in the Experimental category at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. There is a wide range of porters brewed in Michigan and I am sure there is one or more that you will enjoy.