Porters are a richly flavored type of ale, dark in color and full-bodied, with the barley flavors dominating over the mild hop flavors. They are lighter-bodied than stouts, however, with a very malty taste, slightly sweet, but not bitter.
The name Porter was first used in the 18th century because of the beer's popularity with the street and river porters of London. They would mix several styles of beer together and drink large quantities of the mixture. A new style, known as a Porter, was eventually created to approximate this blend. Whitbreads of London (soon to be followed by Arthur Guinness and Sons) was one of the first brewers to offer a porter commercially. Soon after, brewers increased the alcohol content of porters and the new, stronger drink became known as a Stout Porter (eventually shortened to Stout).
Porters originated in England, but quickly expanded to Ireland and then to the Baltic region, where most countries now brew their own. A version known as "Baltic porter," with higher alcohol content than typical porters, was brewed in Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Denmark and Sweden. Over the next few hundred years, as ales and lagers proliferated, the popularity of porters decreased significantly. Then, as micro-breweries grew in the 1970s and 1980s, porters began to make a resurgence that is continuing to this day. Now many breweries offer porters in wide varieties including bourbon, chocolate, pumpkin, and honey.
Porters go well with hearty cheeses, roasty and smoked flavors like barbecued ribs and steak, a hearty bowl of beef stew or a bowl of chili, or spicy Italian or Andouille sausage. Also try porters with oysters and chocolate desserts.