Surely one of the world’s most well-known brands is Guinness. With its iconic posters and unique tick-follows-tock TV advertising, it’s really taken the world by storm. Famed all over the globe for its clean, bitter taste and smooth black appearance with a creamy white head, it’s a beer that is as Irish as a leprechaun doing a jig to a Boyzone classic, right? Well… not quite. Many people don’t know that Guinness has an older brother, which goes by the name of Porter. This London stout never got the same snazzy marketing campaigns or international acclaim. No, Porter is like the older sibling that stayed at home with mum (and, you know, with all the true stout connoisseurs) whilst baby brother went gallivanting off on a gap year and never came back.
Porter was brewed in London from the early 1700s. It quickly became popular with London’s dock workers and market porters. Not only was it a tasty drink, it was also full of malt which contained plenty of calories for the hard dock labour. In 1776, a now rather well-known heavyweight of brewing visited London: Arthur Guinness. On this trip, he discovered Porter. He quite probably sampled it at one of the several pubs around Smithfield market, where you’d be served it at lunchtime, dinnertime, or, indeed with breakfast. On tasting it, Arthur realised, he rather liked it. He managed to get hold of the recipe and returned to Ireland to start his very own version. Transported from the ports of London to the ports of Ireland for all the porters to drink, the Irish version of Porter beer was called… Guinness.
By the mid-19thcentury, Guinness was a very popular drink in Ireland, but it had yet to take off in the rest of the British Isles. In London, particularly, a population living next to the filthy Thames had started to become aware of the dangers of dirty water. With this, a new trend for clearer ales and lagers took off, as Londoners became more suspicious of just what went into dark, opaque stouts. The clearer and cleaner the beer, the better it was. Porter’s sales went into decline.
Now, of course, Guinness is hugely popular in London and, indeed, bitters, craft ales and stouts seem to be back with a bang (we just try to avoid thinking of the Thames when drinking them!) CAMRA (The campaign for real ale) in the 1990s helped to promote the various flavours and varieties of beers and saw us begin to turn our backs on blander lagers. Today, a new craft beer house and independent brewery trend is taking London by storm, and, with it, even Porter is making a comeback. It’s stocked in many Fuller’s pubs and although it’s still not as famous as Guinness, maybe that cheeky little Irish brother should watch its back. The good ol’ traditional London stout is on the rise! And given the fact that Mr. Guinness slightly ripped off this British recipe, I’d say Porter has every right to feel a little bitter.
As a tour guide and a lover of London, I will be writing a series of interesting stories about London; tales I have heard, places I have visited, tasty food I have eaten and delicious drinks I have enjoyed. Watch out for this every week or so.