Porter is among the most storied drinks and once the world’s greatest beer. It has its home in London, but its popularity reached around the world, with stronger export versions sailing everywhere, including the Caribbean, India, and through the Baltic seas—it’s the Baltic journeys that we’re interested in here.
These chilly countries presumably enjoyed the warming richness of strong Porter, which also further benefited from a long, slow, cold maturation at sea, mellowing into a finer beer. Initially imported, it was eventually brewed domestically, with the British Dark Ale being transformed by Germanic brewing traditions into a dark, strong lager, with the bottom-fermenting yeast loving the extended cold conditioning and allowing it to mature majestically. It was a staple beer in these countries, primarily—and now patriotically so—in Poland.
Visit To Baltic Porter In Poland And Celebrate Baltic Porter Day Photo Gallery
For a long time it was only the big brewers that made Baltic Porters in Poland, producing one alongside their more standard pale lagers, but now craft brewers are making them as well, improving them, evolving them, and championing them, and it’s these smaller brewers who are making Baltic Porter worldfamous again.
Every January, bars around Poland—and further afield—take
part in Baltic Porter Day, which is a celebration of the style. The event first took place in 2016 and grew significantly in 2017. It was the brainchild of Marcin Chmielarz. “Baltic Porter is something that’s ours,” he told me in Jabeerwocky, a world-class beer bar in Warsaw. His dream is for every Polish brewer to make a Baltic Porter and further enhance this as Poland’s national beer.
Most Polish Baltic Porters are lagers, but not exclusively so— and, in fact, Marcin doesn’t think they have to be lagers. For him, what matters is the processing and flavor profile, where a long, cold maturation mellows out the beer, leaving something powerful but still with a clean-finishing elegance.
Marcin’s aim with Baltic Porter Day is to “make people see the importance of this beer as a Polish style.” And it’s a great celebration. I went to Warsaw and drank many excellent Baltic Porters, each of them varied and different, some sweeter, some more bitter, some vinous, some smoky, some bready, but all smooth and satisfyingly rich to drink and all with a deft and surprising lightness at the end, which makes them so drinkable—that’s where the lagering shows itself best.
Poland is the best place to try the best versions of Baltic Porter and January is the best time to go if you want to try as many as possible.
When the cold weather comes, there’s no better place to enjoy Baltic Porter than in Warsaw’s Jabeerwocky.
Three Baltic Porters to Try
Kormoran’s Imperium Prunum is extraordinary. It’s an Imperial Baltic Porter brewed with suska sechlonska, which are smoked dried plums, and has a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) from a small village in the south of Poland—it has a so of comforting, familiar taste for many Polish people. The beer has a big smoke and plummy aroma. It’s rich and sweet at first, like eating a cherry praline by a roaring fire; it’s deliciously complex, then it finishes unbelievably light for an 11.0% ABV beer, a product of its extra-long maturation. It’s vinous and one of the most wine-like beers I’ve had, being similar in texture to a mouth-filling Malbec. Its rareness and high online rating also add to its appeal.
Browar Podgorz’s 652m n.p.m. is more common than Imperium Prunum. It has a lighter 8.0% ABV, but is no less wo hy of a ention. In fact, it’s probably more wo hy, as this is a perfect, straight-up example of Baltic Port er—lots of caramel, milk chocolate, mocha, dried and dark fruits, skipping the roasted coffee-like bitterness you typically find in Imperial Stouts. It drinks very light for its strength, with a creaminess that I like a lot. For me this is the template for a Baltic Porter and is exemplary for its easy-drinking lightness—that really is a key quality of this style.
Zywiec Port er (pronounced something like zhiv-ee-ets) is worth trying since it’s excellent, but also because it’s one of the original and longest-lasting Baltic Porters, being first brewed in 1881. It’s a he y 9.5% ABV but, again, the long, cold maturation leaves you with an elegant, light, and somehow refreshing beer that’s robust in flavor, with light coffee and smooth chocolate. It’s a good sta ing point for seeing the directions the Polish craft brewers will take this style.
Great Bars To Drink in Warsaw
Warsaw surprised me with the variety and quality of its beers and bars-add it to your list of European beer cities that are worth visiting. The city is great because it’s fairly small and cheap, and also because there’s not a huge amount of touristy stuff to see, so you really can just focus on drinking excellent beer (as with most places, there’s a concentration on IPAs, but still lots of variety) and eating lots of hearty Polish food.
* Jabeerwocky (Nowogrodzka 12, 00-511 Warsaw) has 17 well-picked taps, mostly Polish, with a big, bright beer board giving plenty of information about what’s on tap— you can order three sizes of pour and they do flights if you want to try a few. Staff are very good, too.
* Kufle i Kaplse (Nowogrodzka 25, 00-511 Warsaw), just down the street from Jabeerwocky, is a bare-brick kind of industrial space with sofas and soft furnishings out the back on a raised level. Big, open front windows make it bright in the day, while the sofas and old lamps make it cozy at night. Lots of Polish beers on tap, a cool space, and a good atmosphere.
* In the old town, by the Barbakan, is Same Krafty Multitap (Nowomiejska 10, 00-001 Warsaw) and opposite is Same Krafty Vis-a-Vis. The Multitap has a central bar out the back and a small space in front where people eat large pizzas and choose from the many taps of mostly Polish beers. Vis-a-Vis is more of a straight-up beer bar. The list of Polish beers ranges from perky Pale Ales to potent Porters. Go to both, as the beer lists are different.