This unusual lager style has many similarities to Imperial Stouts. A lengthy conditioning period creates a silky smooth chocolaty mouth feel enhanced by the use of oats and brown sugar. Noticeable sweetness gets balanced by roasted malt and hop bitterness. At 10% alcohol by volume, this beer is sure to keep you warm on a cold winter night.
The Baltic porter is a unique offshoot from the standard English brown porter, it was crafted with a higher alcohol content and aged to survive the North Sea crossing to Scandanavia better. Today, Baltic porters are more common in northern countries, especially Poland and Russia, where the brew’s smoky flavor and high ABVs help pass the frigid winter months. Post World War II, this tasty style was somewhat forgotten among the Western brewing community, but as politics shifted in the 1990s, Baltic porters made a comeback; it’s still not a super common product in the U.S. market, but some larger craft brewers do offer a version.
Like a classic porter, Baltic porters are darker in color — almost black — and have all the cold-weather flavors and aromas you’d associate with Christmastime: chocolate, coffee, dried fruits, spice and vanilla (it’s why these brews are often seasonal). Baltic porters are usually described as creamy, though their overall flavor has a smokiness and heavier quality thanks to the aging process; Baltic porters generally age for several months and some even up to a year. Baltic porters are reminiscent of an aged spirit or dusky wine, best served in a pint glass and sipped alongside a hardy burger or grilled red meat.
The alcohol content in the porter family can range anywhere from 4-10% depending on which version you prefer; the Baltic porter tends to deliver an ABV on the high end of that spectrum. Most Baltic porters contain 8-10% ABV, similar to an Imperial IPA; like an IPA, the higher alcohol content helped the brew withstand a long ocean voyage — the alcohol acting as a natural preservative. Even with the alcohol content, you won’t experience the heavy malt and alcohol aroma you might associate with other high ABV beers, as the bitter hops and roasted ingredients tend to balance the Baltic porter’s flavor profile.
Beer, in general, is not a gluten-free product, though there are some styles that naturally contain less gluten than others; porters, Baltic porters included, tend to have fewer gluten molecules in their final product because the recipe relies on roasted, dark malted barley instead of wheat (though wheat can still be present in the mash). Baltic porters are not a super common style in the U.S anyway, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a brewery dedicated to a gluten-free version. However, the gluten-free porters available tend to substitute for the original version well, as the flavor relies more on the roasted ingredients and barrel-aging process rather than the specific grains.
Baltic porters are actually brewed with lager yeasts, which makes them truly stand out from other styles of porter, which are all made with classic ale yeasts. Lager yeasts collect and ferment at the bottom of the wort (the sugary liquid created when boiling the malted barley grain) and, much like the hardy Scandanavians who prefer the brew, thrive in cooler temperatures (usually 50 degrees Fahrenheit for the porter). Lager beers, like the Baltic porter, are typically “lagered” or aged in barrels for several months (sometimes up to a year), creating a more mature, complex taste while still remaining smooth and creamy to drink.
Calories in beer are wholly dependent on the alcohol content, which tends to be much higher in Baltic porters when compared to other standard porter styles; the Baltic porter tends to land somewhere between 8-10% ABV, leading to an average calorie count between 270-300 calories and close to 30 grams of carbohydrates. Baltic porters are similar to an Imperial IPA or a Belgian Tripel in this regard and demand a slower drinking experience to fully appreciate the indulgent, dessert-like flavor. It’s the ideal pint for the cold winter months when your wardrobe consists of Christmas sweaters and bulky winter parkas.