Polish Porter. Is it just Porter brewed in Poland? Or is it a unique style that can be brewed anywhere? If the brewer’s intent is pure, and the right ingredients and processes are used, it can most definitely be made elsewhere. This article explores the rich history of Porter brewing in Poland and the cross-cultural ways in which beer can be used for diplomacy. This beer was brewed in March, 2016 at the District Chophouse and Brewery by Brewmaster Barrett Lauer, Assistant Brewer Rob Fink, and beer historians Michael Stein and Peter Jones. It was served there but also at the American Homebrewers Association’s Homebrew Con 2016 held in Baltimore, Maryland.
A visit from a Polish beer writer in 2013, Michał Marańda, who hailed from his nation’s capital and came to sample the beers of our nation’s capital, spurned a cross-continental correspondence which lead to our discovery (and America’s rediscovery) of a dark beer from Poland.
Porter brewing in Warsaw has occurred for over 150 years, with the first known Porter ad dating to 1847. As you can see from the ad, there is English in the copy exclaiming Polish Porter as “Extra Double Stout” a product with a rich history in England. Essentially, Polish Porter was being marketed as an English product and rightfully so as it was brewed in the English tradition, a beer fermented with ale – not lager – yeast..
The following ad, from 30 years later in 1877, advertises Porter brewed in the Bavarian style, a Bock beer, also March beer. This Porter was brewed in the Marzen, or March beer, style, indicating that it is a lager.
Over the course of 30 years we see Polish Porter marketed as an English-style product and then as a Bavarian-style product. This changing is not unique to Poland or Porter. Over time beers that are sold as the same thing by name often experience recipe changes–be they ingredient, process, or marketing based. The etymological study of beer styles is a fascinating one with both the 1847 and 1877 ads for Polish Porter appealing to a foreign product by a foreign brewing nation, despite both being produced in Warsaw at the same brewery.
In early correspondence with Michał Marańda in late 2015, inquiring about the production of Polish Porter, he responded “we have an original recipe for famous Warsaw Baltic porter. It’s from 2003, one year before closing the Warsaw brewery” of course the difficulty is that the recipe and all of the means of production were documented in Polish. Their document, which loosely translates to “Instructions for the Technological Production of Dark Strong Beer” was instrumental in designing this recipe. And it certainly helped that a dedicated group of Polish beer historians have taken to collecting information on about 250 beers from the Krakow and Mazowsze regions of Poland over the last 150 years.
As any brewer considers brewing a historic beer, the question of historical accuracy comes to mind. This can take on many shapes and forms, but I have always felt that a brewer’s intent should be considered when brewing any beer from centuries past. The malts and hops used in the original may no longer be available to a modern brewer. But if the historic brewer’s intent was to make a clean, delicious, dark-lager in the Porter style of the time, that intent can be replicated.
Using the example of hops, we didn’t use Marynka hops as the recipe specifies. But we did use Junga hops, which have the Marynka hop as a parent. As we achieved brewing a beer with 100% Polish hops my itch of historical authenticity was scratched. Additionally another site of a Polish homebrewer stated that while Marynka or Sibyl were good bittering hops, hops are not the main role in the style and her advice loosely translated to “so you might as well check the other varieties.” And check we did. Neither Lost Lagers nor any brewery in Washington, D.C., to our knowledge, had ever used Junga hops before.
Since the brewing of this beer it has come to our attention that this beer was actually exported from Poland to the United States. We are uncertain of the exact date this bottle of “Sphinx Stout” was brewed. But based on the dates of 1933, when Prohibition was repealed, and 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, we feel confident that this beer was exported in that six-year span. Uncertain if anyone alive remembers this beer, our desire to re-introduce America to a beer we believed was true to the brewers’ original intent: to make a clean, delicious, dark lager in the Polish style.
Given the cross-cultural nature of beer, we wanted to play to our pride in America as a front-runner of historic and innovative brewing. Brewmaster for the District Chophouse and Brewery, Barrett Lauer, seemed like a natural fit given his passion for brewing clean, delicious beer, not to mention that he himself is of Polish descent. Equipped with the knowledge given to us by several Polish beer writers, homebrewers, and historians all interested in preserving the historic status of Polish Porter, we knew we stood on the shoulders of giants.
Beyond our wildest dreams, true Polish-American diplomacy was done when the beer was served at the residence of Ryszard Schnepf’s, the Polish Ambassador, for Polish Constitution Day.
Just like the United States’ relationship with Poland, Polish Porter is a relationship between brewer and drinker that oppressive regimes could not stomp out. When the Warsaw Brewery opened in 1846, three Polish men, Blazej Haberbusch, Konstanty Schiele, and Henry Klawe became the owners. On some level (though the extent is undocumented) the brewery continued to operate in Nazi occupied Poland. In 1946, the brewery became nationalized and in 2001, the Austrian firm Brau Union AG purchased the brewery. In 2004, Brau Union AG was absorbed by Heineken NV. Shortly thereafter, the brewery ceased operations and 250 people were no longer employed. But despite the ups and downs of Nazism, Communism, and a shuttering from one of the world’s largest breweries, Polish Porter is a style that will live on.
Beer is special because it can foster cross-cultural relationships. This particular beer is also special because of it’s rich and unique history. Unbeknownst to us at the time of brewing, Polish Porter had actually been exported to America prior to World War II, it was labeled “Stout” and we know from the label that it was imported to New York.
We truly believe that the richness of history is reflected in the culture, brewing, and marketing of beer throughout the centuries. We strongly encourage homebrewers and independent brewers alike to investigate some of the beers that have been forgotten in the United States. Below you will find our recipe for recreating Polish Porter. Inherent in the article is a call to all brewers (big and small) to recreate some historic beer and please contact us should you have any questions.