My recent “Viking Five” was quite a difficult one to narrow down, and to be honest there are a few other styles that are probably just as good with food as the ones I chose. Hefeweizens come to mind, as do witbiers, tripels, oatmeal stouts, altbiers, and pilsners. But if I had to choose just one candidate for honorable mention, it would probably have to be porter.
The humble porter is often overshadowed by its mutant commie cousin, Baltic porter, and by its stocky younger brother, stout, a style derivative of porter in form as well as name: stouts started off as “stout porters” back in the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love stouts, and they’re good with food, too – especially desserts and red meat – but porters, which are just a shade lighter in color and flavor, cover more ground than stouts. Here’s a Venn diagram to illustrate, because hey, I can’t remember the last time I made a Venn diagram, so why the hell not?
I don’t drink a lot of porters, partly because I’m a sucker for the up-front bitter chocolate and coffee flavors of many stouts, but also because there is something of a dearth of porters on the market. In America, they are increasingly common, but even though London is the birthplace of the style, they are notably hard to find here.
So it didn’t really dawn on me that porters are awesome with food until I chanced upon a porter at – where else? – the Market Porter in Borough Market. The Market Porter is a haven for ale aficionados, with at least a baker’s dozen of casked beers to choose from at any given time. Most of these beers come from British microbreweries and encompass a range of obscure styles, like dark milds, real lagers, oyster stouts, and fruit beers. The clientele, mostly suits taking long lunches, culinary tourists, and CAMRA members, are jovial and unpretentious, as are the beer-savvy barkeeps. The inside is austere and plastered with ale paraphrenalia, while the façade, though cluttered with smokers, is impressively decked out with pretty flowers and ivies hanging from the second floor.
It’s a great pub in and of itself, but its location in Borough Market is what really makes it a personal favorite. You can grab a pint in a plastic nonic, then hungrily wander off into the stalls to try your beer with all manner of fantastic fare on offer in the market proper: Thai green seafood curry, Middle Eastern confections, British venison burgers, Toulousean cassoulet, Swiss cheeses, Spanish charcuterie, and the list goes on.
This is exactly what I did with my pint of Wickwar’s toffee-sweet, moderately hopped, satiny smooth Station Porter. It was brilliant by itself, and seemed to meld effortlessly with just about everything I ate with it. Its buttery character and roasted sweetness found a happy home in the cozy cheese and potatoes of Raclette. Its caramel notes and lightly spicy hops linked up nearly perfectly with the peppery pork fat of a chorizo and arugula sandwich. It brought forth hidden mocha and dark fruit notes for an encounter with a chocolate-covered raisin and shortbread bar. The only thing it didn’t work with was a Cornish oyster on the half shell, but overall I was extremely pleased to have such a versatile brew in my hand as I perused the market. The porter, and the Market Porter, are indeed very lovely companions to food.
The Market Porter
9 Stoney Street
020 7407 2495
Monday to Friday: 06:00-08:30 and 11:00-23:00