Cheers: Baltic Porter Day in times of pandemic

The third Saturday of January is annually celebrated by fans of good beer in Poland as Baltic Porter Day, organised to promote this style, called “the Brewers’ treasure of Poland.” This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this day is celebrated differently than in previous years.

Baltic porter is a dark lager beer with original gravity between 18°-22° and usually 8-10 percent ABV. The initiator of Baltic Porter Day is Marcin “Mason” Chmielarz, a blogger and beer passionate.

“The idea came up in 2012, when Stout Day was celebrated for the first time in Poland. I have promoted it among Polish craft beer pubs also via my blog. Then I thought that it would be good to do a similar day, but concerning Baltic porter,” Mr Chmielarz told Poland IN.

The first Baltic Porter Day was celebrated on January 16, 2016. “From its first edition, the market response was very enthusiastic, the interest has been increasing year by year” the initiator stressed.

Polish speciality

“Baltic porter has always been popular in Poland. It has been brewed since around 1800, at first as an alternative to porters imported from England. As I recall since the times before the beer revolution, porter has been the only style different from pale lager that was widely available in Poland,” Mr Chmielarz said. “Of course, our climate also affects the popularity of this style, as the dark, strong, warming beer fits long, dark, cold evenings,” he added.

Nowadays, Baltic Porter has become a speciality of Polish brewers. Nearly all breweries in Poland, whether they are small craft passionates or large, industrial producers, have a Baltic Porter in their offer. This style of beer is also brewed in other countries on the coast of the Baltic Sea, such as Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and Russia.

“Poland is the leader of the style, in reference to both the number of brewed porters and their popularity. Even other Baltic countries are far behind us,” the initiator said. “This is why the news about Baltic Porter Day is spreading slowly. Over upcoming years, I will try to increasingly promote this day abroad,” Mr Chmielarz declared.

Online tasting during pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional events of Baltic Porter Day are not organised, because the pubs are closed, but the breweries still release new or special editions of their Baltic porters. “This year there are more than 20 new porters released around Baltic Porter Day,” he said.

“There is no possibility to meet in pubs, which has always been a central point of the event. There will be tasting sessions at homes as the craft beer shops have prepared a lot of beers for customers and as far as I know the interest is big. There will be some tastings online, so people will be able to meet that way. After all, the beer tastes best in company,” Mr Chmielarz said.

Evolving style

The craft beer revolution that has been ongoing around the world also affected this style. There are new variants, such as Imperial Baltic Porter, which has higher original gravity and ABV and usually is more similar to Imperial Stout, or Smoked Baltic Porter, which includes use of smoked malt. Sometimes, the beer is also aged in barrels previously containing wine or distillates, such as whisky, bourbon or brandy.

“The breweries want to distinguish themselves, so they experiment, look for new recipes. The more porters are on the market, the harder it is to stand out, so they have to add something extra,” Mr Chmielarz said.

“This trend will develop further, its future looks very interesting and will be full of new experiences,” he predicts. “The beer revolution is constantly changing, evolving and looking for new solutions.”

Poland, along with Spain, is the second-largest producer of beer in the European Union, according to data from Eurostat published in August 2020, on the International Beer Day.