Winter Warmer: The Danish Art of Hygge in the Baltic Porter

This article was originally published on Winter 2015 issue of Mash Tun Journal.

There’s a Danish way of living called hygge, a hard-to-translate-into-English concept the Danes adhere to in the colder, darker months (though, it can be a year-round philosophy). In its essence, it means “coziness”—winter hygge can be expressed through candlelight dinners, climbing under wool blankets, twilight coffee dates, pine-scented potpourri, and Netflix binges. But hygge is also emotional—it’s a time to gather with family and friends, to put aside work talk and politics and just be with each other.

It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the indigenous beer styles to the Nordic region is liquid hygge. In the 18th century, the British started to export its porters, but made them with a higher alcohol content for the trip across the Baltic Sea. Known as the Baltic Porter in the relatively modern establishment of beer style nomenclature, Baltic Porters were also made under the names Russian Stout or Imperial Stout, as they became the beer of favor by St. Petersburg royals. It all really depended on how the brewery decided to market its beer.

Soon, instead of importing the beers from England, entrepreneurs set up breweries along the Baltic Sea. These new breweries adapted to regional ingredients and processes, and in turn, made a version of these strong, rich beers that evolved from its English roots. Baltic Porters made in Scandinavia differ from those made in the Baltic regions. And even then, some Baltic Porters are top-fermented, while others are bottom-fermented, probably as a result of adapting to the trends of the time, when lager breweries in Northern Europe were gaining in numbers and using one house yeast resulted in a more simplified and economical production of beer.

No matter what brewers in Nordic and Scandinavian countries called it, the Baltic Porter is unlike what we’ve become accustomed to as Imperial Stouts in the United States. US versions of Imperial Stouts are characteristically American—barrel-chested and full of bravado, usually ringing in over 10% ABV, roasty, and heavily hopped. But there’s still a warmth to Baltic Porters, as they’re usually stronger and fruitier than most porters and stouts; minimally hopped, dark fruits like plums and cherries fill the aroma, along with licorice, chocolate, and toffee; malty-sweetness is showcased in the taste, held in check by low bitterness, and restrained coffee roast or slight smokiness. Full-bodied, but not heavy, the slight glow of alcohol warms you up as it all comes together as hygge in its liquid form, the perfect accompaniment for snuggling into a snowy night.

Notable Baltic Porters:

  • Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland)
  • Carnegie Stark Porter (Sweden)
  • Żywiec Porter (Poland)
  • Smuttynose Baltic Porter (US)
  • Jack’s Abby Framinghammer (US)
  • Les Trois Mousquetaires G.C. Porter Baltique (Canada)