Porters – 8 is Enough

Last night, in an effort to expand my own knowledge and that of a few friends, I hosted a beer tasting of porters. Since there are 3 different subcategories of Porter recognized in the Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines, I wanted us to try a spectrum of beers, covering each of the subcategories. I also wanted to try as many of the “Commercial Examples” recognized by the BJCP as possible.

We started off with Brown Porter, and the example we used was Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter. It’s a good beer, dark and roasty, but, for me, a little unsatisfying. Compared to the Robust Porters we get more frequently in America, it seemed a little thin and minerally. Good beer, but not as deep and wonderful as I tend to like my porters.

The second beer we tasted was Michelob Porter. I’ll confess to a beer snob’s cynicism that a mass market porter was going to impress me, but this beer certainly lived down to my expectations. Thin, sweet, and flavorless, I fear that lots of adventurous Bud Light drinkers will pick up a sampler pack with this in it and decide that they don’t like porters. One of my fellow tasters said it was like a lager with coloring added to it, and she wasn’t far off with that. Easily the worst beer of the night.

After that, we moved into the Robust Porters. Yum. Our first example was St. Bridget’s Robust Porter, which I have already written about here. This is wonderful stuff, and we decided that the legend recounted on the bottle that St. Bridget turned her bathwater into beer for thirsty clerics was sound theology.

Next up was Odell’s Cutthroat Porter. In a style that balances malt sweetness with bitterness from hops and roasted barleys, this one tips toward the malt sweetness side of the equation. A great “gateway” beer for neophytes, this is a sweet and wonderfully malt bomb (that’s for you, Owen).

To get us back on the balance beam, we went with Boulevard’s Bully! Porter next. In contrast to the Cutthroat, this brought the hops along for the ride, with a citrusy hop aroma and flavor that approached lemony. I’ve never been a huge fan of this beer, but it really tasted great last night – I’ll be revisiting Bully more often in the future.

Rogue Mocha Porter
came up next. By this time, I was suffering from serious palate fatigue, but this was my favorite porter of the evening. It had everything – the chocolate and coffee malt flavors, with a nice dose of hop and roasted malt bitterness. Everything balanced off each other, and made for the most complete porter tasting experience of the evening.

The final Robust Porter was Sierra Nevada Porter. Given the hoppy goodness of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, I was surprised that this one wound up on the sweet side of the balance between bitterness and sweet. It was exceptionally “clean”, though. Our librarian friend, who had picked up on a “dirty” flavor in some of the early beers, didn’t get that flavor from this one. While it was a fine beer, I thought it lacked some of the wonderful complexity that made some of the others spectacular.

Finally, we closed with Baltika Porter, an amazing beer from Russia. The Baltic subcategory is noted for richer, stronger beers with tastes of dark fruits and warming alcohol. This one had it all, and capped off a wide range of beers that all carry the name porter, but differ widely.

For those readers concerned about drinking 8 beers in one evening, I should point out that we had six of us splitting the beers, and we didn’t finish all the samples. It was a great way to experience the breadth of a relatively simple category of beers, and see how differently great brewers can interpret the porter style.

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