One evening two BJCP judges sat down with five Porters, all robust: one â€œBritishâ€ except…
When I was in one store I asked if they had any Porters and they said, â€œWe have Sue!â€ I had forgotten Sue: by local Yazoo Brewing, was a smoked Porter. Our saving grace was we agreed to look at these porters as if there may be style issues we did not know about, like maybe if one was a Baltic, but not mentioned on the bottle. I have found Beer Advocate and Rate Beer aren’t always accurate when they list style, and sometimes even brewers don’t list it. Odd, I know.
We also thought this might educate the palate: see what we pick up on, and what we don’t. I think we got most of it, without actually knowing certain specifics. Yes, we could have investigated further before the sampling, but we wanted to be sure this was done in a blind manner: the less either of us remembered through looking up facts about each beer the better. Neither of us knew which was which when it was actually served. This was via an “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” “E” on each sample: the only designation. Bottles were kept away from the sampling area.
The results were somewhat unexpected…
(Listed in order as placed on tray: left to right. “A” is 1st to on the left, “B” second, etc.)
A. I canâ€™t smell much, except some caramel malt and a hint of coffee in the aromatics. The body is medium with a combination chocolate and coffee in the medium mouthfeel, and to taste from a mix of dark, roasted, grains. Dark brown with a hint of garnet.
Green Man Porter from Green Man Brewing in Asheville, NC (This is the British version. Of course, going by BJCP guidelines, there is no official British version, even though they created the style.)
B. There arenâ€™t many aromatics except a light toasted sense. This is more like a brown ale: not as much body or complexity as a porter. Toasted sense follows through in the taste and mouthfeel and some chewy roastedness. Some hop sense though primarily roasted grain. Once again: dark brown with a hint of garnet.
C. This has a tan head and a hint of smoke to the nose. Some toasty biscuit too. Coffee, chocolate taste with a medium to medium heavy body. Opaque with hint of red edges visually. This has the most head of all 5.
D. Opaque with tan-ish head. Hint of chocolate or coffee. Crushed grain, kind of thin body-wise. Butter-like sense to taste and a hint to the nose.
Pogueâ€™s Run Porter, Flat 12 Bierwerks, Indianapolis, Indiana
E. Definite roasted grain, chocolate and coffee in taste and aromatics. Taste definite roasted grain, some crushed grain and slightly astringent. Dark brown, very dark, no red except hint.
A. This sample has an off creamy white head that head fades fast to slight bubble with a little pillow/cream. Red garnet highlights but mostly opaque: little light shines through. The nose is chocolate-like with some deep roast. Chocolate dominates. A bit malt-sweet to taste with the addition of slightly burnt brown sugar. No hops. Great full mouthfeel but actually seems to be medium body. My guess: residual sugars. Thereâ€™s a lot of chewy malt in here: roasted, and a depth. Carbonation is medium slight and slightly carbonic. The interplay between the roast, the dark chocolate sense and the pinpoint carbonation is just about perfect.
B. Off creamy white head opens up the presentation here with an impossible darkness that canâ€™t be seen through. Just a few deep red garnet highlights. Both nose and taste offer a slight burnt brown malt sense and no hops noted. Brown sugar, not burnt, a bit sweet, no hops, caramel slight, also in both nose and to taste. Just a hint of sour, slight carbonic bite and carbonation in the mouthfeel, which also offers a very light body for porter. Could use more malt, more roast, at least a dextrinous sense that might help mouthfeel-wise: more of a brown. Anything to make me think: porter. The ingredients do play well together: for a brown ale.
C. A light tan head leads the way into a creamy, deep brown body that no light shines through. Deep, dark roast with some brown sugar sense in the nose. Instead of hops, more of a slight smoked sense. Could this be intentional? Iâ€™m usually pretty good with phenolics and this seems to be intentional: no defect. Slight smoke in taste as if peated malt used though more wood than moss, medium body: yet complex, deep roasted sense as if many different malts used with, also, a slightly soured sense. This too seems intentional, as if mimicking the Guinness slight sour was part of the brew intent. Wonderful. Smoke is slight, like the wind on a playground swing as the deep malt firmly pushes you with that brown sugar, dark chocolate (slight) and almost a cherry sense behind it all. They play quite well together.
D. Light tan head, creamy with slight big rock, reddish garnet highlights, that canâ€™t be seen through. Iâ€™m almost getting a candy sense, hint of green apple/Jolly Rancher, though not a lot: acetaldehyde? Needs more malt, character: almost brown ale, and a problematic one. Mediocre. However: defects here do seem to gang up on all that may be underneath. Slight defects here: not sure what. No hops sensed. Diacetyl: slight burnt butter. Banana esters in the mix too. If not for banana, green apple and diacetyl might have been a 4 or even 3. Iâ€™d have to sniff, sense and taste it all minus the problems. Honestly? If this were a playground it would be like an argument between all of the above. They do not play together well.
E. This sample has a light tan, creamy, head. It also has very deep red highlights, but overall this quaff canâ€™t be seen through. Coffee upfront: candy coffee with slight brown sugar sense mixed in. Gorgeous with deep dark malt sense. No hops. Very well balance aroma-wise. Taste and mouthfeel do not follow through, however. Thus is very weak in complexity with low malt, low roast for style: hardly a brown. Everythingâ€™s right, but it just needs more of everything. Slightly over cooked coffee sense to the nose and no hops: this is in aroma and taste. Not as good as last, but no defects noted. To follow through on my analogy this is like anemic children on a playground called â€œporterâ€ who reluctantly try to play together, but just canâ€™t get to it with any enthusiasm.
SRM on all at least 28 plus.
Here is how we ranked themâ€¦
Welcome to the PGA beer rating system: one beer “Don’t bother.” Two: Eh, if someone gives it to you, drink. Three: very good, go ahead and seek it out, but be aware there is at least one problem. Four: seek it out. Five: pretty much “perfecto.”
Anchor Porter may have come up as far as 3 if not for the banana esters, slight acetaldehyde and the soft whisper of burnt butter: diacetyl. There may have been a nice, roasty: deep with a complexity, hidden behind all. But, if so, it barely peeked out from behind the problems. It was not that they were all that overwhelming, indeed if this had been some Specialty take on Porter using a Hefe yeast offering those banana esters it might have fared better: the other two less of a concern. But still: they were there.
Itâ€™s possible that we got one bad bottle, but last summer I bought a phenolic Anchor Foghorn when I was in Ithaca. Then, a few weeks ago, I bought a Foghorn 6 pack and, damn, two had the same phenolic: green rubber hose, medicinal. Tomorrow I ship them back to the brewery via agreement we made over the net.
Seems something is wrong at the brewery that started it all in the 60s when it comes to the craft beer revolution. Sad.
On the other hand our number 1 had smoke in it, but we both agreed it was probably intentional, did not seem like a defect: either peated malt or the malt smoked over wood. Definitely not a phenolic. Once I realized my error, after the session, I remembered that some of the malt in Sue had been smoked over cherry wood. But we found it anyway. We both agreed the high rating it had little to do with the uniqueness of the admittedly well done smoke, but the complexity of the deeply roasted malts, the style perfection and the drop jaw drinkabilty of Sue. And, more than anything, how well they all played together: like kids all on the same imaginary journey. This is one incredible quaff. Kudos.
Sierra came in a very close second, and much the same that could be said. Its legacy is well deserved.
The last three were distant in comparison. #3 was odd. OK, itâ€™s â€œBritish.â€ One would assume more malt than hops, in comparison to American styles… though all lacked in hops and were balanced more towards roasted malt. But this was more a brown ale, and lighter brown at that.
Something I felt all lacked: hops. Oh, they were there but so subtle, at best, unable to really comment. Whereâ€™s that aggressive American hop-a-tude? I certainly am not asking to go way out of style, but can we at least bother to tickle a taste bud or two?