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Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Porter Quandry - How do You Rank 8 Great Beers?

The latest meeting of the Battle of the Beers club presented us with a real dilemma: if all the beers are terrific, how can you rank them? In the past we have tried to rank the beers from favorite to least favorite. But when we got about half-way through the porters at Hal's place on a fine Sunday afternoon (still basking in the glow of the SU win over 'Nova on Saturday!) we began to question how we could possibly do that. We found we had eight outstanding beers, each with their own unique qualities. There was not a bad beer in the bunch. Though we have said that before, this was a case where all would be rated as top notch.

The problem was the original concept of our beer club and this blog was to create a kind of head to head competition between beers. After much discussion, we came up with a slightly different system this time. We decided to give each beer a rating of 1, 2, or 3, with the caveat that we could award no more than 3 1's. An imperfect system to be sure, but a bit more equitable.

The thing is, even though all of the beers were porters, each one had its own unique character. Because they were porters there are certain similarities - the maltiness, the hint of chocolate etc. But within those confines, each brewery has come up with its own take on the style. And that's what I love about craft brewing. I mean, compare Miller, Bud, Coors etc. Do a serious blind taste test there and try to tell them apart. It's all the same beer trying to appeal to the masses, afraid of offending anyone. Craft brewers take chances - some work, some don't. But they don't try to please all of the people all of the time - it can't be done. Personally, I liked every one of the beers we sampled, and I wasn't sure that would be the case. I have said this before and I stand by it - American craft brewers are producing the best beers in the world right now. These eight beers are perfect examples of that.

Anyhow - the competing Porters were: Flying Dog Road Dog Porter, Harpoon's Baltic Porter, Mayflower Porter, Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter, Rock Art Double Smoked Porter, Rogue Mocha Porter, Southern Tier's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Porter, and Stone Smoked Porter.

With two members unable to attend (Gerry and Herb) we ended up with five of us rating 8 brews - a tough job, but we were up to it. Harpoon Brewery kindly donated a 4-pack of their Baltic Porter which we greatly appreciated - thanks to Ed Valenta for coming through.

Here's how the Porters finished (along with comments from the judges):

1. Mayflower Porter - In a bit of a surprise, this small regional Plymouth, MA brewery's porter scored well with all of us (given a "1" by all but one judge). Comments were: Very drinkable, stronger than average, smooth, great color and finish, dark and heady, alittle hoppy with a bit of a bite, stornger chocolate notes, sweet/bitter balance.

2. Flying Dog's Road Dog Porter - From Frederick, MD - this was another excellent porter with a very distinct taste. Comments: Red coloration, most hops of all those tasted, thick creamy head, smooth, burnt malt, balance of malt/hops/bitter. Mellow.

3. Tie listed alphabetically. Harpoon's Baltic Porter - From Boston, MA and Windsor, VT this very strong and distinct brew was bound to garner a wide range of scores - which it did. A full bodied, big brew from Harpoon's Leviathan series. Comments: Strong with a little sweetness, complex tastes on the side of the tongue, bitter, cloudy, coffee color, nice bite, strong hop presence, strong chocolate notes.

3. Rogue's Mocha Porter - From Newport, OR - Once again, a delicious beer and distinct. Comments: Slightly smoky, coffee overtones, dark/opaque, full-bodied, roasted malt, balance, smooth.

4. Tie listed alphabetically. Otter Creek's Stovepipe Porter - From Middlebury, VT. A very tasty brew. Comments: Lighter than expected, more carbonated, almost an ale, malty with complex overtones, nice strong finish, nice bitter end, pleasant, burnt, definitely a porter.

4. Stone's Smoked Porter - Out of San Diego - Stone's Arrogant Bastard is one of my all time faves. First time I've had their porter - another very good brew. Comments: Big, very dark, powerful, strong, burnt malt flavor, sweet, warm, full mouth feel, sharpest flavor, good.

5. Rock Art Double Smoked Porter - From Morrisville, VT - even though it is down on the list here, it received a "1" rating by at least one of the judges (that may have been me - I really liked it). Comments: Sweet but good, malty, complex, smoky, cloudy appearance, distinctive, strong, wow!, light in color.

6. Southern Tier's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Porter - From an excellent brewery in Lakewood, NY - this was probably the closest to a truly classic porter. Though it scored at the bottom, all agreed it is a delicious beer nonetheless. Comments: Dark, full-bodied, chocolate, balanced, malty sweet, smoky.

We also tried a Russian Porter which, by comparison to the American brews, was very sweet and malty with little hops presence. Most of us preferred the American cousins.

Featured Brew - Vermonster!

As an added treat, we had a bottle of Rock Art's Vermonster Barleywine. This is a big, strong (10% ABV) knock your socks off brew. With an impressive 100 IBU's there is a very strong hops presence here. Good nose right off the bat with deep malt and hops jumping out at you. Very hoppy - often categorized as an Imperial IPA. Nice deep ruby color, full creamy head with good retention. Delicious brew.

Interesting, Rock Art was sued by Monster Energy Drink for copyright infringement over the use of the word "monster" in their name. Were they afraid someone would mistake this tasty, rich brew for one of those god-awful sweet concoctions that are about one step away from Kool Aid? Anyhow, Rock Art won. Way to go!

Once again, the real winners were - Us!


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