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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Make it Black
(Sung to the tune of "Paint it Black")

I see a lite beer and I want it to be black;
No "see-thru" brews for me, I want them to be black;
Don't want no tasteless beers dressed up with summer fruit;
Just pour that down the drain, 'cause I don't give a hoot.
Don't want no Silver Bullet, got to make it black;
Hand me a Lite my friend you're going to get it back;
Don't want no mega-brew pretending to be "craft;"
No sissy lo-cal beer, I want a pitch-black draft.
No darkness to my beer will really make me blue;
Don't want to read the paper through a new-poured brew;
If I look hard enough into that ebon quaff;
I'll feel my spirits rise as my taste buds take off.

Porters - A Bit of the Dark History

Once again the BOTB guys have turned to the dark side. This month we looked at porters. The question often comes up: What's the difference between a stout and a porter? The answer is complicated. The difference is that traditionally stouts tend to be drier while porters a bit sweeter - except when they are not. To muddy things up even more, stouts were traditionally brewed with roasted barley while porters were not - until some were. Stouts tend to be somewhat darker - think tar black - while porters are more a dark brown - except for the porters that are tar black! The thing is, porters and stouts have a common ancestor: the porter. Porters developed in the 18th century in the pubs of London as a combination of younger pale ales and older, darker ales. Soon breweries picked up on the popularity of this style and began producing their own versions of it. The stronger, fuller-bodied ones became known as "stout porters." Soon the name "porter" was dropped from these and they were simply known as stouts. 
With the recent explosion of craft brewers and their heady experimentation with styles and additives, the distinction has become much less sharp. Some "porters" are made with roasted barley. American porters tend to have more hops, thus cutting the sweetness often associated with traditional porters. There are also Baltic or Imperial porters - brews which are much higher alcohol content and generally much more intense and complex in flavor.
Most modern porters can be expected to have varying degrees of chocolate and coffee notes. Some emphasize the chocolate while others the coffee. Toffee, caramel, malt, mocha, dark fruit,vanilla, bread, yeast: these are all flavors that can be associated with porters to one degree or another. We have chosen a variety of brews: a classic porter from London, a West Coast brew, some East Coast takes, a unique coffee-infused offshoot and a few Imperials.

Before we get into the brews themselves, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the breweries which produce them in a segment I call...

~Let's Meet the Brewers!~

Fuller’s Brewing

The Beer Facts - Fuller Brewing is an institution in the little village of Chiswick, West London.  While Fuller’s has been there since 1845, the brewery has been brewing beer for over 350 years. Originally it was the Griffin Brewery. 
Number of core brews – 14
Flagship BrewFuller’s London Pride – a premium cask ale

Awards, prizes etc. – London Pride, ESB and 1845 have all been named as Champion Beer of Britain – a record no other brewer can claim.
Most Intriguing BeerMighty Atom – Just released in October of 2011, Mighty Atom is interesting because it is only 2.8% ABV and is described as follows: “Mighty Atom has a rich, light caramel character, while a heady dose of five different hops brings in floral grapefruit and plum notes, with a spicy overtone.” Not available in the states, only selected pubs.
What They Say About Their Porter -  "Fuller's London Porter is widely regarded as the world's finest porter; having won awards all over the world, London Porter is regularly voted the number one Porter."

Middle Ages Brewing Company

The Beer Facts – Middle Ages has been brewing beer in Syracuse, NY for 16 years. As the
name might suggest, the beers are in the style of medieval English brews. Marc and Mary Rubenstein own the brewery and Marc is the head brewer. He interned in Kennebunkport Brewery in Kennebunkport, Maine and Shipyard Brewery in Portland, Maine. In this day and age of computerized everything, Mary says, "Our beer is handcrafted: no computers to control brewing cycles; we physically weight out the malt, do not use any adjuncts such as rice or corn fillers; and we mix our beer by hand. Using a rousing stick.” They use two-row barley imported from England and yeast which is a “direct descendant of brewing yeast originating in Yorkshire, England.”

Number of Beers - (available on a rotating basis) – 22

Flagship BrewSyracuse Pale Ale (with ImPaled Ale a close second).

Most Intriguing Beer – Every year that would have to be their anniversary ale. This year that would be their India Black Ale.
Most Intriguing LogoDouble Wench (twice as good as Wailing Wench - though I don't know why. Something subliminal there I suppose).

What They Say About Their Porter – Not available

Yuengling Brewery

The Beer Facts - Yuengling is best known as America's oldest brewery. It was established as the Eagle Brewery  in 1829 by David Yuengling, a German immigrant. In 1919, the brewery began to produce "near beer" and opened a dairy in order to survive prohibition. In 1933, to mark the end of prohibition, the brewery produced "Winner Beer" and shipped a truckload of it to President Franklin Roosevelt.

Number of Core Beers - 7

Flagship Brew - Yuengling Traditional Lager

Awards, Prizes, etc. - 1996 - Demand for Yuengling exceeded production. 2009 - production exceeded 2 million barrels.

Most Intriguing Beer - Lord Chesterfield Ale

What They Say About Their Porter - "Out Porter calls for a generous portion of caramel and dark roasted malts, which deliver a rich full-bodied flavor and creamy taste with slight tones of chocolate evident in every sip."

Anchor Brewery

The Beer Facts - Anchor Brewing is best known for its "steam beer" however no one really knows why the word "steam" is associated with the brewing process. It goes back to the 19th century. The word "steam" was used for beer brewed on the West Coast of the US where ice was unavailable. "Steam Beer" is now a trademark of Anchor Brewing. Anchor has been brewing beer in San Francisco since 1896 and still uses traditional brewing methods.

Number of Core Brews - 10 (including 4 seasonals)

Flagship Brew - Anchor Steam Beer

Awards, Prizes, etc. - Anchor Brewing is one of the smallest and most traditional breweries in America, yet its Anchor Steam Beer is world renown.

Most Intriguing Beer - Old Foghorn Ale - a Barley Wine style ale using only Cascade hops. Fermented with top-fermenting ale yeast. Weighs in at somewhere between 8% - 10% ABV. By extension their Anchor Small is also interesting as it is produced as a secondary beer using the Old Foghorn mash in a similar way in which "small beers" of colonial times were produced. It is 3.3% ABV. A good breakfast beer.

What They Say About Their Porter - "Anchor Porter is a unique dark brew, which was introduced by Anchor in the early 1970's...(it is brewed with) specially roasted dark malts...along with top-fermenting yeast. The brew is hopped at a very high rate, and is naturally carbonated to produce a rich flavor and thich creamy head...We use specially roasted malts...only fresh whole hops, which are added liberally. All this combines to produce a rich and intense flavor with subtle notes of chocolate, toffee, and coffee.

Otter Creek / Wolavers

The Beer Facts - Otter Creek produces three lines of beer: Otter Creek craft Ales, Wolaver's Certified Organic Ales and The Shed Brewery. Otter Creek is located in Middlebury, Vermont and began producing beer in March of 1991. In 1998 they began brewing Wolaver's Organic Ales and in 2002 the Wolaver family bought out Otter Creek. Wolaver ales are certified organic by Vermont Organic Farmers and use wheat and oats grown locally in Addison County, Vermont. Otter Creek uses Vermont water and domestically grown malts and hops. It uses its own top-fermenting yeast.

Number of Core Brews - 3 (plus 3 seasonals - summer, fall and winter) plus 20th Anniversary Ale.

Flagship Beer - Otter Creek Copper Ale

Awards, Prizes, etc. - All Wolaver brews are made with no less than 98% certified organic ingredients.

Most Intriguing Beer - Twentieth Anniversary Ale - described as "An homage to our long-running flagship Copper Ale with four times the malts and hops." A close second is their Black IPA.

What They Say About Their Porter - "Brimming with dark roasted malt, Stovepipe Porter is a well-hopped ale with a rich palate, deep color and a slightly herbal aroma."

Flying Dog Brewery

The Beer Facts - Georger Stranahan: "Don't let anyone make you eat shit."
                             Hunter S. Thompson: "I'd hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me."
                             Raph Steadman: "Good beer, no shit."

     George Stranahan started a brewpub in 1991 in Aspen, Colorado. He named it Flying Dog after a bizarre painting of a flying dog he had seen in a Pakistani hotel bar after he and some friends had finished climbing the notorious K2. Stranahan was a longtime friend of Hunter S. Thompson, the journalist best known for his "gonzo" style of journalism. Stranahan wanted his beers to somehow reflect this gonzo spirit, and Thompson introduced him to artist Ralph Steadman, a cartoonist and caricaturist who had illustrated much of Thompson's work with unique frenetic, lunatic artwork. Steadman created the label art for all of Flying Dog's brews. The very first beer was Road Dog Porter and Steadman included in his label art the words: "Good beer, no shit." The Colorado liquor board removed all Road Dog from the market, considering the labeling to be profane. For a while the phrase was replaced with: "Good beer, no censorship." Flying Dog fought to get the original text back and, with the help of the ACLU, won.  

In 2007, the production was moved to Frederick, Maryland.

All the beer names reference dogs in some way except their Gonzo Imperial Porter which was named in honor of Hunter S. Thompson after his death.

Number of Core Beers - 6 (Plus 4 high gravity, 4 seasonals, and 5 "Wild Dog" high alcohol series)

Flagship Beer: Road Dog Porter

Awards, Prizes, etc. - Doggie Style Pale Ale: #1 New York Times American Pale Ale; 2010 silver medal European Beer Star; 1999 silver medal Great American Beer Festival (GABF) for English Style Ale.                     
                                   Old Scratch Amber Lager: 2008 silver medal and 2005 gold medal for amber lager -                   GABF
                                   In Heat Wheat Hefeweizen: 2006 silver medal and 2003 bronze medal for German            Hefeweizen - GABF
                                   Gonzo Imperial Porter: 2009 Gold medal GABF for Aged Beer (Vintage 2007)
                                   Horn Dog Barley Wine: 2009, 2008 gold, 2005 bronze at GABF - German style Marzen.
                                   Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter: 2009 silver GABF for Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer; 2009 god at Stockholm Beer and whiskey Festival - Barrel-Aged Beer.

Most Intriguing Beer - Barrle-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter (Most intriguing name: Raging Bitch Belgian Style India Pale Ale.)

What They Say About Their Porter - "Road Dog is one of our most versatile beers to pair with food. Flavor notes: roasted malt with nutty, earthy, coffee and chocolate notes."

Great Lakes Brewing Company

The Beer Facts - In 1870, Cleveland boasted 30 breweries. Early in the 1980's Christian Schmidt Brewing, the last of these old breweries, closed its doors, unable to compete with the mega-breweries that had hijacked the American beer landscape. But in 1988, Great Lakes Brewing Company opened. It was the first microbrewery in Ohio. The first beer produced was The Heisman (later renamed Dortmunder Gold after it won a gold medal at the 1990 GABF) named after the famous football player for whom the most prestigious college football honor was named. Heisman grew up just around the corner from the Great Lakes Brewery location.

Number of Core Beers - 5 (Plus nine seasonals and countless pub exclusive choices)

Flagship Beer - Dortmunder Gold Lager (though the brewery argues that they actually have a Flagship Fleet.)

Awards, Prizes, etc. - Commodore Perry IPA, Burning River Pale Ale and Conway's Irish Ale all won gold medals at the 2011 World Beer Championships in their respective categories. Since 1988 these three beers have nabbed 17 gold medals at the World Championships. Burning River was named World Champion in 1994.

What They Say About Their Porter - "A complex, roasty porter with a bittersweet, chocolate-coffee taste and a bold hop presence.

~And Now To the Beers~
For those of you unfamiliar with our methods, the "comments" section for each beer refers to impressions, thoughts and random ramblings written by our judges as they were tasting the beers. To keep it simple, I put them all together, enclosed in quotation marks, but each separate judge's comments are separated by semi-colons.  
ABV = Alcohol By Volume 
IBU = International Bitterness Units  - a measurement of the bitterness of a beer provided by the hops used in brewing. As a source of comparison, consider a typical American light lager weighs in at 5 - 10 IBU's whereas a typical American craft brewed IPA usually comes in at between 40 and 60 IBU's. An Imperial IPA can be 80 or above. A Barley Wine can top it off at 100.
~Fuller's London Porter~

Just the Facts: 5.4% ABV  35 IBU's - Advertises itself as: "The world's finest porter."

Description: Reddish-brown / dark amber color. Tan head. Aroma of chocolate, coffee and grain.

Comments: "More of a coffee/chocolate presence - mocha, but not overly sweet; I could drink this!; Very tasty brew; Chocolate. Heavier than Middle Ages. Malt roast: Smooth, malty; Tasteful - fills the mouth; Comparable to Middle Ages, but heavier, maltier. Nice finish here!; Mocha taste up front, very tasty; A+ for a different bottle design."

~Middle Ages Smoked Porter~

Just the Facts: 5% ABV 32 IBU's- Available only at the brewery or at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
                       Very dark amber color - mahogany. Beautiful full head. Carmen nose with slight smoky notes     and roasted malt.

Comments: "Very easy drinking porter. Malty with bitter undertaste, smooth; Not a heavy beer at all; Hints of chocolate. Not overly smoky; Light smoke taste. Hearty, not too sweet; Nice balance of hop and roasted malt; Good head, light balanced; Very agreeable porter. Lighter taste. Worthy of a second glass; Good lawn mower porter; No "liquid smoke" aroma or taste; Not too sweet, even a bit of a hops presence; What a head! Very smooth, not heavy; Good easy drinking beer."

~Yuengling Porter~

Just the Facts: 4.7% ABV  22 IBU's - One of the original porters in the US. Yuengling is the largest brewer of this style in the US.
                       Very dark though not quite pitch black. aromas of caramel and cocoa. Bare hint of citrus hops in the middle to keep it from being too sweet. Smooth with a chocolate finish.

Comments: "Similar to Middle Ages, easy drinking; Thin, strong malt nose. Not a lot of taste; Dark, hoppier than mlaty; Light flavor, dark color; Darker in color but a lighter beer, hoppier than the others; Lighter taste, back taste of (slight) hops, a bit thin for a porter."

~Anchor Porter~

Just the Facts: 5.6% ABV  39 IBU's- Dark brown with rich, foamy head. Aroma of dark malt and molasses. Medium bodied with taste of chocolate, molasses and roasted malt.

Comments: "Mocha with a very subtle vanilla undertaste. Very complex flavors; Rich. Very malty Baltic porter, yet not as sweet; Not smoky; Clean finish; Good breakfast beer! Stornger chocolate and coffee flavors; Cocoa-like taste and smell, pleasant aftertaste, nice foamy head; Tastes richer, good finish; Sweet, a little chocolaty, aroma of griddled breakfast fare."

~Wolavers Alta Gracia Coffee Porter~

Just the Facts:  5% ABV  IBU;s NA- Wolavers "Organic Farmer Series" - It's brewed using organic roasted barley and chocolate malts and then it is infused with organically grown vanilla and coffee beans.
                       Mahogany colored with a head which is a bit lighter in color than the others. Strong, roasty aroma of coffee and chocolate and fresh bread. Long lasting lacing. Coffee taste is very prominent. 

Comments: "Big coffee flavor. Vanilla flavor much more pronounced in this one; Heavy coffee with sweet vanilla; Coffee, coffee, coffee!!! - Pour it in my travel mug for my morning commute!; Breakfast beer part 2; Overpowering coffee aroma - dark amber color. Sweet coffee and vanilla taste. I like my coffee black, not sweet. I've had better. Dumped my sample after tasting."

~Flying Dog Road Dog Porter~

Just the Facts: 6% ABV 31 IBU's - Dark copper brown with a tan head. Aroma of toffee and malt. Taste of toffee and roasted malt. Strongest alcohol thus far at 6%.

Comments: "Most pronounced hop presence so far; Light amber color, nice lace foam and very nice hoppy presence; I liked this! A little hoppy! (dislike the label though, could be more attractive for marketing); Godd tasting porter (sweet almost); Tasty hop presence, best yet!; Smells of coffee and tastes of coffee as well. Most hoppy so far."

~Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter~

Just the Facts: 4.4% ABV  30 IBU's- Dark brown in color with good tan head. Sharp smoky aroma of burnt malt and coffee. Distinct smoky taste throughout with typical coffee and malt sweetness.

Comments: "Nice creamy tan head; Nose is very smoky. Very light, smoky taste with a bitter hoppy essence; Smoky; Bitter and biting but pleasing; Smoked and bitter."

~Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter~

Just the Facts: 5.8% ABV 37 IBU's - Named after the famous sunken freighter The Edmund Fitzgerald. Memorialized in song by Gordon Lightfoot, the ship went down in Lake Superior in 1975 losing all 29 crew members.
                      Pitch black with some mahogany highlights when held up to the light. Rich, chocolaty aroma. Tastes of caramel and dark chocolate. 

Comments: "Hoppiest thus far. Very pleasing bitter finish with notes of caramel; Caramel nose, very nice balance of malt and hoppy clean finish for a porter; Very good; Bitter (in a good way) taste. Good head, leaves a beer moustache; Most unique porter of the group, lingering aftertaste that begs for another sip; Hoppiest yet and the most carbonation; Bittersweet chocolate-coffee bitter taste, hoppy aftertaste, coffee aftertaste."

~Big Beers Head to Head Part One~

Long Trail Imperial Porter Vs. Full Sail Imperial Porter
Long Trail Brewmasters Series Imperial Porter

Just the Facts: 8.3% ABV  56 IBU's
                       Pitch black. Rich aromas of chocolate and coffee. Very complex flavors with a solid wallop of hops.

Comments: "Wow! Very full-flavored, warm, rich brew. Sweetness of chocolate, caramel and roasted malts is nicely balanced wit a good helping of hops; Very 'warming' beer; Nice clean finish, slightly sweet; Big and lasting; Big, flavorful, dark storng and smooth. Excellen!; Coal black WTF!; Evening fireplace porter, and after dinner porter that lingers on the palette; Pleasing. A hoppy porter; Clean finish for a very big beer!; Yummy, like an after dinner brandy; Nice hoppy aroma, bitter, big flavor. Heavy, clean finish. Complex taste."

~Full Sail Imperial Porter Brewmaster's Reserve~

Just the Facts: 7.5% ABV  60 IBU's 
                       Midnight black in color. Aroma of chocolate, bready and roasted malts. Tastes of coffee, roasted malt, bittersweet chocolate.

Comments: "Big bitter chocolate taste; Nicely balanced; Smooth - balanced independence; Shockingly tasteful, big malts, balanced bitterness; Has a slap to it; Chocolate, chocolate chocolate!; Heavily malted."

Bottom line: Long Trail won.

~Big Beers Head to Head Part Two~
Leinenkugel 2010 Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout
Leinenkugel 2011 Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout

Leinenkugel Brewery of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, is one of those breweries that have been around since the 1800's, surviving both Prohibition and the homogenization of beer by the mega-breweries.It is the seventh largest brewery in the US which makes it larger than your typical craft brewer, but significantly smaller than the InBev / Millers-Coors giants. It has survived primarily by brewing German style lagers - easy drinking beers which don't push the limits of taste. Their beers are pleasant session type brews designed to appeal to a wide base and not offend. Their flagship beer is Leinenkugel Original, an award winning pilsner. They brew seven core beers and four seasonals. The IBU's range from a low of 13 to a high of 20 and the ABV's range from 4.2% to 5.1%.
So Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout is a bit of a revelation. Here is a big, dark, complex beer. It's a hefty 9.5% ABV and a solid 50 IBU's. Leinenkugel has released their 2011 version of Big Eddy Imperial Stout and wondered if we would do a taste comparison with the 2010 version. This was intriguing and an emergency meeting was called specifically to check out the two Big Eddies. 

We started with the 2010 first and right off we knew we had something special. A rich molasses aroma wafts from a pitch-black pour. The comments below tell the story of the taste:

Comments: "Very complex mix of flavors: a sweet chocolate/toffee opening gives way to a nice bitter bite. almost a bourbon-like warming middle; Sweet opening, a bit more tang (almost bitter) on the finish. Distinct espresso/mocha taste. Taste of alcohol bitterness on finish. Very complex; Slight sweet start with a medium smoky middle and a nice bitter finish. Goes from coffee to a chocolate; Smell of molasses, taste chocolate. Sweet start, bitter finish; Good hop balance."

Next came the 2011. Though essentially similar, both would make outstanding sipping beers (desert beer or after-dinner beer) we detected some differences. This also pour coal black with a rich tan creamy head. The aroma was not as strong as the 2010.

Comments: "Seems to lack some of the toffee/mocha notes that were evident in the 2010. Flavors are not quite as intense. Just doesn't seem as complex or full-bodied. Maybe a bit more bitter - almost a sour (as in sour mash - not a negative) finish; Like the 2010 better. This one is sweeter on the finish; Different than the 2010 in that the start is more refined and smooth. The whole thing is less bitter. I prefer this one; Less aroma. Smoother. More malty with coffee flavor. Simpler taste."

Both the vintages were tasty, rich Imperial stouts. Big Eddy is a real treat. If you like big beers, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this brew. In the end, the overall consensus was a preference for the 2010. It was not unanimous, however. The final toll was 5-2 in favor of the 2010.    Those who preferred the 2010 felt it was a more complex beer with flavors that filled the palate. Those who preferred the 2011 liked its smoothness and felt it was more refined.

Party at Uno's

Just a quick shout-out to all those who were able to make the Uno's BOTB get-together. A great time was had by all!

Next up: Holiday Beers.
The BOTB Guys



  1. Great song. :) I'll share this with Brian - that's his kind of beer.

  2. I discovered Edmund Fitzgerald over the summer, and was nearly shocked by how good it is. I grabbed a few bottles at the local beer store and was pleased to learn it's nearly as good out of the bottle as it was out of the tap.

    Happy to see this excellent porter getting a bit of recognition here and there.