Tuesday night was a rescheduling of our previous England vs. USA showdown of stouts and porters in Cork & Bottle/Clever. And while I REALIZE you cannot have a true battle with only 4 beers, remember we are in this to have fun, and not draw scientific conclusions. And I intentionally selected straight down the middle, textbook examples of both types. No insane Imperial stouts or flavored porters here. Nonetheless, it still made for an interesting duel, as sides were clearly drawn when it was all said and done....
Bar Harbor Coal Porter: ABV: 6.5% What an great name. I wanted to try it for that reason alone. Unfortunately, I didn't get a whole heck of a lot out of this one. The nose was pretty much closed down. While it could be considered an easy drinker, there was an odd tobacco finish that I wasn't able to reconcile with any other aspect. A little Fig Newton on the palate was pleasant enough, but I struggled to find something to go own. Which brings me to my...ahem...soapbox rant on porters.
I feel like porters, at least in the United States (with the exception of a few), are suffering from an identity crisis. They are not a brown ale, but not a stout, and seem inexorably caught in between. I liken it to non-committal colors. You know what I mean. Lavender. Peach. Ice blue. Mauve. Be a COLOR for God's sake. Lavender is the worst. It just can't ever be anything more than a weak purple. If you catch me in lavender, you officially have the right to rain hellfire down on me.
(My other less significant issue, with this beer is the use of the name coal. Ok, fellas if you are going to put that in the name, you know you are inviting people to think it is going to be "as black as coal," whether you intend to or not. And I wanted this beer to pour out dark. What a fantastic connection! Just a thought.)
What I am getting at is it seems to me porters here in the ole US of A are confused. And you can almost sense it in the aromas and flavors. Is it a coincidence this beer was named after a legendary musician who himself went through confusion and identity crises with his homosexuality and numerous traumas in life?
I'm not drawing a line in drying concrete here folks, I'm just saying I think it's an issue worth discussing. When you drink the Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, the Fullers London Porter, the Meantime London Porter, the word 'confused' doesn't spring to mind. They are solid and truely BRITISH beers in every way. I guess American porters still just need to find their calling card...
Darwin Brewery Original Flag Porter: ABV: 5% The winner, hands down, in the Porter categorty. And not just because it has an awesome story (please read below). Right out of the Riedel, inviting, wrap yourself in a blanket, nutty and smoky notes fill the nose, with a little coca-cola on the side. As it warms, maple syrup and oat aromas arise, so that you are somewhere between chesnuts roasting on an open fire and a big bowl of oatmeal with syrup. Either way, you are comfortable, and that is the biggest impression I took from this beer. It has easy, good solid aromas and a smooth palate, with no rough edges. Easily a crowd pleaser. And DON'T go by the label. It's just terrible.
The Original Flag Story, straight from the horse's mouth (i.e. the website): "In 1988 divers discovered the Black Flag, a merchant vessel that went down in a storm in the English Channel in 1825. Among the artifacts discovered on the ship were 163-year-old bottles of porter.
The beer itself was undrinkable, but beer scientist Dr. Keith Thomas was able to isolate and cultivate some of the original porter yeast. With original porter yeast in hand, Thomas went to Whitbread of London and obtained a recipe for a circa-1850 porter, and thus was born Flag Porter.
A modern-day yeast is used for the primary fermentation, while the 1825 strain is used to bottle-condition the beer. So, remember when you are drinking Original Flag Porter, you are drinking history." -Jim Lundstrom
Wye Valley Dorothy Goodbody Stout: ABV: 4.6%
I am a sucker for labels. I admit. And anything pin-up or rockabilly I am especially weak for. So when I saw this, I was sold on trying it.
This is a bottle-conditioned beer, (and this is where my total ignorance comes in), I would not have guessed it. As opposed to the richer, more complex noses of other BC beers (that's my own special abbreviation), whether stouts, porters, or something else entirely, this beer just didn't give out much at all... While there was some interesting meaty notes in the bottle it is completely lost in Riedel translation. And sorry Sophia, I did NOT like that movie.
What is even more troublesome, is that it had a metallic finish, that was not insanely strong, but undeniable, and ultimately made it difficult to drink. Ok, brewers out there, what makes that happen in a beer? Iron or metal compounds in the water? Reactive metals somewhere in the process? Help me out here.
BEER # 54
Shipyard Bluefin Stout: ABV: 4.7% This one was the clear winner in the Stout category. Well made and balanced, this beer was, like the Original Flag, easy to drink with smooth edges.
On the nose, the aromas varied significantly between the Riedel and the bottle. Which just goes to prove folks, this geek-out glass thing I'm doing is not just for s's and g's. It REALLY makes a difference. Lord, read my review on Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout if you don't believe me.... Anyway, in the the Riedel, I got marshmallow, brown sugar, spice, and white pepper. In the bottle, it just seemed sugary, and not nearly so interesting.
On the palate, the pepper vanished and I was left with an array of baking spices, that kind of aroma you get from a spice bread where you are not sure what's in there. While you would not classify this beer as intense and complex, there were some nice comfortable aromas that made it, like the Flag, an easy drinking stout.
SOOOO. England wins Round 1. USA takes Round 2. Who will take 1st prize when it's all said and done? Stay tuned....