With winter in full swing, we typically turn to robust beverage selections that help keep us cozy and warm throughout the chilly nights. We look for bolder flavors, stronger profiles, and maybe even higher alcohol levels to provide that wonderful warming sensation as we enjoy our favorite cold one. One of the best beer styles that grants all of these characteristics is American porters.
Originally perceived as lighter stouts (just as a stout was perceived to be a stronger version of a porter), porters can vary widely, from bitter, roasty beers to sweeter, chocolaty versions and everything in between. Interpretation and personalization is key.
There are more traditional offerings, like English or Baltic porters, and then there are American craft versions, which often use additional ingredients (like coffee or smoked malts) or techniques (like oak ageing).
These American examples are the focus of our tastings this month. The style lines are blurred, as innovative brewers think outside the box and experiment with different recipes and methods. Some American brewers have even taken to producing imperial porters, offering more intensity, concentration, bitterness and, of course, alcohol.
Perfect for those cold winter nights, here are some great brews to start off your porter journey. Prost!
96 Alaskan Brewing Co. 2013 Smoked Porter (American Porter; Alaskan Brewing Co., AK). A perennial classic, Alaskan Brewing’s vintage-dated Smoked Porter continues to impress. The 2013 bottling seems to have even more depth and power than usual, with intense aromas of char and campfire upfront, supported by notes of chocolate, cigar box, roasted malt and a hint of dark fruit. It’s a deep, dark brown color—almost black—with a fluffy tan head that lingers. The palate is smooth, full and creamy, with lush flavors that mimic the bouquet alongside accents of hickory-cured bacon, roasted coffee and s’mores. A sweet-smoke sensation lingers on the long finish; with this concentration, power and balance, this is a selection that’s sure to evolve and age well for years to come. Cellar Selection.
abv: 6.5% Price: $9/22 oz
92 Hangar 24 Barrel Roll No. 01 2013 Immelmann (American Imperial Porter; Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, CA). This Bourbon-barrel-aged imperial porter is brewed with lots of malts, including chocolate and dark chocolate malts, as well as oats, cocoa nibs and whole vanilla beans. It’s aged in Bourbon barrels for six months, then blended with 20% fresh porter to retain some of the initial beer’s characteristics and prevent the wood from overpowering the profile. The result is an intense but well balanced selection, brimming with powerful aromas and flavors of vanilla, roasted coffee, sweet wood, baking spice, cocoa, molasses and dried dark plums and berries. This beer is medium bodied, with low carbonation and a spicy warmth on the finish. Only 2520 bottles were produced. Although it’s enjoyable now, the intensity should mellow and flavors will evolve with some cellaring time. Cellar Selection.
abv: 11.4% Price: $20/750 ml
90 Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean (American Porter; Stone Brewing Co., CA). This porter pours a dark brown color, with faint hints of walnut-mahogany when held up to the light. Initial aromas are as expected—roasted malt, vanilla, charred oak and faint sweet smoke. The palate is smooth and savory, with forward flavors of vanilla bean, coffee, roasted walnut shells and chocolate malted-milk balls. A touch of bitterness and a subtle, welcome warmth on the finish make it an ideal selection for chilly winter nights.
abv: 5.9% Price: $8/22 oz
88 Stone 2013 Collaboration Stone-10 Barrel-Bluejacket Suede Imperial Porter (American Imperial Porter; Stone Brewing Co., CA). This ale, brewed with calendula flowers, jasmine and avocado honey, pours a deep brown color with a serious head that lingers. Initial aromas of mocha waft from the glass, while dried floral and whole hop flower accents unfold and hold their own. The palate is smooth and rich, with a silky, suede-like texture (hence the name?) that’s complemented by soft warmth and ample bitterness on the finish. The palate is full of traditional porter flavors—roasted malt, bitter chocolate and coffee—but interestingly accented by notes of honey, caramel and fragrant white flowers. Flavors of dried red fruits and cocoa powder linger on the close, along with a soft, resinous slick.
abv: 9.6% Price: $8/22 oz
87 DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter (American Porter; DuClaw Brewing Co., MD). If you like peanut butter—and I mean really like peanut butter—then this beer might be for you. The aromas and flavors are so pungent and intense that chocolaty peanut butter is pretty much all you get. Despite the rich flavor, it’s fairly bright on the palate, with medium carbonation and a mocha-flavored finish that could be compared to a Manhattan Special soda.
abv: 6.5% Price: $10/12 oz 6 pack