Porter is a traditional malt-forward dark English ale style. It’s everywhere, yet never seems to elicit any great excitement with beer scribes or seasoned beer reviewers. Prevailing trends show that crafted IPA is the number one microbrewed ale in sales, but I predict that IPA may soon be challenged by the familiar and unassuming ale we generically call “porter,” which is undergoing some modern innovation.
I don’t know about you, but if you’ve been around craft beer as long as I have you get a bit tired of being whacked in the teeth with a bag of hops every time a new hyper IPA is released — each trying to out-hop the previous release. You become anxious for some alternatives. Could a currently hop-addicted craft beer market finally discover the joys of malt-forward ales? I did. That’s one reason my current favourite ale style is porter. It can range from deep ebony to a coppery-amber, depending on the malts used. The brewer has much leeway in porter design. Like an artist with a palette, he can colour and flavour a porter by blending dark roasty malts, amber toffee malts, bright sweet crystal malts, or rich Munich chocolate malts to create a malt masterpiece — and then he can add a signature to that masterwork with a natural compliment.
For years porters have been confused with and equated to stouts, but this is a little like comparing cream to yogurt. Ask any brewer about the difference between porter and stout, and most will tell you it’s the presence of roasted unmalted grains (such as barley or oats) that give stouts their drier, more assertive coffee-grounds flavour, that deep rich roastiness and a richer texture and fuller mouth feel. However, the recent redevelopment of the style by the craft brewing industry has a stronger version of porter with a fuller body called “robust porter.” Great Lakes Brewery has been leading the innovation on this style front.
Porter is something you take for granted, like a comfy recliner or a well-worn pair of jeans. Great, well-crafted porters were not getting the same attention as the new extreme beers and imperials. So craft brewers decided to give porter a do-over by infusing new flavours in the brewing process. In this way porters can be as complex as any beer style. Some of the first natural flavour fusions were with vanilla pods, cocoa nibs, coffee, honey, smoked malt, maple syrup and even citrus and pumpkin.
This first round of porter innovation almost backfired, as many of the first flavoured offerings were not really well constructed. Flavours were either too weak, or over-powering, or uncomplimentary to the beer. The backlash almost killed the porter crafting trend when some beer writers referred to porter as a catch-all “kitchen sink” for every organic additive that came in front of the brewer’s vision. There was perhaps some truth to this, and many of us have experienced a flavoured porter that wasn’t just quite right (either missing something or having too much added flavour).
Things changed when the second phase of porter experimenting started in Denmark. Craft beer artisans meticulously calculated proportional flavouring, making them intense. The added flavouring was complimentary. Mikkeller and Meantime were among the most successful. This trend spread to North America and now we are seeing a surge in well crafted flavoured porters — particularly on tap. If the quality and innovation continues, porter will give IPA a run for the money in terms of sales.
Mikkeller Texas Ranger Porter — robust porter with smoked chipotle (LCBO#371955) I wonder how many readers are aware that Mikkeller, the Copenhagen, Denmark based microbrewer, is innovative in more than just their unique brews. Mikkeller is also unique in their approach to craft brewing. It is a collaborative brewing operation with no brewery of its own, and was started by two passionate artisanal home brewers who invented “guerilla brewing”; they collaborate on a craft beer recipe with other high profile craft brewers, then brew their one-off unique brews at various world class microbreweries, producing a constant series of high quality unique beers to supply their craft beer bistro. They became hugely successful and now have some standard offerings in constant production. Mikkeller continues to brew solely at a variety of host microbrewers such as de Proefbrouwerij, Brew Dog, To Øl, Three Floyds, 18th Street Brewing, Evil Twin Brewing and Ale Smith, to name a few. Mikkeller’s great contributions to the craft beer world are its innovations of the porter and stout genres.
Texas Ranger Chipotle Porter pours an opaque black colour into your glass with a small dark cap — rich roasty coffee-cocoa tones in the nose with a hint of nuts, spice and smokiness — flavour is a robust thick blend of roasty dark malts, espresso-cocoa flavours with bright hopping enhanced by a piquant sharpness — rich roasty finish with a spicy-smoky end to it and you get just a light “tingle” on the lips from the chipotle. I think the smoked chipotle compliments this robust porter and the use of the smoked chipotle pepper was judicious and accurate enough to make it a great accompaniment to the roasty porter character without over powering the flavour. Another top flight flavoured porter from this great craft brewer.
Beau’s All Natural Brewing’s Dial ‘Z’ For Zwickel — a traditional Franconian lager (Available in a seasonal 4-pack at the LCBO and on tap) I had to share my review of this unique brew with you chiefly because we have never seen a true Zwickel lager in the Canadian Market place. Zwickelbier is essentially an effervescent form of a Bavarian kellerbier. It originated in the small artisanal and home breweries of Franconia, Germany and is rarely exported internationally. This lager is deep gold, unfiltered, unpasteurised, but the maturation casks (or modern conditioning tanks) are bunged or capped just before the end of fermentation. This furthers the dissolution of carbon dioxide gas into the brew. Maturing Zwickelbier builds infused effervescence, resulting in a lush creamy head when poured into a glass.
Beau’s rendition of the style taps off an unfiltered murky light copper with a rich creamy cap — pungent bready aroma with some succulent herbal tones — super fresh smelling lager. Deep natural effervescence keeps the cap alive through the pint. Big chew of Munich malts in front then a pleasant herbal Spalter hop bittering that goes to a clean dry finish with a maltose kiss at the end — you usually only get this quality in premium Franconian brands but here it is in a domestic offering — great quaffing for the craft lager enthusiast. Being an unapologetic lover of German brewing and lager styles (primarily because they are harder to make correctly than ales and you have to be skilled to carry off a good rendition of the more arcane Franconian styles) I loved this lager. This release by Beau’s is as close to an authentic German Zwickelbeir as I have sampled — obviously some planning and research went into this unfiltered creamy lager — Ein Prosit!
THE MALT MONK is the alter ego of D.R. Hammond, a passionate supporter of craft beer culture. He invites readers to join in the dialogue at maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com