WHEN CHILLS start to fill the air and daylight slips quicker and quicker from view, I reflexively reach for something to warm and soothe a flagging spirit: Porter. A product of 18th Century London, the hotly debated origins of the Porter style has long ran out in pubs around the world. By the mid 2Oth Century, Porter had all but died out in its home country. As with many seemingly moribund styles, enterprising American and British craft brewers helped resurrect it, helping to celebrate its dark, roasted, and rich flavors.
Once upon a time consumers retreated in the face of darker beers, tossing Porters into the same category as Stouts when it comes to beverages to fear. With the continued explosive advancement in craft beer has also come an acceptance if not an outright embrace of darker styles. The style should be a familiar flavor profile for most drinkers, with its substantial coffee and chocolate bases. Dark brown to black in color, occasionally with ruby hues along the edges, the aromas range from light roasted coffee notes to intensely bitter charred notes. A style subject to diverse interpretation, the resulting beers can possess sharply bitter roasted malt notes to milder chocolate and sweeter malt notes. The best versions manage to balance all of these competing interests yet remain drinkable with no single note dominating.
MAYFLOWER BREWING COMPANY
Originally crafted by Matt Steinberg, now of Exhibit A Brewing in Framingham, this stunner is a perennial entrant into my best beer list in New England. A beer with wide ranging appeal, sure to satisfy both new drinkers and cranky old beer geeks alike, it pours dark brown to ruby amber in color, with a substantial off-white head that is well sustained throughout the glass. The aroma skews more British than American in origin, with light but engaging coffee notes and deep, lightly sweet, and creamy European malt notes. Medium-bodied and eminently drinkable, almost like a brilliant cross between a Dunkel and a Porter, with an airy quality, a touch of sweeter malt, the Porter results in a light mocha coffee finish. Remaining very dry throughout, the Mayflower Porter is made with a touch of peat malt for a hint of smokiness that aids drinkability and will keep the beer geek’s attention. A great dark beer addition to your cold box or to round out tap lists too often dominated by scores of hop bombs. mayflowerbrewing.com
FOUNDERS BREWING COMPANY
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
A long time fan favorite, the Porter by Founders Brewing Company is a quiet seller in a lineup of heavy hitting beer geek crushes. Pouring with a boost of thick, creamy dark manila colored foam that maintains throughout most of the drinking, the Porter is deep, deep black in color, casting out all possibilities of light. The carbonation level is relatively low, easing the bitterness throughout. The aroma blasts out dark roasted coffee and chocolate notes, with touches of caramel and toast, and occasional expressions of dried cherries and other fruit. The aroma is worth the price of admission. The flavor focuses on the dark chocolate notes, pulse after pulse, with rounding out notes of black coffee along with a teasing play of smoke and a balance of cream. Not afraid to employ hops for balancing, to the tune of 45 International Bitterness Units (IBU), the Founder’s Porter is also on the heavier end of the medium body scale. A pleasure to drink. foundersbrewing.com
ANCHOR BREWING COMPANY
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
One of America’s two oldest versions of the style, Yuengling’s Dark Brewed Porter being the other, Anchor Brewing Company’s signature Porter is the first modern American version of the style, first brewed in 1972. Proving popular, the brewery put it into bottles two years later, long before many major craft breweries even contemplated going into business. Anchor calls its Porter “the definitive American Porter,” and it is hard to argue with them. It pours with a deep brown hue with mahogany edges and a big, banger of a khaki head. This is not one of those overly aggressive or assertive American porter varieties to be sure. The aromas and flavors are more muted than many newer versions of the style, even putting aside the wacky, style bending interpretations that many smaller breweries love. With that said, this is a great, drinkable beer and you should respect your elders. Starting with a stock of dark roasted malts, the aroma continues with notes of caramel and toffee, hints of coffee and chocolate, and dark fruit including raisins and figs. A slight nutty hint also comes and goes. The flavor continues with the usual roasted, chocolate, and coffee notes but digs deeper with a dry quality that highlights the underlying fruit notes. The slightest hint of char or smoke is also occasionally present. The brewer’s use of classic Northern Brewer hops is meant for balance not to distract from the true stars of the beer, namely classic chocolate and dark malts and the fun fruits. Medium-bodied with decent carbonation, the Anchor Porter is a steady, reliable hand in a sea of sometimes overly clever interpretations of the classic style. anchorbrewing.com