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Aug 27, 2014

Beer Break

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Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 21
Let's try some porters

Jan. 25, 2001

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One of the most obvious approaches to hosting a beer tasting with a theme is to build it around a single style. We'll show you how -- in this case with examples from the porter family.

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We decided on porter because Hoepfner Porter from Germany is January's selection from the Michael Jackson Real Beer Tour -- and we do in-office tastings of the beer the club offers each month. (A bit of full disclosure: Since the club is part of Real Beer we have a financial interest in having you and your friends join.) While we guarantee you'll like the beer, if you don't have it on hand you can still enjoy this tasting.

The history of porter is long and interesting. Jackson writes: "... no style of beer is so shadowy and elusive. It is not a spirit, but it is a recurrent ghost among beers." Because porter -- perhaps called that because of its popularity with workers who toiled in the produce markets of London -- hit its stride in the 1700s at the same time a national transportation network came into existence in Great Britain, it became the first nationwide style of beer anywhere in the world.

Porter gave birth to stout, stout became more popular and better known and porter virtually disappeared from the face of the earth. While American microbrewers played an essential role in reviving the style, they also sparked U.S. interest in porters from other countries -- and we learned that great porters were also made outside of England.

You aren't going to be able to find all these porters in your local store, but that's OK because you'd overwhelm your taste buds if you did. There also may be other porters, particularly some brewed locally, you will want to include.

We do suggest, however, that you try to get at least one from each of four groups. Just don't expect the beers within any one group to be exactly alike. The Okocim Porter, for instance, is a hefty 8.1% alcohol by volume and truly a restorative beer. The Saku is lighter in body, more refreshing than restoring.

Continental porters: Hoepfner Porter (Germany), Saku Porter (Estonia) Okocim Porter (Poland), Zwiec Porter (Poland).

British porters: Fuller's London Porter, Flag Porter. (Note: The Flag Porter is brewed with a yeast retrieved in 1988 from a ship that sunk off the southern coast of England in 1825, pretty much at the height of the London porter boom.)

American porters A: Left Hand Black Jack Porter (Colorado), Portland Haystack Black Porter (Oregon), Bert Grant's Perfect Porter (Washington), Bell's Porter (Michigan).

American porters B: Full Sail Imperial Porter (Oregon), Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerland Porter (Ohio). For competition purposes, American porters are divided into two categories: brown and robust. These two are robust enough to be easily mistaken for stouts. They are beers your taste buds won't forget for a while.

As always, we suggest you scribble down a few notes as you try the beers. Compare the sweetness, the chocolate notes (in the aroma, the palate?), the body, if you find a beer roasty, coffee-like, even burnt. If you have two American porters on hand, compare them to each other, then to their porter cousins. The American porters use a top-fermenting yeast, the Hoepfner a bottom-fermenting yeast. Notice a difference in fruitiness?

Don't be shy about discussing what you taste with others at the table. You'll be surprised what you'll learn.

Tasting notes

HOEPFNER PORTER
Brewed by Hoepfner Brewery in Germany

Michael Jackson's tasting notes:

Mahogany to black color; smooth, toffeeish, palate; powerful "burnt" character enwrapped in a rounded finish.

FLAG PORTER
Brewed by the Elgood Brewery in England

Tasting notes from Roger Protz:

The beer is enormously complex. It has a dark, tangy, slightly smoky and nutty aroma underpinned by Fuggles hop pepperiness. In the mouth there is a distinct bitter fruitiness reminiscent of blood oranges, and the finish is rich in fruit, hops and bitter chocolate and becomes intensely dry.

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