I've been a major slacker in studying for the BJCP exam and I need to get my butt in gear if I'm going to pass this thing. One of the areas I really need to work on and excel at is evaluating and describing beers, as well as determining how well the beers fit into defined styles. So, to prepare for my studies, I've been going to liquor stores in search of a handful of beers within the same style category. And finding them all at one store is actually a bit harder than you might think.
I decided on evaluating porters which, in brief, can vary from light-bodied and mildly roasty to moderately-full in body and full of dark fruit, chocolate, and roasted malt character. I'm not going to explain the history and style of Porter; I'll let the ever-eloquent Michael Jackson do the work for me.
A week or two ago, I stopped by Rimann Liquors in Prairie Village and picked up three different bottles of porter. Along with a bottle of Edmund Fitzgerald Porter acquired in Minneapolis, Mr Wort Hog and I shared my three purchases:
1. RHC Old Slug Porter
2. Sinebrychoff Porter
3. Samuel Smith Old Taddy Porter
I purchased them along categorizations in the BJCP guidelines of Brown, Robust, and Baltic porters, but for most purposes, they're all just variations on a theme. Here's the low-down on each beer:
Old Slug Porter (brown porter #1)
Described on the brewery's site as "A delicious traditional porter with a full bodied taste of chocolate, coffee, blackcurrant and black cherry with a good aroma. A near black colour with a good white head when served through a tight sparkler" ... No sparkler in our house, though... Our impression of this was a little less enchanting. It's a bit simplistic, and would be a good beer to drink without really being interested in what I'm drinking. Not challenging or complex, but easy to drink and still a quality porter.
A brown porter should be, according to the BJCP, "[different] from a robust porter in that it usually has softer, sweeter and more caramelly flavors, lower gravities, and usually less alcohol. More substance and roast than a brown ale. Higher in gravity than a dark mild. Some versions are fermented with lager yeast. Balance tends toward malt more than hops. Usually has an “English” character."
Aroma: roasty, dark chocolate, burnt sugar. Decent but it left quickly.
Mouthfeel: medium-light, high carbonation. A bit lighter than I'm used to for a porter, even an English one.
Flavor: roasty, some dark chocolate, burnt toffee, acidic
Samuel Smith Taddy Porter (brown porter #2)
I loved this porter and would definitely buy this one again. Great mouthfeel, nice complex flavor, but not heavy or filling in the slightest. This is a great introduction to porters and would probably be well-liked by those who don't care for (or aren't interested in) the hoppier versions.
Aroma: chocolate, figs, burnt sugar, toast crust, raisins
Flavor: loads of caramelized fruit sugar. I told Mr Wort Hog it reminded me a little of burnt raisins on the outside of homemade scones. Not overwhelmingly roasty; more of a dark toasted bread flavor with dried fruit mixed in there. Yum.
Mouthfeel: almost creamy, medium carb, medium body
Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (robust porter)
Fitzgerald was probably my favorite of the lot, simply because of the lovely combination of dried cherry and roasted malt character. If we got this here in KC, I'd probably drink this well throughout the winter.
The BJCP guideline states that robust porter "differs from a brown porter in that a black patent or roasted grain character is usually present, and it can be stronger in alcohol. Roast intensity and malt flavors can also vary significantly. May or may not have a strong hop character, and may or may not have significant fermentation by-products..."
I'm not sure I find this description all that helpful, actually. Anyway, here are our general findings:
Aroma: loads of dried cherry, roasted malt
Flavor: low hop bitterness, balanced by malt sweetness & roastiness
Mouthfeel: medium-full body, moderate carbonation
Sinebrychoff Porter (Baltic porter)
The Sinebrychoff website is pretty verbose about this beer. They even give nutritional information (65 calories per 100ml, by the way). I enjoyed this one quite a bit as well and am interested in comparing it with Okocim and Baltika #6 some time.
From the BJCP guideline: "A Baltic Porter often has the malt flavors reminiscent of an English brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwarzbier, but with a higher OG and alcohol content than either. Very complex, with multi-layered flavors."
Aroma: dark dried fruits, licorice, milk chocolate, sweet mild tobacco
Flavor: low hop bitterness, moderate malt bitterness balanced by sweetness, dark chocolate, burnt caramel syrup
Mouthfeel: medium-full body, almost creamy, low-to-moderate carbonation
By the way, you can't get Great Lakes in the KC metro area. (I'm really failing on that "focusing on beers you can get here in KC" aspect, aren't I?) But, a few great porters in the "robust" category that you CAN get here would include porter by Founders (definitely on the hoppy side), Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Bell's, or Boulevard.