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CBN Porter Blind Tastings

CBN Blind Tasting Panel
• Jay R. Brooks, Tasting Panel Director, CBN
• Bob Coleman, Reporter, CBN
• Tom Dalldorf, Editor / Publisher, CBN
• Paul Marshall, Beer Judge
• R.J. Trent, Beer Retailer / Former Brewer
• Special thanks to Mike Long, BTP Tasting coordinator/head steward

The precise beginnings of a beer style are rarely as well known as the origin of porters. In 1722, one of the most popular beers was a mix of three different beers in equal proportions: pale ale, new brown ale and aged (or stale) brown ale. As this was a time-consuming process for the bartender to draw from three separate taps, brewer Ralph Harwood decided to brew a single beer that incorporated the characteristics of the "three threads," which is what porter's predecessor was then called. When Mr. Harwood began serving his new beer at the Bell Brewhouse in Shoreditch, London, he called it "entire" (or sometimes "entire butt") to convey that its flavors included all three of the beer "threads." But, according to legend, everyone else called it porter since it was most popular among the working-class porters who worked in Mr. Harwood's East London neighborhood. Not everyone, of course, believes this neat, all-encompassing story, coming from John Bickerdyke's Curiosities of Ale and Beer, published in the 1870s. According to Terry Foster, this beer may simply have developed as a result of efforts to cut costs.

Regardless of porter’s origins, it remains a popular style today. It all but died out in the 1970s, but a few British breweries began reviving the style around 1978, and it slowly continued to grow in popularity. It finally returned to its birthplace in London when the Orange Brewery, a brewpub in the Pimlico district, began brewing it in 1984. Eventually it became a common beer at small craft breweries throughout the United States and the world during the 1980s.

There are two main types of porters: brown and robust. In addition, Baltic porter is a relatively uncommon and distinct style. Brown porters are, of course, brown in color with hints of red, while robust porters are dark brown to black with tints of dark red and violet. Brown porters tend to be slightly less hoppy (20–30 IBUs vs. 25¬40). Neither should have roasted or burnt flavors, but robust porters may have black malt bitterness. Also, brown porters are slightly lower in alcohol (4.5–6% abv vs. 5–6.5%). Baltic porters are, by contrast, very dark, almost black, lagers that are smooth and do have roasted malt character with slight smokiness. They are also higher in alcohol (6.5–9% abv) and low in hopping (22–35 IBUs).

Alaskan Smoked Porter 2004
Alaskan Brewing Co., Alaska

Very strong smoked alder wood aroma. Dark black-brown color and a pillowy tan head with great Brussels lace. Sweet, smoky and complex flavors with excellent malt character. Creamy goodness, well-balanced. The perfect beer to pair with smoked salmon.

Anchor Porter
Anchor Brewing Co., California

Sweet, estery malt nose, only slightly roasted. Black color and a thick tan head. Dry, sweet roasted coffee flavors and a big bitter finish.

Butte Creek Organic Porter
Butte Creek Brewing Co., California

Chocolate, coffee and biscuity nose with peppery hints. Dark amber color. Sweet malt flavors with creaminess up front and a good mouthfeel. Finishes with a sweet malt and tart combination.

Maduro Porter
Coast Range Brewing Co., California

Strong nose, thick with the scents of coffee and chocolate. Black in color with a very thick tan head. Creamy milk chocolate and enveloping malt flavors with great complexity and balance. With portlike richness, a near-perfect robust porter.

Deep Enders Dark Porter
Anderson Valley Brewing Co., California

Dry-roasted nose with dark brown–black color and a thick tan head. Dry-roasted malt up front with strong coffee notes. Big but balanced long, tart finish.

Eel River Porter - Certified Organic
Eel River Brewing Co., California

Mild, roasted-malt nose and deep, dark mahogany color with a rich tan head. Creamy goodness with a complex malt bite of chocolate and coffee flavors. Excellent balance with a soft, dry finish.

Hoepfner Porter
Privatbrauerei Hoepfner, Germany

Nutty, herbal nose with hints of dark pumpernickel. Deep black color and a tan head. Creamy and smooth with rich, fat malt character. A very complex beer with beautiful conditioning and a tart finish.

Point Reyes Porter
Marin Brewing Co., California

Rich, robust nose of roasty-toasty aromas. Deep black color. Creamy with a huge malt blast of rich coffee and chocolate. A major strong porter with great conditioning, sweet malt and a tart finish.

Steelhead Scotch Porter
Mad River Brewing Co., California

Soft malt nose with herbal notes. Black color with a thick tan head. Creamy and sweet up front with great complexity of flavors and nice balance. A double IPA refugee with a long. dry finish.

Stone Smoked Porter
Stone Brewing Co., California

Light smoke aroma, dark brown–black color and a thick, rich tan head. Creamy, with light smoked character and soft, tart roasted flavors. Good complexity and a clean finish.

Baltika Porter
Baltika Brewing Co., Russia

Big, roasty herbal nose, black-brown color and a tan head. Big and balanced, with rich roasted malt that’s surprisingly soft on the palate. Slightly sweet, with a long, dry finish.

Black Butte Porter
Deschutes Brewing Co., Oregon

Roasted malt nose with hints of chocolate. Dark brown–black color with violet hues and a good tan head. Great toasted malt flavors with subtle hints of cherries and chocolate lurking under the surface. This classic version of the American style is well-balanced, with great conditioning and a clean finish.

Blackhook Porter
Redhook Ale Brewery, Washington

Lightly sweet malt nose, dark black color and a tan head. Soft, rich black malt flavor with strong coffee notes and good balance. The finish is long, soft and clean.

Ridley’s Witchfinder Porter
T. D. Ridley & Sons Limited, England

Light, malty nose, dark brown color and a thick tan head. Slightly sweet and creamy, with a good mouthfeel and a long, tart finish.

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter
The Old Brewery at Tadcaster, England

Aromas of coffee and vanilla. Dark black color and a very thick, rich tan head. Creamy, with robust black malt and nutty undertones. Good balance and a clean finish.

Sierra Nevada Porter
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., California

Soft, roasty nose with dark brown–black color and a thick, light tan head. Lightly sweet, with soft malt character and great balance.

Moonstone Porter
Six Rivers Brewing Co., California

Black patent nose with rich, roasty notes. Deep black color under a pillowy, thick tan head. Strong and robust flavors with creamy smooth malt and silky lactic notes.

Stovepipe Porter
Otter Creek Brewing Co., Vermont

Black malt nose with a hint of smokiness. Dark black color. Big malt flavors with good balance, a hint of smoked flavor and a long, robust finish.

Iron Springs Coffee Porter
Iron Springs Brewing Co., California

Complex nose of coffee notes, peppery spices and buttery apples. Black color and a thick tan head. Rich coffee flavors, slightly lactic, with hints of sweet peppers and Maduro tobacco.

Iron Springs Smoked Porter
Iron Springs Brewing Co., California

A hint of smoke in the nose. Black color and a tan head. Subtle smoked flavor with decent balance. Nicely tart and slightly lactic.

James Squire Porter
Malt Shovel Brewery, Australia

Lightly roasted nose, dark brown–black color and a tan head. Roasted malt character with soft, tart notes and a good long finish.

Original Flag Porter
Darwin Brewery, England

Sweet and sour aromas with hints of herbs and nuts. Dark mahogany color with a tan head. Sweet malt flavors with just a hint of hazelnut and licorice.

Utenos Porter
Utenos Brewery, Lithuania

Sweet, malty nose with hints of caramel. Brown color. Thick, lactic, malty flavors in the manner of a strong ale, with nutty esters and a clean finish.

Captain Weber’s Brown Porter
Valley Brewing Co., California

Light malt nose, dark brown color and a tan head. Rich roasty notes with some nuttiness and creaminess in a well-balanced package. Malt-forward, followed by a long, lingering hop finish.


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