Febrewary: Penn Quarter Porter

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Brewer: DC Brau
Location: Washington, D.C.
Type: American Porter
ABV: 5.5%

Minus a couple of forays into Scottish brews and a trip out to Colorado and Hawaii, I realize that I’ve been keeping it pretty close to home for my Febrewary picks. I would apologize, but I’m not that sorry that I live in an area surrounded by some really amazing craft brew happenings. Tis a grand time to be an East Coast Beer Snob.

My latest beer comes from the Capitol City itself (although not from Capitol City Brewing). DC Brau is the first packaging brewery within city limits since 1956. So sayeth their Web site. They’ve been around for a few years now, slowly building a name and a reputation. I’ve not had a lot of their beers, because it’s taken them a little while to move out into the suburbs. However, I can say that they make a fantastic Imperial Pumpkin Porter. One of the easiest growlers I’ve ever made my way through.

At first, they only offered their Penn Quarter Porter as a draft beer. However, it quickly became one of their more popular brews, so they slowly moved into bottling and now offering it in cans. I’ve already talked about my feelings toward canned beer. I’m sure that I’m just being persnickety or even excessively snobby, but I don’t like that tinny can taste that I can detect right after pouring. It’s not there with all beers, true. In fact, the next beer to appear here is one of those that I can drink right from the can and not be bothered (ooh, previews!). Maybe it’s the darker beers that somehow interact with the aluminum in bad ways? Who’s to say.

Anyway, DC Brau writes on the Penn Quarter Porter can that they recommend pouring this beer into a goblet. I have one (from Flying Dog, natch), but I completely forgot. Besides, I love my LobaBlanca Brewing Company glasses. How could I not? As you can see, this porter forms a luscious head of foam…thick and luxurious and lacey all the way down the glass as you drink.

There is, however, a slight problem. Perhaps one of you can help me, denizens. I’ve talked about this problem before, in my review of Evolution’s Lucky 7 Porter. When I take a deep breath of the Penn Quarter Porter? I smell soap. It’s not quite as prominent as the Lucky 7 soap scent, but it’s there, sort of haunting the perimeter of earthy, loamy smells that conjure the more traditional porter bouquet.

With the Lucky 7, I thought that perhaps something went wrong with that particular batch. However, detecting the same soapy smell in another porter is making me wonder if this might be a case of me reacting to a particular hops variety the ways some people react to cilantro. I tried to figure out what type of hops both these porters include, but I didn’t have much luck with a cursory Web search. So any of you lovelies know what type of hops they use? If they both use the same variety, I’m going to go with this theory that it’s me rather than the beer. If not, however, that might mean that this is another bad batch of beer.

The happy news is that I couldn’t taste soap when I finally took a sip. Instead, that loaminess, that deep earthen richness like freshly tilled soil was the predominant sensory sensation. This is quite an elemental porter in that regard. Not really all that sweet or heavy, but rather rich and hearty, with a slightly dry finish. Peat bogs and mulched leaves after a cold autumn rain. This is a…hiking beer. A fireside beer. Something that evokes flavor complexity but in a savory, slightly ascetic way. Similarly, it’s a solid mouth feel, but it doesn’t stay longer than it needs to. This is not a clingy porter.

Still, that soapy smell detracted several points for this beer. I realized halfway through that I was holding my breath each time I took a drink, which was a definite downer. The reason I pour my beers into a glass is because I want that full sensory experience. I want to see it, smell it, and taste it. Fearing the smell of this beer was a major bummer.

I bought a six-pack when I treated myself to my Flying Dog Cinnamon Porter, so I’ll be giving this batch at least one more shot. After that, though, it might be a while before I revisit Penn Quarter. It’s not really that safe a place to go anyway. Just ask Mr. Lincoln…

Macabre D.C. historical humor, FTW.

Febrewary: Cinnamon Porter

Brewer: Flying Dog Brewery
Location: Frederick, Maryland
Type: American Porter
ABV: 6%

I honestly wasn’t planning on doing another beer review quite this soon. After the last beer beat down, I thought it would be wise to give myself a little bit of recuperation time. However, the best laid plans of mice and beer lovers…you know how that goes.

Back in early December of last year, Flying Dog had a really groovy release party at their brewery for the last Brewhouse Rarities beer they created for 2013: Cinnamon Porter.

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For those unfamiliar with the Brewhouse Rarities series, it is pretty much the brewers (and, really, any Flying Dog employee) getting together at the end of the year or the beginning of the next and deciding on some spectacularly bat-shit crazy flavor ideas for beers. They typically either make them only for on-tap sales or they bottle a very limited supply (like the Green Tea Imperial Stout that I have aging downstairs right now). The slogan and inspiration for all of Flying Dog’s Brewhouse Rarities is a Hunter S. Thompson quote: “Too weird to live. Too rare to die.”

As much as I wanted to go to the release party for the Cinnamon Porter (not only did I think it sounded like an awesome way to spend an evening, but it was also the only place I could get this porter in a bottle), they had the party on a Tuesday evening. Even in the best traffic conditions, that would have been a really bad idea.

So next best thing? Stalk my regular beer haunts until one of them finally announced that they had a keg of Cinnamon Porter to tap! That’s precisely what I have been doing for the better part of a month. My pay-off came with a special DM this morning from one of my regular go-tos, letting me know that now was my time. After work, I headed on over, and I enjoyed one of the very first pints pulled from this freshly tapped keg.

My first comment is less about the beer itself and more about how places serve dark beers. This particular place served me a very, very cold porter. I will say this until I have no more ability to speak…and then I will write it: Porters and stouts should not be served cold. At most, if you are worried about your clientele complaining that the beer is too warm, then at least knock it up a few degrees from how you would serve a pale ale or a lager.

This beer was so cold that it was unwilling to give up even the slightest bit of flavor beyond the basics present in most porters. I even had a very difficult time discerning much from the nose. So, I patiently picked up my glass and cradled it in both of my hands, strolling around the perimeter of the store while looking at their beer and wine selections. Those who know me know that I don’t have the warmest hands, so this attempt on my part to warm the porter took a significant amount of time and energy on my part.

However, I do have to say that I was rewarded with a worthwhile payoff. As the porter began to warm, I could start to smell the gentle waft of cinnamon stick rising from my glass…not ground cinnamon, mind you, but the actual sticks. That muted, mellifluous scent…that promise of woodsy spice, just a scratch or two away.

Drinking the slightly warmed beer revealed even more of that soft, mulled flavor. I admittedly had no idea what to expect with this beer, but I know that when Flying Dog wants to knock you across the room with flavors, they do that in spades. This however, was a surprisingly delicate soupçon of cinnamon…so ethereal that I only really detected its presence with each exhalation and the pleasantly surprising tingle on my tongue that I usually feel when eating cinnamon in my oatmeal in the mornings.

I love cinnamon, but I also know that this beer could have been a forced, fabricated mess of a porter. Thankfully, however, it was in the capable paws of Flying Dog’s ace brewers. Yet another delightful Brewhouse Rarities entry that I can scratch off my list. Maybe, just maybe, if I go back later on and they’re still serving this, I can spend a little more time letting the porter warm up even more. I suspect that this beer has a lot to share if given the opportunity.

If you are interested, Flying Dog has released their Brewhouse Rarities list for this year. Look out in 2014 for:

  • Mango Habañero IPA
  • Mint Chocolate Stout
  • Ginger Beer
  • Agave Cerveza
  • Lemongrass Rice Ale
  • Hoppy American Wheat
  • Black Honey IPA
  • Dopplebock

There are a couple of beers from this list that I will have to keep watch for, including the Lemongrass Rice Ale and the Black Honey IPA, if only to see if the honey can balance out the bitter in a way that I find palatable. However, I’m not going to lie, denizens. I want that Mint Chocolate Stout. If anything? I can see that making a mind-blowing beer float. And the great thing is that I see from the already released label that they plan to bottle this in 12-ounce bottles rather than their usual 750ml big bottle. I’m taking this as a sign that they plan on releasing this on a wider scale. Fingers crossed!

fdmcs

Febrewary: Alta Gracia Coffee Porter

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Brewer: Otter Creek BrewingCompany
Location: Middlebury, Vermont
Type: American Porter
ABV: 5%

Let this be a lesson to us all, denizens. Always read the full label before making a purchase. Had I done this with the “Wolaver’s Fine Organic Ales” coffee porter that I’m here to review now…well, let’s just say that I would have probably thought twice about actually buying it. Wolaver’s is a line brewed by Vermont’s Otter Creek Brewing Company. I gave their Stovepipe Porter a less than enthusiastic review back in Darktober.

And so it goes with this beer. It seems as if the only real hat trick that this Wolaver beer has is that it is an “unfiltered and unpasteurized porter brewed with Vermont grown organic coffee and aged on organic vanilla beans.” Wonderful It’s an organic beer. But it claims to use excellent coffee and vanilla beans, which when combined, should make a fantabulous beer…something right up my alley, so to speak.

This beer barely fizzled as I poured it, even though I did try to encourage some sign of carbonated life. Regardless of my attempts at carbonation resuscitation, this beer was practically DOA. Drinking it was an equally lifeless experience, each swallow going down like flat bargain bin soda left out on the table for hours.

With hardly any carbonation also came the disappointing realization that this porter had hardly any nose whatsoever. It smelled kind of like a cup of watered-down coffee, but nothing extraordinarily noteworthy beyond that. Limp, weak mouth feel and a taste that I can only describe as my sad attempt as a child to make a chocolate soda by squeezing Hershey’s syrup into a glass of Pepsi. I can report that this experiment was an unequivocal failure.

Kind of like this porter.

Were I in a more charitable mood (which I suppose I should be in, considering the holiday and all), I would say that I plan on giving this beer another try. However, combined with my previously unenthusiastic experience with Otter Creek, I’m going to say no. No to this beer and no to Otter Creek. Again, there is no lack of dark beer goodness out there. I really don’t see the point in subjecting myself to beers this lackluster.

Febrewary: Caramel Porter

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Brewer: Matt Brewing Company
Location: Utica, New York
Type: American Porter
ABV: 5.4%

It was definitely a beer day, denizens. I was considering going with a beer from an old familiar friend of a brewery—one that I knew without a doubt would satisfy me. But then I caught sight of this curious beer, which I picked up during a holiday Total Wine splurge. Here’s a secret about me: I love caramel. It’s one of my all-time favorite flavors. Combined with a dark beer profile? You might make me a fan for life if you can pull this off successfully.

This was my first Saranac beer, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Pop the top and pour, and the familiar earthy rush of dark brew flooded the glass, rising into a soft, tawny sheen of foam. Inhale and the decidedly glorious smell of caramel fills my lungs. It’s a delicious smell, interlaced with hints of vanilla and roasted malt. My hopes rise, as delicate and reserved as the beer’s foam.

Drink up a generous mouthful. Satisfying mouth feel that isn’t watery but also not too heavy. Swallow.

Someone turn down the lights and put on some Barry White, because it’s time for succulent, sweet caramel and loamy, rich porter to get it on, right there on my palate. Whether this is a consistent level of amazing or Saranac slammed this particular batch WAY out of the park, I’m not sure. All I can tell you is that this was one of the most deliciously balanced blends of beer and flavoring that I have enjoyed in a very long time.

This could have been a hot syrupy mess. It could have tasted nothing like the promise offered by its name. It could have tasted contrived, manufactured, fake or, even worse, absolutely nothing like it said it would (see Sweet Baby Jesus for a perfect example of broken beer promises).

Instead, I have to tell you, I think Saranac is nothing short of brilliant for this beer. What makes this even more spectacular is the fact that, according to reviews I’ve read after the fact, they are mostly known for their hop-heavy line-up. That makes this malted, dark wonder even more special.

I tried to find more of this beer the last time I was at Total Wine. Sadly, however, none remained. I can understand why. If I can find it again, I have every intention of buying a full six-pack, and of putting a couple away for aging. I bet this ages like a fiend. I’d also love to find this on tap. This is definitely one of those beers I feel compelled to experience in all its forms.

If you love caramel…hell, even if you just like caramel, I would recommend this beer. Also? I bet it makes one breathtaking ice cream float…

Febrewary: Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter

Hey there, denizens. Remember when I did Darktober? Thirty-one days of dark beer reviews. Pretty flippin’ sweet.

Seems I’ve gone an amassed a bunch of new beers (mostly dark, of course, since that’s how I roll) that I would like to try. Plus, I have a couple of beers that I’ve been aging for a few years and are now at a point where I think it’s time to crack them open, too.

Therefore, I deem this to be the beginning of….Febrewary. Oh yeah. It’s not going to be a daily thing this time, simply because I’d rather keep the workouts to my whole body rather than just my liver. So it will be a kind of semi-regular theme throughout this month. I’m posting this today because…well, I’ve had a frustrating evening thanks to some computer kerfuffling that left me wanting a beer to tame the tantrum.

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So let’s kick this off with a brand new purchase I just made this morning during a trip to Total Wine: Sweet Baby Jesus! Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. As with Darktober, here are the stats on this one:
Brewer: DuClaw Brewing Company
Location: Abingdon, Maryland
Type: American Porter
ABV: 6.5%

Obviously, the reason I picked up the beer in the first place is the name. Seriously, how do you resist picking up a beer named Sweet Baby Jesus!? Plus, it’s a local brewery, and I do try to support them whenever I can. Then I was pretty much sold upon reading that it was a chocolate peanut butter porter. I’ve never had such a thing. I honestly never even considered that such a beer could exist. Besides, just one bottle couldn’t hurt.

I poured this at room temperature, which is how I’ve taken to drinking my dark beers. These types of beers have so many complex layers that you completely miss if you drink them cold. So many smells and flavors that awaken with warmth.

At first, this beer had a bit of a…hinky bouquet. It smelled surprisingly hoppy and not at all chocolatey or peanut buttery. I let it sit for a few minutes, went back and smelled again and was greeted by a glorious dark chocolate nose, with a slight smoky undertone.

Took a sip and I could definitely taste the chocolate, although the taste was nowhere near as delightful as the smell. However, I wouldn’t describe the rest of the flavors as even remotely close to peanut butter. To me, it tasted more like…burnt mash doused in chocolate sauce. It was not the type of flavor that would cause me to proclaim “Sweet Baby Jesus” in a positive way.

The beer left a cloying aftertaste. It’s not even that it tasted overly sweet while drinking it, but something stayed behind with each sip—a syrupy coating that held that burnt taste on my palate much too long. I made it through slightly more than half the glass before the buildup finally became too much and I surrendered.

This is my second DuClaw letdown here at the lair. It’s not even that the beers are horrible. They just don’t live up to the expectation. I’ve got two more DuClaw beers that might be making future appearances during this month’s round of beery delights. Here’s hoping at least one of those two makes a positive impact.

Darktober 25: Stovepipe Porter

Brewer: Otter Creek Brewing Company
Location: Middlebury, Vermont
Type: American Porter
ABV: 4.4%

Dropping down from Canada, we land at the shores of Vermont’s Otter Creek for some of their Stovepipe Porter.

Ruby-tinted blackness with a smudge of carbonation, this porter delivers familiar albeit slightly floral smells but comes in slightly drier, slightly more bitter than many of the other porters to have made a Darktober appearance. Although not nearly as bitter as Boxcar’s Pumpkin Porter, Stovepipe definitely does not tickle the sweet senses of your palate in any way.

I also detected a stronger hops presence in this porter, which might have accentuated the dry, bitter flavor profile. While deducting points from my personal enjoyment scale, I think that this porter strikes a nice balance between the malts and hops that could appeal to the more hoppy minded beer drinker. Of course, I could be completely off on this assumption. It would not be the first time.

Not a terrible beer, but definitely not a stand-out. If I’ve shown anything this month, there is no dearth of exceptional choices for dark beer drinkers. Why, then, would I choose a middle-of-the-road beer if I could choose a better option?

Darktober 15: Mocha Porter

Brewer: Rogue Ales
Location: Newport, Oregon
Type: American Porter
ABV: 5.1%

Welcome,denizens, to a new week of my continuing exploration into the darkest depths of our beer-heavy refrigerator. Welcome to Darktober, Week 3.

First, this week’s theme: I realized in my latest batch of purchases that I had a group of beers that trailed a relatively nice path from one coast of the United States to the other (minus one or two…or most states, of course). So this week and part of next will be dedicated to making the journey across the country, one randomly located beer at a time.

We start on the West Coast with today’s beer. In my last review, I sort of took some potshots at the “King of Beers,” for being a producer of blandly ubiquitous mega-beer offerings. Are there such breweries in the craft beer business? By no means are there any on the same mass-produced level as an Anheuser-Busch product, but there are definitely several instantly recognizable brands within the craft beer fandom. I would point to today’s brewery as evidence to support this fact.

Oregon’s Rogue Ales brewery has been around since 1988, churning out an enviably large array of beers into the craft market. They were definitely one of the earliest craft brewers I remember noticing as my interest in beer began to grow. It’s kind of difficult to miss their legion of 750 ml bottles, all bedecked with the single-star Rogue logo and similarly posed caricatures, fisting the air with inebriated enthusiasm.

[Loba Tangent: From an artistic standpoint, I’ve always found these caricatures a little off-putting. The heads rarely look proportionate to the bodies, which give me a bit of a no feeling whenever I look at them. Does this impact the taste of the beer though? No, not really. Just something I felt the need to whiny hate about.]

A couple of key ways in which Rogue differs from a mainstream monster like Anheuser-Busch: They produce an impressive and constantly updating array of types and flavors, showing that they are not in any way trying to rest on their laurels. They also sometimes come out with rather odd or just downright crazy flavors, to show that they have no intention of losing their edge. The latest example to which I can point is, of course, their team-up with equally famous Oregon staple, Voodoo Doughnut, for their Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. Some of you might have even heard me babble about these pink-bottled beauties, shown here:

Some of you may have even been turned into my personal taster guinea pigs on this adventure 🙂 My final thoughts on this particular brew, if you’ll indulge me with this mini review, is as follows:

Definitely way more bacon-y than I was expecting it to be. I’ve had other bacon-based products (bacon latte?!? YES PLEASE) that sort of copped out on the bacon level. Rogue definitely did not do this. Bacon all the way through, almost to the point of drowning out the maple syrup flavor, which really didn’t hit you until the very end. Almost like an afterthought, really.

I definitely would have liked this beer more if there had been more of a balance to the two flavors. As it was, it was just a little bit too much bacon. I’d read reviews that compared this beer to drinking bacon grease. It’s not *that* bad, but it’s also not something that I would want to drink on a regular basis. Definitely a limited-release experience to be shared. Watching everyone’s reactions was probably more fun than the actual tasting 🙂

In some ways, their more daring offerings remind me a bit of the daring behind Dogfish Head’s always intriguing line-up. Beyond their crazy flavor ideas and their eye-catching bottle designs, however, my general reaction to Rogue’s mainstay beers is probably what’s fueling my mental comparison to a large-scale bland beer maker. My reaction, to be blunt, is typically meh. Their standard brews, to me, taste rather subdued and “one-note.” And so it went with my first taste of their Mocha Porter.

Rather flat and practically headless, even with my ongoing attempts at more vigorous pouring, this leather-tinted brew presented a uniform blandness: Both the nose and the taste were decidedly singular in their similarity to the smell and taste of a strong cup of coffee. The disappointment of this fact doesn’t even really stem from how one flavor overpowers anything else. It’s the fact that the “strong” coffee notes weren’t indicative of a fresh, properly made cup of joe. More like a cup left for a few hours on the burner before finally poured. Bitter, acidic, and burnt, with an aftertaste like the last cup of coffee from the office carafe (you know the one…the cup that sat in the pot for HOURS because no one wanted to be the one to pour it and then have to make a fresh pot).

Because of the impressive number of beers that Rogue is able to offer, I can’t say that my personal impression of them is in any way all-encompassing. Truth is, I’ve only tried about eight of their different flavors, and I remember that a couple (Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Chocolate Stout) were quite enjoyable. However, my general impression is such that they would more than likely only be my “preferred choice” if they happened to be the only dark brew on tap that night. Similarly, I will tend to pass right by their section when perusing liquor store shelves for new taste experiences (minus when they produce something in a saucy pink Pepto Bismol bottle stamped with the words BACON MAPLE and DOUGHNUT).

Bottom line is this: According to industry estimates quoted by the ever-reliable Wikipedia oracle, Oregon is home to the nation’s fourth largest tally of craft breweries. Whether or not this is actually true, the list of craft breweries generated by a search on craftbeer.com generated a hella amazing list. Rogue is just one of many that Oregon has to offer. I’m not saying that it’s not worth it to give Rogue a go. Only you can figure out what suits your palate best. Don’t be fooled by ubiquity though. Just because it’s everywhere, doesn’t mean it’s the best. Look at how many Starbucks and McDonald’s are out there…

Darktober 1: Port City Porter


Brewer: Port City Brewing
Location: Alexandria, Virginia
Type: American Porter
ABV: 7.5%

Let’s hear it for the home team!

I decided to kick off Darktober with a local theme (I’m very lucky to live in the epicenter of some amazing craft beer action), and by giving the first spot to a brew that has been the stand-out new discovery for me this past year.

Port City Brewing Company is relatively young, having only started distributing its beers in 2011. I discovered a couple of their offerings in a cooler at a little sandwich shop in Old Town Alexandria, mere miles from where their brewery is located. The owner seemed very enthusiastic when she saw that I’d selected a bottle of Port City Porter to go with my roast beef sandwich and exclaimed that it was the best porter she’d ever had.

Based on the relative youth of the brewery, I took this as her simply being a good salesperson. I’m happy to admit that I was mostly wrong in this assumption.

While not “the best” I’ve ever had, this is a surprisingly delicious, robust porter. It pours a beautiful dark espresso color with a soft tawny head. The flavors are decisive yet smooth: nutty, roasty, chocolatey, all married together with notes of earthiness and something slightly astringent on the switchbacks. It coats your mouth well but never becomes cloying, and maintains the delightful effervescence that I love about a porter. To me, it’s the effervescence that keeps porters from turning into a heavy, heady “meal” of a beer like stouts can often become. Also, at 7.5-percent ABV, you’re left with a pleasantly buzzy warmth flowing through your veins at the end of this pint.

I’ve yet to experience this porter on tap, but I can only imagine it’s even more wonderful than it is in bottle form. This is definitely a solid, reliable “go-to” beer that’s always nice to have on hand, whether it’s accompanying a tasty roast beef on French bread or you’re craving some liquid relaxation to accompany movie night on the couch.

Because Port City Brewing is still relatively young and relatively small, their distribution range is limited. According to their Web site, you can only find their beers in Maryland, Virginia, D.C., and North Carolina, although I have heard some people mention that they’ve seen it appearing in stores in Philadelphia. I wish them continued success, because if the rest of their beers are as amazing as their porter, they are producing some spectacular brews.