Book Review: Brewing Porters & Stouts

Brewing Porters and Stouts

Brewing Porters & Stouts: Origins, History, and 60 Recipes for Brewing Them at Home Today is a new book out by Terry Foster offering and in-depth look at porters and stouts. Like my last book review, of Farmhouse Ales, this book offers a very thorough look in a very narrow field. While the book does talk a fair bit about stouts it’s got a stronger tilt toward porters. Still, if you’re a lover of porters or stouts it’s worth reading, especially if you want to master brewing them at home.

The book starts by wading into the murky history of porters. It covers the common tale of a bar blending three ales together and that being enjoyed by a group of people who carried goods around London, those people being known as porters. What this section really covers is the slow, continual, development of a number of technologies that allowed creating stronger and darker beers. Unfortunately, the author does fall into the common trap of paragraphs full of “X brewery produced # barrels in year.

The following is a complaint about many books involving brewing history: I don’t know why so many books do this when covering beer history, but it gets tedious to read. It doesn’t really add much to the overall story of porter/stout development but does show, somewhat, the extent to which breweries were making these beers. I really don’t enjoy reading these paragraphs of facts. But enough of that rant, back to this book.

Now we move into a breakdown of the plethora of sub-categories of the porter and stout styles. Flavor, aroma, malt bills, ABV, original gravity, and commercial examples are available for every style. Something interesting Brewing Porters & Stouts does that I haven’t seen before is the IBU/OG ratio. Instead of saying exactly how many IBUs a style should have it lists the number of IBUs in relation to the OG. So if you have a starting gravity (aka original gravity, hence OG) of 1.040 and an IBU/OG ratio of .5 then you should have an International Bitterness Unit (IBU) level of 20 IBUs. Why the author doesn’t just come out and say 20 IBUs I’m not exactly sure of, but it’s still a cool system.

Now we get to the real meat of the book. However, this is where anyone who doesn’t brew yet will lose interest. From here on out it’s all about bringing these beers to life. Beginning with wide coverage of the different malt varieties used in porters and stouts, along with what flavor and color contributions they add plus what percentage of the grist they represent. While the malt coverage is great the hops, water, yeast, and finings coverage is as basic as the first few pages of any introductory homebrewing book. If the malt section was wide then the recipe section is massive. 63 pages of recipes for every kind of porter and stout imaginable. Sure, all you need to do to find a homebrew recipe is spend 10 seconds Googling but this book provides a repository of recipes that is nice to have on hand.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I reached out to the publisher who was kind enough to hook me up with a free copy. To our readers, and any companies interested in sending me stuff, giving me free stuff impacts the review in only 2 ways. That I will do my best to review it in a timely fashion and that and I will write a blog post about that review. Giving me free stuff does not guarantee you a favorable review or that I will tell everyone to go buy it.

Introducing Deschutes Brewery Black Butte and Red Chair

Ohio has been lucky to receive lots of love from breweries deciding to expand distribution to us in the past few months. Dechutes is continuing that trend and launching state-wide and in Northern Kentucky next week.  To hype their arrival they’re having a plethora of events (see the list below) and were also kind enough to hook me up with samples, which we’ll get to in a bit.

I’d heard of Deschutes before due to their Abyss stout and Black Butte XX## Imperial Porters (they’ve made a few of them all roman numerals) thanks to online hype and beer traders. I was lucky enough to try Abyss at a recent bottle share and, though already thoroughly buzzed I found it a tasty and impressive stout.

According to the info Deschutes sent me their Black Butte porter (neither numbered nor imperial) is the #1 best-selling craft porter in the country. Pretty impressive stat, though I think that is likely due to Deschutes size and distribution range. Speaking of distribution range, we’re their 23rd state, plus 2 Canadian provinces, and D.C. For size they were the 5th biggest craft brewery in 2012. Anyway, onto the beer…

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The Utility of Beer Styles

This post is in direct response to Andy Crouch’s article “The Futility of Beer Styles” in this month’s (October 2013) Beer Advocate magazine [Edit: Andy has made me aware that this was only part 1 of 3 and these concerns will be addressed in future parts. A fact not mentioned in the magazine]. If you haven’t read it yet then I won’t fault you for reading it before continuing this post. However, if you don’t get Beer Advocate magazine or don’t want to wait then the quick summary is that he advocates for discontinuing the use of beer styles.

Beer Style Poster
Without beer styles we couldn’t have awesome posters like this!

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The Six-Pack Project

Bryan Roth over at This Is Why I’m Drunk has invited me to take part in his Six-Pack Project. The idea here is that six beer bloggers in 6 different states choose six beers to represent their state. I was busy when round 1 went by, but you can check out the results from North Carolina, South CarolinaVirginia/DC, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Besides us this round also features:

The hope that when you go to one of these states, you’ll be able to pull up a quick list of what to get along the way. I know I’ll be checking that North Carolina list when I head for the Outer Banks next month!

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Beer Review: Rivertown Old Sour Cherry Porter (2013)

Rivertown’s Old Sour Cherry Porter is making the rounds at the stores again. This is, I believe, the third year for this beer and past reviews report it has being under carbonated and a bit flat. I have never personally had this before and am not really super psyched for it but extremely curious. Sours are a large uncharted territory for me as I’ve only had a few. That said I intend to give this beer my best and most unbiased review possible, a goal I apply to every beer I try. First off here’s what Rivertown says:

We combined our Imperial Porter with fresh dark Michigan cherries, and then aged it for over three months in a bourbon barrel inoculated with wild yeast. This is a bottle conditioned ale, and can cellar for over five years. Enjoy!

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Embree’s Northern Dark Baltic Porter Review

Cincinnati’s Beer Week officially kicks off this Wednesday with a party on Fountain square and a special taping of this years Cincinnati Beer Week collaboration beer, Embree’s Northern Dark Baltic Porter. Starting last year all the brewers in Cincinnati got together to create a special collaboration beer. This year’s list of contributors includes; Blank Slate, Christian Moerlein, 50 West, Great Crescent, Listermann, Moerlein Lager House, Mt. Carmel, Rivertown, Rock Bottom, Sam Adams, and Tripel Digit. Kind of an odd list if you think about it, Moerlein is on there twice, Great Crescent comes in from Aurora, In but not Quaff Brothers (Bellevue, Ky) or Cellar Dweller(Morrow, Oh)? But I digress, regardless of who got in and out this is an awesome list of Cincinnati’s breweries. They all got together to decide what to make and it was eventually made at Rivertown. In case you’re curious where the name came from, it’s a history lesson in itself. David Embree opened the first brewery in Cincinnati in the long ago of 1812 so this beer is a tribute to him.

Before we get to the review I want to introduce everyone, including myself, to the Baltic Porter style. The Baltic States are in between England and Russia and in turn the Baltic porter is in between an English porter and a Russian imperial stout. The malt profile and flavor is that of a English porter but with a kicked up alcohol content from the Russian Imperial Stout. Having never had one before I’m excited to try this style as it appeases one of the complaints I’ve made regarding other porters, that I wished they were a bit stronger.

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Beer Review: Rivertown Roebling Porter

I stopped by Rivertown earlier today to grab a pint of the Winter Ale (review here) while I was there I got my growler filled with their Roebling Imperial Porter off of the nitro tap. I did this because I’ve had a few Roeblings over the year and never given them a full review but also as part of the winter of my of dark content. I also scored 2 bottles of Gueuze, but more on that another day.

There are a number of bridges crossing the Ohio river in Cincinnati (or Covington/Newport if you wanna be a Kentuckian about it), one of which is a big yellow arch (the big mac), another purple one for people (cleverly named the purple people bridge), and another old fashioned looking one with 2 big towers and suspension cables. That last one is the John A. Roebling suspension bridge. Most notable for being the precursor to the Brooklyn bridge it’s also the oldest bridge in Cinci, and is a damn fine piece of construction that has been carrying traffic for almost 140 years! Ok.. honestly I never new any of that before having 2 pints of this beer and doing some Googling, it’s a pretty cool story and I suggest everyone check it out knowing being half the battle and all that. But you’re not here for history, so on to the beer!

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Beer Review: Fuller’s London Porter

After announcing that Now is the winter of my dark-content a friend of mine gave me this beer saying it is one of the original Porters and is a great starting point as it’s very typical for the style. Before we get to the review I’ll fill folks in on what a Porter is with a bit of history, but that comes after the break!

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Beer Review: Stone Smoked Porter

The “winter” of my dark-content begins now, for more info on that see this post oh and keep the suggestions rolling in! I’m only starting now and with the Smoked Porter because they sent it to me free… well in exchange for a review, so I suppose it’s not REALLY free. From the book, the review of which will be finished soon, we learn this was their second beer brewed and originally released in December 1996 as Winter Stone. The plan was for it to be seasonal but it sold so well and everyone loved it so much they decided to make it year round. Right, enough of all that junk, time for my first serious review of a Porter (and only the 3rd porter I can ever remember having).

Brewery: Stone
Beer: Smoked Porter
Style: American porter
Alcohol by Volume: 5.9%
IBUs: 53
Hops: Columbus & Mt. Hood

Yep… that’s dark. It looks pitch black until you hold it directly in front of a bright light when you can see it’s actually a nice dark mahogany shade of brown. The head is a thick light brown that is not going anywhere fast and is lingering on the side of the glass as it does go down. Definitely doesn’t look like my typical kind of beer, but that’s why I’m drinking it… breaking out into new styles!

Smells strongly of roasted malts, some coffee (I’m not a coffee drinker so I can’t nail that smell down to well), a fair amount of smoke and only a slight tinge of hops.

Normally I put the taste before the mouth feel, but this beer is something different so I’m switching it up. This is a heavier-medium bodied mouth feel that is smooth and creamy. There is also a dryness and a slightly unpleasant “coating” of the tongue.

OK, so back to the taste. First off there is almost no hop flavor and  just the slightest balance of bitterness, which is a little weird for me. For anyone who doesn’t like smokey beers you can relax, the smoke flavor is present but it’s a small part of a complex palate. The roasted malt and coffee flavors take the lead along with some chocolate as well. It’s certainly an interesting taste, I’m not crazy about it but I have no issues with it.

Overall I’m not blown away or about to run out and buy every porter I see. Am I interested to try more? Certainly, but I was even before having this beer. I’d like it to be stronger but c’est la vie I’ll just have to wait till I hit the Imerpials. I like the Stone Smoked Porter, I’m not gonna pour it out, but I’m not gonna add it to my regular rotation anytime soon.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This beer was sent to me for free by Stone. To our readers, and any breweries interested in sending me stuff, giving me free beer impacts the review in only 1 way. That way is that I WILL review the beer and I WILL write a blog post about it. Giving me free beer does not guarantee you a favorable review or that I will tell everyone to go buy it or anything like that.

Now is the winter of my dark-content

OK, it’s not winter hell it’s not even fall. But I have a porter in my fridge which will be drank and reviewed soon and I want this to go up before that review. This was previously titled “Now is the winter of my Stout-content” but I decided that was too limiting as I plan on diving into both stouts and porters. Also “Now is the winter of my dark-content” plays better on Shakespeare’s “now is the winter of my discontent” line. Anyway, time to get to the point.

Serious confession, there is a significant flaw and failing in my beer nerd qualifications. I have only had 3 stouts/porters in my life and have never given them a thorough review or a significant amount of thought. These 3 are Guinness, Rivertown Roebling, and Heavy Seas Peg Leg which I just had only because a friend left one in the fridge after a recent party. I’ve probably taken a taste or two of others a few times but I know that those are the only 3 I’ve actually drank an entire bottle/glass of.

I’ve been planning this post and idea since July and since then I’ve been contemplating why I’ve never gotten into stouts/porters. The best reason I can figure is two fold:

  1. I entered the craft beer world through Belgian ales which held my attention for quite a year or so. I then progressed around through Irish reds, IPAs, pale ales, and all variety of other “lighter” ales. Eventually I dove into lagers and started mixing those into my ale rotation. The big conclusion here is that these styles represent enough beer to keep one drunk for decades. This is the main reason I’ve never gotten into them.
  2. Dark beers are somewhat of a “scary” concept in the color department alone. Most other beers range from completely transparent pale yellow to dark brown and reds. Darks on the other hand are black as the night and topped off with this thick brown head. My contemplation has resulted in this being a far second compared to my quest to try different ales.

Neither of these are great reasons for avoiding a major category of beer but alas so it is. I plan to rectify this mistake this fall and winter. Why fall and winter? Because dark beers are generally perceived as being better for this season. Also, why the hell not, it’s a good a time as any right?

So there it is. Through out this fall and winter, beginning this week with Stone’s Smoked Porter, I am going to focus on darker beers specifically stouts and porters. I’ll still throw a couple “lighter” beers in here and there probably and maybe a few winter/Christmas styles as well. You can also expect to see posts about stouts and porters detailing their histories as well as aspects of their style.

I’m open to suggestions on what to try first though I plan on, as always, trying everything I can get my hands on.