02 November 2007

Manic Stout Porters

I'm going through a bit of a black beer phase at the moment. Stout and porter, when done properly, offer a highly complex texture and flavour experience. The way the different elements work in harmony is quite similar, I think, to how a piece of music works. Since this month's Session is on beer and music I'm wondering what it would be like if the international stouts and porters I've had recently were bands.

To England first, and Wychwood's Black Wych. I'm never quite sure what to expect with Wychwood, having had very good and very bad experiences. Despite the name, this is a good wych. It pours to a thick, tight head and gives off a disquieting sweet estery aroma, like cheap and nasty chocolate. There's very little trace of it in the taste, however. Instead there's a sharp dry tang of roasted barley followed by a lasting aftertaste of mild and milky coffee. Best of all is the silky smooth mouthfeel, nearly worth the price of admission alone. If it were a band, Black Wych would be one of those hard-working groups who are head-noddingly good live, that you are always glad to see as a support act, but you're not likely to own any of their records.

Beer does flow and men chunder in the home of the next candidate: Cooper's Best Extra Stout. Like the Sparkling Ale from the same brewery, this stout is full of yeasty floaters, occasionally visible in the deep gloom of the beer. Texture is the strong point here: a lovely creamy mouthfeel and amazing head retention, with a centimetre of parchment-coloured foam lasting for all of a slow tasting. Alas, this beer doesn't come through on the flavour. It's incredibly dry and unsurprisingly yeasty. It's not bitter, however, and without some sort of hops or roasted grain element I can't warm to it. In the music industry it would be a very well-equipped band capable of an amazing sound, but utterly lacking in talent.

The US is next on the hitlist: Sierra Nevada Porter, to be precise. Again the head is thin but resilient and the beer has a promising malty nose. Typical of an American, however, it's inappropriately over-carbonated giving a prickly mouthfeel instead of smoothness. And it tastes of bugger all. It's half-heartedly dry and has these metallic off-notes at the end. As a band, I'd expect it to be a motley assembly of teenage buskers demonstrating little-to-no understanding of tempo, melody and harmony.

The Basque country's Pagoa Zunbeltz brings us back to Europe. This is quite an undemanding stout: light and fizzy with coffee notes in the ascendant. It's a high quality craft beer but I can't imagine growing to love it. That elegant lady singing standards to a light jazz backing is what it is.

We finish back in England with a bottle of Fuller's London Porter, a beer of very great repute. Dark brown in colour, it's smooth yet sparkly, but without much by way of head, relatively speaking. The aroma carries the rich promise of malt and chocolate. It's not overly flavoursome, but letting it sit on the tongue for a while brings forth milk chocolate with a bitter hoppy twang at the end. I was expecting Hendrix on the Isle of Wight, but got present-day Springsteen instead. I can live with that.

(Incidentally, if you were expecting a post about Irish music, all you need to know is in this short film.)


  1. brendan9:44 pm

    We really out to get you some better North American beers one of these days. SN is like Sam Adams in a lot of ways. Many folks are fiercely or nostalgically(is that a word) defensive of their products because they were pioneering and are widely available in the beer wasteland of the past. There are some really good porters being made, it is a shame they don't sell them to you.

  2. We do get Rogue Chocolate, which I'd regard as world class, but that's about it.

    So yes, yes you should.

  3. Flying Dog products are available in the North now in samll quantities, but not found their dark stuff yet.

    Agree with the Black Wych, good stuff, does fine when you can't get anything better.

  4. I take it that's in the more specialised offies, Ed, rather than the supermarkets.

  5. Years ago, I began a love affair with Baltic porters that continues to this day. Saku is probably my favorite. I love the heavy body and sweetness in the finish.

    Of course, my local beer store often carries cut-price cases of Baltika 6, which is pretty decent as well.

  6. I drank my fair share of Saku lager in Estonia (mostly there was nothing else) but I don't remember seeing the porter, dammit. Baltika 6 is just a bit too harsh for my delicate tastes.

  7. Unfortunately SN is a bit of a one trick pony. They do great with high hop beers and pretty much nothing else.

  8. Anonymous9:18 pm

    Left Hand Milk Stout .. good schtuff