04 March 2016

Back to the source

Session logoIt's like The Sessions of old this month: Mark the Bend Beer Librarian has picked one beer style for us all to write about, and a broad one too: Porter. I decided to go in search of porter's roots, which led me to those Birkenhead barrow-boys Marks & Spencer, and the London Porter that Meantime produces for them in London. The 7-malt boast on the label is familiar, and the callback to a recipe from 1750, so I assume this is a tweaked version of Meantime's own London Porter, scaled back to 5.5% ABV from 7.5%, which is probably a good idea: 5.5 is a more sensible porter strength. It's a while since I last drank Meantime London Porter so I wasn't prepared for a direct comparison, but I expected big things.

It's an attractive shade of dark red brown and definitely not black -- a reminder of porter's brown beer ancestry. The aroma is of milk chocolate so I was geared up for something sweet on tasting, but no, definitely not. There's a lot of hop going on here. Not your new world citrus or Kentish orange blossom but a seriously green tang, shading towards metallic. It's a galvanic jolt to the tastebuds and sets them watering. Beyond that the flavour isn't terribly complex: smoke is promised, as is caramel, but neither really materialise. The texture is light and the carbonation is low so it can be thrown back with abandon, exactly as porter should be. Unfussy quality for the working man. If he can afford to shop at M&S, that is.

"That'll do for The Session" I thought as I picked the bottle off the shelf. A classic porter: job done. But then I noticed the bottle next to it: Greenwich Winter Porter. Cinnamon and allspice added to what I assume is the same beer as it's also 5.5% ABV. Not the sort of thing they'd have been up to in 1750, I'd imagine. The spices would have been far too expensive and I'm sure there were plenty of other adulterants for masking the problems in a bad batch. But if some tavern did knock up a cask of spiced Georgian porter, how would it taste?

The cinnamon was apparent in the aroma from the get-go, unsubtly so, and leaving little room for beer. The tangy green hops were there still, but now being shouted over by the woody barky spices. To an extent there's more of a chocolate note coming out, and I think that's where the cinnamon combines with the malt and creates a sweet Christmas-cookie effect. It's not unpleasant but I don't think there's anything to be gained: it really does taste like the spices have been crudely dumped into the barrel at point of service. There's some as might like it but I an't coming back 'ere until Jan'ry.

Simple is best where porter is concerned. In 1750 and today.