Friday Froth: It's Porter Season...Here's What To Drink

James Gribbon

I won't be mad if you tell me you don't like porters, but I will be disappointed. This is mainly because it robs me of the opportunity to order taster samples of this imperial, and that oatmeal version, and - oh man, you have to try this sour Baltic one... until you are half drunk from slamming six two ounce servings of 9% alcohol beer in four minutes, and the bartender hates us both. I am enthusiastic in my love for porter beers, and I want to share that joy. Being a pasty Irish dude, I am a natural ally of the darker, colder months, and the necessary extra layers of clothing work well in disguising the extra layers of me which come from downing 500-calorie pints two at a time. 

You may notice something funny going on with the names of several of the beers we're looking at this week, after that intro so, first, a quick bit of knowledge: all stouts are porters, but not all porters are stouts. If you'd like to do a deep dive on the subject, you can do worse than this.

Starting locally, Beer'd Brewing has dropped what I'm choosing to believe is an Aussie Rock reference into their portfolio, with Midnight Oil oatmeal stout. It pours black with dark khaki head, and that head is sort of sparkly in the glass as the little bubbles undergo Ostwald Ripening, and become fewer, bigger bubbles. I'm used to Beer'd beers being positively greasy with hop oils, but the mouthfeel of this one is thinnish for a stout, despite the name, and bubbly with carbonation. Midnight Oil is not overly aromatic, and the predominant flavor is coffee with hints of tobacco smoke. To certain people, this would say "breakfast," but I'm not one of them, so I had to confirm that tobacco flavor with others around me, and it seems I wasn't hallucinating. It's dry for an oatmeal stout, and easy drinking for all the strength of its flavor. This, and the relatively modest 6.2% ABV, make it a good dark beer to start your evening out on the town, or wrapped up in your favorite chair.

Slumbrew beers are made by Sommerville Brewing, a brewpub operation out of Massachusetts. I recently  had a chance to sink a few pints of their Porter Square porter, and left impressed. Black with a sparse head, big bubbles were visible inside the glass. The aroma wafted up sweet, with lots of roasted grain, but still clean and light. This was in stark, but pleasant contrast to the ale itself, which was rich, and full of caramel and chocolate. The oats and wheat in the malt bill add to the impressive body of this porter, while nibs from Taza Chocolate supply their delicious flavor. This one's about 6.5%, but it's heavier than ABV would suggest. Quick hits of carbonic acid drop a bit of sharpness into each sip as the bubbles collect on the tongue before vanishing. Overall, this one's too dry to be a dessert course on its own, but it was like candy to me. Well done.

Ballast Point in San Diego took a look at what was going on with porters and stouts, and then went all Holi on their newest, Indra Kunindra. They call this one an "India-Style Export Stout" but, unlike everything else with the subcontinent's name on it in American brewing, that doesn't mean ALL THE HOPS. BP teamed up with Alex Tweet to add curry, Kaffir lime, coconut, and cumin to this superb witches brew. Like all the others above, it pours black, but with a thick head, and an absolute riot of spices on the nose. Chief among these is the curry, but there's also a distinct note of vanilla. 

Cocoa and coconut sidle up to the palate before the furnace gets turned on and an incisive heat blasts through the throat, courtesy of a healthy dose of cayenne pepper. The beer is too thick for the heat to last, though, and it fades quickly, leaving the dark malts and coconut. Indra Kunindra is a perfect example of how to do a fiery beer. It is the counterpoint to Ballast Point's almost irresponsible, definitely undrinkable Habanero Sculpin. I had a few of these, and never once noticed heat from the 7 percents of alcohol lurking in the glass.

The hereinabove is only the most fractional part of all the dark beers which are becoming available as the winter turns its lowering gaze on the north. There aren't many sharper sticks with which to poke that eye than a strong, roasty ale. Go explore, and I'll see you out there.