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11 June
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Porters: the new black

I’ve tried a few porters over the past few cold weeks in Melbourne. What a delicious sampling it’s been.

Porters are an interesting style of dark beer with a rich history. I especially love the historical link of the porter name to a letter in the London Chronicle in 1760 by Obadiah Poundage (sounds like one of Dickens’ characters) where he noted: “The labouring people, porters etc. experienced its wholesomeness and utility, they assumed to themselves the use thereof, from whence it was called Porter..”

While the history creates a delightful backdrop it’s the brew that’s the substance of this post.

And on the matter of taste I agree, largely, with James Smith of Crafty Pint: rather than provide detailed tasting notes, it’s better and simpler to provide a guide. Individual tastes vary so much and intensities are hard to put into words. The breweries usually provide details if you want them.

Here are my thoughts. But first:

Why drink porter?

Porters are an adventure; they are mysterious. They open up an entirely new landscape in beer land.

I found porter a great way to broaden my beer palate (not pallet). After decades of lagers, porters provided me a new and rich range of beer flavours. Not to be confused with their more robust cousin stout – which can be challenging – porters have a quaffability and  sessionability to them.

Porters are approachable and drinkable.

Taste profile
A quick read of the labels highlights the tasty allure and mystique of porters. Chocolate, coffee, toffee, dark, roasted, rich, caramel and vanilla – see what I mean?

Bottom line: porters are dark rich and smooth: often creamy. That depth usually goes hand in hand with higher alcohol: many porters are over 6% ABV.

I do recommend drinking these rich brews with a slight chill but not cold. Let them warm up a bit if they’ve been in the fridge to bring out the depth of flavour.

Six Pack Sampler
All of the six porters pictured are excellent to my porter palate

Five of the six are from Australia. The tallie, Shallow Grave from Heretic Brewery, is from California. It is a majestic example of the style: perhaps a bit sweeter than the others. It’s certainly the warmest at 7% ABV.

Of the Australian lineup, ‘Red Truck Porter’ from Lobethal Bierhaus in South Australia was a standout: indeed an award winner. There was, in a good way, a Vegemitish depth to it. As an aside: I tried two from different bottle shops in Melbourne, both were bottled June 2011.

I know dark beers can have much longer shelf life than lagers and can benefit from ageing but one bottle was excellent while the other tasted papery and dull: not ageing as well. To be fair: it reflects a challenge all craft breweries have in spreading small batches of packaged beer to a big market. Doesn’t put me off my porter pursuit!

Holgate’s porter really has cocoa and vanilla in it. These flavours stand out on first taste but blend in swiftly to enhance the overall richness of this super porter. You could drink this as an accompaniment to rich ice cream. Called the Temptress; it’s aptly named.

Red Duck Porter was highly drinkable: I enjoyed what I thought was its extra bitterness compared to the others.

Wicked Elf from The Little Brewing Company in NSW is a fine exemplar of the style: smooth and rich but engaging, drinkable and moreish – especially at 6.2% ABV.

James Squire Jack of Spades was perhaps the least complex of this line-up to my mind. Highly drinkable nonetheless. Perhaps this reflects a lower ABV compared to the others. It reminded me a bit of White Rabbit Dark Ale.

I look forward to conducting a similar sampling of fresh porters on tap. Until then: this lineup of packaged porters is a good insight to the style. Hope it interests you to try a few. Enjoy …

Cheers!