Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beer style of the week; Baltic or Imperial Porters

Week 51

Imagine for a moment you’re a deck hand in the 1850’s sailing aboard a merchant vessel, plying the icy waters of the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia. With frozen masts, sails and icy decks to constantly tend to, you’re hauling precious cargo between Russia, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Germany and Poland. It’s hard to imagine a more perilous or more miserably cold place to be. And when your shift for the day ends your reward MUST be more than hard tack crackers, salted pork fat and reindeer jerky! There’s got to be a sane reason why you’d put yourself through frozen hell without some form of end-of-the- day pleasure. The answer? Baltic Porter!

Here’s the brief history of the Porter style as outlined in week 12;

The dark Porter was a beer that was popular amongst the river and street porters of London in the early 1700s. The Porter style, as written in some publications was originally a blend of what was named the Three Threads. This was a blend of ale, old ale and a potent beer called Twopenny (the cost per quart). Sometimes Porter was referred to by the name “Entire Butt”, based upon it having all the three blends together in one beer. An aged, stronger Three Threads blend became known as Stout Porter, and in time, shortened to “stout”. In many circles of the day, the name porter and stout became interchangeable. At any rate a Porter should have, at least, a faint astringent tart or slight sourness bitterness known to the “Old Ale” style.

Baltic Porter is one of the most aptly-named beer styles on the planet. Named for the extra strong Porter that was brewed to survive long and arduous sea journeys in some of the harshest climates and conditions known to man. It was, and is to this day, survival beer. Hearty, nutritious and above all, full-flavored Porter. The alcohol by volume (ABV) should be between 7% - 9%.

From the lands of origin

Okocim Porter – Browar Okocim (Carlsberg) – Brzesko, Poland – 8.1% ABV

500 ml (16.9 oz.) brown bottle. No freshness date. Poured into a Sam Adams perfect pint glass.

Oddly, brewed in Southern Poland, nowhere near the Baltic Sea.

It pours a very deep and dark mahogany brown color with a fast-fading tannish head along with some webby lacing.

Dark rummy alcohol fuminess is released at first pour. Smoky roast malt, burnt rye toast and a light citrusy smell blend quite well together.

The flavors are straight forward with little in the way of subtleties. Dark roasted malt, dark coffee, metallic and resinous hops, rum and figs are fairly equal. Some burnt sugar sweetness is perhaps a bit too prominent.

The body is just about right for the style, though on the syrupy sweet side. It's smooth, liquid and nearly oily. This particular Okocim offering is always very consistent. I look forward to drinking it when in the mood, and it never lets me down.

Neuzeller Kloster-brau Porter – Klosterbrauerei – Neuzelle, Germany – 7.1% ABV

Brewed on the Polish border in Northern Germany.

16.9oz brown bottle. Freshness date stamped on bottle.

It pours a dark coffee color with tan bubbly, fast fading head.

An earthy smell of cut hay and powered malt is upfront and hint of cocoa is light in the background.

A strong taste of Hershey’s Chocolate syrup and milk dominates the mild hint of lime-like citrus.

A light brown sugar sweetness and coffee help to mask the fairly potent alcoholic heat.

Sinebrychoff Porter – Oy Sinebrychoff AB – Kerava, Finland – 7.2% ABV

Sinebrychoff, or Koff as it is called in Finland really stands out as a true "craft" brew. This "vintage" Baltic Porter ages very well, when cellaring at around 55°F. The flavors and aromas change ever-so-gradually. You can expect this brew to last 6 to 8 years. This Baltic Porter is a prime example of a beer crafted with care, attention to detail and love. The color is like strong, dark coffee. Lovely aromas of chocolate malt, smoke, coffee and dark rum vie for attention. The full and rich body envelopes flavors of coffee, rye, dark chocolate and a bit of licorice. An abundance of sharp-edged fresh hops, citrus bitterness and hint of spices provide a lively bite. It's slightly smoky with an essence of pine in the background. This powerfully flavored brew has a bit of an alcohol kick, yet it remains very drinkable. I highly recommend this wonderful example of the Baltic Porter style!

Kiipis! (Cheers!)

New England Baltic/Imperial Porters

Harpoon Baltic Porter – Harpoon Brewery – Boston, MA – 9.5% ABV

12oz bottle. No freshness date.

It pours a roofing tar black body with a thin wispy light tan head on top.

A big whiff of coffee liqueur fumes up at first pour. A smell of burnt rye bread, earth, chocolate, and horse barn are all quite noticeable. Very Nice!

Coffee, molasses and rye bread make up the main malt characteristics. Mild limey tartness along with a light metallic bitterness attempt to offset the large maltiness, to little avail. However, a big whopping tequila-like alcohol bite factors through.

This is a likeable big brew, though it is a bit over-the-top for the style.

Shipyard Imperial Porter (Pugley’s Signature Series) Shipyard Brewing – Portland, Maine – 7.1% ABV

16.9 oz. brown bottle. No freshness date.
Served in a SA perfect pint glass.
Pours a deep and darkest brown possible. It takes a hard pour to get the mocha head billowing to a 2" level. There is a fair amount of patchy and webby sliding lace.
Smells of chocolate malt, cocoa, coffee and fruit cake carry more minor smells of resinous and citrusy hops. A whiff of black licorice rolls in late.
The flavors follow the smells closely, but the taste of licorice is more noticeable, as is a hint of peppery spices. An ever-so-slightly sour Old Ale tang is detected with some effort.
The body lacks the fullness and depth of some Finnish, Polish and Swedish Baltic Porters, but it is a really enjoyable brew anyway.

Thomas Hooker Imperial Porter – Thomas Hooker Ales & Lager – Brookfield, CT – 7.8% ABV

12 Oz. brown bottle. No freshness date.

Served in a Nonic tumbler.

It pours a very dark oxblood-tinted brown color with a firm and foamy 2” head and some webby rings of lacing.

The aromas are malt forward with strong scents of dark roast coffee, scorched malt, dark cocoa, along with a faint whiff of horse stable (in a good way). Citrusy and tart fruit smells inch through and are followed closely by whiffs of dark rum. A distant smell of macerated berries is noticed.

Tastes of roasted malt, burnt sugar, coffee and cocoa are fairly potent. The tastes of tart fruit and citrus zest provide a mild, yet nice balance to the dark maltiness. A slightly sour tang (it’s a true Porter) develops as it warms. Sweetness emerges a wee bit too assertive, but well within the style range.

The body is not as dense or oily as it appears. After the initial spritzy effervescence wears down, it becomes an easy drinker, which makes me glad I bought four.

Next week (Week 52) – Beer style of the week All-Stars

Quote: “Here’s to the man who drinks strong ale,
and goes to bed quite mellow.
Lives as he ought to live,
and dies a jolly good fellow.” - Old English folk song