Thursday, May 23, 2013

Flag Porter: Think You Know What Porter Is? Think Again!

After an extremely long hiatus I am finally back. How long has it been? Since mid-February? Holy hell, where the heck have I been? Well good question. Working (sometimes), roadtripping, writing, exercising, eating, but most importantly, drinking. In fact, I've had some amazing beverages since I've been at my new job and I've had some amazing beverages since I've been out and about in the great PNW. But the one certain thing: I've lacked the motivation to write about these experiences, that is, until now. And so here we are smack dab in the middle of springtime, the flowers have been blooming, there are new growths on the pines and baby birds chirping, the sun has been out - errrr, well, kind of. Earlier this evening I was out walking my dog with my winter wool jacket and leather gloves! People were burning wood in their fireplaces and I've had my heater on the past couple of nights! Cripe, there was even fresh snow on the mountaintops this morning! Uhh, we are just a week away from June and one month away from the official kick-off to summer, aren't we? Well one would think so. But you couldn't tell by the weather. And so tonight, we'll raise a glass to (hopefully) one of the last few dark days of winter by reviewing a nice winter brew: the porter.

Let me start off by asking you for some input. If I were sitting next to you at this very moment, and we were discussing beer over a few pints, I would ask you to define for me: the porter. Chances are very good that you might describe something similar to Deschutes Black Butte Porter (an American-style Porter), which has actually come to be known as somewhat of a benchmark beer for the style. You'd tell me about how the porter is very dark, roasty, you may find hints of coffee and or dark chocolate. Strengthwise they won't blow you away but they are dark and menacing and not for everyone. Most likely I would pat you on the back and say: "Mate, you've got it right, but the porter is a complex beast. It wasn't always dark and roasty. In fact, the porter used to be something completely different." And then I would begin to tell you about the porter. You think you know the porter? I certainly thought I did. As it turns out, I didn't.

We begin our journey through the history books in London, England, the true birthplace of the porter. In the 16th and 17th centuries brewing technologies were nothing compared to what we have today and kilning techniques (the process through which malt is dried) mostly involved direct heat, normally from a fire. It wasn't until the advent of much better kilning technologies in 1817 (the drum roaster) did darker roasted malts become available. And so up to this point most beer was brown beer. And so this much we know, the porter was as well, a brown beer. We have a few surviving recipes for period porters and as expected, most of the grain bills included mostly brown malt but it's what happened after brewing that made porter into what it really was.

At that time it was very common to age beers in massive wooden vats, sometimes for up to a year or more and subsequently blend this aged (or stale as they would call it) beer with one or two other younger (and often weaker beers). The idea here is to take malt, and brew a beer with it. You'd then take the same malt and essentially brew a second, weaker beer with the same grain. This is called a second running. The resulting beer would contain far less alcohol and there are records of brewers even going for a third running! These resulting beers would often times find their way into the same drinking vessel one way or another. Back in those days pub owners would often take the stale beer and blend it on premise with a fresher, younger (and often weaker) brew to stretch out their supply. And just for a bit of history, the most common customers of these pubs was working class England, the river and street laborers or as they were referred to at the time: the porters. This is invariably where the beer takes its name as it was a drink wildly popular with the working class. And so, here we have the worlds first porter. It was a malty rich, toasty, caramelly (perhaps even a bit astringent from barrel-aging) toffee-like, brown beer. Today we can still find good examples of this although only attempts to recreate what porter really was. In fact, I just so happen to have reviewed one of these lovely beers previously.

The example I've chosen for you is one I found quite intriguing (and not just because I'm a history buff). It's because the brewers are using a yeast strain that survived over 150 years submerged at the bottom of the English Channel. Yes, you heard me right, over 150 years! Divers discovered a wrecked barge in the channel that had wrecked in 1825. When divers further explored the sunken vessel they discovered a shipment of entirely intact 19th-century porter. Somehow they managed to bring the wax-sealed bottles to the surface, open them, and consequently discover an entirely viable yeast strain. This strain was then cultivated and handed over to brewers who then used it to resurrect the porter as it was in 1825. Of course the methods and ingredients are different and it will never be completely possible to resurrect an exact version of original porter but it's still a lovely story nonetheless. And so, I give you: Flag Porter from Darwin Brewery Ltd. You can get a more detailed description of the process behind this beer here. Ok, onward to the tasting notes!

Name: Original Flag Porter
Category/Style: English Porter
ABV: 5.00%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: 1825
Special Additives: Unknown
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 12 oz
Location Purchased: Malt and Vine, Redmond, WA

The Pour: Pour is translucent mahogany with a dense dark cream coloured head eventually dissipating to a ring around the glass. Lacing is moderate.

The Nose: Sweet caramel, hazelnuts, dark fruit and coffee. A little bit of milk chocolate and dust.

The Taste: Pumpernickel bread, a little sweet initially, but finishes dry. Cocoa powder and a touch of coffee. There's caramel and toast, a slight bitterness at the end. Perhaps a touch of astringency? Medium bodied, smooth and creamy on the mouthfeel.

The Verdict: I rather enjoyed this one. It was definitely a welcome reprieve from the overly robust and heavily roasted porters we've become accustomed to. I liked the fact that it was well-balanced: flavours include hazelnuts and caramel but also a touch of the darker flavours. Lately I've been really interested in what Porter tasted like in its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries. I know it definitely wasn't like the Porter we know today. This beer is a bit of a novelty and the reason I feel this way is because of their very unique yeast strain. As I stated previously it was actually salvaged from the inside of a bottle found on a frigate that sunk in 1825. I think that's pretty nifty personally. This definitely adds to the historical novelty of this beer. Add that to the fact that this bottle is relatively inexpensive, comes in a handy 12 ounce size and that you can probably find it at most specialty beer shops (which seem to be growing in number these days) and that makes for a great reason to buy this beer. If you're the least bit interested in trying something that deviates from the normal American-style Porter and does a bang-up job attempting to re-create what original porter tasted like, find a bottle, crack it open and enjoy.

Thanks for reading!


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