Porter Tasting: Batch 2

Beer bottle caps: Five Points, BBNO, BrewDog.

UPDATE 12:35 26/09/2014: the purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective. And that’s probably not the cap from the Brew by Numbers beer in the pic above.

This week, we tasted three porters from the trendier end of the spectrum, all in 330ml bottles, and purchased from Ales by Mail.

  1. BrewDog Brixton, 5%, £2.40.
  2. Five Points Railway, 4.8%, £2.52.
  3. Brew by Numbers 03/01 Original, 6.1%, £2.80.

(We gave these three 30 minutes in the fridge before pouring and drank them from the same stemmed half-pint glasses as last time, for those who are interested in such matters.)

How do self-consciously ‘craft’ breweries approach porter? As a gap in the market, perhaps, or as a novelty — there aren’t many mainstream breweries producing beer in this style. Via American home brewing literature and its guidelines for multiple types of porter, we suspect. And maybe inspired directly by Anchor Porter, which has a quiet cult following in the UK and has done for years. It does not seem to be subjected to quite the same experiments in flavouring or hybridising as other styles — it’s usually kept fairly straight, often even with a nod to tradition.

In fact, the main difference between a ‘craft’ porter and any other seems to be the size of the servings which defied attempts at quaffing.

Five Points poured with a perfect, tight, off-white head, and had what we can only describe as a crazy (pleasant) aroma which brought to mind Angel Delight and Bailey’s Irish Cream. The first sip took us by surprise — it was subtly but distinctly yoghurt-sour, which added a pleasing complexity. Was it deliberate, or a happy mistake? Either way, it turned a bog-standard porter into something rather moreish and enjoyable. Ultimately, it’s not something we’d want to drink every day, so it isn’t a contender for the purchase of an entire case, but we’d happily buy it again.

BrewDog Brixton is a beer we’ve had before and enjoyed without being bowled over. It poured suitably oily-black. The overwhelming character is a dry ashiness, like eating a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, but, beyond that, it’s perhaps too thin for sipping, while being too much hard work to just drink. It was certainly perfectly clean and the condition was spot on. But… we were rather enjoying it by the end, and it turns out to have a kind of delayed wow factor. It’s an outside contender.

Brew by Numbers (aka BBNo) 03/01 prompted one of our fairly frequent disagreements: Boak’s immediate reaction to the aroma was, ‘Eugh! Booze and antiseptic!’ while Bailey got a pleasant whiff of vanilla. Its body was unctuous, fairly well-balanced, with a touch of acidity suggesting berries or cherries. Ultimately, though, it was rather heavy going and rough. We would not drink this again and it’s definitely not a contender. (Another of their beers, a saison with cucumber, was one of the hits of our summer.)

Next time: those Guinness porters, and some pondering on to what extent they can be considered British. (Don’t start arguing with us about this now… you’ll get your chance.) Here’s what we made of the last batch and this post explains what we’re up to. See also: The Beer o’ Clock Show’s imminent stout/porter poll.

4 thoughts on “Porter Tasting: Batch 2”

  1. I’d def recommend 5 point on cask. But at 2.40 for a 330 bottle id give it a miss. Oh that sourness you report – didnt notice it myself and have had couple of pints of it.

  2. I get that you are stressing the subjectivity here, and claim to be replicating a “normal” drinking experience. But why NOT blind taste? You are entering this with a wealth of experience, knowledge and preconceptions that the general beer drinking public may not themselves carry, so it isn’t quite achieving your stated aim imho

    1. Simple answer: proper blind tasting is really difficult when there are only two of you, and not much fun.

      Our stated aim is to work out which beer *we* want to buy an entire case of, and we think it’s helping us get there.

      EDIT: We might make the final decision, when we’ve got our contenders, based on a blind tasting — we haven’t decided yet.

  3. The sourness of the Five Points is interesting, as is your reaction to it. I ordered Portobello Market Porter on cask the other day. The barman pressed a taster on me, and I was glad he did; it was – as far as I’m concerned – pretty foul. (Presumably he’d had similar reactions from other people.) My immediate impression was that it was off, although on more careful consideration I decided the sourness was meant to be there & could be appreciated if you got used to it. It was dancing on the edge of just-plain-off, though, and I didn’t think it was worth the effort. (Unless it actually was off? The pump clip said “smooth and velvety”!)

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