Magical Mystery Pour #26: Colchester Brewery Brazilian

The second Essex beer from a set chosen for us by Justin Mason (@1970sBOY) of Get Beer, Drink Beer is a coffee and vanilla porter at 4.6% ABV.

We got it from Essex Food at £3.00 per 330ml bottle. Justin says:

Colchester Brewery use the ‘double drop’ method, where primary fermentation takes place in one vessel before being ‘dropped’ under gravity to a secondary fermentation vessel below, in the brewing of all their beers. Their Brazilian, with its label resembling that of a high street coffee chain (pure coincidence) is brewed using Brazilian coffee and fresh vanilla pods and is a beer that I’d quite happily end a meal with, having done so on numerous occasions.

We have mixed feelings about coffee beers. Too often they end up tasting sickly and fake — more like coffee cream chocolates, or coffee cake, than the real thing. Or, when they avoid that fate, they can instead end up too serious, harsh and headache-inducing. And of course there’s the novelty factor — is it a stunt, or a proper beer? Our gut feeling is that proper beers suggest coffee without just adding it to the brew.

In this case, too, the Starbucks-inspired branding didn’t fill us with hope. It’s such an obvious joke, a cheap shot, that it made us think somewhat ill of the beer from the off.

Colchester Brazilian porter in a beer glass.

On opening we felt yet more concerned. We’ve popped the caps on enough bottles over the years to almost be able to feel the character of the beer from the way it feels and sounds at that point. This felt flat and dead. It looked lifeless as it went into the glass, too, although as it settled a thin tan head did emerge like some kind of magic trick. It also kicked out a substantial drifting aroma of bottled baking essences.

And yet, for all those danger signs, we really liked this beer. The coffee character was fun rather than tacky and well balanced by the underlying beer — a bitter, light-bodied, uncompromising porter that we’d like to try neat by the pint sometime. It wasn’t at all sickly — it suggested sweetness without actually having much sugar left in it — the suggestive powers of vanilla, we suppose. What it reminded us of in spirit was those fancily-packaged single-estate chocolate bars with, say, baobab, that they sell in the Eden Project gift shop. It was intense without being po-faced about it.

What really sealed the deal was when we thought to check the ABV. We’d been assuming it was something like 6% — suggested by the bottle size, perhaps? — and were delighted to discover that so much flavour was being dished up in such a moderately alcoholic package.

We’d definitely buy this again and (based on this one encounter) would recommend it over some much trendier, more trendily packaged coffee stouts/porters we’ve encountered.

The brewery has a large range of special beers including lots of historically-inspired recipes — we’ll be looking out for them on our travels.

The A-Team

Illustration: the A-Team.

Without quite meaning to we’ve acquired some habits — a line-up of bottled beers that we always have in the cupboard or fridge.

What follows is probably as near as you’ll ever get from us to an X Beers Before You Y list.

Bitter (pale ale) or pale and hoppy session beers we tend to drink in the pub. We’re spoiled for choice, really, even in Penzance, and even more so if we take the bus out to the Star at Crowlas. Still, it’s worth saying that St Austell Proper Job is our default pub drink these days. It’s for the more unusual styles that we resort to bottles.

Anchor Porter from the US which goes at around £2-3 per 355ml bottle in the UK is our go-to beer in the stout family. We arrived at this decision after proper testing. When the urge for a dark beer that really tastes dark overcomes us, this is the one we reach for, knowing it will be great every time.

There are lots of great Belgian beers but one that never gets boring, because it’s the best beer in the world, is Westmalle Tripel. There are always a couple of bottles of this in every order we place.

Orval is our favourite example of… Orval. We went from being sceptical to puzzled to devotees over the course of a couple of years. We love it in its own right — it’s always different, yet somehow the same — but we also like to play with it. It’s our house stock ale if you like.

We don’t often need a stout more robust than Anchor Porter but when we do it’s Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout. It tastes its strength, coats the tongue, and comes with a tractor-trailer of funky weirdness that really does ensure a single glass can last all evening. One case every other year seems to do the job, though.

This is both our most boring choice and likely to be most controversial: we’ve yet to find a flowery, aromatic American-style IPA that is better value or more reliably enjoyable than BrewDog Punk. Every time we open a bottle or can we say, ‘Wow!’ which is exactly what we want from this kind of beer. Nine times out of ten Proper Job at the Yacht Inn is all the hops we need but this is the one we keep at home when our blood-humulone levels drop to dangerously low levels.

When we want something sour and refreshing we consistently turn to Magic Rock Salty Kiss. It’s not overly strong, not overly acidic, and is just the right kind of acidic for us, too. (But we won’t say too much — it’s coming up in the current round of Magical Mystery Pour.)

But there are still vacancies — styles where we play the field. When it comes to lager, we currently cycle through St Austell Korev (great value, easy to find), Thornbridge Tzara (yes, we know, not technically a lager, but technically brilliant) and Schlenkerla Helles (the smoke is just enough of a twist to keep us excited). Even though we tasted a load of them we still don’t have a bottled mild we feel the need to have permanently at hand — it’s a pub beer, really. We tend to buy Saison Dupont or BrewDog Electric India but that’s not a lock — we’re still actively auditioning others and saison isn’t something we drink every week. When we get the urge to drink wheat beer, we’re still happy with Hoegaarden, and most German brands do what they need to do, so we just pop to the shops.

So, that’s us. A tendency to conservatism, to the safe option, and to the familiar. (Which is, of course, what Magical Mystery Pour is intended to counter.)

But what about you — do you have any go-to beers? What are they? Or does the whole idea of drinking the same beers over and again just bore you to death?

Magical Mystery Pour #18: Wold Top Marmalade Porter

This is the last of the beers chosen for us by David Bishop (@broadfordbrewer/@beerdoodles) and it’s another from Yorkshire, this time Driffield, out east near the North Sea coast.

It’s not really a part of the world we know at all, dimly remembered childhood holidays in Scarborough and Whitby aside, but if you fancy a treat, spend a few minutes looking at the map: Nafferton, Wetwang, Fridaythorpe, Thwing! It’s a never-ending pleasure.

We’ve had a few beers from Wold Top and always been impressed, and marmalade porter is a wonderfully mouthwatering phrase. Can the beer live up to it? David says:

A wild card choice.  I had a bottle of this a while back and based on the description of the beer I must have enjoyed it? Right?

We got our 500ml bottle from Beer Ritz at £3.36. Its ABV is 5% and some will be interested to know that it is also gluten free.

As part of his list of suggestions David also included Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, our favourite UK version of the style, which we decided to use as a benchmark for judging Wold Top Marmalade, with a view to working out retrospectively how might have fared in our big porter taste-off back in 2014.

Marmalade Porter in the glass.In the glass it’s one of those beers that looks almost black and until you let a light through it when it reveals itself as a rich, clear red-brown. It didn’t seem to smell of much apart from a whiff of metal. The taste was quite overwhelming, however — like the dying embers of a bonfire. As we got used to the smoke a bit of butter came through, probably a bit more than some would enjoy, but tolerable to us. We didn’t really pick up any hint of marmalade or orange flavour, though the copy on the label and its evocative colouring almost fooled our senses.

It’s an earthy beer, not smooth or luxurious, the bitterness badly wanting some dried fruit character to balance it out. It feels as if it was hacked from raw wood with an axe rather than being the result of delicate craftsmanship. It’s like drinking a garden shed. This is not necessarily a bad thing (rustic would be the positive spin) but it’s not quite what we look for in a porter. Our gut instinct — just a guess — is that the problem is the result of a heavy hand with the dark crystal and black malts.

Let’s bring in Sam Smith here: Taddy Porter is wine-like, almost creamy, defined by its sugars, with every hard edge rounded away. In every way, it’s a better beer, as far as we’re concerned. At £3.18 for 550ml from Beer Ritz it’s also a (slightly) better value option.

In the end, though the words above might not quite convey it, we did enjoy the Wold Top beer and would certainly drink it again, but only passively, if it drifted in front of us. Would it have made the final in our porter taste off? Probably not. But it certainly confirms our impression of Wold Top as an interesting brewery whose beers are worth exploring further.

Session #109: Porter

This is our contribution to the 109th Session hosted by Mark Lindner.

What isn’t porter?

It isn’t stout because… Well, because someone has chosen one descriptor over another for reasons that make sense to them. Perhaps because it’s less, er, stout than the stout they also brew. Or perhaps because they want you to think of emerald green Irish fields when you drink their stout but smoke-blackened London brick when you drink the porter. Perhaps they just like the word because it sounds important, portly, portentous, like a nice glass of port.

It isn’t mild. Even it wasn’t aged in a vat for a year it ought to taste at least a bit like it has been. And mild certainly shouldn’t be watered down porter.

It is not IPA in a world where everything is IPA. Black IPA sometimes looks and acts like porter, but then it stops being an IPA.

What is porter?

It is a log fire in a glass. It is like drinking a Dickens novel. It’s a way to share a pint with your great-great-great-grandfather. It is just big enough to feel like a treat but not so big that you can’t have two on a school-night.

Porter is an enigma.

And it is wonderful.

*

This, by the way, is another subject on which we’ve written extensively in the past:

Porter for Breakfast, 1924

Bottle of stout w. glass.

The following passages, for obvious reasons, grabbed my attention in the opening pages of Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain, about a young Hamburg man exiled to an Alpine sanatorium before World War I:

So he grew up; in wretched weather, in the teeth of the wind and mist, grew up, so to say, in a yellow mackintosh, and, generally speaking, he throve. A little anaemic he had always been, so Dr. Heidekind said, and had him take a good glass of porter after third breakfast every day, when he came home from school. This, as everyone knows, is a hearty drink — Dr. Heidekind considered it a blood-maker — and certainly Hans Castorp found it most soothing on his spirits and encouraging to a propensity of his, which his Uncle Tienappel called ‘dozing’: namely, sitting staring into space, with his jaw dropped and his thoughts fixed on nothing at all.

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