We spent a couple of nights this week drinking and thinking about the first batch of bottled porters in the running to be declared our go-to for this winter.
Without making any real attempt at objectivity — there were no red lightbulbs or concealed labels — we did try to hold each beer to the same standard.
First, before we got into thinking about the taste, we tried simply to react: did the first gobful turn us on?
Then we considered the extent to which it met our expectations of something with porter on the label, which is to say:
- ‘quaffable’, but with a bit more oomph than mild;
- lighter bodied than Draught Guinness (the stout of reference); and
- with flavour and aroma derived primarily from malt and sugar, rather than from hops or yeast.
The first candidates for serious consideration were all recommended as being equal to or better than Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter by our fellow beer geeks.
How did they taste?
We started with a beer we’ve known and loved for years — Fuller’s London Porter (5.4%, £17 for 8 × 500ml from their online store). First, yes, it has the wow factor: it is thrillingly good, without being angular or spiky. Smooth, but deep. It is pitch black, slightly bonfire-smoky, and pleasingly black-tea bitter. We couldn’t help compare it to its near-doppelganger from Sam Smith: Fuller’s take seems lighter-bodied, with less treacle. A bit more grown-up. We’ll double check that when we taste them together in a few weeks. It’s a contender.
Redemption Fellowship (5.1%, £2.99 per 500ml from Ales By Mail) was, by contrast, a disaster: it had almost no carbonation, and poured without a head. What’s the opposite of ‘wow factor’? We did our best to assess the flavour anyway and, rather to our surprise, found plenty to appreciate. It’s powerful tasting, slightly raw, almost too intense, and reminded us of chocolate covered coffee beans. It’s hard to judge body in a condition-free beer but it seemed appropriately middleweight. But, bearing in mind the idea here is to work out which beer to buy a case of, it‘s out of the running. We can’t afford to gamble on a box of duds.
Meantime/Marks & Spencer London Porter (5.5%, 3 for £6 in store) is another beer we know quite well. Drunk in the same session as Fuller’s, it did not come off all that well. There was no immediate spark of delight, and, at first we found it too light-bodied and almost fizzy, like Schwarzbier. (The power of suggestion, given that Meantime are best known for brewing lager?) On a superficial level, it’s red-brown translucency didn’t seem quite satisfying either. The flavour grew on us, suggesting iced coffee or even coffee cream chocolates, but it lacked depth. We’d buy it again, and ultimately enjoyed it, but as a contender for a bulk purchase? It’s out.
Where our heads are at
For better or worse, it occurs to us that Sam Smith’s and Fuller’s are at an immediate advantage in this exercise because, as the first porters we tasted, and those we’ve enjoyed most often, they define our expectations. We’ll see if some recalibration is required on the day of reckoning.
We also have spare bottles of Meantime and Redemption. They’re out of the grand final (heh!) but we’ll try to give them another go and update this post if we get ‘wow’ (or any sign of condition) on the second pass.
UPDATE 21/11/2014: Andy at Redemption emailed us to say that he’d ordered bottles of Fellowship Porter from the same source as us and confirmed that they were indeed under-conditioned. He sent us two replacement bottles from a later bottling run, the first of which we opened last night; we found the condition to be absolutely perfect.
17 replies on “Porter Tasting: Batch 1”
If you didn’t … do try the Redemption at 12-13C “cellar” temperature. (Sorry if I’ve missed some prior piece on methodology here.)
I found it needed this myself. It came out pretty flat from the fridge, but a bottle at 12C had a good cask-level carbonation. In this case the temperature & carbonation suited the style. I have handed out a few samples of this beer with this instruction given (cellar it, don’t fridge it). That said I don’t think there is any such information on the bottle so can’t say whether or not this is intended. (I generally dislike drinking fridge-temperature porter/stout & putting one in the fridge in the 1st place was an accident.)
Redemption are new to bottling – and these beers are bottle conditioned – so if actually flat it’ll be a beginner’s hiccup I guess. No doubt the brewery will see this and take the feedback!
(Disclaimer: I very much like Redemption beers and sell them… the Fellowship porter in cask has a strong fanbase – the bottles are a very new addition to the Redemption lineup however.)
Methodology is a bit of a grand word, but we didn’t refrigerate any of them.
(In the past, by the way, we’ve been told off for *not* refrigerating gushers. A bottle of beer shouldn’t need a user’s manual!)
Cool – good to know. By “methodology” I guess all I am interested in knowing is serve temperature really, I figure it is the most important factor. Perhaps also glassware (or necking it from bottle?), maybe context of drinking (evening after dinner? Breakfast?) … sorry, bit of a data nerd.
I do agree that a “user’s manual” should not be required. But with respect to carbonation temperature is important. If you’re aiming for cask level carb then a beer may appear pretty lifeless at 4C. Of course if you’re making a bottle of beer for the supermarket-shelf then aiming for cask level carb at cask temp is probably an error of judgement. I very much appreciate it when a bottle of beer has on the side a suggested serving temperature. (Far more important than silliness about IBUs IMO.)
No beer should *gush* because it is room-ish temperature. To blame the drinker for a gusher due to not refrigerating a beer smells of stinky bollocks.
“Perhaps also glassware (or necking it from bottle?), maybe context of drinking (evening after dinner? Breakfast?) … sorry, bit of a data nerd.”
In this case, I guess we might add that they were all drunk from the same glassware, in the same session, in the order above. I don’t think different glasses would have suddenly made Fuller’s ‘meh’ and upgraded Meantime to ‘wow’.
But we’re being really, really careful not to imply any objectivity in this exercise — we’re drinking them more or less like normal people would, and it’s just about our impressions/reactions, and our decision about which to invest in.
Aye, I grokked the non-objective vibe. To be 100% clear: I am not trying to correct your experience/opinion of these beers! I am merely interested in analysing how you came to your conclusions.
Totally agree that glassware won’t make that sort of difference. I was just fishing for other things that could be tossed into a “methodology”. It also isn’t going to add carb to an under-carbed beer!
The Fuller’s Porter is a fantastic beer & will be hard to beat. I’d happily enjoy it out of a tea cup. But not a Mason Jar, never a Mason Jar. *shudder*
No surprise on your findings, mine were much the same (though over a longer time period). Fullers Porter on cask is the pinnacle but bottle a worthy plan b
Have you considered the possibility of Lovibond’s Henley Dark as a contender?
It’s on our hit list if we get round to ordering another batch for testing. We don’t really know their beer at all, other than a couple of halves of sour grapes in Bristol the other week.
Fellowship porter sings on cask. I think its the first beer since I came to London 3 years ago, to start weaning me off lagers & session stout, and opening my eyes to what cask had to offer.
It is interesting that it struggles in bottle, like *so* many great cask ales. Whereas to my knowledge Fullers London Porter is not available in cask at all, its an exclusively bottled product.
Richard — it is available on cask but seems to appear at random during the year, and is almost impossible to find in an actual pub unless you’re in the loop. Really quite frustrating! To everyone’s annoyance, we used to say we preferred the bottled version, but we’ve changed our minds — the cask version is incredible.
We also saw it as a keg beer as recently as June, at the Fuller’s place in Smithfield which has very nearly all the beers they brew in one form or another.
Bottling is difficult and we do sympathise with breweries that struggle to get it right when the underlying beer is good. (Well, sympathise *a bit* — that’s still £2.99 of our money wasted…) FWIW, we take every opportunity to recommend their Trinity as a great low ABV cask ale.
The Fullers seems to be permanently on keg at the Parcel Yard, their giant, yet lovely, station pub in the new bit of Kings Cross (where you can also pick up a good range of the vintage ales, although they have now started charging usual prices for these unlike when it first opened and they were ridiculously cheap!)
Mmm, Trinity flashback. I’d actually forgotten it until that moment.
Anyway, another to add to the list – if only for the next time out – would be Acorn’s Gorlovka.
Sure beer, needn’t come with a manual. But it should come with storage instructions, and, best with serving suggestion – particularly if the brewer is aiming for a particular temperature
Glad to see the fullers stacked up as expected. Interested to see if the kernel which I proposed fails on the final criteria, it’s certainly a lot hoppier than most porter
“What’s the opposite of ‘wow factor’?”
We think it’s probably either the ‘meh’ or ‘ugh’ factor.
Another few suggestions, which I’ll add here so that they’re all in one place: porters from Thornbridge, Brightside and Williams Bros, all of which I saw in an offy yesterday. Not sure how widely they’re distributed, though, the Brightside especially. If you do end up with a London bias, it might just be because London’s a lot nearer Cornwall than the places where those three (and Acorn) are based.