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.
Yes, you’ve rumbled us: we are making this up as we go along.
Having decided to include the new Guinness porters in our taste test, and thus already (kind of) looked outside Britain, we thought we might as well also try out four US porters readily available in the UK.
- Odell Cutthroat (5.1% ABV, £2.75 355ml from Beermerchants.com)
- Anchor (5.6%, £2.40 for 355ml @ Beermerchants)
- Sierra Nevada (5.6%, £2.50 for 355ml @ Beermerchants)
- Founders (6.5%, c.£2.50 (we lost the receipt) for 355ml @ the Bottle Bank, Falmouth)
We’d previously enjoyed Odell Cutthroat at the Barley Mow in Bristol where it reminded us of Fuller’s London — that is to say, it’s very English in character. Our notes include a guess at hop varieties: “Fuggles?” We certainly detected a bitter salad-leafiness, along with cherries, berries and an underlying mouth-filling red-wininess. Despite a good lingering liquorice tang and assertive bitterness, we found it, overall, a bit muted, but then that might be down to its freshness: we bought it in August but the ‘best before’ was July. (UPDATE 09:58 — according to Matt Curtis in a comment below, its a ‘bottled on’ rather than ‘best before’ date.) So, not a ‘wow’, and not a contender. (Harsh, maybe, but we need to start getting our short list short.)
Just as we were beginning to wonder if our palates were growing jaded, along came Anchor. First brewed in 1972, this is, we think, astonishingly, the oldest porter in production anywhere in the world. Despite its great age, it prompted a BIG WOW! from both of us. If there was such a thing as session-strength Pedro Ximenez, this is how it would taste — figgy, raisiny and weighty. Despite its richness, it’s by no means hard work, being just on the right side of syrupy, with enough bitterness to make it moreish. It’s a contender and through to the final taste-off, where we suspect it might give Fuller’s and Sam Smith’s a run for their money. Not bad for a 42 year old.
Then almost more of the same, from Sierra Nevada. It has the wow factor alright, but comparatively less so, despite being very similar. Again, we got figs, raisins and syrup, but with a haunting background note of staleness, and a gap in the flavour as if they’d attempted to clone Anchor Porter but were missing one of the secret spices. It was well within its best before, but perhaps the journey across the Atlantic had left it just a little weary. At any rate, it’s a contender, just about.
We drank the three beers above in one session, and then added Founders as a bonus a few days later. This certainly has the wow factor — it’s a big, ashy, rummy beast of a beer, like boozy prune-juice. Its bitterness seems never-ending, and among everything it has going on, we even thought we detected a hint of something like cinnamon. So, it’s delicious, and complex, but, at 6.5%, and with a heavy-going mouth-filling intensity, is not the every day porter we’re after, and not a contender. In fact, if we were Founders, we’d re-brand this ‘double stout’ and be done.
* * *
We’ve got one more tasting session to write-up and then it’s final taste-off time. At this point, the contenders are Sam Smith’s, Fuller’s, Brewdog Brixton, Beavertown Smog Rocket, Guinness West Indies, Anchor and Sierra Nevada. Meanwhile, for a different take on the best porters, the results of a recent Beer O’Clock show poll are here.