Porter Tasting: Batch 5 — U-S-A! U-S-A!

American porter caps on a historic map of the US.

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.

16 thoughts on “Porter Tasting: Batch 5 — U-S-A! U-S-A!”

    1. Having checked the other bottle in the stash, you’re right that it doesn’t specify ‘best before’, but it doesn’t say ‘bottled on’ either — just a date floating in a black box! Not very helpful, all in all.

    1. Ah, of course — we put in a qualifier because we had a feeling it couldn’t quite be right.

  1. We don’t often see Sierra Nevada Porter in this neck of the Virginia woods, though hopefully will change with SN’s new brewery just a few hours down the road, but it’s always worth a six pack when I see it. Never tried the Anchor Porter (or remember seeing it to be honest), but will have to hunt it out.

  2. Ireland isn’t ‘sort of’ outside Britain. If unsure try walking there. On the other hand Guinness, as part of Diageo, are hardly Irish any more.

  3. Carnegie Porter apparently dates from 1836, but Yuengling Porter arguable dates from 1829 when the Eagle Brewery, as it was then known, was founded by the first Yuengling immigrant to the U.S. (he was from Stuttgart, Germany). Given the prevalence of English styles in the early 1800’s in America and that porter was still in its heyday in the U.K., I’d think porter was brewed not long after Eagle Brewery opened (although I don’t know for sure).

    It is very good, kind of a similar beer to Anchor Porter but a little lighter.

    I just bought a fresh 6 pack of Anchor Porter and it has no sherried taste so I wonder if the transport over did this, unless you meant by that reference simply its richness. (A touch of sherried oxidation, if it was that, would hardly be out of place in a porter though).

    The Anchor is very good but needs IMO to be consumed barely chilled, shelf temperature in a cool room is even better. That way the rich chocolately complexity comes out.

    Agree fully with your take on the SN, for some reason its porter never really did the trick IMO. When it started, Anchor’s porter may have been an inspiration but also perhaps Taddy Porter which is rather dry and restrained in character.

    I agree fully re your take on the Odell’s and Founder’s. I would blend these two and you’d have a bang up drink. Add a dash of any sour porter beer and you’re back in the 1800’s. 🙂

    Gary

    1. We’ve never found PX to have much of the traditional oxidised flavour associate with sherry — it’s made from raisins and, boy, does it taste like it!

      1. Raisiny, hmm, maybe, I shall be forced to drink Anvhor Porter again soon. Life is hard. 🙂

        Gary

  4. Also bought a six of Anchor porter and I get the PX idea. Have you ever had East India Solera from Lustau? Good quality PX sherry that would work as a side by side by this has more Fry’s cocoa powder. Like a good bitter, the flavours are created by the clever combination of malt, hop and yeast not just by boosting one aspect of one constituent part.

  5. No list of American Porter is complete without Deschuttes Black Butte Porter. At 5.2% abv it fits your criteria perfectly. I love the dark roasted chocolate aroma and taste balanced by just enough bitterness from the hops. Simply the best porter out there.

    1. It’s not available in the UK as far as we’re aware, which is just as well as we’re trying to narrow the field at this stage.

  6. Founders Porter is a nice beer.

    Anchor is a bit sweet for my tastes.

    Sierra Nevada I thought was disappointing. Nowhere near as good as their excellent Stout.

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