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.
This is our last batch of porter tasting notes — even though people keep flagging new ones we must try, this has to end some time, if only for the sake of our sanity.
What have we learned about porter in the last few weeks? First, that it allows quite a bit of room for variation: we’ve tried some that resembled German Schwarzbiers; one or two that could easily be marketed as strong stouts; and others that were very hoppy, or smoky, or had some other left-field characteristic.
We have also learned, after the manner of Doogie Howser M.D., ‘something about ourselves’: while we’re fascinated by craft beer (definition 2) and hope to see it take a bigger share of the market, what we actually enjoy drinking, on the whole, are more traditional, restrained beers, with smoother edges. (We’re becoming middle-aged, aren’t we?)
Anyway, these last three beers have nothing much in common with each other, except that two of them are from London:
- Okells Aile (4.7%, £2.10 for 500ml from Ales By Mail)
- Sambrook’s Powerhouse (4.9%, £2.94 for 500ml from Ales By Mail)
- Meantime London Porter (6.5%, £5.50 for 750ml from Beermerchants)
We drank them cool but not chilled, from our usual glasses.
First up, Okells, which we liked enough to say ‘Ooh!’ but which stopped just short of having wow factor. There was a promise of red fruits in the aroma which wasn’t present in the flavour. In fact, we found it ashily dry, like liquidised coal; slightly astringent, like stewed black tea; and a touch whisky-smoky (as advertised on the label). It’s certainly not boring; we’d drink it again, especially if we ever saw it on cask; and it’s got enough character that it’s bound to appeal to some people more than others. For us, though, it’s not a contender.
Sambrook’s Powerhouse, too, was pretty good, but certainly didn’t cause us to say wow. We’ve previously enjoyed the cask-conditioned version, though we found it a tad rough around the edges. This bottled version was similarly lacking in final polish, though it struck us as quite silky and treacley at first, with a distinct hop perfume. Beneath the expected burnt-toast notes were licks of toffee and caramel — a little out of place. Finally, we found ourselves nagged at by an odd lolly-stick, match-wood flavour. So, a pleasant, old-fashioned, tasty porter, but not quite clean enough for our tastes, and not a contender.
Even though we’d previously tried the porter Meantime produce for Marks & Spencer, we thought we really also ought to consider the version they put out under their own name, which has quite different spec — it’s a full percentage point stronger, for example. Overall, we found it much better than the M&S variant — solid, chewy and creamy, with a luscious cherry liqueur note. The overriding impression was of deep, penetrating bitterness, like very dark, high cocoa-solid chocolate. But, unfortunately, there were some odd flavours and aromas that we found off-putting — a coppery 2p coin taste, and a whiff of… cheese? Basement mustiness? So, it stopped short of wowing us, and isn’t a contender. (Partly, also, because it’s just a bit too heady for everyday drinking.)
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So, that’s it. This weekend, we’ll try all of the contenders together, in some kind of half-arsed semi-blind tasting the details of which we have yet to work out, and let you know which beer won early next week. Thanks for bearing with us!