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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Does it Work and is it Worth a Tenner?

Schneider’s Meine Porter Weisse is, as the name suggests, a cross-breeding of English porter and Bavarian wheat beer — an idea intriguing enough to convince us to part with £9.99 for 750ml.

Our first guess was that this would have something to do with Brooklyn Brewery but, no: publicity materials suggest that Georg Schneider conceived this beer with his friend ‘Alistair’, a brewer in London. Presumably there are legal reasons for the coyness — this is not a formal collaboration — but there’s only one porter-obsessed global craft beer aristocrat who really fits the bill.

From its wheat beer ancestry it gains high carbonation and opacity, while the porter side gives it a rich red-black colour. It could look muddy (as dark wheat beers often do) but actually pulls off velvety richness.

The aroma is dominated by wheat beer characteristics: some pineapple, a little banana, and vanilla. With the first gulp, porter takes over with a burnt-toast and dark chocolate bitterness which works unsurprisingly well with the creamy texture. Ultimately, as the head dies away, the Dark Side comes to dominate, though a hint of tropical fruit persisted to the end.

We were reminded a little of Schneider’s own Aventinus and also of Anchor’s mouth-coating, chewy Porter, though this isn’t as good as either of those beers. It’s not a clumsy clash as many of these German-US-UK hybrids can be, but nor is it quite in balance, and our final impression was of wateriness — like drinking mild. That’s unforgivable in a 7% beer.

Though Bailey (who’s soft about mild) liked it more than Boak (who hates pineapple) neither of us would rush to drink it again, and certainly not at this price.

In REGION You Must Try BEER

A couple of years ago we suggested a few indicators of a healthy beer culture. Number eight on our list was the presence of a ‘must try’ regional speciality. Having been reminded of that post, we’ve been thinking about which UK regions have something that fits the bill.

Now, we’re not talking about which beers are best or most exciting but those which in some way reflect local history and tradition, in the same way a Maß of Helles tells you you’re in Munich.

Here’s a partial list, very much off the top of our heads:

  • Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire: pale ale — Bass, Worthington White Shield or Marston’s Pedigree.
  • Cornwall: strong (c.5%), brown, sweetish ale, e.g. Spingo Middle, St Austell HSD.
  • Edinburgh: 80/-. (It’s not unique to Edinburgh but it’s what we’d seek out if we were there for one day on a fortnight’s tour of the UK and were never coming back.)
  • Glasgow: Tennent’s Lager — brewed here since 1885, in a country which went over to lager decades before England seriously got the taste.
  • Kent: bitter with Kentish hops, e.g. Shepherd Neame.
  • London: porter. It died out, yes, but this is where it was born, and there are some fairly authentic local examples now available, e.g. Fuller’s.
  • Manchester: Manchester pale ale — historically Boddington’s, which was notably light in colour and high in bitterness; now Lees’ MPA or Marble Manchester Bitter.
  • Salisbury, Wiltshire: golden ale, specifically Hop Back Summer Lightning at the Wyndham.
  • West Midlands: Batham’s or Holden’s Bitter. We asked Tania, a noted fan, to summarise what makes these beers different: ‘It’s the subtle malty sweetness that kicks in at the end of each sip, once the restrained hop bitterness has refreshed your mouth, that makes Black Country bitters so easy to drink.’
  • Yorkshire: bitter. A very broad region and a very vague local speciality that Leigh Linley tried to pin down here.

Continue reading “In REGION You Must Try BEER”