Call us traditionalists at Revue, but if you’re dosing your beers with a bunch of flavors, we become very suspicious that you’re trying to cover up mistakes.
Perhaps that’s why the top three porters we rated in our recent taste-off — Dark Horse’s Thirsty Trout, Peck’s Porter from Tapistry and Latitude 42’s Powerline Porter — all fell into the traditional American or English style with no artificial flavoring.
According to the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines, porters typically exhibit flavorful malty and roasty characteristics, often with a “significant” presence of caramel, nutty or toffee flavors for English styles, and chocolate and coffee for the Yankee examples. They’re not as thick as stouts, meaning they feature a medium body with a creamy texture and some astringency from the many roasted malts. Hoppy bitterness is more prevalent in American porters, where it helps to highlight the malt characteristics.
Porters are a great beer when you want to drink something rich and robust, with their alcohol warmth providing some good vibes to complement a cold day.
While there’s a right way and a wrong way to innovate and add flavors to beers, we’ve found yet again that traditional interpretations tend to suit us best. Said another way: We typically like to taste the ingredients that form the building blocks of each beer. Coconut, vanilla and other ingredients have their place, but are best when used sparingly.
So interpret these rankings with that in mind.
(Note: We would have liked to include Founders Brewing Co.’s Porter, but the bottle shops we frequent were all out at the time of this tasting.)
Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall
Brewer’s description: A rich, robust American Porter. Dark brown in color with medium to heavy body and hints of light roast. The aromas of chocolate cupcake lead the way to a sweet caramel and toffee body that finishes beautifully with hops.
Revue: This porter lets the ingredients do the talking. One reviewer accurately described the aroma as being akin to sticking your head in a grain bin. It’s all about the malts, rich and roasty with notes of chocolate and a slight sweetness. Simple and brewed to style, yet somehow more interesting than most of the others we tasted.
Tapistry Brewing Co., Bridgman
Brewer’s description: English Robust Porter with entirely British malts and hops creating a dark, rich and flavorful porter with a hint of sweetness. (Winner of the bronze medal in the robust porter category at the 2014 Great American Beer Fest.)
Revue: While this porter lacked in body, it made up for it in nearly every other category. It’s the consummate porter, with a dark color, sharp aromas from the malts, a somewhat creamy mouthfeel, and a pleasant mix of flavors that highlight roasty chocolate and a slight hop bitterness.
Latitude 42 Brewing Co., Portage
Brewer’s description: The smooth robust style porter ale features symmetry between the complex malts and centennial and Perle hops. A perfect blend of caramel, coffee and chocolate, with subtle yet crisp roasted malt flavors, finishing clean and slightly dry.
Revue: We liked the flavor of this porter to the point where we could overlook the unusual and somewhat artificial aroma. It pours with a much stronger head than the others here, and the flavors were spot-on, with a coffee-like roast and hop-fueled finish.
Porter Rico, Arcadia Brewing Co., Kalamazoo. Score: 72.5
Fifth Voyage, Cranker’s Brewery, Big Rapids. Score: 70.5
Serendipity, Beards Brewing Co., Petoskey. Score: 65.5
Chestnut Head, ROAK Brewing, Royal Oak
Porter, Bell’s Brewery, Comstock
Vanilla Java Porter, Atwater Brewery, Detroit
Vanilla Porter, Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing, Kalamazoo
Coconut Porter, Paw Paw Brewing