By Matthew Meador
For the Oregon Beer Growler
We live in a beta world. Back when companies put serious effort into beating their competitors’ quality, it was a big deal to be No. 1. It meant your product was better than the other company’s product. It meant your product would likely outlast or outperform the other guy’s. Now, No. 1 means you made the most money the fastest. It means certain careful steps in the testing and certification phase of product development have been sacrificed to hasten your product’s delivery to market. It means your shareholders are happy but your customers, well, not so much. If you ask me, this new No. 1 is a load of No. 2 (yes that number two).
In technology, we’ve witnessed amazing innovation and creativity flowing forth in an uninterrupted stream since the mid-1990s. But then we started seeing beta products — software still in test phase — released for public experimentation and scrutiny. Beta products became increasingly common until, today, pretty much everything is beta. Part of this is due to the dynamic nature of the industry — nothing’s ever really finished anymore. Part of it can be attributed to the speed at which events take place today — hesitation doesn’t win acclaim and make money.
Whatever the case, I don’t mind living in a beta world even though I’m occasionally frustrated by certain oafish flaws in my software — bugs that almost certainly would’ve been caught by a rigorous test protocol. But I’m grateful there’s nothing beta about beer. Sure, the Oregon brewing industry has seen a lot of experimentation and innovation. But in the end, I know I’ll have a great frustration-free product in my glass — like any of the five robust Oregon porters we explored.
Leikam Brewing: Hey Porter, Portland
6.4% ABV; 40 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Throw down your cash and grab our Hey Porter. You won’t be able to wait for a second pint once you taste this unique blend of coffee, chocolate and wheat malts. Created in honor of our third son, Daniel Porter.
Consumer Comments: A ruddy complexion and vigorous head introduce Leikam Brewing’s Hey Porter. This month’s favorite, the Hey Porter’s nose of blackcurrant, molasses and polite yeast yield to coffee and hints of juniper and a mildly bitter mid-palate. If it sounds complicated, it’s not. This well-balanced brew confidently evolves to a clean finish.
Long Brewing: Paul’s Porter, Newberg
6.2% ABV; 37 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Intensely black with a thick, tan head, this beer has layers of dark bittersweet chocolate, coffee and caramel aroma. Rich, complex malts create an almost chewy mouthfeel. Finish has some minerality. The porter is lightly hopped to highlight its soft malty sweetness. Little-to-no burnt roast, bitterness or astringency.
Consumer Comments: What he said. (It’s nice when the brewer’s notes nail the beer.) Paul’s Porter from Long Brewing demonstrates a double chocolate theme throughout, along with coffee, caramel and the barest hint of cherry. A lively brew with a big personality, Paul’s Porter is rich without being heavy — this is the funny guy everyone loves at parties, but he doesn’t cross the line. You’ll want to invite him back.
Hop Haus Brewing: Cocos Nucifera Toasted Coconut Porter, Gresham
5.6% ABV; 28 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Smooth, chocolate, slightly-sweet and roasted malt goodness is balanced with toasted organic coconut and late edition Willamette hops. Together, those flavors provide the basis for a wonderful porter without overwhelming the palate.
Consumer Comments: Coffee and caramel take the lead with Cocos Nucifera Toasted Coconut Porter from Hop Haus. Perhaps the perfect autumn brew, it serves as a segue from summer’s lighter flavors to the forthcoming stoutness of winter. Coffee-themed throughout, this brew’s malty character mellows its upbeat bitterness.
Rusty Truck Brewing Co.: Taft Toffee Porter, Lincoln City
5.0% ABV; 20 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: Named for Rusty Truck’s home in the Historic Taft District, Taft Toffee Porter is a dark and velvety ale with significant toffee and chocolate notes. Slightly lighter in color than mass-produced porters, our version is a tasty twist on the dockworkers’ old favorite.
Consumer Comments: A dark brew with a white frothy cap, Rusty Truck’s Taft Toffee Porter is complex and thoughtful, layered in both flavor and hue. Gentle notes of cherry and plum give way to a lingering orange-citrus finish. This porter is that rare brew that manages to remain true to itself while offering the taster diverse nuances all the way to the bottom of the glass.
Three Creeks Brewing Company: FivePine Chocolate Porter, Sisters
6.2% ABV; 55 IBUs
Brewer’s Description: This is a robust porter that features 2-pounds-per-barrel of the finest Belgian chocolate, creating a slightly roasty pint with underlying chocolate sweetness.
Consumer Comments: Subtle notes of smoky leather rise above the rich depths of FivePine Chocolate Porter from Three Creeks. A hoppy character asserts itself on the mid-palate, buffered by a bit of nutty malt. A gentleman of a beer, the FivePine will mind his manners but you won’t forget the quiet strength beneath his charm.
As long as we’re on the subject of innovation and creativity, I want to suggest an idea for a beta product. I volunteer to exhaustively test this product myself: a built-in USB two-brew cooler with cup holder for my PC. Or maybe six-pack size. Surprise me. Until I get such a device, I’ll have to get up and walk to the fridge for my Oregon craft refreshment. But I’m anxious to begin the beta testing.
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Porter is a complicated beer, but drinking it is really easy. Porter was one of England’s first beers blended in the 1700s to please consumer tastes, first in pubs and later in breweries. Although accounts vary, publicans blended various amounts of the regular brown ale, young beers and stronger aged ales or sour beers according to consumer tastes. The blends became so popular that breweries began producing aging and then pre-mixing them before sending them off to the pubs as “porters.” Before porters, beer aging had been done in the pubs.
For more than a century, porters were the drink of choice in England in the 1700s and 1800s, finding fans in Russia and the Baltic countries and eventually in America. Wherever they went, brewers adapted the style to regional tastes. Stouts, by the way, began as shortened monikers for “porter stouts,” the stronger version of porters.
In America, porters and stouts enjoyed a popular following, with the name “porter” falling off in the early 1900s in favor of stouts, and then completely disappearing during and after Prohibition.
But obviously, that’s not the end of the story.
A few experimental Western U.S. breweries began brewing porters again as early as the 1970s and several British breweries also revived the style. Today, dozens of Oregon breweries produce porters seasonally.
Is there any difference between porters and stouts? Yes, and no.
According to BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), there are three kinds of porters: brown porter, robust porter and Baltic porter. Porters are described as more malty and full-bodied than stouts, but alcohol content, top or bottom fermentation and color can be the same for both a porter or a stout.
In Oregon, the dark palette of the porter invites as much experimentation as pale ales, prompting vanilla, chocolate, coffee, coconut and, of course, hop additions to the mix.
My advice? Forget the complicated history that brings this delicious style to our shores and enjoy your porter for what it is.
Following are a few Oregon porters recommended by the participants in our monthly blind tasting:
Deschutes: Black Butte Porter, Bend 5.2 percent ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewery Description: An extremely smooth and drinkable porter with notes of rich chocolate and coffee, a luscious creaminess and a roasted finish. Cascade, Bravo and Tettnang hops with chocolate malt.
Consumer Comments: Complex flavors; best of the bunch. Multiple flavors, you just gotta love it. Bright and refreshing. Is there such a thing as a lawnmower porter? It’s this one. This is the best! Could drink this anytime. Malty without overt sweetness. Tastes the way a porter should taste. Outstanding. Bananas, cola, smooth and creamy.
Hop Haus: Cocos Nucifera Porter, Gresham 5.5 percent ABV, 34 IBUs
Brewery Description: Creamy mocha head. Coconut flavor doesn’t overpower. Hints of cocoa and coffee with a creamy finish.
Consumer Comments: Intense, great with Indian food. Nice and sweet. Rich and creamy; a night by the fire. Nutty, smooth. A comfort on a rainy evening. Interesting taste: sweet but not chocolate. Sweet notes. Simple and tasty. A delicious breakfast beer.
Rogue: Mocha Porter, Newport 5.3 percent ABV, 54 IBUs
Brewery Description: Ruddy brown in color, a bittersweet balance of malt and hops with a light cream finish.
Consumer Comments: Lively, sparkling. I’m waking up with this one! The perfect afternoon delight. Crisp and smooth. I could drink five of these. Refreshing. Crisp and good.
Ordnance: Of Chimpanzees Porter, Boardman 5.3 percent ABV, 27 IBUs
Brewery Description: This full-bodied porter showcases locally roasted coffee from Home Town Coffee Roasters. Tasty any time of day.
Consumer Comments: Well-crafted coffee notes. Bitter in the best ways possible — not like writing my alimony check each month. Light coffee and malt flavors. Good coffee flavor.
Silver Moon: Snake Bite Porter, Bend 5.5 percent ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewery Description: A robust porter, Snake Bite continues to win awards with its rich and creamy body, English hops to blend with the toasted malt bitterness and a deep chocolate finish.
Consumer Comments: Light and bright. A little flowery effect. This one would be good with a meal. Nice and balanced. A winner: smooth, crisp and complex. Unique. Enjoying this — toasted marshmallows.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.