I’ve noticed something in the beer wanker scene. If you really love craft beer you gravitate one of two ways. Either you go along the hop monster route seeking more and more hoppy bitterness, until you are drinking such ridiculous beers at Mikkeller 1000 IBU. Alternatively you head to the dark side, you start by embracing browns ales, then porters, then before long you are on to the stouts, a few months on and a regular stout is not enough, to get you dark beer fix you need an imperial stout.
Now I consider myself more of a dark beer malt monster rather than a hop chaser. With this in mind I developed a couple of dark beer fuelled tastings for myself. The first of these is PorterPalooza.
The concept is simple. Take three examples of the beer and drink them concurrently. Compare and contrast if you will.
So who are the contenders in this battle? First up is the The Big Smoke from 8 Wired It’s a porter for New Zealand which uses malt which has been smoked with Beechwood (Beechwood is the stuff they make IKEA furniture out of, so I can only assume there is a huge bonfire of Expedit and Hensvit bookcases in the 8 wired brewhouse.
The second brew is the most mainstream porter I could find (I like to stay in touch with the common man) It’s James Squire’s recently renamed Jack of Spades Porter, which has a label that promises hints of chocolate and a creamy head.
In the third corner (or point of the triangle) is an English brew the St Peter’s Honey Porter, that’s right, honey porter, and that’s not all that’s odd about this brew, check out the oval bottle, like a 1800’s medicine bottle.
The Big Smoke has a toffee coloured head (which laced down the glass nicely) sitting atop a brew that is pitch black with just a few ruby highlights at the base. The James Squire has a foamy head, but it does die away a little. It’s more of a brown/black colour than a true black. The St Peter’s is the lightest of the three brews, it also has the thinnest head of the three, and these strange bubbles sitting right on the edge of the glass.
You might expect the Big Smoke to be smoky, however it had just a hint of smoke, it was more of a mocha smell that dominated though. The James Squire really was lacking aroma, just some slight hints of roasted coffee. The St Peter’s certainly lived up to its name it had a very strong smell of honey, in particular that hard creamed honey.
The Big Smoke was the softest and silkiest of the three, it was just a joy to drink in terms of texture. The smoke was nowhere near as overpowering as I thought it would be, the smoke is there, but so is a bit of chocolate and coffee flavours. The smoke is also a sweet smokiness, like a BBQ rather than a acidic woodfire. Interestingly as it warmed up the smokiness started to disappear and the bitterness from the hops and coffee tones started to come through more. Still a wonderful beer though.
The James Squire more than held its own in this company. It’s a good solid beer, more bitter than the other two and slightly too much carbonation (which seems to be a trait of more commercial beers, why is that? Why do they think people love bubbles). Good malt character, and very pleasant to drink.
I was a little torn on the St Peter’s. On first sip I was knocked out by the honey flavour, and thought it was going to be great. It’s there from the front of the sip (probably actually in the smell) then again in the aftertaste before the bitterness of the hop stops it. But as I had a few more sips it started to get very cloying, the honey felt a little artificial and was overpowering everything else, making the rest of it seem thin.
As an experiment I decided to add the three brews together into one super brew. What you end up with is an unusual beer. It’s bitter in the midsip, but then sweet in the aftertaste, you also completely lose the smokiness, which just goes to prove what I was saying. The smokiness in The Big Smoke was subtle but the honey in the honey porter was overpowering.
The Big Smoke by a nose from the Jack of Spades, The Big Smoke is a great porter with a little smokiness added to the mix which makes it even more interesting. The Jack of Spades is just a good standard porter, whereas the Honey Porter let’s itself down by letting the gimmick (honey) overpower the base beer.
8 Wired Big Smoke – I’ll have a Pint thanks
James Squire Jack of Spades Porter– I’ll have a Pint thanks
St Peter’s Honey Porter – Let’s have a Schooner