Baltic Porters are an interesting beast, a cousin, of sorts, of the Imperial Stout. In the 1700s and 1800s the British were (as they are now) known for their pale ales, stouts and porters. Like the Imperial Stout, and the India Pale Ale, the Baltic Porter originated as a British style created to travel long distances. The India Pale Ale (IPA) was originally created to send pale ale to the British troops in India. The Imperial Stout was created to send the delectable and luxurious stout to Russian royalty. The Baltic Porter, however, was created to take advantage of new markets in Northern Europe. So that the porter could last the long trips, like its IPA and Imperial Stout brethren, the recipe was boosted with extra malts and, especially, hops (which were used as a preservative as much as for their bittering properties). This results in more alcohol, increased body, and more bitterness. A seemingly perfect concoction for today's American brewing scene.
Of course, a British Porter was cold-fermented ale. However, as the Baltic States started brewing these porters themselves, rather than rely on imports, the breweries used the yeasts on-hand from their own Germanic brewing history – lagers. So, today, most Baltic Porters, despite its history as ale, are actually bottom-fermenting lagers. The BJCP tells us that Style 12C is typically between 5.5% and 9.5% ABV, with roast-y or nutty, malt complexity; often with cherry, raisin, caramel or coffee or molasses, but no burnt flavors or aromas; color should be "dark reddish copper" or "opaque dark brown" but never black. The hops should primarily add bittering and little aroma, some spicy hops may be OK. Of course, feel free to ignore the BJCP and just expect a dark, full bodied lager and let the flavors tell you whether you like the beer.
Heavyweight Brewing Company, creator of Perkuno's Hammer (BA.RB.), was based 1.5 hours across the river from Philadelphia in Ocean Township, New Jersey. But it closed in 2005. Its Perkuno's Hammer was a much-beloved Baltic Porter and many were sad to see it go. However, it has been revived by Victory Brewing Company based in the far west-side suburb of Philadelphia called Downington. Of course, Victory Beer is pretty readily available here in Madison. Presumably, once the East-Coast market is taken care of, its Baltic Porter, "based on" the Perkuno's Hammer recipe, will also be available here. The scuttlebutt on Victory's Baltic Thunder (BA. RB.) is that when Heavyweight closed, its beers were still under contract for distribution by Heavyweight's distributors. When Victory made the deal with Heavyweight to continue brewing Perkuno's Hammer, the distributors complained and demanded that they still be allowed to distribute it. Thus, in order for Perkuno's Hammer to continue to be made at and distributed by Victory, it would need a name change (ha-ha! you'll never know it's me if I just wear a disguise of these silly glasses!). Hence, the Baltic Thunder. From beer-demi-god Lew Bryson (one of the consultants that helped to create Perkuno's Hammer): "Bill Covaleski [editor's note: Mr. Covaleski is Brewmaster and President of Victory Brewing Company] had this to say about the project: 'Ron [Barchet] and I have always been big fans of Perkuno's Hammer, and Tom's beers in general. This was one beer that we simply could not let vanish, and when we reached out to Tom about keeping this great beer alive, he was very enthusiastic to collaborate to that end. This is another example how Victory lives to delight our own inner beer geek, and the beer community as well.'"
So, here you have it (muchos gracias Bryan Kolesar at the superbly awesome Brew Lounge): Heavyweight's Perkuno's Hammer and Victory's Baltic Thunder
Appearance: cola-colored; if I saw this out of context, I'd think it was flat soda – light, wispy tan head with decent lacing
Aroma: smoky and multi-faceted, with aromas of sweet espresso, currants, and toffee
Flavor: a smooth, pungent taste somewhat like soda; raisins and currants with subtle coffee-like, dark chocolate sweetness; a slight lingering booziness
Body: upfront alcohol and hop punch of bitterness; it finishes surprisingly quick and clean (must be the lager in it), which keeps it tasting less full-bodied than it is
Drinkability: nice and smooth, amazingly complex, each sip and each temperature brings new flavors; tastes supremely well-aged
Summary: one of the few beers that would actually pair well with a stew or French country fare – it's flavors would compete successfully, but still leave room drink; not so heavy it is a meal in and of itself
Appearance: bubblier than Perkuno's Hammer; a deep mahogany with substantial, but wispy tan head
Aroma: musty and leathery like damp, sweet earthy fruits; roasted aromas follow, falling into coffee-ish notes
Flavor: a definite hammer; the alcohol and hop bitterness hit you over the head, based on earthy slightly sweet malts (toffee, chocolate, and coffee); as quickly as it hits, it's over
Body: muscular but not beefy
Drinkability: the punch up-front makes it hard to commit to a whole 22 oz (be prepared to split this 2 to 4 people); but given Perkuno's Hammer, the thought of this aging for 3 or 5 years is drool-inducing
Summary: like sex with a seventeen year old – it is over-aggressive then spent as quickly as it gets started; would pair very well with an aged cheddar (Hook's, your 10 year aged would be unbelievable with this; local restaurants and retailers with good cheese selections – Brasserie V, Barriques, Steve's, etc. – might be able to sell quite a bit by pairing these)