But before we get to the conclusion, let's look at a beer that is considered a classic in the style, the Samuel Smith Taddy Porter.
The Old Brewery at Tadcaster was founded in 1758 and is Yorkshire’s oldest brewery. Samuel Smith is one of the few remaining independent breweries in England, and further is the last to utilize the classic Yorkshire Square system of fermentation solely in stone squares.Just this one paragraph of the importer's description of Samuel Smith raises some pretty interesting issues. First, Samuel Smith's Tadcaster brewery was founded before the advent of porter in the late-1800s. Tadcaster is 20 minutes southwest of York, UK in Central England.
Although the statement that Samuel Smith's is one of the few independent breweries in the UK is a bit of an understatement, it's still important to note that despite (or perhaps because of) its success, it remains unassociated with Diageo, Heineken, AB-InBev, SABMiller, and all of the other brewing giants. Indeed, the Society of Independent Brewers, of which Samuel Smith's is not a member, shows dozens of independent brewers just in the Northern counties of the UK.
But most interesting is the reference to the Yorkshire Square system of fermentation. A Yorkshire Square is a unique system of quasi-open fermentation. An open vessel is constructed out of 5 slabs of local, Yorkshire, stone (4 sides and the bottom). Heat is maintained from the existence of a second, outer, square that is a little lower and about 2 inches bigger all the way around. In this outer square, water of the correct temperature is kept to keep the inner square at the appropriate temperatures. There is a second square above the first square with a series of ramps and pipes.
The beer is added to the inner vessel and long-fermenting yeast is added. This particular strain of yeast takes a long time to fully ferment (about 6 days), but its fermentation is very active. The yeast overflows from the bottom vessel into the top vessel and wort is frequently pumped out of the bottom vessel into the top to reincorporate the yeast. Thus, the process is (was) high manual in that it required frequent skimming of the top and rousing and aerating of the yeast to keep it active. After primary fermentation, residual yeast is often used for cask conditioning.
Beers of this system tend to be very smooth and fuller bodied.
Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter
Appearance: A huge tan, almost brown, head; dark, dark brown body; almost black; crystal clear
Aroma: roasted and tangy with almost a sour note or two (is this a blended porter?!); a bit of a coffee aroma underneath, and a pretty strong earthy, grassy hoppiness is present
Flavor: Something like sourness is the first thing that I notice, then a pretty strong roastiness comes rushing in; hoppy bitterness remains in the finish, as does the metallic tanginess of the sourness - while it's going to sound worse than it is, imagine the taste in your mouth after biting down on tin foil when you had braces - you know the part that you liked about it, the excitement, the tingle, the strangeness? That's sort of what is present here.
Body: the body thickens up as it warms up, but it is still thinner than I might have expected
Drinkability: See the summary, because this beer changes completely as it warms up; but I really like this beer at all temperatures and it would do well for those that like stout, but don't like the huge fullness
Summary: As mentioned above, this beer does a 180 as it warms up; from an aggressive, sour bite, to warm, smooth and chocolately; I love the complexity here and keep drinking it if only to see what flavor will come next. I suspect that this beer is exactly what people had in mind when Dan Carey said he was going to brew an "Old English Porter" - and it is very, very similar. Except New Glarus amped up the sour to reflect Dan's taste for sour beers, and included some more historically accurate smoke that brought a more pronounced dryness in the finish. Otherwise these are very, very similar beers and an appropriate end to a journey that began with the New Glarus Old English Porter.
ps. This beer paired perfectly with the sweet dry-rub beef ribs and squash and sweet potato in coconut milk that I had this evening.