Friday, November 30, 2007

Our 50th Post! (New Glarus Unplugged - Smoke on the Porter)

It seems hard to believe that not that long ago the porter was virtually extinct. Before the first American craft beer movement in the late 70s (Charlie Papazian we salute you) the style was dying a long slow centuries long death.

The porter is a classicly British style. Understated and supremely drinkable it's cousins are the bitter and the brown on the lighter and sweeter side and mild and stout on the darker side. The style itself encompasses a wide range, although the Beer Judging Guidelines recognize three classifications: the brown, the robust and the baltic. The brown porter is what we typically recognize as the classic British porter: soft, low-alcohol, medium to moderate body, low-hop, strong caramel and roastiness. The robust is the typical American porter: moderate to full body, higher alcohol, moderate to high bitterness - while very similar to a stout it can be distinguished by the lower concentration on the roasted flavors in favor of higher bitterness. The final category is the Baltic porter. I would dare anyone to effectively distinguish between a Baltic porter and a stout on something other than "it was brewed in a Baltic state." Technically it has a sweeter, fruitier profile and a lower roastiness; these typically fermented on lager yeasts giving a cleaner, sharper flavor.

New Glarus does not make a porter. Dan and Deb sometimes brew a stout. They brew a bock (a lager style similar to a porter). But no porter. To my knowledge the Smoke on the Porter (BA. RB.) is the second smoked beer they have done - they did a Smoked Rye Bock back in 2005 also as part of the Unplugged series (if there are any of these floating around, please let me know - we can work something out!). They bottle says it was cold-smoked by the brewery's neighbors at Hoesley's Meats. Cold smoking is a process whereby the smoke-ee (the unmalted barley) is held at room temperature separate from, but in the same enclosed space as, the smoke-ed (applewood in this case). This is in distinction to "hot" smoking which is what you do to smoke ribs (put it on a grill over hot, smoke-generating wood). The unmalted barley thus gains the flavor but is not cooked.

Appearance: a one-inch head of creamy off-white that dissolves quickly; dark brown to almost black where it's concentrated in the glass - looks like a dark porter, but doesn't have the viscosity associated with the heavier versions of the style

Aroma: Sweet smokiness is primary; the marketing materials says this was smoked over applewood and that sort of sweetness certainly seems presents, though I wouldn't be surprised if that's just the marketing talking; but there is definitely a distinct fruitiness that could be enhanced by some subtle aroma hopping

Taste: the sweet smokiness definitely comes through in the taste, but it isn't the first thing to hit; there is some upfront caramel and roasted malts in the backbone to give depth to the smoke. the roast from the malts follows through the finish; very low bitterness

Body: A moderate to medium body that holds up well over the fullness of the taste; in fact the long finish makes this beer seem "heavier" than I think it is as the body seems surprisingly medium-ish, but the smokiness and caramel flavors add a fullness and complexity of flavor that makes it seem richer

Drinkability: eventually the smoke would get to me, but I could really drink this beer at any point in the evening; it would be nice to have on a cold night watching television (to wit: this evening), but would also go well after a long night to unwind in front of Conan O'Brien.

Summary: A nice take on the smoked beers; hoppy beers have had their run, let's try something new - a fine rauchbier frenzy would be nice; nobody would buy them except me and the other smoked beer nuts, but it would be nice. What really makes this beer shine and separates it from the Aecht Schlenkerlas is the richness and depth present throughout the flavors. Schlenkerla is nice but it is all smoke. Smoke on the Porter presents a wide range of flavors, one of which is the fruity smokiness that wafts on top of all of the flavors.


  1. Smoked beer nuts? Guilty as charged. I'll take it any way I can get it -- the wallop of Aecht, the subtlety of smoked porters, the tobacco of... umm... whichever beer I had recently that was tobacco-y.

    Have you had Norwegian Wood yet? Er, I mean, have you tried Norwegian Wood? I've had my eye on it for a long time, and lo and behold, Riley's (in Madison) has it. I now have three bottles squirreled away. MMMMMM.

    Do you ever cook with rauchs? I really need to keep a case of Schlenkerla on hand at all times -- love it in soup, with all kinds of meats and cheese. Plus, well, I can drink it like Kool-Aid.

  2. Reporting back with raves for another smoky beer (not that you asked): I drank one of those Norwegian Woods last night. It was so. good. One of those beers you never want to end. Go get some now.


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