Stone Brewing Co.’s “Vanilla Smoked Porter”

January 14, 2014

Man, did it ever get cold outside!  Time for another rich, toasty-flavored beer to ward off the chill.  Except I’ve probably run the gauntlet on warming dark beer and I’m looking for something new, something daringly different.

Brewers have made some bold new steps in production over the last calendar year and dark beer is certainly no exception.  The big craze these days is to age beer in used whiskey barrels.  The left-over notes of caramel, butterscotch, smoke and vanilla are a perfect accent to the malt flavors a beer has.  When it comes to dark beer, those elements are already in play and barrel aging amplifies the flavors.  Like Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap said, “This one goes to eleven.”

Okay, then.  This satisfies the criteria of what I’m searching for; big, flavorful, new.  But, dang it all, once again it seems like I’ve tried them all.  Perhaps I’m going the wrong way.  What about an old friend that’s been dressed up in a new outfit?

You’d have to go back to the first year of my beer writing to find my review of Stone Brewing Smoked Porter.  Go back even further – 2006, to be exact – to when Stone first concocted their Vanilla Smoked Porter.  For years they would occasionally bring it back for specialty release at their brewery or for special events elsewhere in San Diego.  They finally decided to make it available as a seasonal in 2012, but only in 22-oz bottles.  Finally, late last year it became available on draft.

Stone has always brewed up big, mean, palate-bullying beer.  While there are some who deride Stone’s efforts as over the top, the simple truth of the matter is Stone has been a banner-bearer of innovation and more breweries than naught have either been influenced by them or they’ve flat-out ripped off their style.

Let’s start with the basics of what makes Stone Smoked Porter great.  Right out the gate the smoke element grabs your attention.  A campfire in a glass, it threatens to overwhelm anything else that might be found but ends up yielding to rich mocha flavors along with cream and a – for Stone – surprisingly gentle hop bite.  Its texture gets you next; ultra-creamy, soft-to-medium mouth feel and very easy to quaff.  It’s dark, dark, dark with slight garnet highlights and sports a puffy head the color of uncooked chocolate cake batter.

Now, add to all of that whole Madagascar vanilla bean and the dance switches tempo from waltz to tribal frenzy.  Here, the vanilla takes center stage while the smoke comes rolling in from below before the coffee and chocolate return.

I’ve finally found the perfect winter beer whose campfire qualities have me thinking warm thoughts when it’s cold outside.