Stone Smoked Porter

October 13, 2010

Porter: richer than an ale, a touch lighter than a stout. It’s a beer all unto itself. Its origins are quietly historical and sometimes tragic even. One thing’s for sure… there aren’t too many people making a smoked version so when you happen to find one as good as this one from Stone Brewing, don’t let it out of your sight.

England in the mid-1600s. The popular flavor of beer was, actually, three flavors mixed together. Malt sweet brown ale was blended with the new hoppy style known as bitter and cut with a third, less potent ale. Called “three threads”, it was a pain in the butt for publicans to pour.

Almost a full hundred years later, someone finally managed to get the three flavors together in one keg. Eliminating the need for three separate kegs to make one flavor, the new style was called Entire Butt (quit your chuckling… “butt” meant barrel back then). The beer was a success with the working class. Richer, heartier and higher in alcohol, it was perfect for the rugged men who toiled on all the rough and dirty jobs. So, naturally, the beer took its name for the most common job of the day: porter.

Around this time, the industrial revolution was ramping up and people were pouring into the large cities, London especially. More people meant more beer sold. Brewers became barons with the influx of customers. As competition heats up, suddenly-wealthy men have to make sure that they’re the biggest game in town. In 1814, the Meux Horseshoe Brewery built a brewing vat that could hold 1million pints. The explosion could be heard for 5 miles when a hairline fracture in the vat gave way. Buildings caved in from the flood of porter rushing down the street. 8 people drowned and countless others were hospitalized for acute alcohol poisoning.

Happier times. Stone from San Diego has a dynamite smoked porter. The grains get toasted over smoldering wood before being incorporated into the recipe. It’s almost totally opaque brown with tiny hints of ruby showing through. A mountain of thick froth tops off this beer and doesn’t go away for a very long time. Aromas of peat moss, dark roast coffee, dates, liquorice and dark chocolate abound. The smoke element is subdued perfectly lending a boost to the big flavors of espresso, dark fruits, chocolate and caramel. Ultra-smooth texture with almost no astringency.