It’s time for another winter beer-off and this time I am putting two Porters head to head in a battle royale for that most coveted of distinctions – being named amongst the chosen few deemed to be superior winter beers on my blog (just kidding). This time around I thought I would revisit a couple Porters to see what works, what doesn’t work and perhaps even why one beer is a better ambassador for a style than another. Tasting two beers in the same style side by side, or a flight of beers, really improves your ability to articulate those elements that you enjoy as well as your ability to discern areas for improvement.
Salt Spring Porter: Deep brown almost black ale with good clarity and a bit of carbonation. This Porter has an off-white head that sadly does not stick around for the party. Definite coffee-like nose. I say coffee-like because the nose reminds me of roasted coffee beans but not necessarily fresh ground beans; almost like coffee that has gone a bit bitter or has sat around for a bit. Not a ton of flavour in the mouthfeel, again the coffee notes dominate but I do not get much else. It is light in body and has that distinctive Saltspring taste. I am not sure what exactly gives this flavour but it reminds me of mineral water or artesian water and it imparts a really clean taste to all of the Salt Spring beers. This beer has a minimal finish just that same slightly bitter taste.
Samuel Smith Taddy Porter: Night black ale that may have clarity but you cannot see anything through it to tell; perhaps no discernible sedimentation is the best conclusion I can draw. This Porter has a stiff mocha-coloured head that is definitely large and in charge. The nose is malty with a slight bit of coffee. This beer is light in body with some stickiness in the mouthfeel from the sweet malt. Excellent balance between the bitterness imparted from the roasted elements and the sweetness brought by the malts. There is a notable bitterness that lingers nicely on the finish.
The Verdict? I have to go with the Samuel Smith on this one. Porters are like a fine art, there is not a ton of body to this beer style so the balance between bitterness and malts really needs to be spot on. At the same time the darkness of the beer speaks to the amount of roasted elements, which if left unchecked can become the sole taste dominating the beer. Saltspring Porter seems to be lacking in the balance so all you really get is the roastiness. Taddy Porter on the other hand seems to have found that elusive balance. Tough style to master I would think. I didn’t try blending the beers this time because I think the addition of more coffee elements to the Taddy would have been doing a disservice. It is a shame Samuel Smith’s is only brewing the Taddy Porter as a seasonal beer – go get it while you can!