I’m really not much of a gambler and, no, I’m not talking about schwarzbiers. Porters and stouts are the topic in this piece, friend. OK, porters aren’t as black as stouts and still show some hints of deep ruby, but roll with me here. It’s almost the end of 2008 and Chicago is nothing short of the Siberian tundra. Fortunately, we have the advantage of the World Beer Championships Porter and Stout tastings falling in a rather appropriate time of year to keep us warm and satiated with malt bomb bliss. Let’s see what happened….
In the Porter category we were treated to a handful of excellent examples. Upland Brewing gave us Bad Elmer’s Porter (87 points), Williams Bros. Brewing Co. their Midnight Sun Porter (91 points), and Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, the Taddy Porter (91 points). Many may reach for some roasted or grilled meat to pair with these, something I would recommend. However, I recently saw some seared scallops on a menu and thought they may work with the caramelized flavors of the porters as well. If you are a fan of these naturally sweet delicacies from the sea, give it a go.
In the flavored porter category, we sampled a plethora of unique flavors infused into these dark ales. Smoke from the Issaquah Brewhouse Smoked Frog Porter (94 points), a great one to pair with some BBQ to keep the fires burning. To experience and little more dynamic flavor lineup, pair this smoky brew with a bowl of gumbo rich with sausages. Deep vanilla and cocoa flavors from Breckenridge Vanilla Porter (89 points) would make a great beer float to wash down the BBQ or gumbo. Lastly, a unique brew from North Peak Brewing Co.: Honey Mint Porter (84 points) had subtle notes of chocolate and mint. I didn’t really think it was going to work; surprisingly, it did, in a Willy Wonka kind of way!
In the Dry Stout category, the Jopen Extra Stout stood out (91 points), a powerful stout for the style, but none the less a great stout with depth and complexity. If you ever see this one on the shelves, do not pass it up! Bring that bad boy home and enjoy with rich nutty cheese or some chocolate truffles. Speaking of truffles, another must-try is Brewery Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Stout (92 points). Liquid dessert: ‘nuff said. Also in the Flavored Stout Category, Wells & Young’s Brewing Co. sent their Double Chocolate Stout (89 points), familiar to many from its days at Young’s brewery in London, another dessert beer and still dry enough to session with for a few rounds. New to the WBC was Harmon Brewing Co. who sent in their Swashbuckler Stout (92 points). This fine brew was aged in rum casks and would make a perfect compliment to a fine cigar.
Last round and it’s the Imperial Stouts, a personal favorite, with soul-warming goodness to help one through the doldrums of the long Midwest winter. Liquid warmth is what I call these rich beauties. Must-try’s from the tasting include Bastone Brewery’s The Midnight Oil Imperial Stout (90 points), Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout (92 points), and Ryan Sullivan’s Imperial Stout (94 points) from Moylan’s, and one that is definitely a pick for the cellar, Goose Island’s 2008 Bourbon County Brand Stout (97 points). The last is a true collectible and will cellar wonderfully for quite some time, as long as it is kept in proper conditions. Although these bold stouts are meals in themselves, I love to have a little cheese to nibble on while savoring the deep roasted flavors. For some contrast, try a blue-veined cheese like Stilton or Maytag Blue. For some complementing flavors, nutty and rich aged Gouda is a good pick as well. Feeling decadent? Go ahead and have some chocolate confection of your choice with any of these fine ales.
In conclusion, the tasting was a welcome break from the dark of winter, and quite an experience of quality and creative ales. Thanks to the brewers for brewing and thanks to the World Beer Championships for a unique and inspiring event. Cheers!