Fearful Symmetries

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11 November, 2015

Straight People Don't Know What You're About: Smokin' Hemp Porter by Pearl Street Brewery



Not unlike hops, hemp originated in Asia with the Chinese growing the plant back when bands of proto-Brits were mapping ley lines and tweaking their fancy stone circle which would later be known as Stonehenge. A few thousand years later 18th century London brewers were getting irritated by unwelcome middlemen aging the breweries' fresh brown beer and selling it to alehouses for a tidy profit. And so the brewers added more hops and aged the beer themselves until it was "racy and mellow". River and street porters became enamored of the beer and the brew became known as "porter".

Hemp made its way west to Europe and eventually to the Americas. During World War II Wisconsin led the effort to produce hemp for rope and twine by outgrowing every other state. Indeed, our 146,000 acres yielded upwards of 75% of all commercial hemp in the country. (This presumably explains the countless gallon freezer bags of ditch weed that I encountered in college.)

And now here in the 21st century Pearl Street Brewery up in La Crosse has woven these strands of history together in Smokin' Hemp Porter. A dose of cherry wood smoked malt joins toasted hemp seeds in the ebony depths of a porter.

The beer pours a deep brown that appears black unless you hold your glass just right up to a light. It was mostly opaque but appeared to be clear. Atop was a small tan head that dissipated quickly. The opacity of the beer rendered me impotent in discerning the state of bubbles inside the brew. The aroma was rich with the scents of the Dark Side of the Grist – there was coffee, dark chocolate, and that bitter, almost ashy, black malt smell. As for the cherry wood smoked malt, there was a little of it to be found stewing in the salmagundi of roasted malt goodness. This beer would be more akin to Karben4's NightCall than a Schlenkerla rauchbier. There was also a hint of malty sweetness like plum to be had as well.

The malt profile changed just a bit from nose to tongue. Gone were the chocolate notes that my proboscis enjoyed but those of coffee and bitter, highly roasted malt remained. Much to my delight, that bacon-like smoked malt flavor was much more prominent in the taste than in the aroma. It wasn't an intense smokiness but certainly a stronger flavor than scent. Dryness from the carbonation helped keep the malt party from getting totally out of control. There was also a little nuttiness which I assume came from the hemp seeds. The only other beer I can think of with hemp seeds in it that I've had is O'Fallon's Hemp Hop Rye. This was at the Great Taste a few years ago and my palate was not able to dedicate itself to discerning hemp flavor at that time.

Smokin' Hemp Porter has a nice medium-heavy body. It is definitely not a viscous Lenten doppelbock but it is a bit more hearty than, say, a malty amber ale. It finished rather dry. The bitterness from the black malt lingered a short time as the carbonation added a bite and grassy/spicy hops came through sotto voce. Alas and alack, my glass was left with no lacing.

Being a big fan of smoked malt in beer, I'd have been thrilled as pie had there been more of it in Smokin' Hemp Porter. That said, it was still a very good beer. The smoke that was present was quite tasty and worked well with the rush of earthy flavors from the dark malt. It is simply a great porter accented with a wisp of smoke and touch of nuttiness from (presumably) the toasted hemp seeds.

Smokin' Hemp Porter is a limited release beer let loose on 4/20 each year. I still see it around Madison so it would seem that my sample was aged.

Junk food pairing: Pair Smokin' Hemp Porter with some Buffalo Blue Cheese Combos. The chili flavor will try to penetrate the Stygian malts but fail while the blue cheese will add a rich, earthy pungency that will complement the beer's grainy flavors.

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|| Palmer, 12:19 PM

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