Fearful Symmetries

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22 April, 2016

There's smoke on the porter, it's brewed up in Juneau: Smoked Porter by Alaskan Brewing Company



Back in January I vowed, well, I didn't really vow – it was more of a prediction – I predicted that I'd try Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing Company. And what do you know? My prediction has come true! If I had written that post as a quatrain, I'd be Nostradamus.

One thing I discovered in preparing to write this post was that Alaskan has been around since 1986, which makes the brewery an elder of the microbrew tribe. The brewery's website says that it was founded that year by Geoff and Marcy Larson up in Juneau, Alaska. The text is accompanied by a period photograph of the Larsons that sends a shiver down my spine as it triggers the smell of hairspray and the sound of Thompson Twins in my mind.

I write this or something akin to this much too often: Alaskan is a brand that I don't know much about and that I tend to pass over while checking out the shelves at the beer emporium. I think I'd had their Summer Ale and found it to be plenty tasty. It's just that I get shelf fatigue wandering down the aisle at Woodman's. Unless I'm looking for a specific brew, it just becomes a big blur of IPAs and barrel-aged this-and-thats. Alaskan seems to be a stalwart of the scene quietly doing their thing instead of trying to garner the attention of those who crave novelty by using hops that haven't even been christened yet.

Which brings me to Alaskan's Smoked Porter. It was first brewed back in 1988 which makes it one of, if not the, granddaddies of American microbrewed smoke beers. Some of the malt is smoked using the wood of local alder trees. Exactly how the taste of something smoked with alder differs from that of, say, oak or beechwood I don't know. But I was willing to try to find out.

Smoked Porter is deceptively dark in the glass where is appears to be jet black. Upon closer inspection, however, the beer is really a very deep copper color and clear. I got a moderate tan head that stuck around for an average amount of time but couldn't see any bubbles inside the beer itself.

As expected, that wonderful smell of smoke was quite prominent in the aroma. If I hadn't known it was courtesy of some Alaskan alder trees, I would never have been able to tell you what tree sacrificed itself for the cause. Actually, I may have been able to tell you it wasn't a cherry tree. In between and behind all of the smokiness were some typical porter scents – dark chocolate and roasted grain.

I found that the beer had a nice medium-light body as I let the succulent smokiness swirl and eddy around my tongue. Madisonians may be familiar with Karben4's NightCall, a porter which has just a kiss of smokiness to it that accents the lovely dark malt flavors. Well, that's a peck on cheek in contrast to the full-on, sloppy, tongue-down-the-throat, guaiacol-laced, osculatory explosion in this brew. Alaskan was not messing around here.

When not enjoying the smoky goodness, I also tasted a decent amount of other flavors from dark roasted grains: bitter chocolate as well as a hint of coffee and tobacco. I could taste the carbonation too but it was very mild.

The smoke would not quit and hung around through the finish where it was joined by some herbal hop flavor and a touch of bitterness. My bottle is dated 9/8/15 so I'd imagine that the hop flavor was bigger when the beer was fresher. Still, they managed to make the finish slightly dry and an easy come down from the smoky high.

My glass was left with some really nice lacing. A band went around most of the glass and there was just pretty lacing all around.

As someone who loves smoke beers, I will testify that this is a great brew. You get the blast of smoke initially but the flavor mellows out enough to allow the bitter chocolate and other flavors from the dark malts to step up and they all combine for a wonderful flavor. I'd like to grab a few more of these to cellar to find out how the smokiness changes over time. It would also be interesting to compare alder smoked malt to malts smoked with other woods.

Junk food pairing: For a savory snack to accompany your Smoked Porter, get some soft pretzels and smother them with a sharp cheese food product sauce. If you have a sweet tooth, deep fry some Oreos.

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|| Palmer, 12:48 PM

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