Fearful Symmetries

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18 July, 2016

On the Sugar River Shoreline: Smoke on the Porter by New Glarus Brewing

After having inveigled Scott Manning out at Vintage Brewing to brew me up a rauch helles – the extremely tasty Kindled Spirits - I was contented to have another smoke beer added to the rather short list of those available to me.

And then all at once the gates of brewing were thrown wide open and the aestival beer drinking season was transformed into the Summer of Rauch.

Earlier this month I read that the fine folks at New Glarus Brewing had resurrected Smoke on the Porter which hadn't been brewed in many moons. Was I dreaming? Would a Citra bomb shake me from my smoky reverie? No, it was true. Smoke on the Porter had indeed returned after an absence of, from what I can gather, almost nine years.

As I hinted at when I reviewed Kindled Spirits, the smoke beer has, in my opinion, been the victim of ill-considered commentary and, if I may be blunt, outright calumny. It suffers from the stereotype that all smoke beers take like bacon. While there certainly are meaty flavors to be had in some smoke beers, the tastes in a beer brewed with smoked malts are dependent on the wood used in the drying process. Beech seems to be the most common wood used in malt preparation and it also seems to be the one that imparts the most smokiness that has a taste that people associate with bacon.

Smoke on the Porter deviates from the norm and uses malt smoked with Cherry wood and provides a great chance for tasting something new and to discover how Cherry wood contrasts with Beech. Having smoked bratwurst – including cherry brats from Jim's Meat Market - with Cherry wood, I poured my Smoke on the Porter with an inkling of an idea of how the smokiness would taste.

This is a dark beer. While I understand that describing a porter as dark is tautological, it is remarkable just how stygian this stuff is. Its deep, deep copper color makes it a worthy challenger to Dark Something for the title of darkest, most opaque beer ever. The beer appeared to be clear but I wouldn't bet my life on it. As you can see from the photograph, my glass had about an inch of frothy, tan head on it that proved to be in no hurry to go anywhere. The contrast of the tan and the near black makes for a handsome, inviting appearance.

The aroma was equally alluring with wisps of smoky goodness wafting into my nose. As I suspected, the smoke here was essentially bereft of bacon and more akin to a campfire. While definitely the primary scent, it was not extremely pungent. Beside it was a little bitter chocolate.

On my tongue the smoke was again lacking the porcine flavor that unfairly stereotypes the style and proved to be rather moderate in strength. It melded your grandfather's pipe smoke with the wood's namesake fruit. Although moderate, you won't soon confuse this with a non-smoke beer but the taste isn't overpowering and is happy to mingle like a good hostess with the other ingredients.

I have a friend who dislikes porter because of the fuliginous flavors characteristic of black malt and Smoke on the Porter has a fine line to walk with the smoke and those almost ashy flavors. And it succeeds. The smoke complements the coffee and dark chocolate from black malt as well as a more lightly roasted grainy flavor. The dark malts give a little bitterness that is contrasted with some sweetness which is like plum and sweet chocolate. The carbonation is tamped down revealing a luscious creaminess to the beer.

The smoke and dark malt flavors linger for quite some time on the finish and are joined by a refreshing burst of hops. Not a lot but enough to put a grassy taste on the tongue for contrast along with a moderate dose of bitterness. There were a few small patches of lacing but that was it.

This beer is a real treat. The Cherry wood smoked malt has a really nice fruity accent to its baconless smoke profile. And it goes well with the coffee and chocolate tastes from the dark malts. It has a rather nimble medium to medium-light body that belies the misapprehension that dark beers are thick and heavy. As the beer warms it adds a little sweetness and a creamier texture to the myriad of flavors.

As Single Malt And Single Hop brews slowly become more popular, it is becoming easier for drinkers to acquaint themselves with the qualities of certain malts and hops in a way you cannot when they are working in concert with several other varieties. Smoke on the Porter gives Wisconsin smoke beer fans (and those of surrounding states) a similar opportunity. Here is the rare chance to taste Cherry wood smoked malt and compare and contrast it with the much more common Beech wood smoked malts.

Smoke on the Porter is a great way to continue the Summer of Rauch in 2016.

Junk food pairing: I tend to favor the savory over the sweet when pairing food with beer but Snyder's Sweet & Salty S'Mores Pretzel Pieces are the ideal accompaniment for Smoke on the Porter. The marshmallow sweetness is toned down allowing the dark chocolate dust to take pride of place.

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|| Palmer, 6:19 AM


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