Not exactly the way one starts a great tasting. It’s taking many sips to figure this beer out.
I’ll grant you, I was confused out of the gate by the incongruence of this being a porter that only weighs in at 4.9%. While I did drink a lot of Porters while I lived in Poland, I don’t claim to be an expert on them: Poland isn’t exactly known as the Porter capital of the world. However, what I learned very early on in my exposure to the “English-styled” porters of the world is that they are big and strong and typically reeking of alcohol … which is not that different than some of the porters (i.e. piano movers) who gave this beer its name.
5 minutes in and I was hating this beer … and hating myself for hating it. This beer has a great pedigree, after all, so how was it that Beau’s had decided to sell this, let alone put it in a “best of 2013” pack? I mean really, how? I was a good 1/3 of the way through the glass going “hmmm” and struggling to find the vanilla let alone anything good about this beer. And as I was doing that, I was writing, which is what I do (when writing about beer)….
… another sip, and the ugly duckling started to look like a black swan.
What happened in those few minutes that allowed this transformation? It was the same thing that happened in the transformation of the previously reviewed Doc’s Feet (Dubbel): too much carbonation. But let that disaster (known as bubbles) naturally dissipate, and the duckling spreads its wings and takes on a magnificent shape.
At first, all I tasted was an earthy, almost cardboard caramel flavour crowded out by bubbles. It was interesting, but not entirely pleasant. In fairness to it, if it had the “proper” weight of a porter, let’s say 7-8%, it would have been disgusting at this point. Instead, it was just plain weird with the strong burnt malts and sugars coming through like a campfire marshmallow dropped in the ash. And all I could ask was “Where the F*$lip is the vanilla?”
But let this beer breathe, let it warm a bit, and it’s going to surprise you … it surprised me.
Out comes the vanilla suddenly and, all dressed in dark caramel, it’s like an adult version of a vanilla coke. I kid you not. Take a long inhale as you take a sip and you’ll have no doubt where the vanilla lives now.
Having said that, the beer still lacks structure in my humble opinion. There is hardly any front end which only accentuates the carbonation. The middle is the most fascinating part of the beer which is where the caramel and vanilla dwell. The end is a strange cross of carbonation (fizz), some slight off-sweetness (by which I mean sour hints), and a grassy bitterness when the hops wash out the palette. I dare say, the reason the beer ultimately fails as being “well-rounded” is because I think they chickened out on the alcohol. As such, it tastes “watery” and when you add bubbles to water, well, you get a soda feel. Indeed, I’d say this is like a Vanilla Coke without the sugar. Easy drinking, intriguing, and a surprising middle, but if I’m totally honest, this is far from being Beau’s best effort. If you “gulp” it, and swallow, you’ll enjoy this beer more … which you can do because of the lower alcohol and because it is silky smooth (once the bubbles are gone) – but this reinforces my point that this beer lacks structure. I’ll give them marks for taking chances and for innovation, but at the end of the day, this is my least favourite beer they’ve produced to date. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means, but they’ve done better.
Stats: American (Vanilla) Porter. 4.9% ABV. Vankleek Hill, Ontario.
Colour: Dark dark brown – black
Mouth Feel: Medium-high carbonation that fades quickly and which, combined with the low alcohol, makes this taste like flavoured soda water.
Pairings: Tiramisu or a nice plate of (sharp) cheese and crackers.