A Beautiful Beer from Deschutes Brewery
"Oh baby! There are good porters and then there are great porters ... this one goes down as a great one..." — Jason Alström
Just occasionally, everyone gets moments of epiphany. Saul had his on the way to...wherever he was going, I had mine with this little beauty. When I first came to the US, I was told there were three things that I'd not be able to get easily; beer, cheese and chocolate. My initial reaction was that this warning was true, at least on the beer front. Thankfully, thanks to a few good friends and some enlightened group of people at the Davis Food Co-op and the Graduate "pub", the scales fell from my eyes, albeit one at a time.
I admit that it took me a while to stumble across this particular beer, given that I was trying to find brews like those I'd get in my local pub in England (I pause here to salute The Salutation Inn). Having worked my way through a few amber and pale ales, I tried this jet gem, and was in for something of a surprise.
Oh, ha-ha moment here. Being so English, I got the pronunciation wrong, of course. "Butt", I would say, to the delight or consternation of everyone around me, most especially my Dear Wife. "Beaut" turns out to be the correct way to say it, and when I finally climbed my first butte, (Spencer Butte, rising above Eugene), I realised that these standout hills were reflected quite nicely in this dark, rich and wholly American brew.
Quick history lesson. The brew known as porter originated in London, made with darker malts, and was so named because it became a favourite with the porters, those lads who would move stuff around. You want a large package moving? Think 'beast of burden', and call a porter.
These chaps worked hard, and at the end of the day (and probably during it) they'd need some heavy-duty refreshment, with some body, some ooomph. So they'd hie to the nearest pub (of which there were a goodly number, even in eighteenth-century London) and quaff a pint of dark, nutritious porter.
Okay, lesson over. I did not quaff the first one, I have to admit. I treated it like a rare and ancient single malt whisky. I sniffed it, I rolled it around the glass, I admired the darling darkness of the beer in the glass, and finally, having tantalised every other sense, I sipped it.
For starters, I can do no worse than simply type in the notes I took at the time. Voluptuous head, creamy and high. The body is the colour of Cadbury's Bournville chocolate , and tasting it there's chocolate and espresso and cherry, even. There's a clear toasty maltiness in the nose, and faintly woody, composty. Zing of carbonation (bottle-conditioned?) Not over-sweet, not too heavy. Finely balanced.
I'd poured it from a 12-ounce bottle into a fat fluted glass, (there's a picture on my beer blog). Even as I was pouring it, the scent was terrific. Faintly burnt and sweet, rather like a dark chocolate-covered espresso bean, but now in a glass, cool and refreshing and delightful. After the opening mouthfuls, I lost my self-control, and let it all slip smoothly down in a long, lingering draught. It made me want to have another, which I did. This time, having assuaged my thirst, I managed to leave it long enough to enjoy the changes as it warmed. The head stayed intact for a while, lacing the glass as I slowly worked my way through it, enjoying the release of more layers of malty sweetness as the temperature rose.
It grew smoother as it went on, and the last drop, wrung from the glass after about twenty minutes, was still a sheer delight. There's almost nothing bad to say about this one, as long as you like dark beers. Guinness drinkers, take note. Porters were the forerunners of your dark stout, and this is a wonderful example of the type. This is a solid "A" rating from me to Deschutes, even better than the excellent 1554 ale from New Belgium. Their brewmaster deserves a medal† for this one, and next time I'm anywhere near Bend, I'll come and present you with something.
Enjoy it on its own on a chilly night as you sit in the warm, or with your rich grilled meats on a summer's evening. But enjoy it you should, because here is the brew that convinced me that Americans can, and do, make first-class beer.
Wait! There's More!
Deschutes also do an anniversary ale each year, to celebrate their awesomeness. two years ago I tried their Black Butte Porter XXI edition. I had the good fortune to have one at my local. It has a walloping 11% ABV, so it's to savour rather than chug, especially if you're driving back home.
If I had to nominate a beer as a centrefold pinup, it would be this one. I found it hard to fault this beer in any way, from the pour to the last drop. It's a dark beer, dark as night with all the promise of a coming dawn. It has a solid creamy tan head, which holds up well, adding a great visual appeal.
There's coffee and burnt toast in a glorious nose, and there's a robust and fruity bitterness in every swallow, with raspberries and chocolate kicking around. There is a little hop, but as you'd expect, it's not aggressive - more lurking in the background playing hide-and-seek with the tastebuds. There's no surprise that these flavours are so forward - according to their website, the brewers included "Theo’s Chocolate cocoa nibs...Bellatazza’s locally roasted Ethopian and Sumatran coffee, and then aged a portion of it in Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey barrels".
Of course, the main event is the dark, rich malts - no question but that this is a big beer. Big on nose, flavour and body. Appropriately enough, as I was drinking it, the theme from "Shaft" was playing on the jukebox, and puns on blaxploitation aside, could not think of a better was of describing it other than the "Shaft of Beers".
It's rich and full-bodied, with a big flavour, great mouthfeel; one to savour as it rolls around releasing its malty wonders. Will I go back for more? Oh yes, because in the words of the song, this is "the cat that won't cop out". I'm hoping to get my hands on a bottle or two to lay down for a year, and try it again as a more mature ale, in the cooler winter months. With that alcohol content, it's going to keep well, and I'm betting that it will be even more of a delight then, as a warm winter brew in front of the fire.
† I just checked on Deschutes' website, and this brew has been going since 1988, in which time it has won nineteen (19!) medals and prizes. And if I may say so, bloody well deserved.