Sierra Nevada Porter: From swill to riches
Porter has to be the most unlikely of beer styles. It began simply as the accumulated spillage of all the various beers a pub had on tap, collected in a single swill bucket and sold at a bargain price. Obviously, that would have been marketed to the less discerning bar patrons more concerned about quantity than quality. That initial idea of making money from what was essentially waste has evolved into a specific style. Predictably, porter is some sort of mix of stout and lager or ale. Since there was no definitive porter to begin with, it is a style open to experimentation. Brewers typically feel free to express their creativity in their porters, to varying degrees of success. Most surprisingly, this Frankenstein of beers fetches a premium price these days and is marketed to the type of people who consider themselves discerning beer drinkers.
Sierra Nevada’s stab at porter leans a bit to the stout side, but is probably about as close to a true porter as is being made today. At least they seem to have resisted the urge to use the beer as a testing ground. They’ve kept it simple, as a porter probably should be. It looks and tastes like a combination of a good bit of decent stout and a little lager. The idea is obviously a sound one. People make their own porters all the time -- they call them black and tans. This is more or less a version of that without the dramatic color separation.
It pours a dense black with some red just peeking out along the edges. The head is large, creamy and tan. It looks more stout-like than most stouts. The aroma is the first sign that it is a different monster, though. Sure, it has the coffee and chocolate wafting up first and foremost, but there is already a little tang of hops behind all that. It tastes of dark chocolate, a little bitter, and molasses. The hops are more pronounced at the finish, and it ends with a nice kick. It’s not as smooth and creamy as a pure stout would be, but is a little more refreshing.
This porter would be excellent with a big slab of ribs. It’s also one of the rare beers versatile enough to go suitably well with every course, especially cheeses and chocolaty deserts. While not exactly being a light beer, it is very drinkable. You probably wouldn’t want a dozen of them, but the medium body and 5.6% alcohol makes it a good ’just a couple with dinner’ beverage.
Porter is not my favorite style of beer, but it has its place. I’ve certainly had my share of black and tans, and there are times when that combination is perfect and nothing else would quite do. The Sierra Nevada Porter is an old school porter with no bells and whistles. It doesn’t try to awe you with sophistication. There aren’t undertones of newt belly or any of the other odd stuff that can be found in many of the other porters being made today. I wouldn’t particularly think of it as an everyday beer, and given the choice, I’d probably still go with a true black and tan when the mood struck. But, as far as porters go, Sierra Nevada’s is about as solid as they get.