Review: Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean

This beer isn’t a collaboration, but it follows the idea of combining disparate ideas to make something new, different and exciting. Vanilla porters are somewhat common. Smoke beers are less rare than they have been. The combination still intrigued me enough to pick up a 12oz bottle.

This beer evokes to me the phrase that has lead to many innovations in brewing and elsewhere, “Why the hell not?” Stone had a perfectly successful beer in their Smoked Porter. Then… according to Stone:

Stone brewer Laura Ulrich had a stroke of brilliance… what if she introduced whole Madagascar vanilla beans into a small batch?

If I see Laura (unlikely), I’m going to buy here a drink, because this is exactly what I love about personally about homebrewing and as a consumer about  craft brewing. Take a risk, go out on a limb, don’t be afraid to fail. Stone has been doing that for a long time.

Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean

Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean 5.9%


Appearance: The beer pours a translucent copper with a creamy tan head that recedes quickly to a thin film on top of the beer. There are hints of dark ruby where the light hits the glass.

Aroma: The aroma is incredibly rich with notes rough, smoky chocolate with a heavy, smooth vanilla note taking over at the end. A classic, rauchbier style smoke aroma isn’t there. It’s more a acrid, kilned malt smokiness.

Taste: The taste starts off with a somewhat thin, very dark porter. Lots of dark, kilned malts giving an acrid, burnt flavor. There’s a hint of bitterness as well, but nothing close to overpowering the malt. The flavor ends with a very well rounded, lush vanilla flavor the helps to clear the acridity from the palate. There is a lingering maltiness, but that dissipates after a few seconds.

Mouthfeel: It starts off feeling a little thin, but I’m not sure if it’s a unfermentable sugar in the beer or just an effect of the vanilla flavor, but the end of the sip feel rich and smooth.There’s a light carbonation, the keeps the beer lively without overwhelming any of the flavors.

Overall: I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect here. I know I’ve had the Stone Smoked Porter before. It seemed more like a standard, dark, acrid porter than a rauchbier. This seems more along the lines of Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, but much, much drier. It’s an enjoyable beer, and the flavors work quite well together. I’m interested in trying the smoked porter with chipotle, but I doubt it will be as aggressive as our Pepper Porter or the 440 Pepper Smoker from Original Gravity.

Review: O’Fallon’s Smoke Porter

When Michigan (finally) instituted its indoor smoking ban, Ashley’s–a consistently smoky bar–had a smoked beer festival. I hadn’t really had many smoked beer before then, but on that day I tried the 440 Pepper Smoker from Original Gravity, and I was hooked. Smoke beers are definitely a weird creation. Malt that has been smoked over hardwood picks up a savory, almost meat-like flavor along with the predictable smokiness.

I can see them not necessarily being for everyone. They could trend too far from what beer should taste like, but personally, I like seeing people push the boundaries of beer and coming up with different and interesting flavors. Also, I drank one of these beers along with a Diavolo sandwich from L’Appetito. The mix of the smoked, cured meats, spicy mustard and smokey beer was absolutely amazing.

Tasting Notes

O'Fallons Smoked Porter

O'Fallons Smoked Porter

Appearance: Dark brown with hints of copper shining through when held up to the light. It poured with a creamy, 2 finger thick tan head that dissipated somewhat quickly and without much lacing.

Aroma: Savory, woody and smoky. It’s like a campfire in a good, aromatic way. I’ve had beers that have crossed the line into cigarette butt, but this stays well away from that.

Taste: The taste comes in a few waves. It begins with a nice, acrid smokiness, which is quickly followed with roasted, malty sweetness. The aftertaste is a lingering, but not unpleasant acridity.

Mouthfeel: This beer has a medium carbonation. I think it could be just a bit a lower, actually. That might help it feel a bit richer. As it is, it’s a bit too thin.

Overall: I don’t know why, but I had been craving a smoked beer. This hits all the spots. I don’t regret picking up a six-pack.

Arcadia Barrel Aged Shipwreck Porter

What. A. Beer.

Arcadia Shipwreck Porter

Arcadia Shipwreck Porter

If you’ve read more than a couple of our posts, you’re probably well-aware that I’m a big fan of darker, maltier beers (i.e. porters), and Paul and I are both true lovers of a good bourbon-aged ale. So, this was a beer I was really excited to try (though that’s worked against a couple beers in the recent past). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in Ann Arbor – and in my search I realized there’s really no good bottle shop in Ann Arbor. There are a few that are OK, but nothing that you go into expecting to find whatever you’re looking for, regardless of how rare or new it is.

Fortunately, Paul was able to find this beer in Chicago at the always-excellent Binny’s. He brought a bottle with him to Ann Arbor prior to heading back west for the Winter Beer Festival, and we kicked off an epic, boozy weekend by trying this bad boy out.

At first, I was really taken aback by the twist-off cap. When you go through the care of sealing every bottle with wax, it seems counter-intuitive to bother with twist-offs. On the other hand, I guess the wax goes a long way to ensuring freshness, despite the less-perfect seal. Anyway, on with the show.

The beer pours plenty dark, with a nice caramel head. Since we were splitting a 12-oz. bottle, each got half a glass. On the nose, there was a ton of bourbon flavor, with vanilla and malty flavors, to go along with standard brewing malts. A very, very sweet and thick-smelling beer.

The taste… my mouth is watering just remembering what this tasted like. Tons of malt, excellent bourbon flavor. There was a surprising amount of chocolate flavor in there as well, but it was just a complement to the main malty and bourbony flavors, of course. When you’re drinking it, you can tell it’s a big beer, but there’s not enough alcohol in the flavor that you’d guess it’s a 12% beer.

Basically what I’m trying to say is I really liked it.

Beer Review: Ska Brewing Nefarious Ten Pin

Ska Brewing Nefarious Ten Pin

Ska Brewing's Nefarious Ten Pin - 8.0% ABV

I’ll be honest, a big draw of this beer was the wax seal. You don’t put a wax seal on your beer unless your damn proud of it, right? The fact that it’s an imperial porter didn’t hurt either. I’ve seen quite a few imperial stouts, but I can’t recall another imperial porter that I’ve tried.

The wax seal was immediately annoying. I had to cut it with my wine key before being able to get the cap off.  Once I did it get it, drinking came pretty easily. Tasting notes follow:

The beer pours dark and barely translucent, with a hint of dark copper when held up to the light. There’s a small amount of creamy, almost cappuccino like head.

The aroma has roasted malt acridity with a hint of woodiness and alcohol. The taste is sweet malt with roasted notes followed with a heavy bit of alcohol and a bit of sourness with some dark stone fruit. The beer has a very creamy, smooth mouthfeel that goes along well with the 8.0% alcohol.

Overall, this beer is pretty good, but could use a bit more balance and maybe a bit more of the dark, acrid flavors. The alcohol is a bit aggressive, but still fits in with the style of an Imperial Porter. I’m not sure I’d pick this up again, but it was a fun adventure.

Review: Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter

As some of you know, Flying Dog recently relocated from their Denver brewery to their new Maryland facility. Sad news for yours truly, who’s fantasies included a small house in Denver within walking distance from said brewery, but alas, it was not meant to be. However, the transition to their Maryland facility was allowed Flying Dog consolidate to a more high tech and efficient facility.  The move was in reponse to increased hop and malt prices, in addition to the loss of several contract brewing jobs.

Now, none of this is going to hinder the ability to get yourself some Flying Dog beer. In fact, I’ve noticed a marked increase in tap houses carrying various Flying Dog brews. The place where I go when I want to get a non-local beer, now carries the Flying Dog Imperial Porter on draft regularly, and it is becoming one of my favorite drafts around.

The Gonzo Imperial Porter is a tribute beer to Hunter S. Thompson, as many of you know or could have guessed. It’s an appropriately strengthed imperial porter coming in at around 7.8 ABV.  It’s stuffed full of 120L crystal, black and chocolate malts giving it a great body and mouth feel. It’s  hopped with Warrior and Northern Brewer hops and finished with a decent amount of Cascade, though I don’t pick up much of the citrus from the Cascade in the aroma, which is dominated by a toasty roasted scent. The hop character, though certainly there, doesn’t get in the way of the maltiness of the beer, as it should be with any imperial porter.

This beer won a Gold Medal at the World Beer Cup in 2008, and is a member of their ‘Canis Major’ line of brews, along with their other big beers, like their Kerberos Tripel, Horn Dog Barley Wine (another one of my favorites), and Double Dog Double IPA.

I really like this beer and recommend you give it a whirl the next time you see it around.  Oh, and I’ll close with a feature on every bottle of Flying Dog, and one of my favorite Hunter S. Thompson quotes, “Good people drink good beer.”

Peanut Butter Porter Recipe

This was the first recipe we’ve every put together ourselves.  Our first two beers were made from pre-packaged kits, which is a great way to start, but we felt like we were ready to experiment and mess around. After going to the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild meeting a few days before, we were inspired to do something beyond malt, grain, hops and yeast. We all like peanut butter, and we all like beer, so it seemed like a natural combination.

The Ingredients

  • 1lb American Crystal Malt 10L
  • ½lb British Chocolate Malt
  • 3.3lbs Liquid Dark Malt Extract
  • 6lbs Dry Dark Malt Extract
  • 2lbs Trader Joe’s Organic, All Natural Peanut Butter
  • 1oz Perle
  • 1oz Saaz

The Process

  • Bring ≈3 gals of water up to heat
  • Between 160-170ºF add grains in muslin bag and remove from heat. Allow to steep for 30 minutes.
  • Remove spent grains (we didn’t sparge) and bring mixture to boil.
  • Once it starts boiling mix  in the extracts and peanut butter. We didn’t try to get the oil out of the peanut butter. This didn’t have any oil added and it didn’t appear to be much on top.
  • Once malt/peanut butter is mixed in, add 1oz Perle hops and mix in. Start boil timer.
  • 50 minutes in/10 minutes from the end add 10z Saaz and mix in.

The Stats

  • Original Gravity: 1.083
  • Bitterness: 19 IBU
  • Color: 160 HCU (~48 SRM)
  • Alcohol Content: 9.1% ABV (maybe a bit higher with the peanut butter)

We used the Crytal Malt 10L  mainly for the head retention in order to offset the oil in the peanut butter. Also, Crystal has enzymes in it that can help break down non-malted sugars like those found in the peanut butter. The chocolate malt was for color as well as the nutty, toastiness it gave the beer. We ended up taking out a lot of the peanut butter solids off the top near the end of boil.

The beer smelled amazing during the boil.  I’m hoping it’s not too sweet with the peanut butter, but it had a more balanced scent once the second round of hops were added.  Also, the fermentation process should cut the sweetness quite a bit.  The peanut smell is certainly there, but it plays well with the maltiness. Hopefully the hops can balance out the sweetness and maltiness enough.  This is the beer I’m most excited to try at this point. Waiting 3-4 weeks is going to be really tough.