To me, if the words hoppy, light, blonde, summer or pale are in a beer’s description, then I’m probably going to like it. Those were my beers of choice, and I steered clear of scary words like dark, deep, rich, black, smoked, toasted and roasted. That has been the way for all of my beer drinking life. That is, until I went on a tour of the Meantime brewery and tried their London Porter, Chocolate Porter and London Stout. And then I went to the Sambrook’s brewery bash and tried their porter. And, to my surprise, I really enjoyed them all. They were deep, rich, toasted and all those other words I used to avoid, but I liked them. This was a revelation. If I liked these dark beers, then does that mean I might enjoy all those porters and stouts that I had kept well clear of all this time? A whole new world of beer was opening up before me!
I think one of the key things was only having a small amount – just a taster, or at most a half; most of my previous experiences of dark beers have been intimidating, cold, stolid pints of Guinness – placed before me on the bar like a gauntlet being thrown down, challenging me to finish it. But a half of lightly chilled porter, well that’s something altogether different. It feels like it should be sipped and savoured, tasted and relished, not gulped down as quickly as possible. This gave me the opportunity to actually pick out the flavours of the beers and taste them individually, seeing their place in a well-balanced beer.
So now, on my beery adventures around London, I plump for porters and stouts, as well as my standard lighter, hoppier beers, and it is making the experience all the better. Camden Ink, Thornbridge’s Bracia, Ilkley’s Crafty Jane, all beers that I would never have given a second look, but now I feel drawn towards them. Maybe it’s these cold Arctic winds that are blowing through London at the moment, meaning a cold, dry-hopped, crisp pale ale just doesn’t quite hit the spot. I want something warming, something that tastes like a country pub, with a fire and old leather chairs. Comfort in a glass.
As I write this I’m sipping on an Anchor Porter, and it is delicious. Deep brown in colour, smooth, toasted and slightly sweet, but light too. And I have a Kernal porter and a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout it my beer/wine rack that I’m very much looking forward to trying soon. Maybe now, in fact.
At the Gunmakers beer festival last month, I did try a sip of Beavertown’s Smog Rocket smoked porter, which I found very intriguing. I’m building myself up to getting a bottle of it, or a half if I see it in a pub. One step at a time people, OK?
I do feel somewhat ashamed to be coming to the dark side so many years into my beer-drinking life, but I’m still young and there are many beers, light and dark, ahead of me.
So, finally, a message to all those who are still wary of those blacker beers: get a half of porter, sip it thoughtfully, roll the beer around in your mouth and see what you think. I hope you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.