Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blind Porter

Since I was having Weston, Chimpotle and Yeti over to sample the Rye on Rye, I thought it would be a good idea to add a blind porter tasting to the events. Porter is one of my favorite styles of beer and I consider Bully! Porter one of my favorite beers. Bully! was my gateway into craft beers and I hold Bully! as the benchmark of porters.

This blind porter tasting was one of my ideas that I used to throw out to Owen from Fat City because I never wanted to buy all the beer for the tasting. He had that fat Pitch expense account to use. But, since he has moved on, I thought this was the perfect opportunity, I give everyone some Rye on Rye, and they bring some beer. Plus, without including Owen, the chances of him screwing the thing up and nearly ruining my life (go ahead, click that link) were sharply diminished. So, I assigned Weston and Yeti 4 porters each to bring and Chimpotle was tasked with bringing something else interesting to drink. We put the porters on the table in my basement bar, The Lido Deck and we sat at the bar. Weston poured samples into my set of Wichita Beer Festival mugs from around 1998 and brought the mugs to us at the bar. We could not see what was being poured and Weston did not tell us (aside from one instance which we'll get to). We also had a beer back to drink while we were drinking the samples, I had a Hoss (now available year round from Great Divide and nearly always available at la manse du Vard), Yeti had a Great Divide Denver Pale Ale, and Chimpotle had a Dogfish Head Immort Ale. We were also enjoying some salt and pepper popcorn and white cheddar popcorn to cleanse our palates.

The Beers
Bell's Porter - This was a good one we thought it had some mocha, hazelnut and chocolate notes and we pretty much agreed this was a good place to start. I thought it would be in the middle of the pack.
Odell Cutthroat Porter - We disagreed on the Odell, I thought it had a good burnt taste and was nice and rich, Chimpo thought it was pretty bland with a coffee finish and Yeti thought it was watery with a malty taste.
Flying Dog Porter - We had a little fun with the Flying Dog porter because it smelled awful. We were really getting into the swing of things by the time this one was poured and we started trying to identify the smell. We had barf, locker room and dried urine from peeing your pants as the smell emanating from the Flying Dog. Yet despite the smell, I think we all agreed it was a pretty good porter. It's funny reading Yeti's note sheet where it says "Dry urine smell, sour, dry taste, gritty on the tongue, very drinkable".
Boulevard Bully! Porter - Hilarity ensues because we hated it. Our note sheets say "not much to it, weirdly bitter", a simple "Awful" from Chimpotle and "chocolate sweet nose, kinda raisiny, poured half out". At the time we were thinking it was the Flying Dog.
Founders Porter - The moment Yeti and I saw this one we were sure it was Bully!. The way the head had that chocolate brown to it to the smell and the flavor. We were sure it was Bully! and we were remarking that we knew we could pick it out. Of course, all 3 of us loved it. The whole time we were talking, Weston had a smirk on his face, at one point lifting his shirt over his mouth feigning that he had farted. He finally let the cat out of the bag and told us the one we just hated was Bully! and this one was Founders. AND that's why I wanted to do this blind.
Left Hand Black Jack Porter - I wrote immediately upon drinking this "St. Bridgets Porter" but Weston said it wasn't. We all liked it quite a bit with its chocolate malt taste and sweet smell. We were all pretty happy with it.
Sierra Nevada Porter - We were starting to get to the point of the evening where we had some trouble stying on task. The consensus on the Sierra Nevada was that it was light on taste and smell, but was enjoyable. 4 words were written total on our note sheets.
Rogue Mocha Porter- We went out on a high note with the Rogue Mocha Porter. It was the only one of the porters that we described as hoppy in any way. It was quite enjoyable and certainly one of the top 3 of the evening.

This was a fun exercise and well worth doing again with other styles. I'm completely shocked by some of our conclusions. Founders, Rogue and Left Hand did quite well which most would expect. Bell's, Odell and Flying Dog were middle of the pack. And most surprisingly Sierra Nevada and Boulevard did relatively poorly. We found a bottle of St. Bridgets Porter later and we drank it and, of course, enjoyed it. But, now I don't feel comfortable saying it was good because I knew what I was drinking and I usually think that I enjoy it. I don't know, my faith in my taste was shaken a little bit.

We capped off the evening by drinking a bottle of Boulevard Imperial Stout with some chocolate cupcake frosting and a couple of squares of Baker's semisweet chocolate. Stella wasn't the biggest fan of the cupcakes when she made them but the frosting was simply wonderful so in my diminished state I thought I would pull an Elaine and serve cupcake tops with the stout. The combination of the chocolate with the Boulevard Imperial Stout makes both parts better. In an evening with a brand new beer, Rye on Rye, and 9 porters the Imperial Stout was the star.

I wish I could say we stopped drinking there so I will. If you're going to attempt something like a tasting at home I recommend that you don't start the evening with a glass of an 11% ABV beer. We were starting to get a little surly halfway through the porter tasting and I think it directly attributable to the Rye on Rye. By the time we were done with the tastings, none of us really cared enough anymore to throw rankings on the 8 included in the tasting. I think I would have liked to have that. But, we drank a lot of good beer in the evening and we all plan on doing it again.


  1. This sounds awesome. I desperately want to get some buddies together and do this.
    Maybe a blind Belgian wit tasting as we head into spring.

  2. and no mention of my Extra Short Bus Bitter? Was that because there was no label on the bottle? I hope you enjoyed

  3. Drunk Monkey, We didn't know what you were going for with your homebrew and we were pretty lit up by the time we got to it. I think, sadly, that I drank half the bottle of it while Weston and Yeti shared a can of Surly Furious.

  4. I have been a frequent blvd hater and hard on you guys for being homers. It doesn't surprise me that the local porter didn't fare that well, but I was surprised it finished as bad as it did. I feel this is representative of most of their 6 pack offerings, but I sort of felt their porter was the best of their sixers, and pretty decent. Any chance this bottle could have gone bad, been served too cold, or something else? Anchor porter is one of my favorites...but I don't think it could hold a candle to the founders.

  5. Andy, no one was more surprised than me. I think we honestly thought it was Flying Dog. But, I also think everything was relative so it might have not tasted that great in relation to what we'd already had but it wasn't bad. We were drinking quite a few so dumping was certainly within the realm of acceptable.

    But, it sure did shock us when we found out. We checked the expiration date and it was fine. None of the beers were real cold, I think everything was cellar temp after sitting out for about an hour, so maybe Bully! needs to be cold. I don't know, the whole thing was weird.

  6. Good try at side-by-side comparisons! Confirms my belief that Founders makes some very good beers! Proper glassware is fairly important for taste comparisons--such as a tulip-shaped goblet (not the traditional pint for porters). You're right--a ranking comparison shouldn't be preceeded by a big beer--or any other beer, for that matter. A pitcher of water to clear the palate between samples is also a good idea. If you really want to be objective, a score/ranking sheet should be given to your tasters.

  7. I think it all depends on whether you want it to be casual or clinical. I like to taste beer, but I don't like getting too damn serious about it.

    As far as your beloved Bully! goes, my experience is that it can be quite inconsistent. Most of the time you get that crisp, dry-hopped flavor that is uncommon to porters (Avery's seasonal New World Porter has this too). But sometimes it's just...flat.

    The great thing about porters? Even the less-impressive ones are still pretty friggin' good.

    And how hammered were you guys by the end? Geez.

  8. JJS, we were trying to be casual and have fun with the whole thing. I feel about scoring beers the same way John Keating felt about scoring poetry.

    I don't know what was going on with that Bully!, but it seems to me the ones with a thicker, richer mouthfeel did better when we were tasting. So I guess we had a bias while doing it. I don't think this experience will chase me off Bully!, but it does make me think about it a little more.

  9. It seemed like you were being casual about it. I was referring to the score ranking sheet in the comment above me--fine for the hardcore tasting, but not really my speed.

    Porters, however, are my speed. Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em.

  10. I guess Extra Short Bus is perfect for you guys then

    thanks for playing along :)

  11. Love blind tastings - it has been awhile since I've done one.

    I love Bully! as well, but it's quite different as compared to what I now think a porter should be. Interesting hop signature, especially when holding it against Founder's or Left Hand. Can't imagine picking Bully! over those two in a blind tasting.


  12. Good post. Summed it up pretty well. Now that it is up I wanted to put in my 2 cents. Since I was pouring and new what was what, I pretty much kept my mouth shut during the event (except to pour beer in it).

    1st. I pee'd in all the beer before you drank it.

    2nd. I thought the Bully! tasted fine. It has that dry hop spiciness to it and a much thinner mouthfeel than most of the others. For these reasons, we all perceived it to be not as good.

    3rd. I'm not, traditionally, a porter fan. However, I couldn't get over how dang good Founder's Porter was. The Rogue Mocha Porter was also incredible. These two seemed to be in a class all their own from the rest.

    4th. 1 may or may not be true.

  13. This was a good exercise; you don't have to be "clinical"--but I think the point here (blind tasting) is to be objective (vs. subjective appraisals). In other words, avoid bias of pre-conception--and also avoid bias of others' opinions. By letting each person put down their honest rank without discussing amongst yourselves you'll have a better overall opinion. Then, it's fun to compare notes afterwards. It's basically the way beer judging goes...

  14. It's interesting how much a label can affect your perceptions of a beer, isn't it? You'd like to think a favorite brand, etc doesn't cloud your judgment, but as you guys found out, that can be dead wrong. I've listened to Craft Beer Radio since day one and my favorite shows they do are the blind tastings.