Playing with Portissimo

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Portissimo (adv.) = to approach the event with a heightened sense of porterness.

Porterness (n.) = the condition or state of portering.

Portering (v.) = the active imbibing of porters.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of the long, cold winter months is the increased availability of one of the two best styles of beers … the porter. Therefore, it is incumbent upon those who have a discerning porter palate to provide porter pointers to the porterless populace in the hope that they will populate their porter profile per these peerless proposals.

Before I jump straight into the porter recommendations, though, I must admit that I am a big fan of professional hockey. Well, “big” may be a bit of an understatement. When I lived in Dallas I has season tickets to the Stars for 15 years. And now that I’ve lived away from Big D for the last three years, I don’t hesitate dropping the 100 bucks on the NHL Center Ice package so I can watch my Stars.

Tonight's game features three Imperial porters on ice. Well, the hockey game is on ice, the beers are not.
Tonight’s game features three Imperial porters on ice. Well, the hockey game is on ice, the beers are not.

So as I review the top three Imperial Porters available in the Northern Rockies, I’m also watching my Stars beat the crap out of the St. Louis Blues (Sorry Kate). So here’s a beer-by-beer, period-by-period review to help you make the best choices you can when considering an Imperial Porter.

First period — The puck drops with a Peak XV Imperial porter from Black Diamond Brewing Co. out of Concord, Calif. Brewed with vanilla beans and cocoa nibs, Peak XV is named after the earth’s highest mountain, so named in 1856 when it was first measured before being renamed Mount Everest in 1865. Note that the beer named in its honor is a “dark towering brew.” The brewery claims the beer features “massive amounts of chocolate” with “undertones of vanilla” and an epic finish.

I found it to be rather mild in both vanilla and chocolate. Then again, this is a beer, not a mouse. The ABV of 8% is proof of that. The balance between chocolate and hops is excellent as the beer is silky going down. In other words, not too sweet in either the vanilla or chocolate, but enough to provide a flavorful mouthfeel every taste.

Game update — Playing their second game against each other in less than 24 hours, the Stars appear to be a fresher team than the Blues and score near the end of the period to take a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. Oh, and the Peak XV imperial porter is long gone.

Second period = I drop the gloves with the Anubis imperial coffee porter from Laughing Dog Brewing Co. located in Ponderay, ID. While it claims to be a porter with Evans artisan coffee added, the coffee flavor is rather weak. Instead there’s a slight bite of hoppy bitterness and possibly some barrel aging — maybe a hint of rum. And while the label on the Anubis makes no such claim, the hint of something barrelesque is unmistakable. Most likely the black malt gives it that portrayal.

Now, I’m no coffee drinker. The only thing I know about coffee is it makes me have to pee. I don’t even know how to measure the grounds or the water for an in-home coffee maker. And the thought of ordering at a Starbucks sends me into rigor mortis.

But the lack of coffee flavor in the Anubis makes for a rather pedestrian imperial porter. But at 8% ABV, it is imperial, nonetheless. If you like a slight hint of bitterness in your malty beverages, and possibly a hint of mystery barrel aging, then this is for you.

Game update — The second period starts with two fights as both teams try to demonstrate they have more testosterone than their opponents. As the period moves on, the Stars dominate in shots and chances, with only the St. Louis netminder keeping the Blues from being behind 4-0. And the Laughing Dog is only half consumed, with the dregs of the bottle likely to go down the drain. I’m not a fan … of this Imperial porter.

Third period = I face  off with the Boulder Shake porter from Boulder Beer Co. in Boulder, Colo. (can I say “Boulder” more times in one sentence?). I’ve had this one previously and know I like it. It’s high in choco-goodness, probably much more than most “pure” beer drinkers would like. “It’s too tricked up” they would complain. And you know, they’re right. (Kick save, and a beauty!)

But the last time I had a Boulder Shake it was on nitro at a generic pizza joint in Denver, and … yum. Talk about going down smooth. Of course, any nitro beer is going to be smooth. But one imbued with copious chocolate is going to be even moreso. And I don’t even like chocolate. In fact, last night, I gave away my chocolate cake because, well, it was chocolate cake with chocolate icing and chocolate filling. In other words, choco-disgusting.

But … the Boulder Shake is chocolate at a different level. However, tonight’s taste has a bit of a fishy nose. Perhaps that’s the uber-choco flavor. But regardless, the nose does not make one want to consume. In fact, it almost reminds me of the pinot noir I was drinking the other night. The first glass smelled and tasted like skunk, so I sent it back. The second one smelled and tasted  like fish. But since I was having halibut for dinner, I went with it. But I’m not eating fish during the hockey game, so what gives?

Fortunately for the Boulder Beer Co., the chocolatey goodness of the brew makes up for the initial whiff. And at just 5.9% alcohol, this is a Imperial beer that the porter consumer can enjoy more than once in a single sitting.

Game update — Stars start the third period on the power play and smash home a second goal within the first minute to take a 2-0 lead. Go Stars! The Blues get two power plays late in the period (thanks to a game with only one referee, instead of the normal two, who completely missed a spearing into the sternum of the Stars captain … cheating Blues). The Stars get another late-period empty-net goal to ice the game and win 3-0.

Meanwhile, the Boulder Shake is going down rather easily, despite the fishy nose. Once you get past the smell, it’s pure chocolately goodness, and remember, I don’t really care for chocolate.

But the Boulder Shake also has hints of wheat and cacao nibs to add a bit of bittersweet flavor. This Imperial porter with “natural flavors added” is indeed a sipable brew.

The Peak XV Imperial porter from XXXX Brewing Co. is the night's big winner.
The Peak XV Imperial porter from Black Diamond Brewing Co. is the night’s big winner.

However, the winner on this night, and in future games I hope, is the Dallas Stars. Oh, and on the porter front, the best of the Imperial porters is easily the Peak XV from Black Diamond.

So if you’re in the mood for a great porter to put above all the rest, my recommendation is Peak XV. However, the others are also worth trying. But if you’re going to put in the effort, why not reach for the mountain top. And Peak XV is just that.

So enjoy the trip to the summit via the Peak XV Imperial porter. And as you drink it, put yourself in the shoes of Sir Edmond Hillary as you pretend to be the first to climb to the top of Mount Everest.

And along the way, cheer along the Dallas Stars, who continue to stake their claim as best team in  the entire NHL. Go Stars!

— Eric Van Steenburg