Thursday, February 23, 2012

London Porter Tasting(s)

Back in early January, I brewed a batch of brown porter inspired by Fullers London Porter. Having brewed a few Fullers 'clones' in the past, I had a pretty good idea of what the real recipe looked like and the type/percentages of grain and hops used. I even had the Fullers yeast and knew the general aspects of their fermentation schedule. The only thing I wasn't too sure of was where they get their grain from (the malsters). Not a big worry, I wasn't looking to make an exact clone, just something similar. Regardless, I brewed this beer on the fourth of January and it's been in the keg for thirty days now. I just started drinking it last week and have been really enjoying it. While I wasn't planning on doing a side-by-side tasting, I came across a  bottle of Fullers porter I had stashed away sometime around Christmas. This probably won't be the best comparison, as my version is still somewhat young and the bottle of Fullers has no doubt seen better days. The drink by date is 16 April 2012, probably making this bottle somewhere around 6-8 months old?

Fullers Porter(s): London Porter

Appearance – The real stuff pours a thick, inky black color with beautiful ruby highlights and an off-white, voluminous head. It takes a while for the head to settle and then it deflates to a fine ring. My version pours an equally back color with a similar colored head. Lacing and stability on mine is good. When held to the light, my version is just a tad lighter in color, more dark copper than red.

Aroma – After giving both beers time to warm up, the Fullers aroma jumps out of the glass with a very intense molasses and sweet, (Halloween) candy-corn aroma. Behind the wall of sweetness is the usual chocolate and rummy grain character, though the overall impression is a bit off-putting. My version doesn't even come close in terms of intensity, just a mellow chocolate and a lightly roasted biscuit aroma that smells exactly of brown malt. Whereas I couldn't get any esters from the Fullers bottle, mine has the same lightly fruity English esters that the Fullers yeast is known for. No diacetyl.                                                                                                                                                               Taste – My initial impression is that both beers are somewhat similar, though it quickly becomes apparent there is something wrong with the Fullers bottle. My version is mostly dark chocolate and toasty brown malt flavors with some rummy caramel right through the middle. The chocolate impression is there, but it has more of a dry, cocoa powder quality than a sweet chocolate. The malt flavor is quite moreish, not too strong but with some complexity. The esters are lightly fruity and the beer finishes clean and dry, with a mellow bitterness. The Fullers on the other hand is intense stuff. The first sip was somewhat nice, with a sweet chocolate and candy-corn flavor. However, as the beer warmed the flavor just got more and more intensely sweet, so much so that it was hard getting the stuff down. The sweet candy-corn and chocolate flavor completely overtook everything else in the beer and it finished with a very weird, slightly "off" sherry flavor. 

Mouthfeel – Similar. Mine was a bit less 'full' than the commerical version, though not thin by any means. Carbonation was good for both. No issues here.

Drinkability & Notes – I am happy with my version. While it resembles nothing of the Fullers bottle I tried it next to, my beer is pretty much right where I want it to be in terms of flavor. I think a few more weeks will bring out more of the chocolate and caramel flavors, as the brown malt character continues to mellow, but the keg probably wont last that long. The recipe is solid and next time I brew this I'll probably go with my usual wy1318, as I think it suits the brown malt character better. As for the Fullers version, it is pretty obvious I had a bad bottle. Whereas I finished my pint, I couldn't make it through the Fullers. It was just too sickly sweet and the finish just didn't seem right. Oh well.

In closing, I wanted to say a few words about trying bottles of imported beer. Whereas it isn't too hard to get a good, adequately fresh bottle of Belgian, German, or even Czech beer, I seem to have the worst luck with the British ones. It's probably that the bottles don't hold up well on the trip over the pond, or that they sit on the shelves of my local Wegmans too long before I get to it... but I've pretty much given up on the British imports. Even my old bottled standbys like Black Sheep, BrewDog, SamSmith's, and Wychwood have taken a hit. Seemingly every bottle has this 'old' and sickeningly sweet flavor, as if the bottles spent a summer somewhere in the jungles of Africa. I would like to blame my local beer store, though they usually do a great job of keeping their stock fresh. And even when I had a pint of Fullers porter on tap last month, the beer tasted much too sweet for what I remember it tasting like in the U.K. And the Brits say our craft beers are too sweet! Guess I'll just stick with brewing my own...

5 comments:

  1. That's exactly how my last porter compares to Fuller's.

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  2. I've also noticed import beers here in vancouver have started to suck recently - german beers included. It seems to have affected the can's too but not as much. Maybe the importer has changed?

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    1. I picked up a few bottles last night - London Pride, ESB, and Riggwelter. The London pride had that same nasty Halloween candy-corn flavor. Dumped. The riggwelter was surprisingly nice, though still a bit sweet. Going to try the ESB this weekend.

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  3. I recently bottled an attempt at a London Porter clone having enjoyed the real thing on tap when I went back to England for Christmas/New Year. I'm not going to try it until at least 6 weeks in the bottle. Maybe I can send one your way when they've conditioned - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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    1. Let us know how they turn out! I've always found my L.Porter clones always tasted best right about that 1.5-2 month mark. I'll never turn down a bottle, though I'm sure your local homebrew club would appreciate trying it too.

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