As anyone from the upper Midwest can attest, the winters can be brutal. From September through April there’s a good chance you may only see the sun a handful of times, and the landscape is usually the gray mixture of slush and grime of lake-induced snowstorm that is as unsympathetic as it is constant. It is no surprise, then, that a trusty Porter is the perfect antidote to the bleak midwinter.
Founders Brewery (Grand Rapids, MI) may be uniquely qualified to create such an a remedy, as no doubt they are quite familiar with Michigan winters. To wit, their Porter has become a such a mainstay in their lineup that it remains a year-round option in their lineup rather than a mere seasonal offering. According to brewmaster, Jeremy Kosmicki, the short, Michigan summers make the “rich and dark beer en vogue a good portion of the year up here.”
Rich and dark is a good place to start with the Porter. Out of the bottle comes a thick, unctuous poor of silky black complemented with a slightly tan head. I expected a more substantial compliment of creamy froth with such a robust beer, but I suspect that had more to do with my particular bottle than the beer itself.
The simplicity of the name – Porter – belies the complexity brewing underneath the surface. While there are expected notes of chocolate swirling amidst the caramel malt, there’s a surprise kick of bitter hops that surprised the palate both in the initial burst of flavor and as it settles throughout the finish. This is not a run-of-the-mill Porter.
It’s that old friend from high school who you can always count on in a pinch, has great integrity, and stellar character.”
Indeed, Kosmicki notes that the early recipe for the Porter was a “solid” offering, but it tended toward the lighter side of the porter market. Staying true to Founders’ stated philosophy of “pushing the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste,” they “bumped up the specialty malts in order to push it into the Robust Porter realm” where it is today. At 45 IBU, the Porter is certainly not shy about the addition of hops.
Therein lies the rub with this beer. Marketed on the bottle as “Dark, Rich, & Sexy” with a mysterious, attractive woman in period-piece attire to boot, the Porter remains simple, not sultry. With the surprising bang of bitter notes complementing the richness of the chocolate notes, she’s certainly willing to show a little skin, but this is a beer that’s more tantalizing than scandalous.
That’s not to say the Porter isn’t a fine beer in its own right. It is dark. It is rich. It is comforting. But it’s not sexy. Its thick mouth and heavy finish leave me thinking more about flannel blankets and wool socks than a silky negligee. I want to taste hints of vanilla and coffee, and I expect a creamier finish. I’m led to believe I’m about to encounter a temptress when, in fact, I’m cozying up to Big Bertha.
Kismicki admits that the Porter is not “a huge volume beer for [Founders],” despite it being a go-to beer for dark beer drinkers. That said, it begs the question, Could it be?
Spicing up the flavor and having a creamier finish would certainly align it with its marketing slogan and make an already-robust beer into something simply decadent. That may not be the company’s plan, and that’s okay.
The Porter, as it stands, is a good beer with good bones and solid makeup. It’s that old friend from high school who you can always count on in a pinch, has great integrity, and stellar character. It’s just not the one whom you’d ask out.