Beer Review 0413: Alaskan Smoked Porter (2012)

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Alaskan Brewing Company were founded by a husband and wife team in December 1986. Geoff Larson was a chemical engineer and aspiring homebrewer, while Marcy Larson was an accountant and aspiring bush pilot. Before opening, Marcy researched old brewing records from Douglas City Brewing Company, which dated back to 1899 — the records included ingredient lists for popular beers in that era.

Geoff decided to brew a batch of beer using the ingredients used back then — the beer would become Alaskan Amber, their first beer.

That humble beginning leads us to one of the most acclaimed and awarded beers on the market today: Alaskan Smoked Porter. This style of beer is known as “rauchbeir” in Germany, and when Alaskan Smoked Porter came along in 1988, these types of brews were basically unknown in the United States.

Brewed with malts that are smoked in small batches using local alder wood, the beer comes in at 6.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is produced once each year. Alaskan say you can age this for many years and the smoke flavors will recede, bringing forth the beers other, more nuanced flavors.

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Pouring served up an average size head that was both creamy and soapy, with a mixture of both large and small, tight bubbles. The suds were light tan in color, and sat upon a beer that looked pitch black out of direct light, but held to a lamp proved to be ruby red, with a clear body and no particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving what would look like cola suds if soda clung to glass. Visually, this brew is spot on for a Porter.

On the nose, holy smoke. Literally. Lots of the smoke, both campfire and fried bacon, along with big underlying waves of chocolate, roasted coffee, and some sweet caramel. This beer smells both sweet and smokey at the same time. While the smoke does dominate, it makes the beer seem intriguing, and the complexities going on underneath make me want to take a sip. As it warmed, the smoke got more woodsy and some notes of dark fruit, specifically cherries, came to the forefront, and perhaps even a touch of vanilla.

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The first thing I noticed on the taste was how rich of a beer this was with such a thin mouthfeel — lots of puffy smoke and chocolate kick things off, which leads to a furthering of the smokey note — woodsy, mixed with fresh brewed black coffee. These are strong flavors that play well together, but yet are only strong in waves; it seems like each flavor makes way for the next, piecing together a wonderfully told story and excellent brew. Earthy, toasted logs and burnt toast bring a finish of sharp smoke, meaty bacon, and salty hop bitterness, all eased by a sweet hit of caramel. Thin and foamy with an average carbonation, I found the brew to be medium-bodied.

Generally, I tend to find smoked beers to be a bit too much for my palate, but this uses the alder-smoked malts perfectly and it enhances an already great base beer that has subtle complexities. I highly enjoyed this and consider it a worthy purchase, and would love to see how it ages in the future. I’m feeling like this is a beer that is just as good now as it will be later. Believe the hype on this one, and put away those reservations if you normally don’t give the smoke a chance.

Alaskan Smoked Porter (2012), 95 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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