I don’t have an office. Well, I do, in a manner of speaking. Just not your normal office. Coffee shops throughout Davis usually serve as my office when I need a place to get some work done, with my home an occasional stopping point. But from time to time, you just need something different – a change of pace, a change of scenery, and considering the inordinate amounts of coffee I’ve been consuming lately, a change of drink as well. Enter the late afternoon session at The Graduate. Suddenly, it dawned on me – it’s past 2 PM, I’ve got work to do, I’m sick of coffee, I can’t go home, I must go somewhere, so… I’ll pull double duty – test a beer for DLM and get a little work done on the side. (Actually, I owe a debt of gratitude to a brilliant colleague who alerted me to his Friday afternoon routine – office/work time at his favorite brewery in Michigan. The idea made so much sense, I had to try it out myself.)
I sauntered up to the bar, laptop in tow, ready to work but now faced with that daunting task of looking over that long and lovely row of taps. A kind stranger handed me the laminated sheet listing what was available. Beer lovers in general are a friendly lot, always eager to give a suggestion of something they find delicious, and this kind traveler was no exception. I noted his pint glass was filled with one of the blackest beers I had ever seen, and since it is winter and the weather outside was particularly frightful, I figured that might be a good place to start. When I asked what he was drinking, he replied, “The Alaskan Smoked Porter.”
When I asked if he was enjoying it, he said, “Absolutely. It’s a seasonal you can’t find everywhere, very distinct, I really like it. I always grab it when I get a chance.” Then, whether it was the holiday spirit or the beer he had just consumed, he proceeded to tell me he was an avid home-brewer and even had started doing a little beer judging from time to time.
That was enough convincing for me. I ordered a pint of the black stuff, picked out a table, opened the laptop, and commenced what I assume will be a new routine. Friday office hours at the Grad – come look me up.
As I mentioned, this was some of the darkest, pure black beer I have ever been poured. It’s nose was not at all what I expected. Thinking the smoke would be overpowering, I went in gingerly. But the smoke scent only comes through very minimally, even with a hefty sniff. If you weren’t looking for it, you might think this a normal porter. It was a far cry from other smoked bounty that I find delicious – smoked cheese, smoked meat, a real smokey Scotch. All of those show their true smokey goodness in the first whiff. Some, like certain Scotches, can knock you off your seat just by breathing deeply. But this beer was composed and wouldn’t show its cards without a first sip.
Upon that first sip, however, the smoke you know is there comes through in a big way. I confess, I can’t remember trying another smoked beer before, so this was entirely new to me. A couple of the malt varieties are smoked before being added, which is where the beer gets its smokey flavor. It is nicely balanced by the creaminess of the porter, but the defining characteristic of this beer is, in no uncertain terms, the smoke.
The Smoked Porter does not have a particularly high alcohol content, so while technically you should be able to drink freely, the smoke kept me sipping. The creamy porter and bitterness keep the flavor of the porter with you, but that smoke stays up front and all the way through. This beer would pair extremely well with the obvious choices of other smoked foods – particularly smoked cheeses and meats. It is a complex beer that isn’t for kicking back and watching football, but would do well as an every-so-often beer when you just want something different and its too rainy outside to throw a brisket on in the backyard. This could also be a poker drinking beer, paired with a cigar.
If you are looking for a place to enter into the world of porters, I wouldn’t start here. But if you are looking for a unique beer to bring to your Christmas Beverage Exchange Party – this could be for you. Thus far however, I have only seen it on tap at the Grad. So if you want to try it, stop by on a Friday and join me for some office hours.