23 Mar 2009

Honoured

When I started blogging about two years ago, I never thought that there would be people that would take me seriously. Yet, there are.

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Honza Kočka inviting me to a tasting of rare beers. The tasting was more than just a bunch of mates getting together to drink new beers, it was part of Honza's new project, putting together a web portar inspired in RateBeer and Beer Advocate, but in Czech. The goal of this, and other future tastings, was to compile a beer data base that would work as a reference point for the future users of the portal.

Being called to share a table with above mentioned Honza Kočka, plus Honza Šuran and Evan Rail, three of the people that know the most about beer in the Czech Republic, together with two more beer enthusiast, made me feel really honoured. And more so because my judgement would be used for something else than a discussion about the merits of this or that beer. For this first session we would be tasting twelve samples of Baltic Porter, and two additionals.
I must add that the tasting presented me with a bit of a philosphical conflict. I would have to rate the beers with points. For reasons I made clear very early on you haven't seen, and will never see, points or any other sort of ratings for the beers I review in this blog. That said, it will be quite silly not to aknowledge the popularity this has with much of the public, and also that it can be useful if we speak about a beer with dozens, if not hundreds, of reviews (note to beginners and no only to them: never decide whether you will taste a new beer or not based on the ratings that beer has on the internet, taste it and make up your own minds, it is the best way to learn). On the other hand, giving ratings here made some sense, since this was going to be a comparative tasting of beers that are supposed to be of the same style.

We whetted our apetites with a true rarity, Cantillon 50°N 4°E. Never befor I had tasted something from the most legendary Lambic brewer, and I must say that this one in particular was very impressive. Aged two years in 15 year old cognac barrels, the contrast between aroma and taste was incredible. Vanilla, wood, some fruit is what the nose feels, amazing dryness and plenty of Geueze like sourness, is what we drink. Once our tasting buds were duly polished with this delight, we went on to the real tasting.
I'm not going to speak at length about the history of Baltic Porter, if you want to know more, look for it, the interweb has tonnes of information on the matter. In short words, Baltic Porters are usually bottom fermented dark beers that were inspired by the once very popular English style of the same name. Besides the fermentation method, the other big difference is that, historically, English Porters had a relatively low ABV for today's standards, while the Baltic kind tend to be much stronger. The weakest one we had was of a respectable 6.8%ABV, with average was closer to 9%.

I'm neither going to bore you witless with detailed tasting notes of each sample. Just a short descripcion to go with the pictures.

Polish. Out of balance. Starts ok, finishes a bit out of control. Not bad for a homebrew, but...
Lithuanian. Almost like a Czech polotmavé. Too much sugar that didn't go well with the dry notes. Not good.
Polish. Very dark. Raisins and prunes and chocolate. Cocoa, chocolate and coffee. Very nice.
Polish. Parfume and other artificial stuff. Not nice.
Ukraine. Nasty in every sense. Artificial. Undrinkable.
Polish. Strawberry jam, wood, raisins. Dried fruit, caramel, wood, chewy. Very good.
Polish. Stewed veggies. Artificial. Unpleasant.
Polish. Sugar, metal. Dry, burnt caramel.
Polish. Dried fruit. Artificial. Sugar.
Polish. Little aroma. Bitter chocolate, almonds. Dry finish with some alcohol. Nice.
Polish. Black. Plastic. More alcohol than taste.
Polish. Smoke, wood, soya sauce. Chocolate, some sourness, fruit. Interesting.

We finished off the tasting with the excellent Stone Smoked Porter, but I'll be speaking about it at more length soon.

Several times already I've made clear my position regarding styles, but, as I've mentioned before, it is very interesting to compare beers that are at least inspired by the same style and see there similitudes and differences, and it is something that I also recommend all beer lovers do from time to time. Still, for me, the most important thing is what's in the glass, and if I like a beer I don't give much relevance to how true to style or not it is.

Na Zdraví!

Choose your preferred Prague hotels and get free transport.

5 comments:

  1. When you mention artificial flavours, can you give me a better description of what is coming across, is it band-aid, buttery, plastic? Interesting post, its not a style we get very much of here and I have only had one of those beers before. I may brew one this year or next spring (see what the schedule allows)

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  2. By artificial I mean something like artificial flavouring or colouring. Something really unpleasant.

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  3. We've actually tried quite a few of those, which surprised me. No love for Zywiece Porter...? We thought it was fantastic when we tried it in London last year. I seem to remember liking Black Boss, too, or at least being impressed that someone in Poland was experimenting.

    We've never got hold of Okocim Porter, sadly, although we keep asking our local Polish shopkeepers to get some in.

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  4. At the tasting I remembered that you did something similar some time ago, I wasn't sure which ones you liked then. I thought it was Okocim...
    It could be that the Black Boss wasn't in good shape. Stewed veggies isn't something you smell in a fresh beer.

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  5. It's good to see so many Polish porters -- pity they often don't live up to expectations. It was the Kozlak we liked, rather than the Black Boss.

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