Serious Beer: American Porters

Beer Reviews

Seeking out the best in malty, hoppy refreshment.


[Photographs: Maggie Hoffman]

Back in January, we let you know about a few tasty porters from England. These beers were creamy and mellow, malty and a little earthy.

American breweries have put their own stamp on the style, experimenting with dark roasted (or even smoked) barley, helpings of piney hops, and extra ingredients such as coffee and chocolate. While some of these beers could still be good for a long drinking session, American porters are often stronger and more intensely flavored than their English cousins. They can be a great match for aged cheeses, cured and grilled meat (porterhouse steak, anyone?), and flavorful Mexican and Cajun dishes.

Be sure not to drink these beers too cold—you should serve them around 45°F or 50°F, not straight out of the fridge, or you'll miss out on their smooth, rich flavors.

Do you have a favorite American porter? Let us know in the comments. Our reviews are after the jump.

Serious Beer Ratings

***** Our new favorite **** Awesome, worth remembering *** We'd consider buying this again ** There are probably better options * No, thanks, I'll have water.

Ratings are subject to personal taste.

Nearly Perfect Porters

Founders Porter Michigan, 6.5% ABV This rich and satisfying porter has an especially velvety mouthfeel. It's quite dry, with pumpernickel bread and roasted hazelnut flavors. It has notes of unsweetened chocolate and blackberry jam. It's a little heavy for a porter, but all of our tasters were fans. ****1/2

Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter California, 6% ABV This smooth, creamy porter has a cocoa-powder flavor that reminded some tasters of Cocoa Pebbles. Fresh-tasting hops balance the richness of this beer, and most tasters found it pleasantly drinkable. As it warms, mocha and earthy tobacco flavors come through. ****

Hoppin' Frog Silk Porter Ohio, 6.2% ABV This dry and rich beer is quite roasty and savory, with a hint of soy sauce and honey roasted peanuts on the finish. It's silky and chocolately without being sweet, and is brilliant paired with a chicken mole burrito. This beer has nice body and robust flavor. ****

Tyranena Chief Black Hawk Porter Wisconsin, 5.6% ABV This smooth beer is dry and nutty, with dark toffee flavors and very nice creamy malt. The scent is of toasted grain and caramel. This is an earthy, mellow beer that is quite drinkable—be sure not to serve it too cold. Pair with pork tenderloin or Chinese spareribs. ****

Stone Smoked Porter California, 5.9% ABV This mouth-filling porter has a lovely balance of creamy malt and fruity hops. Don't be afraid of the smoke: this has just a hint of roasty flavor to balance generous coffee, cream, and sweet caramel notes, and it finishes very dry. ****

Great Divide Saint Bridget's Porter Colorado, 5.9% ABV This silky, savory porter has a hint of coffee and peanut butter flavor. It's full bodied and creamy with roasty malt that reminded us a little of burnt popcorn. This is a well integrated, dry porter. ****

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Ohio, 5.8% ABV This beer is peaty and earthy, with warm bourbon flavors and notes of dark cherry. Its robust woodsy character may be a little challenging on its own, but this beer would be delicious with roasted or barbecued meat. Malty caramel and chicory flavors come out as this beer warms. ****

Worth Shelling Out for the Sixpack

Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter Vermont, 5.4% ABV This refreshing porter pours reddish-brown and has a sweet malty flavor. Our tasters found it easy drinking and approachable, perfect for a long drinking session. If you're looking for something heavy and bold, this is not the beer for you, but we loved its flavor. ***3/4

Avery New World Porter Colorado, 6.7% ABV This untraditional porter has a distinct hoppy scent, and the taste follows suit. Fresh grapefruit notes accompany the creamy malt and coffee flavors in this beer, but it's well integrated and drinkable. Lovers of hoppier beers like IPAs should give this one a try. ***3/4

Left Hand Black Jack Porter Colorado, 6.4% ABV If ever a beer was like a malted milkshake, this is the one. Caramel malt flavors are balanced with a bit of roastiness and herbal hops peeking out underneath. Earthy coffee flavors, peat and brown sugar notes are more prominent than any smoke or roast flavors. I loved this one, though some tasters would prefer it a little less sweet. ***3/4


20100215porterglass.jpgCentral Waters Mudpuppy Porter Wisconsin, 5.5% ABV This roasty porter is flavorful but not quite balanced—robust roast flavors vie with bright hoppy flavors for dominance. The brightness of the hops doesn't quite work with the coffee notes of this one, but we did like its creaminess. ***1/2

Cooperstown Benchwarmer Porter New York, 6.3% ABV Though some tasters found this porter a little too sweet, others loved it. It's filling and full-flavored with hints of coffee, toffee, mulling spices, and molasses. ***1/2

Odell Cutthroat Porter Colorado, 5% ABV This porter had chocolate soda flavors and a solid helping of hops—we found the citrus peel flavors a little jarring. We tasted a hint of sesame, cocoa, and a lingering sourness that reminded us of seltzer. ***1/2

Sierra Nevada Porter California, 5.6% ABV This dry malty porter has a healthy dose of citrusy hops, as you might expect from Sierra Nevada. As it warms, more dark roast coffee and cream flavors come out. We also noticed a musty hint of hay. If you prefer your porters dry, you'll like this one. ***1/2

Redhook Black Hook Porter New Hampshire and Washington, 5.23% ABV This porter is very smooth and creamy. The finish is clean and malty. We actually liked this one better on the cool side; as it warmed, a bit of roasty bitterness came through. ***1/2

Thirsty Dog Old Leghumper Ohio, 6.7% ABV At the beginning of each sip, this beer has nice, smooth roasted malt, but the finish is a combination of char and hops. It's not quite as full bodied as we'd like; there are hints of molasses, chocolate, and toasted bread, but we wish it were a bit more robust. ***

Sebago Midnight Porter Maine, 5% ABV This full bodied porter had a rich, robust roasted flavor, with dark chocolate, roasted nuts, and rye notes. It's a little oaky and tangy—some found it to be just a little too charred. ***

Anchor Porter California, 5.6% ABV This is not our favorite of Anchor's offerings. It's smooth but surprisingly sweet, with a hint of vanilla, carob, and Hershey's syrup flavor. The body is not as full as we'd like, though some tasters enjoyed its malty notes and were reminded pleasantly of a banana split. ***

Yards General Washingon's Tavern Porter Pennsylvania, 7% ABV This porter is a little thinner-bodied and mild in flavor than many of the others, with lively carbonation. We noticed caramel, toasted rye bread, and molasses flavors. It's quite drinkable but not as exciting and satisfying as some of the others. ***


Wolaver's Alta Gracia Coffee Porter Vermont, Unknown ABV We're big fans of Wolaver's beers, but this one didn't do it for us. Strong roast coffee flavors hit you right away, mellowing into a nutty vanilla finish. It's a bit bright and acidic for our taste—a creamier body would better emulate the luxurious side of coffee. **1/2

Disclosure: All beers except the Avery, the Sierra Nevada, and the Anchor were review samples.