For more than a year, I swore off smoked beers. I judged a flight of 12 amateur versions during a homebrew competition in 100-degree-plus Phoenix, and they provided enough weird smokiness to last me a long while. Luckily, Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter returned this fall to guide me back into the fold.
It’s not a brand new or especially eye-catching bottle, but it is a master class in the flavor deftly smoked malts can contribute to a dark beer style like porter. The beer has racked up plenty of competition hardware since it debuted in 1988 and should go down as a modern classic. If you too have been burned by smoked beers, let this year’s Alaskan Smoked Porter right those wrongs.
The deep mocha-colored pour is, as you’d expect, quite aromatic. Notice the quality of the smoky scent: clean, charcoal-smooth, meshing with the deeply roasted barley notes. Smoke is the defining flavor as well, but isn’t the only pony in the ring. Baker’s chocolate actually leads the sip, smoothing ashy cocoa across the tongue before a well-toasted bread toast char syncs up with earthy-sweet cherry pit. After the swallow, a pecan shell exhale lowers the curtain.
The brewery uses alder wood, the only abundant hardwood in Alaska, to smoke its malts. Though I’m skeptical of the average drinker’s ability to discern alder from applewood or beech from birch, the local tie is a neat detail, and perhaps it’s responsible for the robust but pleasant smoke character that is this beer’s signature.
Finding a bottle of Smoked Porter shouldn’t be too difficult (Alaskan distributes across much of the western half of the country), so pick up an extra bottle for your cellar. I was surprised by how enjoyable a 2008 bottle still tasted, its smoke fading to a near-savory, maple-bacon glaze note. Smoked beer, I’m glad to be back in your corner.
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