Snowdrift Vanilla Porter

It was always my plan to review the staples from Leinenkugel before I got into their seasonals, but when I saw Snowdrift Vanilla Porter in the store, that plan was foiled.  I never had any of the darker varieties from Leinenkugel before this, so I didn’t know what to expect.  To be honest, I went into Snowdrift expecting a winter beer that didn’t deliver on flavor and underachieved, characteristics I often find with beers from this brewery.  What I found was a very tasty winter beer that matches up to other top-notch varieties.Snowdrift Vanilla Porter

Snowdrift meets all the standard characteristics of a porter, and while not the best I’ve ever had, will not disappoint.  Dark as you’d expect, this porter delivers smooth, rich and savory flavors.  You’re met with creamy vanilla from the beginning, which peaks in the middle and tapers off towards the end, leaving almost no aftertaste. Throughout each sip caramel and coffee notes seem to flow seamlessly from the vanilla, which only enhances.  The only flavor that lingers is a soothing and warming vanilla flavor that is nothing but tasty.  At no point is the flavor imbalanced, too weighty or out of sync with the mouthfeel, and the only quality it lacks is a smoky component (which is always an added bonus anyways).  This beer is as light as you’d expect a good porter to be, of course matched with nice flavor, and because of this it is very drinkable.  The warming the beer imparts is not inhibited by the weight.  Another reason this porter is easy to drink is due to it’s refreshing nature, in this case a lighter feel due to what some would call watery.  Every Leinenkugel beer I’ve ever had has this “watery” component, sometimes appropriate and sometimes not.  In this case it’s neutral. Some might say, due to the style, it’s a detriment, but for me it makes this beer that much more refreshing.  Most importantly, it doesn’t take away from the flavor.

Because Leinenkugel is now a staple in the Chicago area, I will give more of a background on them the next time I review one of their beers.  I’ve had just about each Leinie’s variety, and Snowdrift is my new favorite.  Some beer geeks might shy away from buying anything Leinie’s, which I understand, but this one must be tried.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    9
Thickness            4
Hops/Malt          8
ABV                       6.0%

Walker’s Reserve

Walker’s Reserve porter isn’t as stellar as some Firestone Walker offerings, but it’s still very good. Black in color with a head that’s both fizzy and creamy, the first thing you taste is chocolate and slight caramel.  The front end of each sip provides the bulk of the flavor, which slowly dissipates as it continues, but is never scant.  The flavor changes slightly in the middle, which to me yields oatmeal, yet still retains some of the chocolate.  Although the flavor peaks at the beginning, by the end the flavor is still very nice and yields almost no aftertaste, which works very well because this porter is very refreshing.  The flavor is rich and the mouthfeel is middle-of-the-road for porters, but Walker’s Reserve is still light enough to never weigh you down.  The chocolate-to-oatmeal transition is what sticks out most to me about this porter. It’s very drinkable and a great “everyday” porter: nice enough to enjoy often but still not on the top shelf.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    10
Thickness            7
Hops/Malt          8
ABV                       5.8%

Bobo’s Robust Porter

This is one limited release from Big Sky I wish wasn’t limited. Bobo’s is an excellent porter that gives you a touch of everything the style can offer. Black in color with a dark brown, chocolate-looking head, it has a smoothness you’d expect after looking at it.  The mouthfeel is creamy, soothing and packed full of multiple flavors that, while subtle, are still satisfying.  Throughout the sip you notice bits of caramel, coffee, chocolate and some of the patented porter smoky flavor.  Each is subtle enough to blend together wonderfully, none out-shining the others, so that the overall flavor is rather subtle itself.  Any more flavor and it would be too much for the lightness of the beer.  Instead, the subdued-yet-noticeable flavors fit right in with the refreshing mouthfeel.  To top it all off is a creamy finish that’s not as creamy as a stout and delivers one last bit of chocolate to bid farewell.  It might sound like there’s a lot going on, but there’s really not.  Bobo gives a touch of everything without giving too much, tasting very simple in the process.  If you’re looking for a dark beer with good flavor that isn’t overpowering, or a porter that gives you what porters should, Bobo fits both bills.  This is a top-notch porter and another great Big Sky creation.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    10
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          3
ABV                       6.2%

Edmund Fitzgerald

It’s taken a while to review Edmund Fitzgerald, but what I’ve known for some time is that it’s one of the best porters you can find, and probably the finest produced in the United States. This is a perfect porter, using dark flavors wonderfully and taking advantage of some subtle qualities porters have.  A roasted aroma greets you, and once you start drinking, flavor follows suit.  A fantastic combination of roasted malts, chocolate, and slightly smoky and coffee flavors create a savory and smooth sip each and every time.  Despite the complex flavor, it’s never overpowering and always smooth.  From start to finish you get full flavor that is consistent and refreshing, and even though the beer is on the weightier side, it’s won’t weigh you down.  Because all the flavors blend seamlessly, it’s hard to notice them individually unless you’re conscious of them.  The two flavors that do stick out more than others, however, are subtle chocolate sweetness and smoky flavors.  Chocolate adds smoothness to the already smooth mouthfeel, and the smoky element adds even more complexity to make the flavor perfect.  At the end of each sip the smooth finish leaves roasted flavors and smokiness that aren’t bitter or stale, but sweet and nourishing.

Porters have the ability to utilize smokiness more than stouts, but rarely do they use it to their full capacity or as well as  Edmund Fitzgerald does.  Many times my main issue with porters is they’re not as smooth as they could be.  This porter has a mouthfeel more like a stout, while still keeping the flavor profile of a porter.  If you want to find an outstanding porter, look no further than Edmund Fitzgerald. Once you have this you’ll start comparing all porters to it, which is too bad for other porters.  Simply, when you have Edmund Fitzgerald you’re having one of the best.

Overall                 10/10
Color                    10
Thickness            7
Hops/Malt          8
ABV                       5.8%

Two Big Sky Limited Releases

I must admit I feel a little bad about this post.  Both of the selections are limited releases from Big Sky, so I’m not sure how easily you’ll come across them.  One of them was the last six-pack on the shelf, and I doubt it will be restocked, and the other was on the floor in a shipping box at the end of the aisle.  Hopefully you’ll be able to find them at some time; I’m guessing each is made once a year.  These were rare finds and I had to grab them.  I was actually surprised to see them.  Usually the only Big Sky beers in Chicago are the common ones: Moose Drool, Trout Slayer and Big Sky IPA (all of which I’ll review eventually), and whatever the seasonal beer is at the time, which is only available in the Montana Mixer 12-pack sampler.  But it also gives me hope I’ll be able to find the other four limited releases they make.

Cowboy Coffee Porter

I was a little apprehensive about this one when I first bought it.  I had some coffee, mocha and caramel porters and stouts before, and I didn’t like them, but at that time I was still drinking junk in college.  I knew I would have to give them another chance, and because it was such a rare find, I had to get it when I saw it.  The result: I was shocked at how much I liked it.  I thought I would make my way through each glass, not really loving it but taking it in stride, but I loved this beer.  It’s black color might be menacing at first, but it has the thickness and consistency of a lager or pilsner.  It’s rather light and doesn’t weigh you down like I thought it might.  It is uplifting and smooth, with slight creaminess, but not too thick to overpower you.  Some beers in this vein can leave a lingering distaste after each sip, but with this there is no buildup of a syrupy, sugary, too sweet flavor that would fill your threshold before the first glass is empty.  If I had to compare it to another beer for reference, Guinness would be close.  It’s color is the same, and just like Guinness it is lighter than you expect on first glance.  It’s light in composition and creamy, but not too much, and both have a slight cocoa bouquet, but Cowboy Coffee Porter also smells like a finely brewed cup of coffee.

But after all that, it’s just really good to drink.  Because it’s not too thick it is refreshing and resembles an iced coffee.  The coffee flavor isn’t too much or overpowering, but just right.  You know you’re drinking a beer, but once the sip fully subsides, you’re left with the taste of coffee.  Because it’s not too thick or syrupy, you’re left wanting more.  As you can tell, I really like this beer.  If you’re looking for a more savory taste, you’d like this.  I’m not a big coffee drinker, but this hit the spot.  You wouldn’t want to drink five of them, but one or two might be just what you’re looking for.

Overall                 8/10                    Notable Bouquet       Coffee, chocolate
Color                    10
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       6.2%

Heavy Horse Scotch Ale                                                 

I haven’t had many Scotch ales, in fact if I had any before this one I don’t remember them, so I was a clean slate when I tried this one. And I might not be getting too many more of them because I was not a fan.

It wasn’t bad on the front end, but by the time you swallowed, it became strange.  Although it isn’t that thick, it tastes and drinks a lot thicker than it actually is and presents a very malty flavor on the front end.  It has a rich mouthfeel and leaves a bitter aftertaste.  I’ve heard that some Scotch ales can taste like Scotch liquor, and while this one didn’t offer a profound alcohol taste, it was still strong.  Sometimes it reminded me of a very rich amber ale.  This ale was a dark red, almost mahogany color, but tasted like it could’ve been darker.  In the end, I wouldn’t buy this one again and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  But if you like thick ales or want something that will be more filling, this is worth a try.

Overall                 4/10
Color                    8
Thickness            6
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       6.7%

"Good people drink good beer." - Hunter S. Thompson