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It’s a chilly winter day here in the Northeast… freezing, in fact, quite literally at 32-degrees.  Not exactly a good day for a backyard barbeque.

Ah, but wouldn’t those tangy, smoky flavors warm your insides on such a cold and dreary day?  How about a beer that can capture that in a bottle?  Stone Smoked Porter does just that.  It pours a dark rich opaque chocolate brown, and the roasted, smoky aroma gives a hint of the delicious taste to come.  The flavor is initially sweet and chocolatey followed by a flavorful but not too potent smokiness that reminds me of a cozy fireplace or campfire, and slight hints of alcohol warm the insides.  Some earthy notes of birch and sarsaparilla come through, while the finish is slightly charred, which perfectly complements and completes the smoked flavor.

For a simple meal, I paired this with some barbequed pulled pork from my local Whole Foods Market.  Pretty good in a pinch, though some real ribs or brisket from the smoker would be even better.  I also think this would be an excellent match for a char-grilled steak.

While readers in Tennessee, North Carolina and all across the South have plenty of great barbeque joints to choose from, those like me in Northern New Jersey have a harder time. Luckily, Front Street Smokehouse on the industrial Elizabeth waterfront serves up some excellent authentic Memphis-style barbeque.  We even had the chance to see the smoker in action.  While it’s initially heated with gas, a combination of charcoal and hardwood are used to smoke the ribs, pork and chicken slowly in the rotisserie.  The pulled pork is tender and moist, and the smoked chicken glazed with raspberry jalapeno sauce is probably the best chicken I’ve ever had in a BBQ joint.  Unfortunately, no smoked porter to be found here, and not many craft beers at the bar, but there’s excellent birch beer on tap, and the mouthwatering smoked meat and delicious sides (tasty collards, homemade stuffing and cornbread) are well worth the trip off the beaten path.

Definition: Smoked Porter

This unique hybrid style of beer was invented in 1988 by Alaskan Brewing Company when they approached a local producer of smoked salmon about smoking some malt over alder wood in their smokehouse. While the traditional smoked rauchbier has been brewed for centuries, it was an obscure and little-known style outside its native Germany. Today, thanks to Alaskan Brewing’s experiment, dozens of microbreweries around the U.S. have rediscovered the delicious unique flavor of smoked beers, producing their own renditions of smoked porter and other smoked ales and lagers.

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Avery PorterIt’s always a nice surprise to find a great beer hidden on the back of your shelf. While moving around my beer bottles, I found an Avery New World Porter hiding in the back.

Now, this is a seasonal brew from Colorado that is available January through March, so the one I found is about a year old now. While most mass-market beers (pilsner-style lagers like Bud, Miller or Coors) are around 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and really only have a shelf life of 4 to 6 months, this one comes in at 6.7% ABV which is a borderline beer for aging (those over 8% are ideal for aging a year or more, while beers above 10% can be aged for many years).

Well, this time I was in for an incredible surprise! The beer pours a deep ruby-black with a full foamy, creamy tan head that is just beautiful to watch rising from the bottom of my Nonic pint glass. Truly one of the more delicious beers I’ve ever smelled, the aroma of cherries, raisins, red wine and chocolate emanate from the glass. This brew has a slick, oily mouthfeel… slightly thick with tiny bubbles of carbonation that make it somewhat creamy.

The initial taste of caramel and sweet brown sugar gives way to a milk-chocolatey middle with hints of raisin and cherries. It finishes with a lingering roasted bitterness that reminds me of coffee beans and unsweetened bakers chocolate with just a tinge of licorice.

Overall, a year of aging seems to have done this beer well. When first released, the bitter hop character of the beer is somewhat prominent, but the aging has made this brew more in balance to my palate. I highly suggest picking up a six-pack in the new year, drink one now, and stashing the remaining five bottles away in a cool, dark place (a cellar is ideal, but even the back of a closet or cabinet away from any heat source can work) until next Christmas. This is one Christmas gift well worth waiting a year for!

Definition: Nonic

Nonic A Nonic is a traditional English-style pint glass that holds a true Imperial Pint (a full 20-ounces of beer). The larger size allows for the full expression of a billowy creamy head, while the slight bulge in the side helps keeps the glass from slipping from your hand (think of it as a life-saver for your beer!) A suitable glass for a wide variety of English and American brews, and quite ideal for stouts and porters.

For more about beer glassware, check out my article “Beer Glasses… Not Beer Goggles”

Beer Quote

“I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

with your pockets full of money, and your cellar full of beer!”

– An English Toast

Cafe D'AlsaceWhen it comes to fine dining, many establishments have a sommelier to help you navigate the often complex and confusing world of wine. Cafe D’Alsace on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is more than likely the first restaurant in America, perhaps the world, to have a dedicated Beer Sommelier. With 120 beers on hand, and styles ranging from French Bière de Gardes to Belgian Tripels to German Doppelbocks, the choices can be overwhelming. And when it comes to matching the wonderful Alsacian cuisine with just the right brew, Avi (a.k.a. Aviram Turgeman) is just the man for the job.

For our meal, he started me out with a snappy Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian Abbey-style ale whose distinct character comes from the three grains used for brewing this beverage… wheat, barley and oats. It was served in a huge bulbous glass from the brewery itself that showed off its tremendous head and allowed me to get my nose right into the glass to appreciate the spicy, citrus hop aroma. A very nice appertif for cleansing the palate, that also went quite well with the appetizer of warm potato salad.

To find a beer that would compliment both my dinner of Choucroute Garnie (sausages, back bacon and pork loin) and my wife’s Trout in Riesling sauce could be a difficult task. But Avi’s recommendation of Trois Monts, a complex champagne-like Bière de Garde, was an excellent pairing for both dishes.

Of course, one true test of a beer sommelier would be finding the perfect beer for with dessert. As a chocolate-lover, I couldn’t resist the Trio of Chocolate (chocolate creme, chocolate tart, and an intensely-chocolately dark chocolate gelato.) My first choice would have been Lindeman’s Frambois, a delicious raspberry beer to complement the chocolate. But Avi said he had just the beer for my chocolate dessert, and delivered a bottle of Sinebrychoff Porter on the house, an excellent deep-roasted Finnish Baltic-style Porter that paired with dark chocolate better than I could ever imagine.

Definition: Baltic Porter (updated 12/29/06)

A Porter is a dark, richly roasted ale that originated in England and is the grandfather of what we know today as Stout.  English porters brewed for export were stronger and with more hops in order to survive the sea voyage from England across the North Sea to the Baltics, Scandinavia and Russia.  So when the Baltic states started brewing their own porters, their renditions reflected the English exports.

These Baltic Porters are a more robust, higher alcohol (7% or more) take on the porter style.   Scandinavian Baltic Porters are typically brewed as ales (with top fermenting yeast), while Slavic and Baltic breweries typically use lager yeast for their porters (bottom fermenting yeast, brewed at cooler temperatures).

For more information on porters, read my article found here.