New Belgium came out with two new beers recently that made me question the kind of man I am. I’m talking about the Portage Porter, a new spring seasonal that hit the shelves in January, and Slow Ride, a session IPA that you can find in bottles now and cans starting March.
Here’s the deal: I have a weird relationship with porters. They were the first style of truly craft beers I enjoyed, way back in the mid-‘90s. I can’t remember the exact brand of porter I liked, but I remember it was an easy transition from the Busch Light in the bottle that I had previously been drinking. Porters were way different than the lagers of my youth, but still somehow welcoming to a young palate. Porters are flavorful (especially for new craft beer converts), but not terribly challenging. More robust than a lager, but still safe to serve to a crowd. I was smitten.
Fast forward 20 years (holy shit, it’s been 20 years since I started drinking good beer), and every time I have a porter, I can’t help but wishing it were something else. Something bigger, bolder. I think this is the unfortunate side effect of 20 years of palate wrecking with imperial stouts and double IPAs. Everything else just feels…thin.
New Belgium’s new Portage Porter is an excellent example of the style. It has a rich, malty flavor with hints of milk chocolate up front followed by roasted nuts on the backend. It’s smoky, roasty, malty…exactly what a porter is supposed to be. And nothing else. New Belgium acknowledges that there’s nothing adventurous about this beer. No chipotle peppers or weird, Scottish smoked malts, no candied ginger. Just a straight up porter.
On one hand, there is something refreshing about the straightforwardness of this beer. The simplicity of Portage Porter is almost bold in its own right in today’s craft beer market. It can be exhausting trying to Google the bizarre West Indian spices that go into some beers these days. I’m sure that brewing with the bone marrow of a wild boar is probably pretty fun for brewers, and I’m totally psyched to try that Marrow Maibock some day, but maybe once in a while, a straightforward porter is all I need. Right?
My fear is that, no, I can’t enjoy a simple porter anymore. Like I said, New Belgium’s Portage is an excellent example of the style, but maybe the style has been ruined for me. Maybe I’m so far down the rabbit whole of craft beer weirdness (seriously, somebody get me a bone marrow Maibock for God’s sake!) that I can no longer appreciate the subtlety of something as simple as this fine porter.
Ditto with the Slow Ride session IPA. It’s a fine example of the new wave of session IPAs—zesty, a hell of a lot of pine—probably as good as any other session IPA on the market right now. But I drink it and I can’t help but wanting to put some fruit in it. Like some mango for a bit of sweetness. Is that weird?
I’m worried that says something about my character as a man. That it belies a serious character flaw. Like I’m some jackass who adds hot sauce and salt to every single dish that gets put in front of me, or a dude who can’t sit through a movie that doesn’t have full frontal and lots of cross bow action.
I can’t help but notice that there is no cross bow action in the Portage Porter. But like I said, that’s not the beer’s flaw. That’s mine.
Brewery: New Belgium
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
Style: Porter, straight, nothing hanky