A Beer Review
Karben4 Brewing Company - Madison, WI
Smoked Porter, 6.5% ABV
$8.99 / six-pack of 12-oz. bottles at area retailers
From the quirky brewing team that brought you Fantasy Factory IPA (and its idiosyncratic pistol-packing-housecat-on-a-fire-breathing-unicorn label) comes this cyber-dystopian packaging of an American smoked porter.
Appearance: This beer pours with the foreshadowing menace of an oil slick on an obsidian highway in a Neal Stephenson novel. Photons are utterly lost among the ultra-fine mercurial bubbles, never seeing the other side of the glass. Despite the sinewy appearance of its incredible, viscous body, it takes a pretty aggressive pour to build a rocky, shimmering, caramel head that breaks down quickly and dissipates almost entirely.
Aroma: If you can imagine what the denizens of the filthiest, smokiest tavern in a Kentish coal town in the 1880s would toast their dead with, you’d be pretty close. The slightly carbonized notes of second-crack roasted coffee beans, ashy carbonized malts, and brown bread are followed by delicate smoky strains of Stockholm pitch and bituminous coal…and that’s a good thing. The aroma is rich and complex, mysterious and alluring. The mildly spicy hop aroma is so distant that it seems more like a memory than a presence.
Taste: If Captain Ahab made his morning coffee from seawater over a peat fire in the middle of an eclipse and sweetened it with the darkest blackstrap that the Indies could make. Elusive rumors of licorice, iodine, smoked salt, and molasses dance delicately around dominant flavors of dark cocoa, bonfire toffee, and licor de café. There is a noticeable boozy warmth balanced perfectly with a distant spicy hop finish with touches of cherry stones, oak tannin, and black peppercorns.
Presence: It’s practically a fistfight between Joyce and Poe refereed by Dylan Thomas. Complex and enigmatic, the mouthfeel is simultaneously creamy and sinuous, satiny smooth, and ruggedly effervescent. The body is substantial and serious with a sweet, silky creaminess that is balanced by a dry, oaky, sinewy acidity. The carbonation is vibrant and the hop acids lend just enough tart acidity and dryness to bring all of this cacophony of factors back together in a pleasantly harmonious finish with just a hint of woodsmoke.
X-factor: Paradox. How a beer can be simultaneously savory and refreshing, sweet and smoky, enormous and delicate is beyond the linguistic prowess of even this reviewer.
This is the epitome of a deep-winter fireside beer. Snuggle in with a snifter and pair it up with some crusty bread or rustic grainy crackers, heavily smoked charcuterie, and cheeses that are old enough to buy their own beer.