For the longest time, one of the best values at beer stores everywhere has centered around Eastern European beer. While the “strong lager” brewed by many Polish, Russian, former-Soviet-republic breweries and so forth was a big hit with natives living in New York, giving a taste of home and a big bang for relatively little buck, I tried those and found them maybe a step up from good old malt liquor. I was not a fan.
Then, I found Okocim, a brewery out of Brzesko, Poland. While they also brew the typical lager, I’d heard from friends that their porter was a knockout. I was hooked from day one. Okocim Porter is a Baltic porter by style, which generally means a porter brewed with lager yeast (which is happiest fermenting beer at lower ambient temperatures). Lager yeast should give the beer a “cleaner”, less fruity aspect from the malt. Really, all it means as a style is it’s a strong porter, not coffeish or roasty in any way, not hoppy or bitter, and quite the easy drinker.
For my part, I try to keep Okocim porter in the refrigerator at all times. While it’s a rather potent 8.3% alcohol by volume, you’d never know it from drinking the stuff. Now, maybe I don’t get to the beer right after I buy it, but Baltic porters in general, and Okocim in particular, will age well at controlled temperatures; this bottle sat at cellar temperature for close to a year, in fact. I try not to segregate my drinking habits by season either, reserving heavy, strong beers for the winter or only drinking wheat beer in the summer. Drink what you like, whenever! And from the Okocim bottle, there’s never a bad time to drink a beer with “Traditonal Polish Taste”, right?
Okocim Porter pours a deep, dark opaque brown, with ruby highlights in the light. It’s topped with a thick, creamy tan head that lingers for a short while before dropping to a thin skim. While the head lingers, the nose is more pronounced; deep plummy and milk-chocolatey components dominate, with a wine-like aroma and a little sugary sweetness behind that. It comes off rather sweet overall judging by smell alone.
Of course there’s the taste, too, which doesn’t disappoint and brings out more of the character of the beer. It’s more toffee-sweet, which could be a function of the age of the beer, if oxidation occurred while it was stored. At any rate, there’s still a candi sugar flavor in the background, as hinted at by the aroma, more purple fruit flavor mixed with chocolate, and just no hint of the alcohol even though this is a rather strong Baltic porter.The full, rich body is a little slick but it’s not off-putting. It doesn’t help dissuade the notion I’m drinking a very tasty motor oil, however.
Okocim finishes surprisingly more chocolatey than it tastes, with a slight roasty caramel flavor added to the mix, just for kicks, as the beer warms. Here, the alcohol makes a bit of an appearance, warming my throat, but it’s minor at best and does not change my perception of the beer as rather easy to drink. While it’s on the sweet side overall, it fits well and makes me want to drain the contents of my glass in a most speedy fashion.
There are quite a number of Baltic porters available in the city, but mainly in Polish neighborhoods. Much of Williamsburg is still Polish, and these bottles are usually pretty easy to find at around $2 per half-liter; a place like Whole Foods or New Beer Distributors might tack on 50 cents to a dollar, but that’s still fairly inexpensive.
If you can’t find Okocim, there are alternatives in the Baltic porter realm: several other Polish breweries, like Zywiec and Aldaris, also brew this style for the US market; Victory Brewing makes Baltic Thunder, a version of a beer a friend made years ago at Heavyweight Brewing; Southampton Imperial Porter is a very good local version of the style; and Carnegie Porter, a Swedish Baltic porter, is pretty much brewed just for the Americans. I think you’ll have no trouble finding Okocim, though.