Today’s beer is one of my favorite locally-available porters, the Robust Porter from Smuttynose Brewing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The brewery has been available in the city for over a decade, and is one of the more consistently good breweries in the Northeast. I’ve rarely had a clunker among the wide range of ales, and a couple of lagers, that they churn out regularly.
Smuttynose started brewing in Portsmouth in 1994, releasing their pale ale and brown ale that year. Robust Porter came along in 2001. The brewery is linked to the Portsmouth Brewery in town, and I’ve found quite a few of their beers on tap alongside that brewpub’s beers when I’ve been there. I’ve heard tell their biggest market in New York City, even larger than New Hampshire, which tells you a bit about how well-received its beers have been here.
Robust Porter, as a style, is expected to be dominated by the roasty, even a little burnt flavors from the roasted malt in the grain bill, but never harsh. Obviously it’ll be brown or dark brown as a rule, and unlike its cousin the brown porter, which is more English in style, some hop bitterness should stand out in the body. It’s typically a rich, full beer, even if not very high in alcohol.
Smuttynose Robust Porter pours a very, very dark brown, opaque, with some ruby highlights if you hold it up to the light. I poured it to kick up the lovely pictured head, a huge, dense, big-bubbled brown head, though that quickly settles to a thin layer that never quite disappears. True to its style, the nose is filled with roasted barley and bitter chocolate. There’s a slight red-wineyness to the aroma as well, and that typically shows up as a marker of oxidation.
Aside: Oxygen will react with the building blocks of the beer to create new flavor compounds over time, many of which are unpleasant. This oxidation, though not what the brewer intended for the beer, can be pleasant enough — for example, wine or sherry aromas and flavors work pretty well most of the time in beers that use a lot of darker, roastier malts. But then, oxidation can show up as papery, like wet cardboard. Not exactly palatable.
Unsurprisingly, the flavor is dominated by bitter chocolate and the roasted barley as well, though there is a bit of hop bitterness present, as a “fuzzier” roughness on the palate than the roasted flavors. No hint of the alcohol — it’s a mere 5.7% — shows up to add heat to the mix. Instead, the beer feels fairly full in the mouth, and the carbonation isn’t so excessive that it distracts. There’s a little sawdusty dryness (another oxidative effect) in the back, too, which carries into the finish and mutes the roastiness in the aftertaste somewhat.
I picked this beer up at Sam the Beer Man in Binghamton, with a best by date of April 2010. So it was probably bottled in October, which means it was maybe getting a little long in the tooth. I’ve seen six-packs for sale for around $9 around the city (and it’s occasionally on tap), so it’s on the inexpensive side, actually. Just check the dates! All in all, the Robust Porter is a worthy, sessionable beer. Give the folks from New Hampshire a little love.