A dark horse among dark brews.
Porter is a mysterious brew, and even beer experts are a little hazy on its classification. The consensus is that it should be a top-fermenting black beer with a good degree of bitterness. In his Essentials of Beer Style, Fred Eckhardt notes, "Today, porters are usually medium-strong beers with rich dry maltiness and intense hoppy flavors."
Eckhardt also points out the stout-porter connection. "As [porter] came to be brewed stronger, the name stout porter came into use, indicating stronger porter. These have become known as stouts."
In its original form, porter enjoyed enormous popularity through the 1800s, but English demand for porter evaporated in the 1920s and '30s, and brewers in the U.K. stopped production. Fortunately, porter's heyday coincided with rampant British imperialism, and little pockets of porter consumption remain in former colonies all over the world.
Here in the biggest ex-colony, a vestigial demand for porter survived in Pennsylvania, where D. G. Yuengling & Sons Inc. and Lion, Inc. have produced porters (albeit bottom-fermented versions) down to the present day.
Microbrewers have now picked up the torch, and porter is produced at several small plants around the country.
Our favorite examples to date have been Anchor Porter, produced by the Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco, CA, and Great Northern Porter, brewed by the Summit Brewing Co. of St. Paul, MN.
To that short list, we would add Catamount Porter, produced by the Catamount Brewing Co. of White River Junction, VT. Catamount was founded in 1986, and the company has spent the intervening years brewing a series of excellent ales in their Vermont brewhouse. In addition to Catamount Gold, Catamount Amber and Ethan Allen Ale, the company produces some fine seasonal beers. Indeed, their 1991 Christmas Ale was one of the fines India Pale Ales we have poured.
Catamount Porter is a liquid tribute to this impressive lineage. Once a seasonal, the porter is now brewed year-around, a decision that may owe something to noted beer critic Michael Jackson, who lauded it as "the best porter produced on the East Coast."
We would concur. When poured into a glass, Catamount Porter produces a creamy head the color of coffee ice cream, and the brew has a fine malty aroma. The taste is very smooth, with some coffeeish bitter notes and hints of licorice in the aftertaste. A creamy, delicious beer, true to its noble heritage.