Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Old English Porter

New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, WI

Style: Ale
ABV: 5.5%

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

This is probably the hardest review I’ve ever had to write. When I read the description for Old English Porter, the new Unplugged Series release from New Glarus, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:
‘Old English Porter’ offers a unique interpretation of this classic beer style. The slightly roasted malt character combines with a touch of sweetness and wine like acidity that was popular in Porters of this period. To achieve this, it was brewed with mostly floor malted English malts which include the famed pale ale malt, Maris Otter. A touch of smoked malt produced by Briess Malting Company (of Chilton, Wisconsin) was also used, adding interesting depth to the character of this brew. To add to the authenticity of this brew, half of the batch went through a souring fermentation in the traditional way. This also helps to promote the characteristic wine-like acidity. Finally, the beer was aged on wood to extract sweetness from toasted oak.
Sounds amazingly complex, doesn’t it? And it is. In more ways than one.

It pours a pure amber—not dark, not light—underneath a finger’s breadth of light tan head. The very front of the sniff is roasty malt, then a huge wave of lactic sourness, almost as strong as vinegar in intensity. Wow. Not exactly what I was expecting, even after reading the description above a couple of times.

The sip opens with vinuous sweetness before quickly being overrun by powerful, sharp sourness. A lot of sourness. Close to mouth-puckering. This ebbs slowly into slightly chocolate malt notes, although to be honest I did not catch any of the smokiness alluded to in the press release. The finish is overly sweet and a little long.

Now all that is when I poured the beer at probably between 45 and 50°. And the way this brew is complex in more ways than one is that at different temperatures it is two completely different beers. Once Old English Porter warms up toward room temperature, the mild, slightly toasty notes in the nose turn sweeter and stronger, more toward caramel, and they push back against the wafts of sourness. The taste changes radically as well. The dessert wine-like sweetness at the front strengthens and lasts a bit longer, and the malt at the end comes out much earlier, squeezing the sourness more toward a balanced middle. The finish shifts from sweet and long to tart, crisp, and short. But rest assured, folks, sourness is the dominant flavor in this beer, no matter at what temperature you drink it.

I like sour beers, when I’m in the mood, and when I’m ready for it. I even downgraded New Glarus’ Berliner Weiss for not being sour enough. But I have to say I wasn’t ready for this level of sourness at all, even after reading up on the beer beforehand. That being said I am going to recommend it, BUT there’re a couple of ground rules, and if you don’t adhere to them and go out and buy it anyway, don’t come crying to me when your tastebuds curdle and fall out on the floor, OK?

First, you’ve gotta like, or at least tolerate, sour beers. There really isn’t another American craft beer I can think of off the top of my head that is anything like Old English Porter. The only thing I can conjure up is sweet wine, but that’s a very imperfect comparison. If you like gueuzes, you’ll fucking love this beer.

Second, you’ve gotta drink this at cellar temperatures AT LEAST. In fact, I would suggest drinking it at cool room temp, like in the upper 60s. You might even be be fine not even refrigerating this bad boy at all. With enough warmth, the malt plays off the sourness nicely, letting the endless complexities of this beer really shine. Too cold, and it’s more one-dimensional and out of balance.

Third, DO NOT EXPECT A PORTER. If you’re hoping to get a roasty, malty brew, you are in a for a rude surprise. I can imagine a few folks hauling this back to their beer store with the belief that it went bad. But as long as you know what you’re getting into, I think you’ll enjoy the intricacy of this beer.

The main reason I’m recommending it is because even though it’s a little out of balance, if that were hoppiness instead of sourness, it’d be getting at least a four-mug rating. A lot of us tend to forgive over-hopped beers, but there really shouldn’t be a double standard. Sure, more people like hops than sourness (at least that’s a fairly safe assumption) but sour beers can be just as delicious, just as challenging, and just as artistic as any hop-heavy—or malt-heavy, for that matter—brew. And since New Glarus’ Dan Carey has, practically, an entire brewery now to experiment with funked-up beers, I expect we’ll be seeing more amazingly complex creations like Old English Porter. And I, for one, can’t wait for the next Unplugged Series creation to come out.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on September 1, 2009.
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