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Jan 23, 2014 09:12 PM

Rarity: A "great" Porter... Deschutes Black Butte annual series

I've claimed to "like" porters for a long time. After all, that's what we beer connoisseurs are supposed to do right?

But I'll confess I can't drink glass-after-glass of the stuff, and for every one I like there's more than one that I don't like... AND, even those I like have that dicey "tar" back-note that is sometimes welcome / sometimes not... BUT, if I'm honest with myself I'd like something more creative.

WELL, here's one well worth a look.... "Black Butte" from Deschutes Brewing. I'm sipping the Black Butte XXV right now...

I wouldn't peg this as a porter if it wasn't on the label... much more in the style of a complex stout...

.... and that tar taste? VERY understated... yes it's there but only if you focus on it...

Is this the best beer I ever had?.... Well, no. The best Porter? ... it would be in my final blind taste-off no question...

Read up on this stuff: "flavored with dates, figs, cocoa nibs.... and aged in bouron barrels with black currants"... this is GREAT, and I note that release after release of this stuff scores in the 99% area on ratebeer...

Update: just had 2 glasses of this and could easily order a 3rd... how often does that happen with porters?? Texture is creamy and rich (not thin), nice espresso head, great nose with hints of the fruit, complex BALANCED flavors.... A very serendipitous discovery.

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  1. The regular Black Butte is a nice porter, too, though I tend to prefer Anchor's porter.

    Since you like the XXV so much, I would recommend Ballast Point's Victory at Sea and Flying Dog's Barrel-aged Gonzo, if you haven't had them previously.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mdougherty

      I like Anchor Porter too....

      .... but to my palate it's a well-made more traditional porter with a solid tar basenote.

      It's just not as complex and stout-like as Black Butte for my tastes...

      Another interesting "discovery" re Black Butte: it's the first beer I can recall that has a "don't drink before" date... the label says "best after June 2014", i.e. they expect it to improve in the bottle and with this recipe I can certainly believe it.

    2. I've still got a few bottles of XXV sitting in storage. I liked XXIV a little better, but maybe after aging I'll change my mind.

      I actually like it better than its big (and more popular) brother Abyss, which I find a bit too strong in taste.

      1 Reply
      1. re: RB Hound

        Have you tasted any further back than XXIV?

        So this stuff comes out every year? When do they release it? If it's brewed annually, collecting it for a vertical tasting makes alot of sense.

        I'm a buyer, BB is growing on me. I think it could stand up in any blind stout or porter tasting.

        The ONLY drawback, if you can even call it that, is that if you served it to me blind, I'm pretty sure I would fail to identify it as a porter, I'd call it a stout everytime.

      2. Deschutes Class of ’88 Imperial Smoked Porter

        1. If you would like to know about the difference between porter and stout, you might find this ( interesting.

          10 Replies
          1. re: ThomasvanDale

            Quite a fascinating essay. Thank you for posting it.

            1. re: Tripeler

              I thought that in this murky world of stouts and porters, which contains multiple classifications of each, porters supposedly contained black malt, whereas stout was made with roasted barley. Even if so, there are probably myriad exceptions.

              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                Generally, I have thought that stouts have a more burnt flavour than porters, but these days I believe that there seem to be fewer rules and more exceptions.

              2. re: Tripeler

                You're quite welcome. He's also written some other very interesting essays if you're interested in British beer history.

              3. re: ThomasvanDale

                Great article. I'll assume it is an accurate assessment of the (non) difference.

                I have no personal experience brewing so my assessments are based on flavor impressions. I can't recall ever not buying and sampling a "top rated" porter, and that must include dozens by now. I'll roll the dice on just about any single bottle or 6-pack if it has a good rating... just tried the Shake Chocolate Porter last week, for example (fair, nothing magic).

                SO, the one defining difference for me, which I've found in probably 90% or more of all these porters as compared to stouts is a "tar" taste note in the porters. Sometimes it's overwhelming, sometimes subtle, but nearly always there. It's a tar taste that's not unlike what you would experience if you drove by an asphalt crew laying hot tar on the road... acrid, pungent. Perhaps that's what these tasters call "roast" or "smoke" in Thomas' article.

                And it's precisely this flavor that limits the number of porters, even "good" ones that I can drink... a little of that tar goes a long way on my palate. And that's one of the factors that makes Black Butte so interesting... finally a porter with a very toned-down tar note and so many other interesting flavors...

                1. re: TombstoneShadow

                  While I know many beer historians dislike the BJCP categorizations, I find them useful when shopping for beer so I have some idea what to expect.

                  This is porter:

                  This is stout:

                  While the two have much in common, you can definitely see some differences in how the styles are described. For example, the range of bitterness for "brown porter" is between 18-35 IBU, where "dry stout" is 30-45. In this case that means a brown porter will be a sweeter beer than the dry stout.

                  Myself, I have no idea what this "tar" flavor is you're describing, but if you're tasting acrid flavors I would guess that has something to do with the roasted grain used in making the beer.

                  You may be sensitive to a compound called acetaldehyde, which is a pretty tough flavor/aroma to describe but is depressingly common in dark beers because the surface of roasted grains (and coffee) can be a source of this compound. In beer judging it's described as being like "green apple peel", but to me that's a pretty useless descriptor. (However, I recently was juicing some granny smith apples and my kitchen smelled exactly like acetaldehyde, so I guess there's something to it.


                  If you haven't tried Baltic Porter I'd recommend it. Great Divide makes a really good one that ages beautifully. The Deschutes Black Butte XX series is awesome, but is far from a typical porter. I'd also suggest trying British porters like Fuller's and Samuel Smith's. They are usually very well made.

                  1. re: Josh

                    I'm not sure what tar flavor he's referring to. I live porters and never tasted tar

                    1. re: MVNYC

                      Never tasted a tar note in porter? Here's a google search of porter AND tar:

                      of the 10 first page results, 7 of them mention a tar flavor in porter. One of them even refers to it as "roofing tar"

                      Different palates will pick up on different flavors...

                      1. re: TombstoneShadow

                        Drinking a Barrier Rembrandt Porter as I type this. Dark chocolate, espresso, a nice underlying hop backbone. No tar.

                    2. re: Josh

                      If they're available in your area, Founders and Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald are pretty good porters. Alaskan does a really good Baltic Porter in their Pilot Series.

                2. So now the idea of Black Butte is more obvious:

                  I'm in the liquor store tonight getting a couple more bottles of BB-XXV at $12 and change for a 22-ouncer. Then I notice a whole 6-pack of "regular" BB at about $9.... ratebeer has the regular at 97% and the Imperial at 99 so I grab a 6 of the regular too.

                  Truly a world of difference. Not that the regular is bad... Tasting notes: "Great nose, reasonably creamy texture (w/ bit of thin fizz but basically solid). Less complex than Imperial (far less). Drier flavor... but little tar. If tasting blind I'd call this a stout. Some mild coffee, hit of bitter-sweet chocolate. Pales vs. XXV but solid for an everyday porter"....

                  And that sums it up. BB Porter is Deschutes "flagship" brew they've been doing for 25 years... so they are now celebrating this product with their Imperial Anniversary series.

                  The regular is okay, but with so many other richer more dramatic stouts out there, go for the Imperial Anniversary product everytime.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: TombstoneShadow

                    As a porter lover I would much rather have the regular black butte. It's a very nice porter, no need to go "imperializing" everything.

                    1. re: MVNYC

                      Agreed. I had a really nice stout from Fire Island called Sunken Ferry on our last trip to NYC and it reminded me of how rare it seems to find a well-made simple stout like that these days.

                      1. re: MVNYC

                        Interesting... are you speaking from experience, i.e. have you actually had the BB XXV and you still prefer the BB regular in heads-up tastings?

                        Or is this a general preference for "non-imperial" brews?

                          1. re: TombstoneShadow

                            I'm not anti imperialised beers either. I love some Imperial Stouts and 2xIPAs. However I also can appreciate a well made porter, ESB, etc. imperialised beers don't automatically make better or more complex beers.

                            I went through a strong beer phase but now 9 times out of 10 I will go for an easier drinking beer.

                          2. re: MVNYC

                            Yep. Porter does not need to be "inflated" in any way. It's so delicious because of its modest grain bill.

                          3. re: TombstoneShadow

                            Depends if you are into drinking beer vs. tasting beer. To me there is more to drinking beer than most intense flavor as possible.

                            1. re: LStaff

                              Fortunately that's a choice that we don't have to make, given all the awesome microbrews out there...we don't have to settle for anything less than what we each find to be phenomenal in taste...