Beer: Baltic Porter Brewery: Alaskan Brewing Co. Style: Baltic Porter ABV: 9.8 percent
Alaskan Brewing is known for their Smoked Porter, and why not? The beer's won more golds than Michael Phelps, impressing so many beer judges that they've basically made the brew the standard by which all other smoked porters are judged. But there is another porter that flows down to us like oil on a pipeline from the land of Seward's Folly that's bigger, better, bolder and Baltic.
The Baltic porter is a traditional English style, developed by the British in the 1800s for export to their buddies in the Russian Court. Alaskan, then, is the perfect brewery to lead the way with the style -- I hear you can see Russian from Juneau. They make theirs with dark cherries, brown sugar and hand-scraped vanilla beans before extended aging on chips of toasted French oak.
The Baltic porter is an interesting breed, because while it's a porter in name and flavor, it's not an ale. All Baltic porters are lagers, meaning they're brewed with a strain of yeast that ferments for longer times at colder temperatures and contributes a cleaner, crisper flavor to the brew.
Pour Alaskan Baltic Porter into a snifter. From afar, the deep burgundy liquid seems to pulse with darkness, yet a hold to the light reveals surprising clarity. Big, cocoa powder-colored bubbles crackle and pop.
As you take in the aroma, picture a large plate precariously balanced on a stick. On one end you have piles of dark chocolate and maraschino cherry syrup; on another, buttery oak. French vanilla ice cream, cocoa nibs and high-proof brandy take up whatever space is left at the edges. Alaskan Baltic Porter is that plate. The proportion of each is perfect, keeping the plate perfectly balanced. It doesn't get better than this.
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In the flavor, sugary dark fruits, unmasked alcohol and vanilla combine to give the beer an almost bourbon-aged quality that I can definitely get behind. Brown sugar, milk chocolate and dark, sweet cherries are also in there, while a smooth smokiness permeates the background. A complaint here would be that the malts are just a little too thin to support the adjuncts; if they were kicked up just a notch, I'd do the same for the flavor score. The body, however, is a silk blanket. Soft carbonation tingles the tongue inside the supple liquid while ethanol heat warms the nostrils and throat.
Alaskan's Baltic Porter is making its first appearance on our shelves since 2009 -- ensure your don't have to wait another three years to get some.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.