Beer: Shake Down Series Anniversary Porter Brewery: Wanderlust Brewing Co. Style: Baltic Porter ABV: 10 percent
You might think brewing is an easy job. It isn't. Sure, there are perks -- you make your own hours, your work uniform consists of sweet boots and a manly beard, and drinking on the job is encouraged.
But you're also constantly checking minutiae like temperature and pH level with the focus of a chemist, connecting and disconnecting a complex system of moving parts, and agonizing over sanitization. Brewing is really 5 percent drinking, 10 percent plumbing, 15 percent carrying shit back and forth, 20 percent cooking, and 50 percent cleaning up after yourself. When a person does it all by himself, it's impressive. When the beers he produces are actually worthwhile, all the better.
Wanderlust Brewing Co. is one of these one-man shows, owned and operated by Nathan Friedman in Flagstaff. Friedman, who brewed at home for about seven years before purchasing a three-barrel (six-keg capacity) brew system and renting a space in which to operate it about a year ago, has quickly become one of the state's most innovative brewers, popping out unique regular releases like Chateau Americana, a Belgian pale ale; Pan American Stout, brewed with oatmeal, Mexican vanilla and Colombian coffee; and 928 Local, a hyper-local saison brewed with Flagstaff honey and fermented with yeast cultured from local apples pressed by Friedman himself.
His newest creation is a limited-release Baltic porter that was brewed last summer and stashed away in used whiskey barrels for the past five months. It's part of a group of beers Friedman calls the Shake Down Series -- big, weird brews made to test out some of his more provocative styles and brewing techniques. The beers included in this group will be placed inside the lovely bottles you see above, notable because they feature a topographic map of Northern Arizona's San Francisco peaks and because they were screen-printed by a California company called Ceramic Decorating -- the same group that decorates bottles for Stone Brewing Co. The beer inside may or may not ever be brewed again.
Unless you're a contestant in the MetRX World's Strongest Man, it also may never even be opened. The bottles of this Baltic porter, hand-filled by Friedman himself, is one of the most difficult I've ever tried to get inside. The cage seems to have been tied by a disgruntled postal worker and the cork must have been slammed in place by the hammer of Thor. Tools may be required. You will probably break a sweat.
If you do manage to pop the cork, pour the Anniversary Porter into a snifter and take in its brown-black, dark-as-night hue that lightens to milk chocolate tones at the edges. A wispy tan head fizzles away after a few minutes. It's a thin-looking brew, and this carries into the body, which is both lighter and lower in carbonation than is usual for the Baltic porter (a style which originated in the countries bordering the Baltic Sea and was heavily influenced by the heavy, roasty imperial stouts imported by the English).
Chocolate bars and cocoa powder provide the aroma's base, while a swirl of the glass awakens spicy black licorice and hints of vanilla and whiskey. In the mouth, the beer is accented with anise, sweet maple-tinged whiskey and a smack of smoked oak. The 42 IBUs of bitterness come through in the form of biting dark chocolate before a smooth, smoky finish. Though small, the 375-milliliter bottle packs a punch -- it's much easier to drink and lighter in character than it should be at 10 percent alcohol by volume.
A limited number of bottles of Wanderlust's Anniversary Porter made it to the Valley. If you want to try it, your best bet is Papago Brewing Co., which received 10 cases of the brew for an event held January 9. It's also likely to be tapped during the upcoming Arizona Strong Beer Festival, held February 15.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.