As one who tries to attend as many special Stone Brewing Co. events at my local New York City beer bars as possible; I was excited to hear that two variations on their Smoked Porter that I previously tried and enjoyed both on tap and cask were being released in bottles. After splitting a bottle of the Vanilla Bean version with a friend at The Ginger Man bar in NYC I quickly sought out a bottle of each version (SP w/ Chipotle Peppers and SP w/ Vanilla Bean) to include in a tasting that I planned to have with my older brother a few nights later. In order to make the most out of the experience of drinking these two special brews my brother and I split them evenly. I drank from two identical Duclaw Brewing Co. snifters and my brother drank from two Flying Dog Brewery taster glasses. After analyzing each beer we decided to blend them to taste how the flavors would play off each other.
Having had the Vanilla Bean more recently I chose to start this side by side tasting with the Chipotle Peppers version. As per its style it poured dark brown in color with half a finger of khaki head that quickly dissipated and left behind a bit of lacing and alcohol legs. Moving on to the aroma, I was curious to see how the smokiness of the chipotle peppers would blend with the smokiness from the smoked malts. At first it seemed like the two blended together and were hard to separate. However, the more I smelled the beer, the more I felt that the chipotle added a perceived dryness to the aroma and tamed the meaty quality of the base beer’s smokiness (from its smoked malts). In addition to the smokey aspects of the aroma I picked up a bit of milk chocolate and roasted malt. As in the aroma the smokiness was the first flavor that hit my palate in the taste. First it came from the chipotles then the smoked malts (meaty quality). In the finish hints of milk chocolate and coffee were joined by a touch of pepper heat and earthiness. At 5.9% ABV, this beer’s mouthfeel was on the lower end of medium bodied, which at times lent itself to a somewhat watery finish. Overall, I thought this version was well executed, but didn’t really excite my palate as much I thought it would. Rating: 6.5/10
After taking a few sips of the Chipotle Peppers version and writing down my initial tasting notes, I put my glass to the side and picked up the Vanilla Bean version. While the appearance was pretty much the same as in the Chipotle version, this beer’s head stuff around a bit longer which helped intensify the flavors and mouthfeel in my initial sips. In my opinion the vanilla beans made this beer into a great dessert beer. This came about by the big espresso and milk chocolate notes that blended with the vanilla in both the aroma and taste. Furthermore, by bringing out the rich chocolate notes, the beer seems quite sweeter than both the base Smoked Porter and the Chipotle Pepper version. While some of my friends that I’ve spoken to about this beer have mentioned being able to tasting the smokiness of the smoked malts in this version. I personally did not taste any smokiness until the beer warmed up and even then it was quite faint and only detected in the finish. Next, in terms of mouthfeel this version was also on the lighter side of medium bodied, but differed in that the vanilla gave me the impression of a creamier mouthfeel. Lastly, due to the sweet milk chocolate flavors and muted smokiness and darker malt character of this version, I would probably need to be in the mood for this version’s flavor profile in order to order it at a bar or buy it at a beer store. Rating: 7.5/10
As mentioned above the next and last step in the side by side tasting was to make a 50/50 blend of the two variation on Stone Smoked Porter. In order to blend the two beers I poured the Smoke Porter w/ Vanilla Bean into the Smoked Porter w/ Chipotle Peppers’ glass and swirled the beer around. In doing so I was able to regenerate a finger khaki head, which stuck around as I drank the blend. As I analyzed the aromas and flavors there was a battle being fought on my palate between the smoky and spicy chipotles peppers and the sweet vanilla beans. In the end the Chipotles won with their heat that intensified with each sip of this blend. In the future a better blend would be 3 parts Vanilla Bean to 1 part Chipotles Peppers. Rating: 7/10
Adventures Into The Mind of a Beer Geek: As mentioned in previous reviews variations on or additions to a base beer leave room for the base beer or style’s identity to be minimized for even lost. However, with such as a coveted beer as Stone Smoked Porter; opinions on the success of the above variations will have a wide range. In the end I applaud Greg Koch, Mitch Steele, and the Stone Brewing Company staff for bottling these variations in order to highlight specific characteristics of the base beer in an artisinal manner. However, in the end of the day I prefer this beer without anything added both as a porter and a smoked beer. I should note that while proofreading this post I thought of a possible way to help me further appreciate these variations (versions), which is to pair them with complementary foods. I’d recommend pairing the Smoked Porter w/ Chipotle Peppers w/ grilled or smoked meats, beef entrees (spicy or not), or aged gouda. For the Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean I go for desserts like tiramisu, chocolate cake, and chocolate mousse, and desserts with white chocolate. Cheers!