Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Porter pilgrimages

For a while, Charlie Schroeder at Trap Rock had been mentioning to us the Colonial Porter he was putting on tap at the brewpub.

Getting some of that for Thanksgiving seemed like a good idea. In fact, having porters – plural – on the dinner table sounded like a doubly-good idea.

So yesterday, a course was set for Charlie's digs in scenic Berkeley Heights to sample a pint of the 6.5% ABV porter jazzed up with a gallon of molasses. It will accompany some Big Vic's Short Order Porter picked up Monday at Basil T's brewpub in Red Bank.

Charlie says the porter evolved from a brown ale he did a little experimenting with, namely by adding molasses to it to deepen its character. The molasses transformed the beer (and its chocolate malt) into a smooth brew that Charlie further shaped with the addition of the black malt "to balance some of the sweetness out instead of using more hops."

"It was something that happened by accident," Charlie says. "It started out as a brown ale that I wanted to make taste better by adding molasses, but then it turned out to be a porter."

It was a great pint at lunch. Gonna be good with dinner, too.

Also pouring at Trap Rock are a rye pale ale, Thorny (5.7% ABV, named after a grounded red-tailed hawk cared for at a raptor rehab center in Millington) and winter warmer that are worth a try. Ditto for some aged strong ale, Virgil (8.5% ABV, named for a turkey vulture that arrived at the raptor center in the mid-1980s). It's a beer Charlie brews once a year and sets aside a keg to age for eight months to a year. (You won't find Virgil on the brewpub's beer list, so ask the bartender about it. However, the quantity is limited so hurry, and alas, it's not available in growlers.)

The rye in Thorny, Charlie says, "acts almost like another hop. It's spicy. It's mimicking a hop, and by putting it with other hops it really gives it an interesting flavor profile you normally wouldn't get if you just added hops, a different hop."

He brewed Willie's Winter Warmer (6% ABV) using three different crystal malts, including a crystal rye malt, stacked on a base of pilsner malt. "It's like an Anchor Steam. It's a San Fran lager yeast fermented at an ale temperature, low 60s, and I used the different crystal malts," Charlie says.

Over at Basil T's in Red Bank, brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler has a honey brown ale that will be coming on, as well as the brewpub's Red Ribbon Ale seasonal made with star anise. But Big Vic's porter is on tap now, and it's quite tasty. There's note of sweetness to it as a pint by itself, but combined with food, there's a roasty quality that emerges. It's delicious beer, a two-pinter easily. But judge for yourself.

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