It is an odd brewery that takes its first steps into the commercial world with a Rauchbier and Robust Vanilla Porter, however it takes a certain sort of boldness that I just have to respect.
As a stout fan, porters are often iffy propositions. Sometimes, they can be too weak, appearing to me as a dark black beer with a rich malty nose that sets me up for disappointment when the watery texture and mild milky flavors take over. Likewise, the same can be true also with cream stouts, when the milky creamy natures of them dull their overall profiles to such a point where I’m just sort of bored.
So it was with an uncertain level of expectation that I approached this robust vanilla porter from one of New Hampshire’s newest breweries, Great North. On the one hand, my experience with vanilla porters had led to expect a simple, flavor theme driven brew with little in the way of body. On the other however, the “robust” nature to the brew set my hopes a bit higher with the possibility that this, such as other robust porters I’d tried, might be more in the realm of a stout, making it a porter in name only (PINO?)
So on a sniff, the expected elements of rich malt and smooth vanilla bean came rolling through cleanly and balanced. My hopes set a bit higher, the sip brought forth the same, though with something of a series of honest surprises.
To begin this, this is a robust porter indeed, yet not one which is a PINO. It remains as light and smooth as you should expect a porter to be, without any of the richer, syrupy or weighty aspects to a proper stout. However though it is light and though it is smooth, it is still very robust both in terms of flavor and mouthfeel. In this, whereas some others may come across as slightly flatter black lagers, this porter presents us with a sincere stab at being its own variety of bold, black beer.
Then, of course, there is the vanilla. As a flavoring for beer and especially those susceptible to flavor profile takeovers such as porters, vanilla can be a tricky beast to wrangle. Too much of it and the brew becomes nothing more than a vehicle for the vanilla flavoring itself. Too little and it just becomes a boring afterthought, not worth the focus or consideration.
Yet when plied just right, as I feel it is here, the vanilla sort of steps forward, embracing the malt profile and serving to elevate it in just the right and rightly balanced way. As strong as it is, it is in no way domineering, working instead as a well incorporated part of a generally harmonious flavor profile. Sweet to a point of perfection for such a variety, the brew begins, middles and finishes smoothly and clean, with plenty of flavor kicking up within it, but none overtaking the senses to anything resembling an unpleasant degree.
A product of the Great North brewery in Manchester, NH, I suppose this beer is yet another sign that I’ll have to adjust to the idea that something great, other than myself, managed to come out of that city.
While the brewery may have provided the product mentioned above for free, I was not required to write a positive review, I did not receive any monetary compensation, and the honest opinions I have expressed are my own.
Nicholas Goroff is an actor, writer and craft beer reviewer at EveryJoe.com. Certified as a Cicerone beer server, he is working towards obtaining certification as a beer judge while employed at Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett, NH. When not reviewing beer, wine and spirits, he is typically writing political essays, screenplays and short fiction. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.
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