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Classic Beer of the Month April 2012: Anchor Porter


Anchor Porter, 5.6%

As a teenager in the early 1970s, I was enthralled by the etched glass that still adorned some pub facades.

Anchor PorterIn suitably misty lettering, it told of mythical drinks that remained beyond my reach, some because of my age, others because they were no longer being produced.

One such drink was porter. It sounded magnificent, suggestive of fortified wine and nourishing richness, but it was impossible to taste for both the reasons I have just recounted.

In the 1970s, porter was, for all intents and purposes, a dead drink, bequeathing its once vast estate to its fratricidal brother, stout, and pasteurized keg stout at that.

It’s wonderful that today porter is back and, in the best examples, is as sumptuous and satisfying as those 1970s echoes promised.

It took a while to convince the public of its resurrection, but a pint of porter is again one of life’s great pleasures.

One particular porter stands out as being ahead of the game. At roughly the same time that I was staring, wide-eyed and slightly bemused at those strange words scratched into pub windows, a small but growing brewery in San Francisco decided that porter was a style of beer that was simply too good to leave festering in an early grave.

Fritz Maytag and his brewers at Anchor launched their own revival in 1972, a deep-garnet, almost black beer, brim-full of layered dark malt flavours. It was the first porter to be brewed in the USA since Prohibition.

Forty years on, it remains a classic and a style leader, a benchmark for American craft brewers that is now also increasingly available in the UK.

Winning Combination

I can’t tell you which guidelines Fritz and the team followed to bring Anchor Porter to the world but they certainly hit upon a winning combination of malt and hops.

Pale, caramel, black and chocolate malts fill up the mash tun, becoming responsible for the sumptuous aromas and flavours of dark chocolate, caramel, coffee and liquorice that billow out of the glass and surge smoothly ­– and with a more than balancing note of sweetness – across the tongue.

The role of hops in a beer like this is generally to add to the bitterness and impart preservative qualities and, for Anchor, the sturdy but relatively restrained Northern Brewer variety does that job admirably in the copper.

I can understand why some people don’t like dark beers and, even though it’s not heavy or excessively bitter, Anchor Porter may never hit the spot for them.

But, for those of us who love the complexity of such beers, Anchor Porter is a real treat, an easy-drinking, flavour-packed lesson in brewing with roasted grains.

The little, skittle-type bottles Anchor employs have always added aesthetically to the appeal but the great news is that we can also now savour Anchor Porter fresh on draught in the UK, courtesy of beer importer James Clay and the specialist pubs and bars it supplies.

Yes, it’s taken 40 years to get here, but it really has been well worth the wait.

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