Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stone Brewing Company - Smoked Porter-Vanilla, Smoked Porter-Chipotle

I reviewed Stone's Smoked Porter almost 2 years ago (have I really been doing this that long already?) and wasn't the hugest fan of it. Ok, I really didn't like it. I had pretty much written off the beer until last summer at Stone's Anniversary Party. Towards the end of the event, I was walking around, looking for some final beers to try when I stopped by the Stone booth and saw they had a version of Smoked Porter that was brewed with vanilla beans. I tried it, hoping the vanilla would kill the meat-like smokiness that I kept tasting in the original beer. Not only was the smokiness pretty subdued, the vanilla worked amazingly with the flavors of the beer. It ended up being one of my favorite beers of the day.

Recently, Stone announced that they were going to be bottling both the vanilla and a chipotle version of their Smoked Porter. You know what that means...face off! Here's how this is going to work: A head to head matchup with 5 categories (appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, use of secret ingredient), winner takes all (by "all" I really just mean the title of "Walker's Favorite Version of Smoked Porter"). Alright, let's get ready to rumble!

Category 1: Appearance

Because these are both versions of the same base beer, it shouldn't come as too much surprise that their look is identical. Both pour a very deep brown/black color with a one finger khaki colored head. I noticed a bit more lacing down the glass with the vanilla version, but I'm gonna call this one a split.

Winner: Tie

Category 2: Smell 

I remember being really blown away by the vanilla version when I had it on tap last year. Out of the bottle, I found it a bit less impressive, but still pretty nice. I got some notes of roasted malt, cola nut, vanilla and the barest hint of milk chocolate. The vanilla was there, but a bit too restrained for me.
In the chipotle version, I smelled the chipotle right away, and the combination of the peppery smell with the notes of chocolate in the background reminded me of Mexican hot chocolate. A bit of coffee and earthiness lingered in the background. Winner.

Winner: Chipotle

Category 3: Taste

After smelling each of these, I didn't think the vanilla would stand a chance against the chipotle in the taste category. But, unfortunately, the chipotle version doesn't taste anywhere near as good as it smells. I got some flavors of day old coffee upfront with a touch of smoke and pepper on the finish. Some relatively mild roasted malt flavors carry though the entire taste. The finish leaves a bit of a dry and earthy taste on the tongue with a bit of cracked black pepper. The chipotle never really shines in this one. Bummer. The vanilla version opened with a ton of vanilla upfront. I've noticed a really artificial element to a lot of vanilla beers I've had in the past, but this didn't taste artificial at all. Roasted malt and coffee followed the vanilla with a good amount of smokiness and dark roasted coffee coming in on the finish. The vanilla version is going to take this one, even though it wasn't as good as the draft version.

Winner: Vanilla

Category 4: Mouthfeel

You would think that this category would be a tie, just like Appearance. But the chipotle version came across as being way thinner than the vanilla version. I'm not really sure if it was the vanilla flavors that made the beer feel richer, but the chipotle version definitely felt pretty weak.

Winner: Vanilla

Category 5: Use of Secret Ingredient

I'm not going to lie: I was a little disappointed in both of these beers. The chipotle gave me a ton of hope with the smell and then failed to deliver in the taste. The vanilla version was good, but really didn't deliver in the way that the draft version of it did last summer.

As far as use of the secret ingredient goes, both were great choices by Stone. Chipotle peppers have a great smokiness on their own, so using them in a smoked beer just makes sense. That said, the Smoked Porter-Chipotle really left me wishing they had used more chipotles in it. With a bit of heat and more chipotle flavor, this could have been a really interesting beer. With a lot of smoked beers, I don't know that vanilla beans would be a good compliment, but with all the harsh smoky flavors the original Smoked Porter brings to the table, the vanilla really mellows things out while bringing in a flavor that strangely complements the smokiness. That said, the bottled version was a bit weak in the vanilla department and almost let too much of the smokiness through. So which version is going to take it? Who will be crowned "Walker's Favorite Version of Smoked Porter"? Chipotle put up a good fight, but I have to give this title to Smoked Porter-Vanilla.

Winner: Vanilla

Final Score: Vanilla 3, Chipotle 1 

 Final Grade:

Chipotle: B-

Vanilla: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

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