Bottoms Up

Those of our readers who have remained loyal from the start (and we assume they measure in the hundreds) may have noticed as a trend that we have yet to do this alone, but rather prefer to at least consume fine drink in the company of a good friend or two. That friend who joined us this week to devour and dissect the niceties of a pair of particular porters will remain nameless, yet suffice to say he rounded us out as a trio of veterans of ENGL 331: Romantic Poetry. We all three recommend the class with the utmost enthusiasm and recall our own time as students with only the fondest of memories.

The subject of romantic poetry lends itself to a particularly involved sort of discussion due to the strong presence of its primary practitioners as personalities. The larger-than-life recklessness of Byron, the quiet contemplation of Wordsworth, the fantastical and drug-induced wonder of Coleridge, the serene brooding of Keats all link the poet’s work to his inescapable character – much like how each member of the Beatles, the Karamazov family or the Ninja Turtles seems a unique yet overarching representation of some fundamental aspect of human nature.

Now on to the beer. Despite the many available porter varieties, we picked, somewhat at random, Sierra Nevada Porter and the Berkshire Brewing Company’s Coffeehouse Porter. As always, we considered first the appearance of the brew, as a poetry student might observe the poetic form and its implications before digesting the meaning of its words. Like all porters should, both beers poured thick and dark: Sierra Nevada a dark brown, but the BBC approaching the Guiness-esque in its blackness and producing a darker head than the tan foam of the Sierra Nevada, though both heads lingered atop the beer at great length. Both also embodied distinctly characteristic scents of chocolate and coffee, a powerfully roasted aroma that came out even more in the darker, stronger BBC.

As we came to the heart of the experience, we found the taste of a good porter on the tongue like the slow cadence of a familiar iambic verse. The Sierra Nevada contained the same notes of coffee and chocolate as its smell, but presented a definite saltiness to the lips and left a lingering, dry and bitter aftertaste, comparable to the evidence left on the mouth by a strong coffee. The BBC Coffeehouse, like its name would suggest, had an even stronger prevalence of coffee flavors – still slightly bitter in its aftertaste, but on the whole better balanced and leaving behind more flavor than dryness. This translated into similar differences in mouth feel; the Sierra Nevada’s slight bitterness involved the entire mouth, both while drinking and after, with a low carbonation yet strong and heavy texture. The BBC, as with its taste, gave a more balanced mouth feel – still a complete experience but not overbearing, and more carbonated as to dilute its heaviness.

Thus, with each respective swig we attempted comparisons between our favorite romantic poets. Applying this test to the Sierra Nevada, all three of us quickly agreed on Byron, perhaps because the mere act of drinking brings his promiscuity to mind, before a second thought changed our minds to two Keats and a Wordsworth. Both poets are connected, as was this beer, with an introspective depth and complexity of personality. The BBC was unanimously the Coleridge of porters – not quite opium, but still slightly dreamlike in its ability to catalyze the aesthetic spirit; within seconds we were all scribbling out incoherent visions of our own personal Xanadus.

On the whole, such poetic differences are more an issue of taste than artistic worth; likewise both beers were very drinkable despite their differences, and were consistent with the coffee comparison in the pace and quantity with which one might drink it. As we found should hold true for all porters, the roasted, malted quality is to be expected as kind of common denominator, while selection proved the capacity for added flavors – caramel, hazelnut and cream all show to be fitting additions to the constant yet versatile presence of coffee flavors. Like a strong black coffee or a dark poetic vision, porter is a robust and heavy beer that should be enjoyed in a similar context. Expect its aesthetic experience to go hand in hand with the physical sensations of its consumption. You’ll know when the time is right to sit down with a nice porter and, tranquil, muse upon tranquility.

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