Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Well, here I sit with an enticing bottle of the Surly seasonal known simply as Smoke. I have been excited about having a session with this beer since I bought it about 3 weeks ago. It is a baltic porter brewed with some smoked malts from Bamberg, Germany and is oak-aged.
Baltic porters are unique when compared to the porters most familiar to your average person. The majority of beer enthusiasts think of porter as an ale, and generally, they are correct. This means the beer is brewed with top-fermenting yeast at close to room temperature. However, most don't know that baltic porters are different. They are traditionally lagers and brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast at cooler temperatures. Surly Smoke is brewed in the traditional method with lager yeast. Baltic porters are also typically strong, and this beer doesn't disappoint with it's 8.2% ABV.
It's time to open the bottle, but I find myself hesitant to do so. There is a cool gray wax that coats the top of the bottle, and I'm not sure I want to wreck it. I have to taste it though, so I decide to take a picture before and after I open it. That way you all can see the wax-dipped seal:
I pour the 750ml bottle of dark liquid into my mug. A 1-finger brown head emerges briefly before fading away to absolutely nothing. There is no trace of foam left at all. The body of this beer is black as an overcast midnight sky and doesn't let anything through when you hold it up to light. I can see a small number of fine bubbles emerging on the surface.
I smell smoke in the aroma, but not as much as I anticipated. It compares to a scotch ale level of smoke, not as strong as a German rauchbier. I also detect toffee, chocolate, and coffee. I think this is going to be good...
And it is! Rich sweet malt is the first thing I taste. Flavors from the malt are caramel, dark chocolate, and light roasted coffee. Then comes just a hint of raisins. The smoke level is perfect, in my opinion. There is enough to let you know it's there, but not so much that it overpowers the other flavors. A nice gentle bitterness comes at the finish, and allows the malt to stay in control.
The medium-heavy viscosity coats my tongue with malty goodness. There is a low level of carbonation and each swallow of this beer is a pleasure. A nice alcohol warmth builds with each sip.
I'm a bit surprised. Honestly, this beer doesn't taste like what I was expecting. In fact, it's much more tasty than I thought it would be. It is a big, strong, malty beer that is a wonderful experience. It brings to mind sitting by a fire on a cool evening. The chocolate and coffee flavors make me think of sweet warming beverages you drink around the glow of the pit, while the smokiness and alcohol warmth are a simulation of a campfire in my mind. This beer is damn good and you should try it if you ever get a chance.