Despite a straightforward name and simple, white packaging, the Maine Beer Company has emerged as one of New England’s most exciting small breweries. From the standout Lunch IPA to Zoe and Peeper Ales, MBC churns out tiny batches of above-average beers.
The brewery’s latest offering, King Titus Porter, is named after a silverback gorilla. The Portland brewery donates 1 percent of profits to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and other environmental nonprofits. There’s a tiny picture of King Titus, the gorilla, on the bottle, right above the slogan “Do what’s right.” Concern for the environment is not out of place in Maine, nor is good beer. If you want a quick beer-themed day trip, you can’t go wrong in Portland.
I’ve been a big fan of Maine Beer Company ales and was curious to try their take on a porter (their Mean Old Tom stout is also quite good). This is a big boy (7.5 percent ABV). It pours jet black, viscous. Some brown head rises up from the murk, but it’s short-lived. Aromas of coffee and cocoa waft upward from the glass.
Bitter chocolate and black coffee notes dominate this beer. Despite the high ABV the beer is not too sweet, nor is it too smoky. The lack of a cloying presence is nice, but that still doesn’t make this beer anything other than a sipper. I shared half of the 1-pint 0.9-ounce bottle with my wife, and that was about right. That’s not to say this isn’t a very good beer; it’s just heavy. If you want a warming winter beer it’s a nice alternative to the super-sweet stouts it competes with. I’m not sure this beer fits neatly into any categories, and that’s perfectly OK. A bottle retails for about $8.
A black IPA
Most of you reading this are craft beer diehards, but sometimes I’m asked to explain a little bit about the styles of beer I’m reviewing. Today’s beer is a good one to do that with. Forgive me if the following paragraph is familiar to you.
An IPA, or India Pale Ale, is a beer style characterized by a high level of alcohol and hops. Hops are a bittering agent. When someone says they like hoppy beers they generally mean they like bitter beers. That’s simplistic, but it’s a good starting point. Because there are various kinds of hops and there are an infinite number of ingredients to add to a hoppy beer, there are variations in the IPAs. A black IPA is one recent IPA hybrid.
Hops make a black IPA an IPA, and black malt makes it black. Simple enough. So along with those bitter, citrusy flavors from the hops you should expect smoky, chocolaty flavors from the malt. In other words, you should expect a big beer.
Hop Noir, a black IPA from Portland’s Peak Organic Brewery, is an excellent example of one of these big beers. The stats are a good hint. At 8.2 percent ABV and 98 IBUs, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting. But not all big beers are as good as this one.
The beer pours an inky black with a big, light-brown head. No chance of peeking through to the other side of this one. Centennial hops combine with the roasted malt to produce both a sweet and bitter aroma.
Thick pine and citrus flavors hit your tongue first, but they’re balanced by a smoky backbone. There’s sweet caramel in here, too, but the hops never go away. They remind you of their presence from start to finish. This is a truly exceptional beer.
On the Peak Organic website it says to enjoy the beer with a nightlight. I like that. You might also pair this beer with a hearty meat dish, food with spice, or any kind of stinky cheese. You know, the good stuff. A six-pack of the beer retails for around $10 in the Boston area.Gary Dzen writes the Globe’s 99 Bottles beer column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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