The name “porter” was first applied to dark ales in 18th century London, where the heavy and substantial beverage was a favorite among porters, longshoremen, and other hard-working laborers. Porters are typically slightly lighter in color, body, and alcohol content than their cousin, the stout porter, often simply called stout.
Deschutes Black Butte Porter appears to be an nearly opaque black color, but holding the glass up to a light reveals a dim, dark red shining through. Carbonation levels are high, with a thick foamy white head forming from small bubbles, similar in texture and color to espresso crema. Because of the thick body and strong carbonation, foam stays around until the glass is finished. Roasted barley, almost coffee-like, dominates the scent. Toffee, fruity hops, alcohol, and a subtle yet special ale yeast finish out the aroma.
Coffee, chocolate, browned meat, and dark beers such as porters are all prepared with the aid of the Maillard reaction. This chemical interaction between sugars and amino acids produces a variety of complex flavors, and a dark brown color. It is no surprise then that coffee and dark chocolate are just as prominent in Black Butte Porter’s flavor as in the smell. Also present are hints of caramel and a subtle cinnamon-like spice. While the relatively mild 30 IBUs of hop bitterness are noticeable, they are almost completely overpowered by the biting and roasty characteristics of the barley. Some indistinct fruity flavors from the hops shine through, however. Sweetness is also very faint, with a dry finish.
Black Butte Porter would pair well with other roasted food such as wood-oven pizza or roasted peppers. Although it isn’t quite sweet enough to go well with desserts containing chocolate or coffee, a savory chocolate molé dish might not be out of the question.
Despite being heavy and strong-flavored, Black Butte Porter is still smooth and drinkable, much more so than heavier stouts. Deschutes touts the addition of wheat as the cause of this smoothness. The 5.2% alcohol content is also more moderate than most stouts. For creating a supremely drinkable, tasty, and well-made example of the porter style, Deschutes earns a solid A- grade for their Black Butte Porter.