THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Late to the Party but Glad to be Here – Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

by Harvey Gold on April 6, 2012

As a relative grade schooler on an advanced track when we started this YBN effort—by now maybe qualifying as a middle schooler—every now and then I have a revelatory moment. The most recent had to do with finding something of an understanding of the factors leading to so many folks drinking low alcohol, mass produced, often pretty tasteless beers — a moment of illumination, written about below, that happened while visiting the Deep South.

This latest one came upon a visit from a pal who has been largely looking to me to advance the knowledge and sophistication of his beer palate. I help make this happen by providing him with brews he’s not yet tasted, and then speaking nonsense with an air of confidence. However, on this occasion he brought ME a beer, a bottle of Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

When I first started tasting Porters I looked into the history of them. Regardless of what I KNEW, I believe I held an underlying notion that the only real difference between a Porter and a Stout was viscosity. While historically true in some respects, that prejudice of imaging these big dark Porters, Stouts, and Ales as exclusively malt driven British Empire brethren has, I think, affected my tasting of such beverages, what I’ve been looking for as I sip, thus how I process what I taste and smell. It’s made even more complicated by the flavor notes common to many of them these days, described as coffee and chocolate, often as a result of…coffee and chocolate, by way of malts and otherwise. I suspect in many, these notes BECOME the brew as opposed to being elements in a broader sensory picture

As an aside, I’ve known brewers to throw tea bags into a brew process to get a particular flavor. Without question (no naming names here) the occasional horse blanket has been an ingredient in producing a more vivid batch of Belgian Sour. So it goes that if a boatload of chocolate and coffee is thrown into the vat, well…

OK so the horse blanket thing is a joke…kind of. This Brewmaster friend did, in fact, brew up a sour that my wife claimed tasted like the used hay smells in the horse barns at the Wayne County Fair. As it turned out, this sour, much to our delight, had been named Horse Blanket!

I’ve had Edmund Fitzgerald in the past, liking it just fine, but coming so late to the game, my ability to taste beers from one month to the next can change dramatically. So, it having been at least a couple months since my last, I poured and waited.

While letting yours warm: This Porter, a sailor’s brew, was named after the Great Lakes freighter, The Edmund Fitzgerald, lost in a storm on Lake Superior in November 1975. Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song commemorating this tragedy, and this video melds his tune with footage of the ship, from beginning to end. Great clip.

Also (shamefully) finding that we sometimes take a popular local brew for granted, as I let it warm just a bit more, I  found myself experiencing a real sense of expectation as to what I might or might not find here. After all, starting in 1991, this offering has won many serious awards, most recently a Gold Medal at the 2012 World Beer Championships.

The first thing I noticed upon sipping was not consistent with my prejudices. It was the bitter of the hops, plenty of them. This drew me to spend a minute with the nose, which I found to offer a sweet, floral scent mixed well with the alternate sweetness of malt. To the tongue, as the beer warmed, I never lost touch with the hops, mixing with the malt to bring that same citrusy sweetness to the mouth. The coffee, chocolate and caramel (toffee?) were also there, of course, as was that notable taste I describe as not completely toasted…actually, a hint of raw grain, something I’ve found in some of the stouts I’ve tried. In some ways the Edmund Fitzgerald was consistent with some of the better Heavies and Bitters, in the sense that my favored ones bring the big malt and caramel presence, but add the edge of the hops to a notable degree, making for a truly interesting brew with some layers. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Real Ale in Blanco, Texas. Written about last March, their Phoenixx Double Extra Special Bitter is outstanding.

This is how Edmund Fitzgerald Porter re-introduced the other night as an exceptional, complex and lively porter. My friend calls the sip “long,” meaning a lot keeps playing out and lingering in the mouth. I agree. This experience, in fact, has me looking to revisit a whole gaggle of Porters from my past to see what I see, through the eyes, now (despite getting an ‘F’ in comportment…again), of a Sophomore.

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