Showing posts with label port city. Show all posts
Showing posts with label port city. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Rauch Against the Machine

I am just going to come out and say it, I have loved rauchbier ever since I first had Schlenkerla's iconic M?rzen back in Prague in 2008. Just as honest is that so many American made smoke beers have been deeply disappointing. In my experience they just lack enough of the smoke character to keep me coming back for more. When it comes to rauchbier I am an extremist, I don't want a hint of bacon, I want an entire side of pig smoked up a chimney burning good hardwoods.

As autumn continues its drift toward ever deepening darkness, and my mood generally improves as I much prefer the cold and dark of a northern winter, smoke beers become more and more appealing. For the first time, this year I gave in to my love of Schlenkerla and ordered an entire case of M?rzen from the awesome folks at Beer Run, minor aside I wish all European lagers in the US came in half litre bottles. With that case running low, I got a case of Urbock and decided it would be fun to do a side by side tasting, with a couple of American beers chucked in for interest's sake. Here's the lineup.


I did a comparative tasting of the Von Trapp Tr?sten and Schlenkerla Urbock last winter and even then knew I wanted to compare it to both the M?rzen and Urbock this year. Port City having their Rauch M?rzen available as part of their fantastic Lager Series was the icing on the cake. For fear of prattling on ad nauseum, I will go to the tasting... starting with the lowest ABV:


Port City Rauch M?rzen
  • Sight - deep auburn, red highlights, rocky ivory head that lasts, nice clarity
  • Smell - wood smoke to the fore, touch of breadiness, some molasses
  • Taste - mix of bread and wood smoke, settles to reveal some herbal hop notes
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
When I first tried this is reminded me of the Spezial M?rzen I had in Bamberg last year, at least in terms of colour. While it is a lovely beer and certainly one of the best US made rauchbiers I have had, it isn't as transcendently glorious as Spezial. What we do have here is a beautiful, clean, medium bodied lager that finishes nicely dry, and leaves you wanting more, which is just as well as I have another dozen 16oz cans in the fridge.


Von Trapp Tr?sten
  • Sight - dark brown, deep red highlights, lasting half inch tan head, excellent clarity
  • Smell - light smoke, roasted malts, toasty, some spicy hops, hints of coffee
  • Taste - bready Munich like malt sweetness, wisps of smokiness, roasty, dark bitter chocolate
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
I have no evidence for this other than my own subjective opinion, but I feel like the smoke in this has been dialed back compared to the 2019 version. That's not to say that this is a bad beer, far, far from it, it is a lovely complex dark lager with a hint of smoke that if you didn't know was there would probably stand out as a key element of that complexity. Being me though, I wanted more of the smoke, but I guess that just means I'll drink it next to the fire and breath deeply.


Schlenkerla M?rzen
  • Sight - deep, deep garnet, 1 inch off-white head that lingers, and lingers, good clarity
  • Smell - it's Schlenkerla so dollops of beechwood, like sitting next to a roaring fire, a hint of well aged cheese (in a very good way)
  • Taste - beechwood very much front and mittel, beyond that a lovely breadiness, pumpernickel, earthy hops, did I mention the smoke yet?
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Even after all these years this just hits the spot perfectly, though for the first time I noticed that the body is actually relatively light for a rauchbier, probably explains the insane drinkability. Great balance, and deeply complex.


Schlenkerla Urbock
  • Sight - dark chestnut, rich ruby hints, light brown head that lasts an age
  • Smell - it's another Schlenkerla, the aroma is so distinctive that there is not a better way of saying it, loamy earth and leaf litter, tobacco
  • Taste - deeply smokey, some almost stollen like sweet bread character, seriously dark chocolate
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
What. A. Beer. Absolutely glorious, even if a touch on the cold side straight from the fridge. Medium to medium-full body, beautiful silken mouthfeel, and a finish that is clean and dry yet doesn't linger too long. Where the M?rzen is angelic, the Urbock is simply divine.

So there we have it, 4 excellent beers, each worth drinking in their own right, and in the case of the Port City evidence that all is not lost when it comes to American made examples of the style. Given that I have a total of about 2 cases' worth of beer remaining of these four, I have plenty of fine drinking ahead of me this autumn, every prospect pleases.

Monday, August 10, 2020

To Helles and Back

If you've been paying attention these last few years, you'll know that pale lager is my thing. Whether we are talking světly le?ák, Pilsner, helles, or even Dortmunder, I probably drink far more pale lager than anything else. In my world, the path to brewery greatness is paved with golden lager and if a brewer can knock out a good one then I am more likely to try their other wares, while coming back to the pale stuff regularly.

Returning from a recent sojourn to South Carolina, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I stocked up on Olde Mecklenburg beers, their altbier, pilsner, and the seasonal helles specifically. I had it in my mind that I wanted to include it in a three way tasting with Von Trapp Helles from Vermont and Virginia's Port City Helles, which is their current seasonal as well.

There was only one problem, the seeming ambivalence of central Virginia's supermarkets when it comes to lager -  seriously, most of them will have the complete range of Port City but not the Downright Pilsner, or they'll stock everything from Tr?eg's except Sunshine Pils. Having been back from South Carolina for well over a month now, I only got round to the tasting this weekend due to the hassle of finding the Port City Helles, having scored a case from the ever reliable Beer Run.

With the runners and riders in place, I dived on in...


Port City Helles - 5.2%, bottled June 8, 2020
  • Sight - clear light golden yellow, half inch white foam that leaves nice lacing
  • Smell - floral hops, light bready malt, lemon, hay
  • Taste -  subtle wildflower honey, nice light crustiness, lemongrass
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
A lovely, lovely beer. Supremely balanced with a medium dry finish that just leaves you wanting more, nice and clean. Port City have a wonderful way with lager beers and this year's Helles is up there with the best of their range. Beer this good makes the Virginia summer almost bearable. With the lemon and grass thing going on, I wonder if they use Saaz for the hopping?


Olde Mecklenburg Mecklenburger Helles - 4.9%, canned July 2, 2020
  • Sight - crystal clear yellow, thin white head, visible carbonation
  • Smell - cereal grain, lemongrass, wildflower meadow
  • Taste - water biscuits, citrus (lemon and key lime), subtle spice note
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Another very moreish beer. Finishes really clean though maybe just a touch on the dry side, which brings the hops slightly to the fore. Delightfully well balanced.


Von Trapp Helles - 4.9%, best before September 29, 2020
  • Sight - golden yellow, excellent clarity, half inch of white head that lingers, tracing a fine lacing on the glass
  • Smell - citrus, freshly microplaned lemon zest, all flavour no pith, freshly baked southern biscuits
  • Taste - crackers, lemon, wildflower honey, elegant herbal notes
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The finish on this one is soft and pillowy, just dry enough to keep it clean, but with a malt presence that is just cut through by a lingering bitterness that doesn't dominate. The balance is absolutely perfect making this an absolutely magnificent beer that would more than hold its own in the biergartens of Mitteleuropa.

Three absolutely storming beers, all wonderful examples of a style that when South Street's My Personal Helles is available is basically my go to. I would love to be able to compare all four at some point, though that may have to wait as South Street haven't had it on in a while. However, as I tweeted last night....


Thinking further of this question today, if I had to choose either the Port City or Von Trapp then after much agonising it would be the Von Trapp, by the shortest of short noses. Both are gorgeous beers that I will happily drink all day and night sat on my deck, but Von Trapp has one significant advantage that pushes it into the winner's circle. It is available year round and not just for a couple of months in the summer.

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