Smuttynose Robust Porter
By: Benjamin Welton
It’s what the office did every summer. When the weather got warm, our boss – the ever rambunctious Jack Bielagus – would take a select group of us out to the Isle of Shoals in his own private boat. Usually, the vessel would contain anywhere from six to ten people, and on board would be booze, bread, and sometimes cheese. Because I am Jack’s nephew and because that summer was my first extended stay in New England, I got to go on the small-time cruise twice.
Preferential treatment? Sure, but I made sure to help out too. I did the line work, plus when our group would go scouting on the more remote islands, I always made sure to lead the way with a stick ready to shoo away all the pesky gulls.
It was a great time with some really great people. A lot of the islands were big slices of history, from the World War II-era shore batteries to the graves of Portuguese sailors. On a more macabre note, each time our party went ashore on Smuttynose, at least one of us would tell the sad tale of Karen and Anethe Christensen – the two Norwegian women who were strangled and hatcheted one night in March of 1873. The accused murderer turned out to be a German fisherman named Wagner, and his eventual capture, trial, escape, then hanging is the stuff of Granite State lore.
For my two cents, the Smuttynose Brewing Company, which is headquartered in nearby Portsmouth, deserves some spotlight when the topic of the big island comes up. Little known outside of northern New England, the Smuttynose Brewing Company is known for their British-born but decidedly American style ales. The Smuttynose beers are entrenched in New England tradition, and the Robust Porter is a tasty artifact of a still thriving culture.
First Impression: The first time I ever saw the Robust Porter in stores, I was attracted to the carnival kitsch of its label. The foregrounded strongman looks out at his audience with all the confidence of a hitched and hearty beer drinker, while his showgirl companion looks like a fun time gal. As a total entity, the Robust Porter appeals to towards a sense of lost Americana, especially the more male-friendly aspects of that nostalgia.
Pour: Jack White once sang “Steady, As She Goes” and who am I to refute his claim. The Robust Porter pours smooth and black. This beer is so dark that the foam itself looks like coffee, while the rich malt texture laps at the sides of the glass like a hungry window-licker. Hints of coffee and chocolate abound with the Robust Porter, and the first sip will stick to your ribs like your mother’s pot roast.
Taste: Strong, but not overpowering; full, but far from a meal. The Robust Porter is hearty and hale, with a slight bitterness and a milky taste that should go well with cold days or long hours on the clock. The Robust Porter is a workingman’s beer that is made for graduate school snobs, and it is this dichotomy that makes it so rich. Like Umberto Eco and Dylan Dog, one could drink this beer for days and not get bored. That’s the beauty of the porter style and that’s beauty of the Robust Porter – it’s fascinating and dependable at the same time.
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