I like most of the beers produced by Fuller Smith & Turner, my nearest big brewer, but I’ve never got on with their London Porter. I know, from recent comments on Stonch’s blog that it has some big fans, but I’m not one. Too sweet, too often: not just too sweet for the style (though I’d believe someone who told me it’s from an authentic recipe: there are hints porter became quite a sweet beer in the 20th century) but too sweet per se.
Some sweet beers can work very well: Cain’s, for example, produced a Bonfire Night beer a few years ago that was hugely caramelly and quite delicious. But sweetness in beer needs careful balancing, and to me Fuller’s porter, certainly when new, doesn’t have the balance. And I don’t like that much chocolate front and centre, either.
Give it a little time in cask and it gets better: I went into the Fuller’s pub close to the Tower of London, the Hung Drawn and Quartered, early in November, when the London Porter arrived, and confirmed to myself, as I sat surrounded by homeward-bound bankers, that it was just as sweet as I remembered it. However, on a return visit last week the sweetness had died down and a pleasing hint of tartness was coming through. All the same, it still fell far short of knocking me out.
My visit was actually to see what the London Porter tasted like as a mixed drink. Despite what you will read elsewhere, porter itself was not born as a mixed beer. However, way back in the 1830s it was common to mix ale (pale, strong and “mild”, that is, unaged and quite sweet) with porter as a “half and half”. I wondered what a “half and half” of porter with other Fuller’s beers might be like.
The trick, as I’ve said before, is to order three halves of different beers, in this case London Porter, Discovery and ESB. Drink half of one of the beers to be mixed into, and top that glass up with the mixer beer. Then top the mixer beer glass up with the third beer. You now have two different glasses of mixed beer to contrast and compare.
The ESB and porter wasn’t as immediately excellent as the ESB on its own, but the fruit of the ESB was still in the front, backed now by the roasty character from the porter, any remaining sweetness masked by the bitter substratum of the ale. A long and complex finish said this was a mixture worth trying again.
Discovery and porter, however, was a disaster I couldn’t finish: more like lemon-flavoured Coke than beer. Discovery itself is a fine brew, nicely balanced, but this confirmed my prejudice against putting citrus-flavoured American hops into dark beers: don’t do it.