Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Baltic Porter

Milwaukee Brewing Company
Milwaukee, WI

Style: Porter
ABV: 7.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

As my beer tastes have evolved over the years, porters have become much more in vogue for Sir Nigel. I used to consider the porter, along with the “color” ales, brown and red, to be the tamest, least dynamic brews anywhere. While I still prefer a number of styles over the porter, my overall opinion has changed.

I’m still picky when it comes to porters. A nice, sweet porter like O’so Night Train is a pleasant respite from the typically earthy, dark, super-thick tones found in many winter brews. More balanced porters, like those from Founders (one of my favorites) and Bell’s are also a welcome treat on occasion, as is the hoppy, Americanized version from Sierra Nevada. Where I still have issues coming to terms with the porter is when they are the smoky, peaty styles, the ones that I find to basically be watered-down versions of wee heavies or rauchbiers. But, long story short, 2010 Nigel appreciates a good porter.

Porters are essentially the weaker parent brews of stouts. In fact, the term “stout” derived from traditional English porters that were amped up in terms of flavor, ingredients, and/or alcohol. So it’s not surprising that I find the porter to be a bit “blah” at times, especially when compared with a fine imperial stout. But alas, not all porters play for the London Silly Nannies; Baltic porters, the northeastern European version, is stronger and often more flavorful.

Like the Russian imperial stout, the Baltic porter was a product of necessity. In order to preserve these British brews on the arduous North Sea/Baltic Sea trek, they were tweaked, making them stronger, partially due to the fact that they evolved from top-fermented ales to bottom-fermented lagers. Just as the smokier versions of modern porters evolved from the London porter moving north and west into the highlands of Scotland and Ireland (ah, the peat … always the peat), the thick, dark Baltic porter is heavily influenced by the needs of the Russians, Lithuanians, Poles, and other northeastern Europeans.

What’s with all the porter talk? I don’t know … just bored I guess. Also, my latest review is for Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s Baltic Porter, which is, well … a Baltic porter. Milwaukee Brewing is the bottling/distribution side of the popular Milwaukee Ale House brewpubs in the Third Ward and suburban Grafton, quality joints that are among Nigel’s favorites. The new brewery on 2nd St. is in its infancy, but based on the amount of Milwaukee brews I’ve seen in stores recently, the production and diversity of offerings seems to be increasing.

While the Ale House has had quite a bit of success as a local hotspot, both in the downtown and suburban locations, translating that to a bottling operation is never easy. There are a number of brewpubs that have tried this over the years, and only a select few have found success. While I do enjoy the Ale House and find most of their brews to be good, if not great, in my opinion, they’re going to have to step it up a notch or two to find commercial success. A superior Baltic porter would be a good way to start.

Milwaukee Baltic Porter pours well, with a creamy tan head of about an inch that quickly dissipates, leaving a slight lace at the top throughout and only the slightest bit of stickiness on the sides. A deep golden brown/amber hue, it’s not nearly as dark as I was expecting, and there’s only the slightest hint of any sedimentation. A decent looking brew, but slightly off given the style.

Aromas are pleasant, though not as strong as I had hoped. A noticeable earthiness dominates, exactly what I’d expected, but not to the levels typical of the style. Hints of roasted grain and sweet sugars dominate, as does a smell of dirt. That’s right … I smell dirt, although the massive spring melt we’re currently in the midst of may have added to that sensation. No sense of hops or alcohol, which is fine, but overall, a somewhat tame, disappointing aroma.

The flavor picks right up where the aroma left off. Good? Yes. Great? No, not even close. A signature brew to help define a new brewery? I sure hope not. Is Nigel asking himself rhetorical questions out loud? Sure looks that way. Initial flavors are again overly earthy, with mild roasted malt balanced with some sugary tinges (caramel, molasses, and toffee), as well as a very faint hint of dark fruit. Fortunately, as a Baltic porter, there isn’t any of that smoky, peaty flavor that I often find disagreeable. However, there are not enough of the flavors that I do find agreeable, making this nothing more than average. With the amped up ABV typical of a Baltic porter (7 percent in this case), the alcohol is well hidden, though after a couple you do start to feel it. Overall, it’s a good flavor, but lacking any type of personality to make it stand out from the crowd, and making my often long-winded description much shorter than usual. Medium- to full-bodied and smooth on the palate, the lack of any dominate flavor makes this a potential session brew, but it still packs a punch that should lead one to be cautious.

While we love to find brews here at that go above and beyond, I can’t say I’ve stumbled upon one here. Like most things I’ve had from Milwaukee Brewing/Milwaukee Ale House, Baltic Porter was good, but didn’t give me any reason to think this is a cutting-edge brewery ready to take off. The Baltic porter is a style that hasn’t been fully explored by American brewers, in my opinion, but Milwaukee’s version won’t cure that. A decent beer worth a shot for those who are curious, but all in all, it’s decidedly average.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on March 22, 2010.
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