Brewery: Anchor (CA)
There's no strict, universal consensus about what makes the difference between a porter and a stout. And most of the time, it doesn't matter — a brewer can more or less call the beer whatever they feel like, as long as it's black. (More or less.) But as I've come to think of it, porters have become established as the less aggressive of the two styles, with a greater focus on "malty" flavors over thick roasty flavors. So it shouldn't surprise me that Anchor's porter's embodies that — it's really the first real contemporary American porter, released ages ago back in 1972, during an time when 99.9% of Americans probably weren't aware that there was more than one kind of beer.
But it is surprising to me how much Anchor porter differs from the majority of American porters I've had. A lot of American porters seem stuck so squarely in between sweet malts and dark roast that they just come out boring, and lacking personality. Anchor's Porter warns you right in the aroma that it's going to heavily favor sweet malt flavors, and it tastes just like it smells. It favors those sweet malts to an extent that it's defined by them — and if you told me that before I tried it, I would probably shirk away from it, yet it's so clean and smooth that it just can't help but be delicious. This is a sweet beer that's also clean, and smooth. It's the perfect combination, and it's beautiful.
Anchor's Porter honestly strikes me more like a dark, low ABV English old ale or barleywine — it's got those some raisin, figgy dark fruit flavors you find in strong ales, but without all the alcohol heat. I enjoy malt flavors when they're not sugar-coated, when I can sip the beer without it coating the inside of my mouth like syrup, and Anchor delivers that. There's caramel here, but not as much as I'd expect of a beer this malty. The character is much breadier, and the dark fruit flavors are more dry than sticky. While it doesn't boast the complexity of a high ABV style, this beer still packs a ton of flavor. The roasted / coffee / chocolate flavors typical in dark beers are much more subdued here than I'd expect, even from a porter, yet there are enough things going on under the surface to hold my attention. The body is light, carbonation is light to medium; this beer is extremely drinkable.
I'm happy when I come across an unabashedly sweet beer that I can drink without flinching, because it proves to me that there is good-sweet and bad-sweet. I don't know if Anchor has ever retooled the recipe for this beer, after its original release 40 years ago (!!!), but hot damn, if this was always it. Those guys knocked it out of the park on the first try. Good job, you guys.
Availability: Lucky for you, Anchor distributes just about everywhere, and their Porter is available year-round in sixpacks.