Brewery: Firestone Walker (CA)
I neglected porters for the first few years of my craft beer obsession, and I don't know why. But it seems that if a brewery is going to do anything exciting with a dark beer, most of the time they'll bump the brew up to a stout and go from there.
Yet even basic porters — like Firestone Walker's — are unique, complex beers. There's nothing dramatic setting this one apart, but I'm really enjoying it for what it is: a roasty, chocolatey, coffee-ish ale, virtually the definition of porter, hitting all the right notes while remaining incredibly drinkable. It's got a smooth, rich mouthfeel, but remains a little on the thin side. Other porters put more of the focus on their sweet malts, but there's a solid hop backbone to keep this somewhat dry, accentuated by the unusually strong black coffee character. It's dark without being aggressive.
Only a small portion of Firestone Walker's lineup is available in the northeast (to my great sadness, as I've yet to have a less-than-excellent beer from them), but my interest was immediately piqued when I read somewhere that barrel-aging is their, you know, "thing." According to their website, Walker's Reserve Porter is among the beers they ferment (primary fermentation, rather than long-term aging) in oak. I definitely get a bit of oak character from Walker's Reserve — spicy, sweet, hints of vanilla — and I think that's what ultimately establishes it as an above average beer for me. While sweeter porters can excel in their own way, I'd be happy to drink this roasty, robust version on a regular basis.
Availability: 22 ounce bomber. One of Firestone Walker's more widely-distributed beers.