Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hill Farmstead - Everett Porter Review

Brewery: Hill Farmstead (VT)
Style: Porter
ABV: 7.5%
Grade: A+

How hard is it to draw the line between bias and extreme appreciation when drinking a beer you love? Some beers I review because I had them once and I loved them — and really, the main reason I review beer at all is to highlight the best of it, the innovators and the ground-breakers. There's undoubtedly a lot of hype surrounding Hill Farmstead in general, but Everett was the first beer I ever had from them, before I really knew anything about the brewery. At the time — about a year before this review — I just knew Hill Farmstead as a brewery with a solid reputation. But from the first sip, Everett instantly became my favorite porter. In fact, it was the beer that made me realize: wow, porters can be really, really good. Some styles have grown on me slowly over time, with no specific epiphany, but I love when a single beer totally changes my mind. Now, porters are now one of my go-to styles, and it started here.

So how does a porter go about standing out from the crowd so much? Before trying Everett, I would have wondered that myself. Everett's grain bill (as listed on the bottle, minus specific percentages) seems relatively simple. Yet this beer is more complex than many imperial stouts I've had — in fact, you could easily mistake it for one. And that's pretty much it: Everett tastes far more complex, rich and layered than it has any right to. The mouthfeel is immensely thick, oily and rich — rich without being over-indulgent or cloying, of course. Huge notes of dark chocolate, stronger than some actual chocolate stouts I've had. Rich, silky coffee, enough to keep you up all night through placebo effect alone (there's no actual coffee in Everett). And of course, layered dark malts, offering balanced yet distinct malt and roast flavors, with a slight hint of smokiness. There's a nice base of biscuit and bread, some nuttiness, all adding to the complexity, all rounding out a beer that never beats you over the head with any one flavor. For a beer this thick and rich, Everett finishes perfectly, a roasty bitter edge cutting any lingering sweetness short. 

Any brewery that prints the grain bill on their label has a lot of confidence in their abilities, and it's fully earned here. No, Hill Farmstead doesn't list the exact percentages, but toiling away at the decision to use 4.35% versus 5.6% chocolate malt is probably not what draws the line between a great beer and just a good beer. There's some other magic involved, and I mean that sincerely. Hill is obviously confident that  — while it first requires a precise, well-formulated recipe, yes — great beer also requires an expert brewer handling that recipe, expert quality control, good ingredients, good water, and an understanding of how all those dynamics work with each other. That is how you take "just a porter" and produce a world class beer.

Availability: Everett is one of the very few beers that Hill Farmstead bottles on a regular basis, possibly year-round. It's relatively easy to get from the actual brewery. 16 ounce bottles.

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