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January 12, 2015 at 11:22am

Power to the Porter: Porterpalooza returns to Wingman Brewers

P-51 Porter's posterity will pour during Porterpalooza Jan. 17. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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Poor Porter. What was once the most popular style of ale in 18th century London, Ireland and the American colonies - beloved by George Washington and a possible business adventure for Thomas Jefferson - the Porter fell on hard times. Roughians Pale Ales, Mild Brown Ales and Stouts shoved beer foam in Porters' face, eventually taking over Northern European taste buds. In mid-19th century America, German immigrants opened their long mohair coats with larger beers dangled inside, winning the hearts of Blue and Gray, as well as the Gold out West.

Oh, but Porter once had supporters. In the early 1700s, it was common for London pub patrons to ask for blends of the various available brews. Historical documents say the Brits called their mixed beer beverage "Three Threads" using a third of a pint each of ale, lager and a strong brew called "Twopenny." Eventually, bartenders told the Three Threadheads to take a flying leap off the London Bridge. Around 1730, a brewer named Harwood came up with a solution. He re-created the flavor of Three Threads into a single craft beer called Entire before it reached the pub. This beer came to be loved by porters and other physical laborers, and so earned its name, Porter.

But, a century later, PBS - Browns, Pales and Stouts - grabbed the public dollars, pushing Porter to the postern.

It wasn't until the late 20th century when bearded guys in Jean Vigne T-shirts, better known as American craft brewers, pulled the Porter out of the scrap heap, strapped on their prize power over finesse bibs, highly hopped the brew, incorporated smoked malts and placed it on a pedestal. The new American brewers created a smooth, balanced, dark brew with subtle roasted-malt flavors of coffee and chocolate bound by a sort of tart, minerally twine. OK, it wasn't a full-bodied, full-flavored and often full of alcohol Stout sitting in its leather chair by the fire, but rather one notch below, sharing the Stout's color but different in that it lacked the Stout's intense roastiness. That's so Porter - balanced, with modest levels of alcohol and plenty of room for delicate, complex aromas and flavors, sitting on a stool next to a trashcan fire, one notch higher than shivering Lager 20 feet away.

Does Porter have you now? Has its rise to power inspired you? Are you so joy-filled you spread your love for Porter on Instagram or SnapChat? Or fill a little locket with Porter and clasp it around your neck?

There's an even better way to show your love for Porter.

Ken Thoburn, brewer-owner of Wingman Brewers in Tacoma, will pay homage to Porter during the brewery's annual Porterpalooza celebration Saturday, Jan. 17. On tap will be nine different Porters - all made by Wingman.

Thoburn and his crew will offer creative variations on their flagship P-51 Porter: Coconut, Peanut Butter Cup, Vanilla Rum, Chili Pepper and Sichuan Pepper Corns, Maple Pecan, Chocolate Orange, Smoked Sea Salted Caramel, Mexican Chocolate and Cinnamon Raisin. The celebration not only allow Thoburn and his crew to exhibit their Porter polish, but also select winners for a spot in the regular rotation. Porterpalooza gave birth to their staples Coconut Porter and the Peanut Butter Cup Porter.

"We brewed with Peanut Butter first for Strange Brewfest (Port Townsend) a few years ago making a peanut butter-coconut beer. After that, we decided to try the peanut butter-chocolate combination in our P-51 Porter for 2014 Porterpalooza last January," says Thoburn. "It was a huge hit, so we brought it back for the Washington Brewers Festival last June and since then, we've had non-stop requests to make it again. Since we cave easy to pressure from our customers, we decided to make it again for Porterpalooza 2015 - this time to also put it into 22-ounce bottles as a seasonal so everybody - not just those at Porterpalooza - can get their hands on it."

Thoburn says he learned the precise technique of adding copious amounts of peanut butter and chocolate to the post-fermented beer from the Big Al Brewing folks in Seattle.

"There has been much trial and error in trying to add oily products to beer," says Thoburn, "but we think we finally got it right."  

The P-51 Porter was Wingman's first real beer recipe. 

"It goes back to 2008 when Derrick (Moyer) and I were home brewing," explains Thoburn. "At the time, Lazy Boy Porter from Everett was my favorite beer around, so we tried to emulate that. The beer was initially made for a friends birthday and called ‘Nalty's Tall Order Porter' since he's a tall dude and asked us to make a Porter for his birthday party. The beer went over so well with our friends that it remains the only recipe we've never changed since Wingman started. We now make P-51 Porter for our taproom, local sale, can sales, Coconut Porter and now Peanut Butter Cup Porter. They are all the same base recipe made with Washington-grown barley and Moxie valley hops. I don't know exactly how much we make each year but I think it makes up around a fourth of our production ... it sure seems like I make it a lot."  

Thoburn feels he can control the amount of flavor in Porters best when he adds the flavoring components after fermentation. The exception to this is when he uses fresh fruit; he often ferments the beer with fresh fruit. He says ample aroma is lost during fermentation and the flavors of ingredients change greatly during fermentations, which is why he likes to add elements in afterward.  

What advice would Thoburn give an up-and-coming craft brewer when considering how to brew a Porter product? 

"Find a yeast you like," he says. "I love the flavors that we get from our traditional English Ale yeast.  The yeast is a bear to work with, but I think the end product is worth it.  After you have a yeast picked, it's time to decide if you want the beer to be chocolaty and smooth or roasty and bitter - or even some combination of those items. Selecting caramel malts and what kind of roasted malts you use and in what quantities can be tricky. As a professional brewer, I would never be able to come up with a recipe like P-51 now. It uses an absurd amount of specialty malts - malts that taste like caramel, chocolate, coffee, biscuit and such. It goes against conventional wisdom to brew a beer with so many specialty malts but when we made the recipe, we didn't know any better and turns out it works."  

Also available during Porterpalooza will be Wingman's Bourbon Barrel Aged Big Baby Flat Top Imperial Stout, aged in Willet Distillery barrels from Kentucky.

"The Big Baby Flat Top Imperial Stout" was at our Denizens of the Dark event last month and it will be in bottles during Porterpalooza," Thoburn says. "We have had it aging in barrels since last March and we're very excited to release in bottles as the second beer in our Bourbon Barrel Aged Series."  

A $5 cover secures a commemorative Porterpalooza glass and a first pour; all other pours cost $4 each.

If you're looking for a little decadence with a lot of history, pull up a stool at Porterpalooza and ask Thoburn to pull you a Porter.

PORTERPALOOZA, 2-11 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, Wingman Brewers, 509 ½ Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, $5 cover, 253.256.5240

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,
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Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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