Picture City Porter comes in two different versions: regular and bourbon-fied. It is my understanding that this is a limited edition (available in small quantities and/or for special occasions) beer so be sure to ask if the bourbon barrel version is available if you want to experience the beer in this review.
When you order a beer that comes from a bourbon barrel it is hard not to have any preconceived notions about the aromas and tastes you will encounter. Try to put any of those notions aside and dig a little deeper, you won’t be disappointed. Picture City Porter is a treat and a challenge to taste; and with a little digging you will discover a wonderful, complex beer.
Served in a pint glass, the traditional drinking vessel, Picture City Porter poured an opaque brown with a diminishing off-white head. I think it would have had better head retention if served in a less traditional tulip shaped glass. However, what it lacked in head retention it made up for in the wonderful lacing pattern it left on the inside of the glass.
Generally I don’t care for pint glasses as they tend to let the aromas dissipate too quickly (as well as the head) which can eliminate a layer of complexity that could be enjoyed throughout the session. However, this beer held its own against the mighty mouth of the pint glass. The bourbon aroma is a thick and unmistakable layer that floats on the beer’s surface and will greet your nose just a tick before each drink. While it does dissipate a bit, the bourbon aroma hangs around for the whole session. I love the bourbon aroma but the real pleasure in this beer is finding its hidden layers. If you “squint” just a bit you will discover an all but hidden layer of subtle earthy notes wafting just behind the bourbon. For me it was reminiscent of freshly turned soil with a mix of herbs sprinkled about.
My first thought as I tasted the beer was “Where is the bourbon?” The bourbon aroma was so powerful that I was certain that each drink would be overrun with bourbon flavor. Instead, roasty malts dominated the palate with a subtle burnt toast flavor that was mixed with a chocolaty sweetness. The dark malts and hops provide a moderate bitterness that keeps the sweetness in check.
As the tasting progressed I started to discover two more hidden layers. The earthy notes showed up again but this time in the flavor. My guess is that these earthy notes are a result of the beer being aged in oak barrels. Then from under the earthy notes a new layer emerged, almost as an afterthought. Spice. This layer can be easily missed if you aren’t paying attention because you won’t experience it until you exhale. After you swallow take a moment (your frites won’t cool down that much) and enjoy this final stage of tasting a beer that is so often overlooked. Exhale. Feel the spicy esters float to the roof of your mouth and then up and out of your sinuses. Was this spice caused by the hops or the oak or was it a magical combination of the two? I’m not sure but I AM glad it was there.
The beauty of this beer is in its layers. Its tough guy persona (the bourbon aroma) is just a façade that is protecting its more delicate almost hidden layers. Picture City Porter rewards those who stick around to get to know it. Do yourself a favor, pull up a chair and introduce yourself to this beer.