Albany Pump Station Poor Soldier Porter

depiro_poor-soldier2The Albany Times-Union recently had a nice feature on a rather special beer currently available at the Albany Pump Station. The writer, Steve Barnes, is more of a wine guy who does a good job with his foodie blog for the paper, but this piece is both respectful of the beer and pretty well researched. The beer in question is a porter based on a recipe from 1788 and inspired by George Washington. What was so beer-inspiring about the original Commander-in-Chief?

Washington was “responsible for kick-starting the growth of a domestic beer industry,” writes Chris O’Brien, who calls himself a “beer activist” and authored a book titled “Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World.”

The combination of Washington’s well-documented fondness for beer and his opposition to imports also made him one of the first proponents of buying local. O’Brien quotes Washington as writing, “I use no porter or cheese in my family, but that which is made in America: both these articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality.”

The country’s future first president didn’t arbitrarily pick a style of beer for his example: The man strongly preferred porter, according to O’Brien.

Washington was also an opera fan, and his twin passions come together this month with a staging of his favorite opera, called “The Poor Soldier,” and a special brewing of a new beer, called Poor Soldier Porter, produced at the Albany Pump Station by brewmaster George de Piro.

The opera will be performed three times locally from January 23-25, and I’m sure it’s a helluva show, but the beer tends to be the more interesting aspect of the story for us Beerjanglers. As it happens, a trip to the Pump Station had been in the offing anyway, so a sampling of the Poor Soldier Porter wasn’t too much of an imposition.

First, a bit more about the beer:

The brewmaster, who refers to himself as a “beer geek extraordinaire” and aficionado of historic beers, couldn’t find a recipe from George Washington’s favorite brewer, a man named Robert Hare, so he adapted a porter recipe he found from 1788.

The result, a rich brown liquid with hints of red, is darker than de Piro suspects porters were 220 years ago — he didn’t want to confuse people today, who think of porter as nearly as dark as stout — and he admits a pint of Poor Soldier Porter at the Pump Station probably doesn’t taste much like a tankard of porter would have in a 1780s tavern. Advances in science, technology and microbiology knowledge make beer-brewing vastly more consistent, and safer, than the unruly world of yeasty fermentation during the Colonial years.

Made from 600 pounds of German-sourced dark roasted malt, pale-ale malt and smoked malt, de Piro’s 310-gallon batch of Poor Soldier Porter should last another month or so, depending on demand.

Sounds good, but what does the brewmaster himself think of his latest creation, using his beer judge geekiest descriptive terms?

“In the aroma up front there’s slight note of alcohol, a strong coffee component, a kind of sweet graininess, perhaps a faint roast character. Fruitiness is minimal. … Much like the aroma, there’s a strong coffee component (to the taste), especially toward the midpalate and the finish, and a nice malt sweetness. It’s fairly full-bodied, (with) enough bitterness in the finish to balance the sweetness and then some, (and) an astringency coming through in the finish from some of the darker malts that are used, which give you a pucker all around (the mouth) much like a red wine would, for much the same reasons — there’s a lot of tannins. There is some alcohol to it, but it’s well-hidden — it’s not terribly warming on the way down. There’s a faint caramel flavor in the midpalate as well, mingling with that coffee note.”

He’s right. In short, this stuff is delicious. It’s made with molasses and cane sugar, which give it a sweetness and a somewhat Belgian-like quality. The roasted coffee notes are also definitely there. At 6.7%, it’s got a kick, but in an easy drinking, have-a-couple sort of way. My friend, hardly the Sideways type, pronounced it “almost like wine” and then proceeded to drop $30 on a brand new growler filled with Poor Soldier to take home with him. The Pump Station has a winner here, ladies and germs, and I hope they bring this one back at some point. I love the cross-promotional theme going on with the staging of opera of the same name and a dinner featuring the porter (mentioned in a small part of the story not already quoted here). Judging by the coasters and posters on display at the Pump Station, they have already put a fair amount of resources into it. Read the whole article here.
Oh, I took home a growler as well.

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~ by bojangles on January 17, 2009.

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