I'm a beer enthusiast who is naturally drawn to brews with deep color and rich chocolate maltiness. Perhaps that's why there always seems to be a Wisconsin-made porter somewhere in my refrigerator. What I've been enjoying lately is Night Train from O'so Brewing. It's appropriately named because it's as black as the coal that once fueled locomotives all across the country.
What is it? Night Train from O'so Brewing of Plover.
Style: O'so brewmaster and owner Marc Buttera says making beers to conform with accepted beer styles is too confining. Instead, he prefers the term "freestyle" to describe his approach to making beer. For lack of a better description, his Night Train is an oatmeal porter. If you're a stickler with regard to beer styles, that likely places Night Train somewhere between a robust American Porter and an oatmeal stout.
Stylistic debates aside, Night Train has the characteristics of an assertive and robust porter, in which one expects some flavor balance between sweet maltiness and bitterness from hops and roasted malts. Robust porters have strong chocolate malt dominance and often some roasted (but not burnt) character. Adding oats tends to soften the mouthfeel, giving it a silky texture. However, too much and you can get a grainy or astringent beer. The porter style, overall, fall within 4%-6.5% ABV, with the robust porters on the high end of that range.
Background: Night Train is a bold, malty beer that's made with 12 different malts. Buttera says he adds a very small amount of oatmeal to the grist, just enough so that he feels compelled to call this an oatmeal porter. Along with all that malt, it features the bitter and earthy spiciness of Nugget hops.
Buttera and fellow O'so brewer Mike Krause developed the recipe as homebrewers well before the brewery was established. This is one of O'so's original four brews from when it started in 2009. Night Train is a year-round beer for O'so, and it's the brewery's current number-one seller.
Night Train finishes at 6.7% ABV, and sells for around $8.50/six-pack. It's scheduled to make an upcoming appearance on draft at Dexter's Pub on Madison's east side. Referred to there as "Nitro Train," it will be served under nitrogen pressure through a stout faucet for a creamy soft head. The nitrogen gas (rather than CO2) pushes the beer through the lines and accentuates the beer's smooth mouthfeel and softer chocolate flavors.
- Aroma: Light roastedness, malty.
- Appearance: Very dark, bronze highlights. A brown, rocky head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied and round.
- Taste: Chocolate maltiness up front with a roasted background and some hop bitterness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Firm, medium roastedness and dry.
Glassware: The English pint glass offers a little tradition for this porter, even if Buttera doesn't see it as just a porter. This type of glass doesn't do much to enhance the flavor (of this beer or any other style); however, it really shows off the vivid black color and brown head.
Pairs well with: The chocolate maltiness makes Night Train a nice meat-and-potatoes beer. Match it with pot roast or a heavy beef stew for the ultimate comfort food companion. For vegetarians, grilled vegetables will match the brew's roasted background.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Night Train is a solid malty porter with assertive roastedness in the flavor background and finish. This beer comes out on the robust side of porter, with its strong maltiness and roasted dryness in the finish. But because there's so much body and mouthfeel, those bitter qualities don't overtake the flavor profile. If you enjoy dark brews that emphasize chocolate malt, this a beer for your fridge, too.