Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery
I'm a big fan of porters, especially when they come with a good story. The style emerged some 250 years ago as a beer of the English laboring class. These brews nearly vanished in the United States, though, until they were revived by homebrewers several decades back. And it was these homemade beers that deserve some credit for Ole Eagle, a traditional porter now on tap at the Grumpy Troll.
The Mount Horeb brewpub hosts an annual homebrewing competition in the spring called the Grumpy Troll Challenge. The beers created for the contest often inspire brewmaster Mark Knoebl when he develops his own recipes. While judging the challenge last May, the porters brought Knoebl back to his homebrewing days and love for the style.
What is it? Ole Eagle Porter from the Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
Style: The porter is an ale, and ranges from brown to deep black in color due to its chocolate and smoked brown malts. The origins of the style trace back to the 1700s, when it was a favorite beer of the porters who worked the London shipyards. In the U.S., the porter style nearly vanished in the years following Prohibition as light-bodied lagers dominated the market. The style is commonly around 4%-6% ABV.
Background: Ole Eagle is a new beer for the Grumpy Troll. Surprisingly, the brewpub hasn't previously offered an English-style porter.
"The porter is kind of like fly-over country; people tend to forget about them," says Knoebl. "Sometimes when we are trying to be so innovative and do something above and beyond, we forget about the porter."
Knoebl says the porter is a straightforward and rather simple beer to make. "It's not the sexiest style out there," he notes. "You get caught up in the hot trends like IPAs, bigger and stronger beers, and you forget about the more subtle styles."
Ole Eagle Porter is a tribute to Fred Szarka, a regular who frequented the Grumpy Troll and eventually ended up with a part-time job there. Around the brewpub, Fred is known as Old Eagle because he was an Eagle Scout in the 1960s. He subsequently worked as a ranger for the National Park Service for 38 years.
"After I retired in 2011, I wandered in and asked Mark if there was anything I could do," says Szarka. Turns out there was. Those who hang out enough at the Grumpy Troll will likely see him hosting tours, guiding tastings and even working in the brewhouse alongside Knoebl.
"Fred is our bottler and bottling department," quips Knoebl about Szarka's work filling and capping the brewpub's limited-release bomber bottles.
During this year's Grumpy Troll Challenge, Szarka noticed an exceptionally well-made porter and called it to Knoebl's attention. While that beer eventually made it into the final round, it didn't win Best of Show.
"That beer encouraged me to go back to my own homebrewing roots because it was one of the first beers I ever made," says Knoebl. "We have many beers here at the Grumpy Troll, but not a porter, so I said why don't we make one."
Ole Eagle is made with five types of malt, which give it a deep black color and lots of roasted chocolate, caramel and bready flavor. Among those that give the beer most of its color and roasted character are chocolate and caramel malts, which blend with biscuit tones of English Maris Otter malt. It's lightly hopped with East Kent Golding and Fuggle for balance.
"I appreciate London-based porters with their smooth maltiness and full body," says Knoebl.
"We wanted to make a beer that is drinkable, with deep color, that is smooth with nice roasted qualities," adds Szarka.
Ole Eagle Porter takes about three weeks to make. It finishes at 5.8% ABV with approximately 22 IBUs. It sells for $4.50 per pint or $12 per growler refill. It is expected to remain on tap through November.
The Grumpy Troll also offers a Baltic porter on a seasonal basis. Named Amnesia, it has an enthusiastic following and has received a number of industry awards.
- Aroma. Hints of chocolate malt with a light roasted character.
- Appearance: Black color with a medium marbled tan-to-brown head.
- Texture: Medium bodied, bubbly and a round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Firm chocolate maltiness. The roasted element remains light as a background accent.
- Finish/Aftertaste: A maltiness that lingers lightly, but it finishes pretty clean.
Glassware: Porter will do okay in the standard bar pint, but in a nod to tradition, this is a beer meant to be served in an English nonic pint.
Pairs well with: The porter is well suited for a range of meaty entrees. This medium-bodied ale is smooth and balanced with moderate malty sweetness, and goes well especially well with burgers. From the brewpub's menu, my pick is the Grumpy Troll Burger topped with cheddar cheese and applewood-smoked bacon from Bavaria Sausage of Madison. You also can't go wrong with a side of sweet potato tots.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Ole Eagle is a solid porter with lots of flavor. This dark beer looks thick, heavy and rich, but is actually smooth and easy drinking. It's a little strong at 5.8% ABV to be a true session beer, but is so inviting that it might lure you into having more than one.
Porters are appropriate for this time of year, as their light sweetness and hints of roasted chocolate malt are ever so welcome as the days become cooler. Their flavor should offer a little complexity, but shouldn't make you think too much about what is going on in the glass. The Grumpy Troll's version is good about both aspects.
I really enjoy a good porter. This is a great dark beer for fall cookouts, or just for sipping while watching the leaves fall.