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Monday, February 18, 2013

Great Lakes Brewing Co's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

  • Style: Porter
  • ABV: 5.80%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Widely available in the Midwest, NY, NJ, VA, WV, KY,  & Washington DC
  • Color: Dark cola brown with amber highlights along edges
  • Head:  Two finger head with amazing lacing
  • Aroma:  Milk chocolate, roasted coffee sweet caramel and a bit of raisin. Well balanced
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with moderate carbonation.  Pretty much exactly what you want from a Porter
  •  Finish: Long with a pleasant hop dryness on the tail end
  • Food friendly: Yes.  A well balanced Porter such as this will pair with a lot of winter favorites.  Try it with everything from hamburgers to roasted meats to grilled cheese sandwiches.  Service with butter cheeses such as Swiss or Brie.  I happen to enjoy it with sharp cheddar        

"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they called Guitche Gumee.   The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.  With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty, that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the Gales of November came early.

On November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald, a great freighter carrying a load of ore pellets, was bound for an island near Detroit.    At 7:10 PM, the captain responded to a well being call with a reassuring "We're holding our own."  Ten minutes later, they could not be reached by radio nor could they be detected on radar.  The entire crew of 29 sailors were lost when the ship went down in a massive November gale. The Edmund Fitzgerald is arguably one of the most famous of American shipwrecks.  A year after the wreck, folk singer Gordon Lightfoot released the now famous "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", a somber sea (OK, lake) chanty detailing the final moments of the great ship.  In 1988, Great Lakes Brewery out of Cleveland, OH, began to brew a porter with a desire to honor the 29 crew members.   Four years later, they won the first of many well deserved gold medals for the ship's namesake beer at the Great American Beer Festival.  In fact, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter took another gold recently in 2012.

A dark and stormy brew

The ballad of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a powerful story and an important piece of American industrial history.  The Great Lakes were once vital shipping ports, but as anyone who has ever heard the story of The Christmas Schooner or viewed a very special episode of Due South, it's well known that being a sailor on the Great Lakes was a dangerous and often fatal career option.  Massive and deadly storms can creep up on you in on the Great Lakes.  Lake Michigan itself is a virtual underwater graveyard of lost vessels .  There is a certain respect you must give to the people who brave those waters.  Great Lake Brewery Co. shares this respect.  When they decided to name their porter the Edmund Fitzgerald, the brewery reached out to the families of the sailors who died in order to get permission to use the name.  I like that.  I think that a brewery's values are often reflected in their beer.  And if Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is any indication of the values of Great Lakes Brewery, they're certainly on the right track.

Love the texture that a well done head creates

My Edmund Fitzgerald Porter poured a dark brown, thick cola -like color.  When held up to the light, a warm amber glow shone around the edges of the glass.  A dark ivory two finger head emerged and took it's sweet time before slowly settling to a 1/4 finger layer that stayed with me for most of the drink.  I enjoyed sipping the beer through this thick foam, adding a second level  to body of the porter.  Craters and peaks were etched onto the top of the head, looking for all intensive purposes, just like a storm cloud.  I could smell milk chocolate, roasted and caramel malts and a bit of medium roasted coffee.  I could pick out a very faint scent of something like raisins or possibly dates.  The aroma was well balanced between sweet, bitter and a toasty.  The flavor reflected the aroma perfectly.  The creamy milk chocolate was offset by the just right amount of coffee and toast flavors.  The sweetness of the raisins (or dates, I'm still debating between the two) helped to bring a deeper level to the sweet notes of the porter.  Sweet can be cloying or it can be complex.  Like most things in life, I prefer complex.  As it warmed a bit, a smokey quality emerged slightly.  The mild hop note arrived on the back of the sip.   With all of these components, it's easy to imagine a mess of a beer, but some how Great Lake created a well balanced and deeply layered drink.  The mouthfeel was just what I want from a porter, moderate and well carbonated.   The layer of foam still present on the surface held to create a creaminess that coated my lips with every sip.  The finish was long and layered as well.  It began with the sweet caramel/chocolate/dark fruit notes, sliding into the roasted coffee flavors and ending with a bit of the dry harshness the bitter hops.  Really quite lovely.

Sipping the Porter through this layer was almost decedent

Great Lakes' Edmund Fitzgerald is really an amazing porter.  To me, this is a benchmark example of a well balanced, complex beer that still remembers that beers are meant to be drunk.  It's sort of shocking how many well regarded, "big" beers out there seem to forget this very simple idea.  Beers are meant to be drunk by people.  I would pair this porter with almost any sort of substantial, wintery dish.  I think that it would compliment something as simple as the perfect cheese burger as well as with a labored dish such as a horseradish and herb crusted beef rib roast.  Great Lakes Brewery chose the name of this doomed freighter as memorial to the brave men who sailed the Great Lakes.   Breweries decide on beer names mostly from a marketing perpective.  Of course there is a time a place for nonsensical beer names, some being better than others of course  (I'm looking at you, Clown Shoes, OK, not just you, but let's face it, clowns are creepy.  You must have known that.) And then there are those rare, some what surprising  beers that have the ability to tell a story.  They use the name as a jumping off point and continue to spin their yarn through complexly layered yet well balanced flavors.    To me, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter such a beer.  Pick up a bottle for yourself and let it tell you it's tale.