Short review: Both the Black Widow Porter in 22 oz bottle (via production brewery in Troutdale) and the Old Saint Francis School version from Mike White are darn fine tasty porters. Get yourself some and drink them!
Do it soon as it won’t be available for long!
A few weeks ago I got a bomber of Black Widow Porter along with an embossed pint glass and a sticker from McMenamins via FedEx. On thanking @captainneon on Twitter, he suggested I do a horizontal tasting of it along with our local version. I thought this was a grand idea so I waited until I could get a growler of Mike “Curly” White’s version from McMenamins Old Saint Francis School.
I finally made it over this past Monday where it was also the growler fill of the week so I got it at a little discount. A few hours later I got out four 5 oz. taster glasses, opened the bomber and the growler after letting them warm up about 20 minutes, and poured the wife and I each a glass of both.
Production batch (22 oz. bomber)
Aroma: light chocolate, barest hint of rye, biscuit
Color: Almost black
Taste, etc.: Coffee and the barest hint of rye spiciness also makes it into the flavor [note: there doesn’t seem to be any rye in the recipe]. This is a fairly traditional porter. Almonds brought out more of the chocolate in the finish, and a little Ghirardelli 70% dark chocolate was quite nice with it.
Old St. Francis School batch (growler)
Aroma: Hint of licorice, dark fruit (plum/grape)
Color: Far less head (see carbonation below); more deep mahogany tints among the almost black.
Taste, etc.: Sweeter and fruitier than the bottled version. Slightly boozy in a grape must way. For some reason this was under-carbonated. The growler was sealed well and we drank it just 3-4 hours after filling … so ? This was not a bad beer but it was not what we expected nor was it a traditional porter, by any means.
I then switched to a pint glass for a couple reasons. What does it actually taste like in a more proper serving size? I wanted a picture of the beer in the glass McMenamins sent along with the bottle. This was the local version from the growler though. Aroma was pretty much the same. It had a slightly better mouthfeel (towards style) but was still under-carbonated. Was also still quite fruity along the plum/dark grape spectrum.
The next night I had about half a pint from the growler and it was now a little thinner but far less fruity and less sweet. It tasted a bit more like a traditional porter.
Clearly there seemed to be something wrong with the growler or the beer it was filled with. So Wednesday I went to McMenamins and tried the local version on site by the pint.
Old St. Francis School version at McMenamins
Aroma: Coffee and chocolate
C: Black with a nice dark tan head. I had to verify that it wasn’t on nitro as it was so beautiful looking in the glass with tiny creamy bubbles.
Taste, etc.: Creamy, medium-plus-bodied. Chocolate, hint of coffee, hint of vanilla. Quite tasty!
This was an exquisite traditional porter. Just to verify my perceptions I had a second pint. Yep. Damn fine job, Curly! Thankfully I got a chance to tell him while I was sitting there. We also discussed the growler issue but neither of us came to any real conclusions. I would have stayed and had a third pint—I rarely come across a traditional porter that good and that inexpensive (was happy hour)—but I had to meet the wife.
Bottom line: Curly at McMenamins Old Saint Francis School outdid the production brewery for this year’s batch of Black Widow Porter in a not entirely fair match up. [That is, Curly’s brew got a second chance and I did not taste the Edgefield version at the pub on draft but from a bottle and only in a taster glass.]
Either way, both beers were quite tasty! Thank you, McMenamins.
By the way, this Wednesday at O’Kanes at Old Saint Francis School there will be a firkin of Whiskey Widow tapped at 5 pm as part of O’Kanes Cask Series Release. This is Curly’s version of Black Widow Porter aged on oak spirals soaked in Hogshead Whiskey. Get over there on Wednesday if you are interested. I plan on being there!