Battle Road is another brewing outfit operating out of the illustrious Mercury Brewing facility in Ipswich; indeed, this very same equipment is shared by brewers from Clown Shoes, Notch, Ipswich and Cambridge Brewing among many others. BR's focus is on very old-school beers, and this is its first new one in probably more than a year. At American Craft Beer Fest last year, BR poured the three regular beers that they've had since launch, which are a saison-style ale, a balanced, well-made IPA and a lightly-hopped APA. Midnight Rider is its fourth release, a "colonial" porter made using a historic English ale yeast (which I assume is Ringwood or something similar) and loaded with roasted and cherrywood-smoked barley and Liberty hops. Sounds like the recipe for a satisfying, true-to-style dark beer, so let's crack right in!
The pour on this porter is pretty grandiose, with a very tar-like, thick, viscous body opening up with some slightly lighter brown tinges as it thins out by the end of the first pour. The head is tannish and similarly thick, though it does fade fairly quickly to a finger of foam on top of this dark-brown brew. The nose is rife with roasty, chocolaty notes and a touch of smoke brought up alongside a slightly apple-like note that emerges after allowing the beer to sit for several minutes. There's also a tiny bit of butterscotch (diacetyl is the technical term for this) but it's not a problem given what I think they used for yeast and the provenance of the style. My first gulp is sharp and surprisingly hoppy, with a pine-like bitterness backing up a rather-smoky build that highlights the charred and ashen flavors quite well. Slight tobacco and leather chewiness on display here, though the body is light and forgiving enough and the hops are a good counterpoint to all the burly malt excellence getting thrown around. The unassuming body of this porter is built around a very nice, full flavor that leaves no stone unturned on the palate, engaging the tongue with aspects ranging from the savory and smoky to the sweet and the bitter evenly. Very nice stuff; it pulls the tongue to different places but does so with just enough force to guide but not harangue the palate. Doing some research on the hops used, I discovered that they are not typically used in porters and darker beers requiring the bitterness to offset the astringency coming from the dark roasted barley aspects, but are instead typically used in lighter lagers and German style beers; I assume they were chosen for the name and how it fits with their colonial/Revolutionary War shtick. Just thought it was amusing, no real relation to how good the beer is, as the hop quality seems very well-done, and I could easily mistake it for Cascade or Fuggles, as those are used quite often in domestic and British porters.
The smoked malt is really a star; I love subtle notes of campfire and burning wood in my dark beer, and this really hits the spot. It's so effective, it even leaves a lingering feeling of char on the back of the tongue alongside dark chocolate and hazelnut notes. On my third small pour, I'm noticing the carbonation has faded immensely, though the body has gotten a touch thicker and slightly fruity, with some fig and stone fruit coming to the fore alongside the smoked malt. Very interesting change, especially for a beer I thought this was going to remain very consistent throughout the bottle. If you're in the market for a good dark beer and you want to buy local, I can think of no better than to pick up a (very reasonably priced) Midnight Rider Colonial Porter by Battle Road. Perhaps it's not quite revolutionary, but it gets the job done, and it's very enjoyable. Kudos to the brewery for putting together such a solid recipe, though I expect nothing but killer beer from a place like Mercury, when all's said and done. Cheers!
The official breakdown:
- Style: American Porter
- ABV: 5.9%
- Appearance: Dark-brown, bordering black with a fluffy tan head that settles over time to a small ring. Doesn't seem to leave much lacing overall
- Scent: Chocolate, roasty grain, lightly buttery and rich, hazelnut and red apple notes; a touch of ash and tobacco from the cherrywood-smoked malt
- Taste: Velvety combination of dark chocolate, pine-y bitter hops, burning wood char, and a warming, comforting nutty note that lingers long after each sip
- Mouthfeel: Initially a rather sharp, engaging beer that tours the palate, though it does settle down after a few pours, becoming a stalwart and enjoyable brew
- Drinkability: Fine when all is said and done; the light yeasty approach adds some body towards the end of the bottle, and the flavors are enjoyable and delicate