Tasting Notes: 2 Tone Vanilla Porter from Starr Hill Brewery

StarrHill2TonePourFresh off a much needed vacation, we jump start the week by getting back into the Tasting Notes groove with a little help from 2 Tone Vanilla Porter from Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, Virginia).

Rocking a name that is “a nod to the British music genre that seamlessly combines brassy ska and punk rock”, 2 Tone Vanilla Porter is the latest release from Starr Hill Brewery’s Heavy Rotation Series – a rotating “playlist” that keeps “fresh styles of beer coming your way . . . four times a year.”  2 Tone is a 6% ABV Porter that has “special dark roasted malts unite robust flavors of espresso and bittersweet chocolate with sweet vanilla bean for waves of rich smoothness.”  As is the case with all Heavy Rotation offerings, 2 Tone Vanilla Porter is best enjoyed when paired with the brewery’s mix tape that highlights the songs that inspired the creation of the beer (click here to check it out Spotify).

2 Tone Vanilla Porter is available now in 12 oz. bottles that can be found exclusively in Starr Hill’s Winter Tour Variety Pack (available November 2018 – January 2019). You can find this limited release Variety Pack at select retailers located in Alabama, Virginia and throughout the rest of Starr Hill’s distribution footprint.

Now that the background information is out of the way, what do you say we fire up Spotify and see how well ska fits into a Tasting Notes session?

Tasting Notes for 2 Tone Vanilla Porter from Starr Hill Brewery

Appearance: A somewhat vigorous pour produces a nearly pitch-black Porter that is capped with almost two fingers of airy, khaki-colored foam.  When held to direct light, the stark blackness holds its grip but does allow a touch of cola-like dark brown to sneak through at the extreme edges.  The beer is completely opaque and does not offer any visual hints at the level of carbonation.  Head retention is decent, but those two fingers do eventually fall to a thin, creamy top cap that absolutely coats the glass with wide sweeping sheets of lace.

Aroma:  Roasted malts fill the air with a heavy presence of deeply roasted coffee and bittersweet chocolate that mimics the notes of a beautifully crafted Caffè Americano (an espresso that has been diluted with water).  These notes hint that there is a hefty but pleasant level of roasted bitterness ahead in the flavor, but they are still rounded off here with a soothing presence of toasted wheat, a grace of vanilla and just a slight dose of sweet milk chocolate.

Taste: The roasted malts continue to flex their dominance by presenting notes of dark roast coffee, toasted cereal grains, dark chocolate, and carefully charred wood.  This smooth wave of roasty, toasty bitterness is then nicely balanced by a sneaky undercurrent of vanilla, caramel and cocoa. The flavor profile is further rounded by a closing presence of slightly earthy and fruity hops and an incredibly gentle nuttiness (pecans and walnuts).

Mouthfeel:  Spot on medium in body with a moderate level of carbonation, this Porter is wonderfully dry and cleans up beautifully to result in a highly drinkable, gulp-worthy experience.  Mostly balanced, the beer definitely leans a bit toward the roasty and bitter side.  The 6% ABV is super light and really does not bring much in the way of heat.  The aftertaste is all bittersweet chocolate.

Final Thoughts:  If you are looking for a clean and crushable dark beer to help ease you into the colder months, look no further than 2 Tone Vanilla Porter.  Comforting and approachable, it has plenty of roasty goodness that will pair effortlessly with time spent seeking warmth while huddled around a fire.

The only gripe or concern we could possibly come up with is the decision to give vanilla a title role in the naming of this beer.  The vanilla seems to play more of a supporting role by artfully tempering the bitterness supplied by the roasted malts, but it never really pushes beyond an element of balance to stake its claim to either the flavor or aroma.  That said, this approach does not take anything at all away from the beer . . . in fact, quite the opposite happens. In a craft beer world where Porters and Stouts are regularly dominated by over-the-top, cloying additions of sweet adjuncts, 2 Tone uses a deft hand when it comes to the use of vanilla.  This results in a finished product that is a more beautiful representation of the style, but our only worry is that the designation of “Vanilla Porter” might lead some to believe it is missing something even though it is not.

All in all, 2 Tone Vanilla Porter is a breath of fresh air these days because it is a truly flavorful Porter that is not at all afraid to embrace malt sourced roast and bitterness. Instead of taking the easy way out by being dependent on a heavy dose of sweet vanilla, 2 Tone instead relies on craftsmanship, integrity and a certain level of respect for the style by going against the seductive influence of current trends . . . and – even though we too often enjoy a ridiculously sweet “Pastry Stout” from time to time – we dig the hell of this beer for giving us something different today.  Be sure to check out 2 Tone Vanilla Porter if you happen to cross paths with it this winter.  Prost!


Tasting Notes: Festie from Starr Hill Brewery

FestieStarr_editedNow that Oktoberfest season is in full swing, we shift the focus of Tasting Notes to the beers brewed to honor this great tradition.  First up, we take a look at Festie Oktoberfest Lager from Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, Virginia).

Staying true to their belief that “a great playlist is all about what’s new and what’s next”, the music lovin’ souls at Starr Hill Brewery established the Heavy Rotation Series as a means “to keep fresh styles of beer coming your way.”  Festie Oktoberfest Lager has arrived as the current release in this series, and it is Starr Hill’s “tribute to the great German lager.” At 4.8% ABV, this “rich and malty” offering is meant to “[invoke] the German tradition of Oktoberfest, while also paying homage to the end of the summer music festival season.”  As an added bonus, the intentions behind this beer are further echoed with a specially curated Spotify Playlist “featuring tunes that combine flavors of folk, funk, jam band, and rock to pair perfectly with a bottle of Festie” (click here to listen).

Festie Oktoberfest Lager is out now and available throughout Oktoberfest season.  You can expect to find this Limited Release offering in 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles, in the Fall Tour Variety 12-pack, and on draft at craft beer establishments located in Alabama, Virginia, and throughout the rest of Starr Hill’s distribution area.

With all of those necessary background details now out of the way, I do believe it is time to fill a glass and get our Oktoberfest on with some Tasting Notes!

Tasting Notes for Festie Oktoberfest Lager from Starr Hill Brewery

Appearance: Festie fills the glass as a rich amber-colored brew that has chestnut tones.  When held to direct light, the amber notes brighten and the color softens.  The beer is crystal clear and shows a steady carbonation presence that is doing its best to feed the finger of off-white foam that was built during the pour.  That head fades with a quickness, reducing down to a thin ring that leaves minimal spots of lace behind on the glass.

Aroma: The aromatics begin with a light caramel malt character that slowly opens to take on a nutty quality – almonds and hazelnuts.  Bready notes eventually work their way forward to round the aroma off with a clean grain presence and just a grace of sweetness.

Taste: In an unexpected twist, the flavor profile actually leads with a faintly herbal, lightly sweetened tea-like quality. Caramelized nuts then surface to bring some sweetness before a hearty, bready malt note settles in.  The classic grain character establishes itself firmly thanks to the complementing German lager yeast. The flavor closes just as it started . . . with a light wash of that herbal/tea note.

Mouthfeel: This lager is on the lighter side of medium in body with a crisp carbonation level.  It is lightly sweet on the palate, but well balanced by that touch of herbal character.  The 4.8% ABV shows no interest in playing a factor here, and that just further adds to the offering’s easy-drinking nature.  The aftertaste is just a breath of lingering nuttiness.

Final Thoughts: Overall, Festie is a very clean, delightfully approachable, and refreshingly light representation of the Oktoberfest/Märzen, but still has all the flavor one expects to find from a beer of the style.  The beer’s light body and low ABV just aids in its high level of drinkability, making it a perfect candidate to fill massive steins at Oktoberfest celebrations taking place throughout the Southeast.  If you are looking to get festive without getting (too) sloppy this Oktoberfest season, Starr Hill Brewery’s Festie Oktoberfest Lager is certainly a beer that should be in your sights.  Be sure to check it out before its limited run comes to an end.  Prost!