Fresh 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!