THE SCENE: You’re in the grocery store. You’re pushing your cart past the dozens and dozens of craft beer options out there today. You stop at a fourpack of nice-looking tall boys. The can reads: Breckenridge Nitro Vanilla Porter.
“Nitro vanilla porter, huh?” you think. “I like the way those Guinness cans with nitro widgets taste. So that’s probably good,” you ponder. “And vanilla in a dark beer…hard to go wrong there,” you continue to yourself. “And Breckenridge — they’re in Colorado, so they probably know how to make a good cold-weather beer like a porter,” you add to this inner monologue.
You grab the four-pack, look at the price (“Under $10? Not bad”) and you drop it in your cart.
The lights go down, and somewhere, offstage, you hear the duck-like whine of the Sad Trombone.
THE REVIEW: The above play in one micro-act is autobiographical. I grabbed some NVP from my local grocery store one recent afternoon and had some decently-placed hopes. Those hopes were…dashed.
It gives me no great pleasure to deride anyone’s beers, and over the past few years it has rarely happened. We’re here more as evangelists pointing you to the good stuff — but sometimes we need to wave you off of the beers that you really shouldn’t bother with.
And it’s easy to assume that I’m just throwing unearned shade at one of the breweries taken over by the A-B/InBev/High End (ABIBHE?) collective. Again, not true — beers made by any/all of those breweries can be, and many are, very good — I just haven’t been this disappointed by a beer in quite a while.
Straight up: the Breckenridge Nitro Vanilla Porter failed me on all fronts and I didn’t like it. Is it a bad beer? Not technically, in that it’s not infected or anything like that — but just a disappointing one. Let’s take this step by step.
I was under the impression that this technology was perfected back in the late nineties, when all my friends who usually were happy to swill Busch Light aplenty (and I along with them) went bonkers for the Guinness tallboys with the satisfying “PSSSHTsqueeeeee” sound from the nitro widget.
That works great. What happened here? AB couldn’t reverse engineer something? The nitro here was wimpy, weak and didn’t even come close to delivering the two things you want from a nitro beer — a creamy body and a thick, satisfying foamy head. This was watery to say the least and only delivered about 2cm of wispy, quickly-disappearing espresso-tan foam.
When you promise vanilla, I don’t want a beer that tastes like cake frosting — but I also want to taste some vanilla. I searched high and low through the whole damn four-pack for some in every swallow, and never really came up with any. If this had delivered on the flavor I probably could have forgiven some other faults, but if you fall down here, you fall down hard.
What I did get was a somewhat bitter, somewhat earthy brown-ish beer with a touch of roast, a smidge of tobacco and a hint of sweetness. The beer flavor equivalent of Pete Campbell yelling “NOT GREAT ,BOB.”
Again…if you had sold me on an English Mild or a bitter that was also sorta-nitro, and not-very-vanilla-y, this beer might have lived up to the promise on the package. I don’t need porters to have a thick, sticky, stout-level body or anything — because then it’d be a stout — but a porter has to have some heft. Some darkness. Some sense of presence.
This was just impotent — weak, flabby, zero fun. You know how sometimes Donald Trump will tweet something and end it simply by saying, “Sad!”
This was that. Sad! (Also, this is the only time in my life I will ever quote Donald Trump.)
Let’s quickly review the other things promised on the label. Nitrogen Charged? Technically, yes. Silky, Smooth? Okay, fine, by merit of being watery and drinkable, I’ll allow that it’s smooth. Sessionable? Not to be too terribly pedantic, but at 5.4%, technically they got this one wrong, too — if you consider a session beer to be anything at or under 5% (and I’m in that camp).
Still that’s roughly 1.5 out of 7 that they got right. Not a great ratio.
Again, I get no great pleasure from recommending that you not buy a beer. But unlike dogs, Brent, they’re not all great.
Please consider buying a Founders Porter, a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald or a Spiteful Goddamn Pigeon Porter — any variant you can grab. Pretend it’s got a nitro widget in it if you must. You’ll be better off.