A menacing queue forms before me.
It is comprised of well-intentioned nutritionists, crusading physicians, profiteering diet planners and congenital killjoys. In this nastiest of personal nightmares, they have gathered to demand that I eschew my expansive habits, to repent, convert and see the light … to eat and drink “right.”
Stubborn and unrepentant, I point defiantly to the thermometer. It’s cold in Louisville and Southern Indiana. Salade Nicoise, gazpacho, watermelon and corn on the cob, while theoretically possible in the context of the global economy, all seem inadequate amid the frigidity. Waxen imitation veggies need not apply.
Rather, what is needed is food to warm the bones, to arouse the slumbering genes of Northern European ancestors on the steppes and in the forest, those enduring and resourceful people who, during winter, reached for the pickled vegetables, delved into cellars for potatoes, beets and onions, and cracked open stocks of salted pork and fish.
For cooking in winter, I prefer hearty ingredients for soups, stews, goulash, cabbage rolls and casseroles. Furthermore, I want beer styles to complement them — beer that is cool, not cold; firm, not puny; and challenging, not simple. Winter provides the most suitable conditions for sampling the beefier classics that have come to us from various Old World brewing cultures, now embraced and sometimes redefined by American craft brewers.
Among these are familiar targets – Imperial Stout, Barley Wine, Old Ale and Doppelbock – as well as one with less notorious a reputation: Baltic Porter. These styles provide ample warming for bodies iced and chilled in the great outdoors, and also stick to the food that sticks to your bones when it matters most.
What’s more, they reflect personal origins in some elusive, yet cosmic fashion. My ancestry is as clear as mud – specifically, the wet dirt comprising flat and indefensible terrain formerly occupied by landowning Junkers in eastern Germany and the western half of what now is sovereign Poland. My people were the German grunt workers hoeing those endless rows, not the Bismarckian aristocrats over in the manor house.
Beer is written into my genetic code. Wine is a pleasant diversion, but my people toiled in Europe’s grain, not grape, belt. For this reason, Baltic Porter always has been intriguing.
Porters and Stouts come from the very same English family brewing tree, and rose to local popularity in the 18th century. England was the reigning sea power, and it was inevitable that these trendy beers would be shipped abroad; export markets soon were opened in Tsarist Russia and Hanseatic port cities astride the maritime route to St. Petersburg. In time, Porters and Stouts spawned numerous local imitators along the shores of the blustery Baltic.
Seems that economic localism was alive, even then.
At first, like other beers of the time, top-fermenting ale yeast was used to brew them. Later, as German bottom-fermenting (lager) brewing methods and technology spread throughout Europe, the same strong, dark beers continued to be produced, but mostly with malts, hops and bottom-fermenting yeasts deriving from the German, not British, brewing ethos.
Today, the Baltic Porter style is flexible, and can be made as an ale or a lager. NABC’s Solidarity is top-fermented, and brewed for greater unity.
22-oz bombers of Solidarity will be available in Indiana and metropolitan Louisville on the Kentucky side of the Ohio. A limited amount of draft will be allocated, and of course, it can be enjoyed in all forms at NABC’s two New Albanian locations.
Color: Burnished mahogany.
Flavor: Medium- to full-bodied, with decided maltiness, no roasted malt flavor, and an elegant, clean character with very subtle hints of fruit.
Compare to: Okocim Porter, Zwiec Porter, Sinebrychoff Porter
Description: Baltic Porter is the surest way to tip your hat to the activists in the Solidarity independent trade union in Poland, and it is a robust reminder of Baltic foresight in activism and strong beer.
Recipe Suggestion: Pour Solidarity from growler or bomber bottle into a heavy glass mug. Slice a kosher dill pickle. Chop onions to garnish kippers that have been laid atop thick, dense rye bread. Consider topping the open face sandwich with slices of hardboiled egg. Eat, drink and explore the primeval.