Doing a beer run while home over Christmas, we didn't deliberately set up a smoked-porter battle. But when we got home from the store, we realized we had one of those varieties from both Great Divide of Denver and Stone of California, and thought we 'd pit them against each other.
We started with the Smoked Baltic Porter from Great Divide, a dark lager. Our first reaction was confusion. Not much smoked flavor came through, and the porter label seemed odd. This beer was too carbonated, too lightweight, not malty enough to be a porter.
And not that it wasn't smoked, but many beers are far more roasted than this without that "smoked" label. The best thing we could say about this one is that it communicated plenty of roast without feeling acidic or bitter. The beer improved as it warmed, but we're not sure we'd really recommend it. We might feel a little more positive had it been labeled a black lager, but, ultimately, it started mediocre and only improved to "decent" by the end.
Stone's Smoked Porter, on the other hand, was good from the first sip to the last.
This brew was very robust, more roasted than the other offering, but never tasted like a charcoal briquette. Its most remarkable quality was that the roasted, bitter flavors settled in the throat and the back of the tongue, but never climbed up any higher to dull the palate, as these beers so often do. You want to be able to taste the complexity in each sip all the way to the dregs, and this beer allowed that.
All that extra roast was also balanced by more interesting and lingering malt flavors. The beer also had a creamier mouthfeel and a richer feel to boot, with hints of coffee and dark chocolate at the front of the mouth.
We don't want to just write this off to a lager-versus-ale thing, but that might be part of the explanation. Regardless, Stone's offering was excellent. Pick it up if you can.