The Maine Beer Company has created several outstanding beers that have drawn the attention of the craft beer loving public over the course of their rather brief existence, and tonight I bring to you a review of their newest release, King Titus. An American porter clocking in at 7.5% ABV, Titus is an ode to the power and beauty of dark beers, as well as an ode to an apparently-very-special/inspiring silverback gorilla who provided this beer with its namesake. In fact, as is typical of MBC, proceeds from this beer's sales go to a good cause, namely the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund which is dedicated to protecting and studying gorillas found in the Virunga Volcano Mountains region of Rwanda, Africa. Interesting.
The pour on this was quite crazy, first off; a minor pour yielded for me a voluminous deep brown head that lasted several minutes, only occasionally allowing me to pour more into my glass. The lacing as it faded is pretty scattered but definitely not a bad showing overall. Retention is about normal for the style; after the initial foam faded, one-and-a-half fingers remained to cap this off. The body on this is absolutely pitch-black, even darker than most stouts and porters I've had the pleasure to gaze upon before imbibing. There are no highlights or notes of any color other than pure black here, and I'm loving it. On the nose is a lovely bouquet of semisweet chocolate, coffee grounds, earthy and somewhat tobacco-like hops and roasted chestnuts. There's a bit of bright citric sheen in there, but it's mixed fairly low so as not to deter the nose from the intense roasted malt characteristics, and it works pretty well holding down the hoppier end of the spectrum. My first sip highlights some darker fruits, a bit of wood (possible notes of oak and/or birch?), a flash of medium-strength ethanol. However, a huge, bitter and dark malt backbone overshadows almost everything in its path. Though the chocolate from the nose isn't as prominent on the tongue and the acridity is fairly apparent in its place, this feels like a really smooth, diesel-powered porter at its core. There is some "stoutiness", especially when it comes to the creamier-than-normal mouthfeel for this style of beer, but some of the nuttier qualities seem to outshine any consideration of this as a stout of any kind. There's absolutely nothing off about this beer; it's both workmanlike and inspired as MBC are wont to do... lack of pretense and a dedication/commitment to beer that runs fraternally deep seem to be hallmarks of what they do, and it comes through in their solidly made, well-built beer.
There are times where this almost feels like Sierra Nevada's Porter (also excellent), and that's a high remark for a smaller craft brewery with limited distribution. To stand on the shoulders of giants, indeed. I really love how the light yet ever-present hoppiness allows this to really open up on the tongue. Those luscious, dark fruit flavors are really brought to the forefront in my second half-bottle pour, allowing the beer to access some other sections of the tastebuds that the charred malts tend to miss. Mouthfeel seems a bit light on the finish, but the initial dark malt palate is enough to make up for it, and I actually prefer a lighter feel on this because the alcohol is so high for the style that it might have gotten to be too much after a while at anything above "medium". Many fans of this brewery will claim that Mean Old Tom, their vanilla bean-aged stout, is their weakest beer and thus there seems to be some skepticism as to whether they can actually pull off a dark beer (their pale ales and ambers are extremely well-regarded, as those of you who have read my review of Lunch should know!), but this is testament to the fact that they absolutely can. This seems to be difficult to find at the moment and I get the feeling I was lucky to catch it as it was just shipped to the store, so it will likely become a cult classic as their other rotating beers seem to, but it's worthy of most of the praise it's gotten thus far. I think more people probably need to give it a chance. It's a really delicious, roasty, warming dark ale with a bit of hop oomph and some underlying cocoa and fruit flavors. As with most of what MBC does, I deem this necessary. Great stuff.
The official breakdown:
- Style: American Porter
- ABV: 7.5%
- Appearance: Imagine the darkest black you can, then go 5 shades darker. Cobweb-like lacing, decent retention of a really thick brown head
- Scent: Somewhat milky, roasted malt, coffee grounds, citric juicy hops, some birch bark and earthy undercurrents reaching upwards
- Taste: Sweet but bitter with definite bias towards charred malt and pine-y hops. Some wood mingles with the chewy malt backbone; notes of raspberry and black cherry are present
- Mouthfeel: Smooth and fairly creamy with some decent bubbles that round out the deep, roasted malts. Carbonation calms down as yeast takes over. About on par with the style when all is said and done
- Drinkability: The flavor is even-tempered and balanced enough to make this fairly-alcoholic beer seem a bit less powerful than it is, but I would still save it for special occasions
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