Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gonzo Imperial Porter (Flying Dog Brewery)

Flying Dog, the brewery that does its best to channel the spirit of legendary journalist and pyrotechnician Hunter S. Thompson, expressly honors him with Gonzo Imperial Porter, which received a gold medal in the Imperial Stout category at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival.

Interesting. The label says "imperial porter," but it gets judged as an "imperial stout?" So, are the terms "porter" and "stout" synonymous? I didn't think so, but I know there is one place I might find an authoritative answer, and that is among the always fascinating pages of Martyn Cornell's historically rigorous Zythophile blog.

Sure enough, a keyword search returned this post, in which Mr. Cornell states quite plainly (and, as always, with a mountain of research to back him up) that there is basically no stylistic difference between beers labelled with these terms. A little additional scrounging reveals his scholarly dismantling of the almost universally taught notion that the original porter was another name for (or a reformulation of) a quaff called "three-threads," and, what's more, that "three-threads" was probably not made by combining three different styles of beer. This is a lot to think about.

But, to paraphrase Grandpa Fred: "You don't research it, son, you drink it!" So, let me get on with the tasting.

I poured this dark elixir into a snifter and a fine-bubbled cocoa brown head arose. The aroma is sweet and slightly smoky, pulling the nose down, down, down into suggestions of mouthwatering black licorice.

The flavor is mightily complex! It first hits with sweetness, then rolls over the sides of the tongue with a dense, roasty malt middle. Dark chocolate and espresso are present, as is a touch of vanilla, and even black cherries. The mouthfeel is smooth, and one feels the heft of all these dense, intense flavors. Later taste gives way to both floral (lilac?) and herbal hop notes. The fade out does reveal a substantial alcohol presence (9.2%), but it tries to disguise itself in the lingering malt sweetness of the aftertaste.

I was fortunate enough to have the barrel-aged version of Gonzo on tap at the grand opening of Two Stones Pub's north Wilmington location in September, and it was stunningly good. In addition to the fine qualities described above, it exhibited sticky raisin and prune flavors and a port-like quality elicited by its time in contact with the wood. Like love in a glass, it was.

My respect for Flying Dog just continues to grow. They've put together a bold line-up of styles, and the ones I've tried (Raging Bitch, Snake Dog, and Old Scratch) have ranged from good to excellent. Gonzo, I think, is the best of them all.

From the bottle's label:

"It never got weird enough for me." -- Hunter S. Thompson

Featured beer:
Gonzo Imperial Porter

Honorable mentions:
Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA
Snake Dog India Pale Ale
Old Scratch Amber Lager

[My good camera is broken, so pardon the absence of pictures of this beer in the bottle and in the glass. I hope to have this problem remedied soon.]

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