Sleeman's Brewery has released a special limited edition Porter, called "Fine Porter," available for a limited time only in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. I don't know how long its been on the market, but I just found out about it last week. The natural thing to do, of course, was to head to my local beer store and see if they had any in stock. They did and I bought two bottles.
Sleeman's as you may know, is an old/new Canadian brewery, founded in the 1850s. They went bust in the 1930s as a result of Prohibition (or, to be precise, because they got busted bootlegging during Prohibition, which lead to a large tax bill that forced them to sell the brewery). In the late 1980s, the great-great grandson of the first Sleeman brewmaster revived the business using the original recipes, that, according to folklore (or is it marketing?) were found in an old notebook tucked away in an attic. The relaunch of Sleeman's was a success, due in part to a major investment from one of the big American brewers. Behind the hokey ads and the down-home sentiments is a medium-sized brewery with big ambitions. Sleeman's brews a number of big-name brands under license, including Stroh's, Pabst, Pilsner Urquel, and Sapporo. They also brew the "Upper Canada" brands.
For that reason, no one should think of Sleeman's products as "craft brews." Still, their products are consistent and tasty, if not entirely distinctive. Which makes me wonder where this "Fine Porter" limited edition 2004 came from. If you believe the marketing, it came from page 68 of the old notebook. Who am I to argue? I suspect there really is a bit of good old nostalgia around the Sleeman household. While they're pumping barrels of Pabst and Stroh's out the back door for a fast buck, there might really be a sense of it being a family business.
Whatever the case, I cracked open a Sleeman's Fine Porter this evening while a batch of slow-cooking chili bubbled away on the stove. I wasn't sure what to expect -- until I read the label. Sleeman's has courteously provided a label (on their traditionally label-less bottles) complete with tasting notes, ingredients, and colour notes (in both of Canada's official languages). That makes it easy. Thus, I quote: "Bitterness of imported hops balances the malty sweetness, with roasted and chocolate aroma notes." The colour is described as "Deep rich brown," as if you couldn't tell through the clear glass bottle.
Unfortunately, I am not familiar with other Porters. They simply aren't in my repertoire. I've always thought of Porters as flat muddy beers that old people drank, so I tended to avoid them. (A silly prejudice, I know...) That said, I found the Sleeman's Fine Porter to be pretty much as described on the bottle, which was disappointing as it brought no surprise. It was definitely toasty, and the chocolate aroma was present but not strong. It had a decent heft, like any dark ale, but didn't weigh down like a stout.
I enjoyed it. It was a nice late-afternoon-on-a-winter-day-spent-at-home kind of beer. The sort of thing you might have one of while waiting for your pot of chili to age. It would go well with a nutty cheese on crackers as a late afternoon snack. In the end, it didn't quite have the kind of character I expected from something referred to as a "limited edition," but it did go down nicely and agreeably and I'm looking forward to another winter day spent at home, when I will crack open the second bottle.