In mid-December, the brewers at the local COAST Brewing Company released an exotic and robust specialty ale in town — a smoked porter made with cherry wood-smoked malt. Inspired by the full-flavored smokiness of the Alaskan Smoked Porter (from the Alaskan Beer Co.), co-owner David Merritt fine-tuned his own recipe with wonderfully smooth results. They released it under the name Porter, Smoked.

As with other recent offerings, COAST aims for richness and balance with this American-style porter. Not too strong in alcohol (at 5.8 percent a.b.v.), it’s medium-bodied, jet-black in color, and deliciously drinkable. A mild hop bitterness and caramel-accented malt roastiness swirls nicely with the light smoke flavors. There’s a warm sweetness to the flavor that dissipates in the finish. It’s the perfect beer to eat with smoked meats, strong cheese, and hearty winter dishes.

Delicate and complex, Porter, Smoked stands up to some of the other commercial examples of smoked ales and lagers (domestic and imported). There are only a few available in Charleston at the moment, the most famous and celebrated is the Beechwood-smoked Schlenkerla, from the northern Bavarian city of Bamberg

Look for more on Schlenkerla’s Marzen and Weizen, plus reviews of other locally-available smoked ales and lagers in the next installment of Ballard on Beer.

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