Sud Savant: Two Brothers Red Eye Coffee Porter a Very Tasty, Complex Beer

With the clamor that this brew has created in the Chicago suburbs, I wasn’t about to leave Chicago (on a recent trip) without seeking out a bottle for myself. According to the label, “Red Eye Porter is the first of our 15 archive recipes we will brew to celebrate out 15th anniversary. Red Eye debuted in the Spring of 2009 and quickly won acclaim from the public and press alike. We brewed it a second time, which was the last time we made it, in the fall of 2009. Since then it has easily become the most requested beer for us to bring back (like almost every day). So we hope you enjoy the start of our fun 2012 project.”

Bringing back beers simply on public demand? That’s good business and great PR right there. No wonder I wanna support these guys! I also wanna drink this beer. So let’s pour!

Aroma 10/12: There are definitely both elements of the coffee & porter here. The coffee is present, but more in an “iced coffee” way instead of an “Ohmygoshwejustwalkedintoacoffeehouse!” kind of way. Still a great coffee aroma, but not the embrace of fresh ground goodness, which I doubt is possible in a beer without using artificial flavorings. It mixes well with the peaty, roasted porter malts and even includes a touch of chocolate from time to time. I may be eating crow yet, because as this beer warms that authentic coffeehouse aroma becomes ever closer.

Appearance 3/3: This brew certainly has the appearance of a robust porter. It is espresso brown (a.k.a. pretty much black for all intents and purposes), but barely shows some brown/red highlights toward the very top and only when held to light. The head was smaller than average, but is a nice toasted marshmallow tan and leaves a little lacing as it fades away.

Flavor 17/20: Wow! Not what I was expecting at all. I was immediately bushwhacked by all sorts of porter-y goodness! It starts strong as that sour, peat-like porter, gives a touch of coffee grounds, and then is joined by all sorts of sweet, gooey caramel and toffee flavors (and maybe even a dark fruit or seven). Unlike the aroma, the chocolate is no longer subtle, but lends a darker sweetness to the lot and helps transition to some of the later coffee flavors. Not that the coffee flavors on the back end ever take over this dentist’s nightmare of sweetness, instead it sneaks in behind the chocolate and before you know it you’re holding a much more bitter, coffee-emphasizing beer in your mouth than when you started. Fantastic! The sweets never truly go away, so truth be told, it’s a very sweet coffee (like someone added too much sugar and no creamer), but the sweet flavors are fantastic, and I’d let someone make this coffee for me anytime. A slurp brings the coffee bitter and alcohol warmth quickly to the forefront. The aftertaste is coffee bitter (no surprise there), but also a tingle of said alcohol on the tongue and in the breath. It’s a bit of a shock since the warmth (9.2% ABV) was so well-hidden in the rest of the beer. Overall, this seems very sweet.

Mouthfeel 5/5: A medium-bodied brew with a non-distracting level of carbonation. I’m surprised that the beer doesn’t feel thicker in the mouth given the high level of sugars present. They really did an excellent job of making that happen and not erring one way or another with the carbonation. Spot on. The warmth is really only present during a slurp or in the aftertaste so Two Brothers get top marks for camouflaging (yet not completely hiding) their alcohol as well.

Overall Impression 8/10: A lot sweeter than I thought it would be and a lot sweeter than most porters I’ve had, excepting some of the flavored varieties (maple, etc). Not that porters can’t be on the sweeter side, but this seemed to take every sweet porter characteristic and include it in a single bottle. Even with that sweetness, Two Brothers managed to make the coffee flavors come through in a way that didn’t take over the beer and included some excellent technical aspects as well.

Total 44/50: Still a very respectable score for Two Brothers. My only real qualms with the beer were an initially weak aroma (I went back and changed the score after the beer warmed), which is more my fault than theirs, and a beer that was a bit sweet for my taste. I feel it would’ve been easy for Two Brothers (@TwoBrothersBeer) to not only make a more balanced, attenuated porter, but they even had the coffee at their disposal to assist them in balancing the bitter and the sweet. I suppose there is an effort made, as the aftertaste is mostly bitter to counter the sweetness of earlier portions, but it comes “too little, too late.” Does that make this a bad beer? Hell no. I’m now wishing I had bought more than one bottle when I was in the Chicago area. I’m sure this beer’s sweetness could help convert some folks ready to move on to darker beers.

I’m torn. All these sweet flavors make a very tasty, complex beer, which is great to examine on a technical aspect, but a little harder to drink “mindlessly” and just enjoy the taste. If you like a sweeter porter, you can’t let this pass you by in the craft beer aisle. If you like a more balanced porter, you could still give this a try, but only if you want to be impressed my the myriad of flavors they’ve managed to shoehorn into this bomber bottle. I’m impressed, but one is probably enough for me. Cheers to Two Brothers! See you at the Hop Juice Festival!