When I review beers for this blog I try to cover breweries from all over New England, although beers that are distributed to the Boston area tend to be the focus for practical reasons. With all of the renowned breweries in Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont it is easy to occasionally overlook the brewing scene in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has a few grizzled veterans that have been producing great beer for years, and a strong cast of up-and-coming breweries. Unfortunately many of the newer breweries don’t distribute out of state, so I can’t taste their beer without taking a road-trip. Note to self, plan a New Hampshire brewery road-trip this spring. One brewery that has started to distribute to MA relatively recently (I think, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) is Henniker Brewing Company in Henniker, New Hampshire. Since I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling many of Henniker’s offerings I though it would be fun to compare one of their beers to a similar style produced by Smuttynose, the most well known brewery in the Granite State.
The Competitors: The classic-for-a-reason Robust Porter from Smuttynose Brewing Company and the new-to-me Working Man’s Porter from Henniker Brewing Company.
I have long stated that porter is one of my favorite beer styles, especially in the winter months. A well made porter features rich, dark, malty flavors that are perfect for cold weather and subtle hop additions that balance the beer out. While many people sampling their first beers from an unfamiliar brewery would gravitate right to the IPAs (and I admit to doing the same on occasion), I thought it would be fun to start with Henniker’s Working Man’s Porter. This also gave me a good excuse to buy some more Smuttynose Robust Porter, one of my favorite local takes on the style. It’s a very high bar to set for Henniker, but I think every new brewery wants to be compared to the best.
Henniker Working Man’s Porter pours a cola brown with a pillowy tan head. The smell is roasty dark malts, not strong but noticeable. The taste is solidly malty, with plenty of coffee and a little chocolate, toffee and toast. There is also substantial hop character in this porter, earthy and floral flavors with a kick of mouth-drying bitterness. Working Man’s Porter is medium bodied and at 5.2% ABV is on the light side alcohol-wise. Overall this is a really solid beer, lots of malt flavor with a big (for the style) kick of hops.
Smuttynose Robust Porter pours an almost identical brown color, it would be difficult to distinguish the beers by sight alone. The malty/roasty smell is a little stronger here, as are the rich dark malt flavors. Significant mocha, milk chocolate and molasses dominate the flavor along with just a touch of sweetness. The hop flavor is more muted in the Robust Porter, you get a little kick in the end but not as strong. The other difference is in the body, Robust Porter had a fuller mouthfeel overall compared to Working Man’s Porter. At 6.2% ABV this isn’t a boozy beer, but it’s not a session beer either. There is a reason that this beer is a classic, it has tons of flavor while still being well balanced.
The Verdict: I noted that Smuttynose Robust Porter was one of my favorite local takes on the style, so I am really impressed at how tough a decision Henniker made this. Overall I would buy one over the other based on my mood, if I wanted a hoppier, drier porter I would go with Henniker, while Smuttynose is better if I’m in the mood for full malt flavor and body. Since I have to pick one as my “favorite” (based on arbitrary rules I made up myself), I’ll go with Smuttynose by a whisker, but I recommend trying both of these.