whiskey soaked cherry porter

I’m not one to write many reviews of commercial beers. It’s not my thing. There are others who do it very well – BeeritualLiquid Bread Blog, or The Crippled Brewer for instance. When it comes to my homebrews, however, I always have something to nitpick.  

I tend to brew once a month. Sometimes, I’m just trying to cross a beer style off my bucket list, other times, I’m inspired by any such thing. To celebrate George Washington’s February 22nd birthday, I chose to do a Cherry Porter with some Jack Daniels added to simulate whiskey barrel aging. The base beer was a brown porter (recipe) with an emphasis on the chocolate/caramel/plummy end of the malt spectrum. I added a small amount of Carafa II for color but wanted to avoid any kind of pronounced roastiness. Cherry came by way of an addition of Tart Is Smart tart cherry concentrate. My goal, here, was subtlety, not a cherry bomb. Jack Daniels was added at bottling along with a small amount of priming sugar to keep the brew at a low carbonation (similar to actual barrel-aged examples).  

What does all that add up to?

Overall, this is pretty good; I’m happy with this beer. Others who have tasted it say its one of my best. A vigorous pour gets you maybe 1/2” khaki-colored head, not much in the way of retention. Color is mostly opaque brown, maybe 25 SRM, while the edges give way to something closer towards amber with a slight tinge of red. Aroma is toasty and caramelly, there’s a bit of soft fruity/estery sweetness and some chocolate; I get no hops. Moving onto taste, this guy has a fair amount going on – I hesitate to use the cliche “complex” but it works here. The beer is more tart than sweet although there’s a good amount of malt flavor to keep that in check. You get the cherry but it’s definitely not taking over the place. The whiskey adds some nice depth but man, this is boozy**. My choice to remain restrained with the Jack was a good one. Hop flavor (I only used Willamette) blends in nicely, I don’t imagine changing the amounts. The finish is sweet but the cherry tartness kind of reigns it back in. The whiskey flavor lasts the longest into the aftertaste. I’ve noticed this is a beer that benefits from a higher serving temp. Coming straight out of the refrigerator, tart is the main impression but as the glass warms, everything mellows out and the beer becomes much more balanced.

Conclusion: I would say I hit all my targets.  If I were to change anything…

  1. I’d pump up the malt (maybe w/ some cherry-wood smoked malt to keep it in the family) and lose the whiskey. It’s not that it doesn’t work, I just think it could be better. Just as well, I know in homebrewing, there’s really no such thing as cheating…but I feel like I’m cheating.
  2. Increase the mash temp to get a little bit more sweet to balance the tart.  Not too much, though, it’s close.

For the ABV, the numbers were OG = 1.049 and got down to 1.008 in primary fermentation (5.1%). Adding the cherry brought the gravity back up to 1.040 which was then fermented back down to 1.030 (+2.5%).  1 2/3 cups of 80 proof whiskey adds .6% ABV. Total ABV = 8.2%.