Last week Land Grant released the latest beer in their series of seasonal can releases, a Baltic porter entitled Jacqueline Deep Search. When news of the release reached me several questions immediately came to mind. Just how is a Baltic Porter different from any other porter? What’s with the strikethrough in the name? When ordering this beer do you ask for a “Jaqueline scratch that Deep Search” or just a “Deep Search”? I figured curious readers would want to know so I headed down to Franklinton last Wednesday for the release party to get some answers.
What’s a Baltic Porter anyway
Let’s start with the style itself. The Baltic Sea borders the Scandinavian countries, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. It’s a cold, dark, wet place in the winter ideally suited for strong, dark beers. Like the Russian Imperial Stout, Baltic porters got their start when English brewers started to export a stronger more robust version of an English porter across the North Sea to the Baltics. Over time the production of most Baltic porters shifted east to the countries from which the name derives. Classic examples, some of which can be found in Columbus with a little searching, include Zywiec Porter (Poland), Baltika #6 Porter (Russia), and Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland). Some of you might be thinking that a stronger, darker version of a robust porter sounds a lot like a Russian Imperial Stout and it’s hard to argue with that logic. Fortunately, we can avoid the porter/stout rabbit hole because Baltic Porters have a defining characteristic that makes them unique in the porter/stout universe—they are (usually) brewed with lager yeast. Baltic Porters also differentiate themselves by sticking with dark malts that have relatively little in the way of bitter flavors that come from the roasted barley husks. In that way they are a little like a pumped up version of another dark lager, the German Schwartzbier.
As noted on multiple times on this blog, many local breweries avoid lagers because their fermentation times are much longer than ales, months instead of weeks. Conditions are even more demanding for the yeasts when you ask the lager yeast to make a high abv beer. In fact the version of Jacqueline Deep Search that debuted in the taproom last year was made with ale yeast. Not satisfied with that approach the brewers at Land Grant went to special lengths this year to boost the stamina of their yeast up to that of an Olympic caliber Finnish cross country skier. They built it up by first brewing a Helles Lager called Stevesy that was released at the taproom last month. Your average hop head is more or less oblivious to the nuances of a good Helles lager, so its release didn’t generate too much buzz. On the other hand, brewers are prone to waxing eloquently about this style. As an example check out Rick Armon’s recent interview with Reed Jaskula from Platform Brewing in Cleveland. When asked of which beer style do you wish you had created, Jaskula goes for a Helles Lager by saying that “No one would question your brewing techniques with a style like that under your belt.” I can attest first hand that Stevesy was a fantastic example of the style. I was remiss in discovering it only last week as supplies were dwindling. There was still some on tap at Land Grant last Friday night (also at Studio 35 and The Crest as of yesterday) but the supplies that are left are rapidly dwindling.
The bottom line is that after working itself up on Stevesy the lager yeast was ready for the main stage. Fermentation on Jacqueline Deep Search started in the dying days of December and ran for just over 6 weeks.
What’s with the strikethrough
When I asked Land Grant’s Adam Benner why a Baltic Porter, he told me that they were first attracted to the style because it fits their theme nicely as the Sea Grant beer. He makes a good point, how many other beer styles are named after a sea. The nautical theme continues with the name, which was taken from the 2004 Wes Anderson movie “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”. For those who haven’t seen this quirky gem, the movie stars Bill Murray in the title role as an eccentric oceanographer bent on finding the shark that killed his partner. His small submersible, initially christened Jacqueline after his wife, is renamed Deep Search after they split. Murray sports a Jacqueline tattoo on his arm with her name crossed out and a Deep Search tattoo below it, hence the use of the strikethrough in the beer name. When ordering one at the bar you can just ask for a Deep Search. As an aside, the color of the Pac-Tek that holds the 6-pack of cans together, red, was chosen to evoke the red stocking cap that Bill Murray’s character wears throughout much of the film.
Now we come to what should be the most important question on your mind, what does Jacqueline Deep Search taste like? Checking in at 7.7% abv it’s in the middle of the accepted range for a Baltic porter. With 39 IBUs there’s enough hop bitterness to keep things from becoming too sweet, but not enough to really notice unless you look hard (BJCP guidelines for Baltic Porters suggest 5.5-9.5% abv, and 20-40 IBU). As you would expect it’s a malt forward beer, but there’s very little roasty bitterness to it. There are hints of chocolate, but not the coffee notes that come from some of the more aggressively roasted malts. True to the style there are unmistakable dark fruit notes in the mid palate, that to my senses suggest plums and prunes. The combination of smooth roasted dark malts and dark fruits always reminds me just a little of Cola or Dr Pepper and it’s no different here. There is a healthy level of carbonation that combined with the medium body makes for a quaffable glass of beer. The extended lagering gives it a smooth yet complex finish.
Not as thick and chocolatey as a Founders Porter, not as hoppy as an Edmund Fitzgerald, not as vanilla forward as a Four String Vanilla Porter, Jacqueline Deep Search occupies its own niche in the world of Midwest Porters. If you are looking for some late winter adventure that evokes images of short days and frozen seas, without the cost and unpleasantness of a real winter vacation to Estonia, head down to the taproom where it is pouring on both standard and nitro taps (I strongly recommend the latter). Six packs, retailing for $11.99, are available at the taproom and throughout Central Ohio. Fans of the movie might also want to see if there any of the limited release prints celebrating beer still available (see photo below).