River Horse Brewing Company - Imperial Chocolate Porter
- Alcohol by Volume: 9%
- Serving Temperature: 50–57° F
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Snifter, or Pinot Glass
This imperialized version of River Horse’s seasonal Chocolate Porter was made just for our Rare Beer Club members. It’s 9% to the original’s 6.5% to 7%, and has some extra additions of vanilla and oats. A pound of chocolate goes into every barrel. There is also a bit of lactose added to fully develop that milk-chocolate character. This is the very first release of this beer, and the only other distribution of any sort will be out of the brewery tap room and gift shop.
So we’ve got chocolate here, in no small amount. Madagascar vanilla beans. A hit of lactose. And some oats for rounding out the mouthfeel. One of the elements that we really dig when it comes to River Horse is that their bigger beers tend to do a masterful job of tucking away their alcohol, such that it tends to appear as rounded and fruity—if it makes its presence felt at all. Here, it’s almost as quiet as it was in the 7% version we tried, offering just a hint of the underlying warmth and serving to really bring those various parts together under one roof. A rich degree of roasted malts and bitter chocolate underpin everything, via the specialty malts.
With a vigorous pour, this offered up a fleeting medium-tan head that left behind a fat outer layer of rich foam. In accordance with the alcohol levels, only a light amount of foam lingers for any considerable amount of time, likely improved by the oats. There’s a dark-dark-chocolate tint to this beer that feels entirely true to the name, with just a small amount of light making it through at the edges. There’s a touch of added viscosity, and this kicks out occasional gold and leather hues depending on how it hits the light. A robust beer, worth disappearing into.
The generous aromatics on this certainly offer plenty of rich milk and dark chocolate notes, in tandem with warmer vanilla aspects that smooth everything over (ditto for the lactose): a shift of charred malts to bitter chocolate, bitter chocolate to milk chocolate, and so on. The secondary notes are where more of those underlying malt aromatics present themselves, via notes of toasty bread and cereal grains, darker contributions fitting in seamlessly behind the chocolate. There’s lots to return to in the nose, including darker fruit, caramelized sugars…
This lands perfectly. Velvety smooth, textured by milk chocolate and lactose and warming vanilla—even some darker dried fruits and caramel, everything feeling pretty lush for miles. But there’s also a very sincere porter structure in place, with that aforementioned toast and dark-roast maltiness forming a respectful framework for all that other fanciness to happen against. The chocolate qualities in particular are worth spending some time digging into, as they touch upon cocoa powder, melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate, and some of the most high cacao-percentage options out there: evolving from spicy to milky, plus all in between. Overall the texture’s exceptional, with the smoothness of those lighter chocolates amplified by the Imperial Chocolate Porter’s slight rounded warmth—a massive beer that feels light.
Work with chocolate as your guiding principle for pairings, either as a complement or to set alongside vanilla-forward desserts and baked goods. The chocolate and dark roast would also go well with some heavier grilled meats. Expect this to age comfortably for six months given the ABV, but keep checking a bottle every few months as you go forward after that. We dug it fresh for the most-potent chocolate and vanilla characteristics—and hope you do as well!
River Horse Brewing will seem like a new name to many of our Rare Beer Club members in places distant to New Jersey, but the brewery’s in fact about to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Expect this to become a more and more common occurrence going forward with 4,000-plus breweries in the U.S. The fact is River Horse has been seeing a rebirth over recent years, and we’re looking forward to giving our Rare Beer Club members a taste of what we found there.
River Horse, per owner Chris Walsh, was originally founded by three brothers, who saw it through one rise and fall of the craft beer tides before it was purchased by Walsh and Glenn Bernabeo in 2007, both having worked heavily with distressed companies. They redid all the packaging, branding and beer lineups, while keeping the original name intact. They’re joined by Head Brewer Chris Rakow, who signed on around 2008 after studying to be an electrical engineer and quickly departing that field for brewing school and a job at Harpoon Brewery. In 2013, they were able to move into a facility two and a half times larger than the last one.
It’s been exciting for us to watch everything going on over at River Horse, including releases like their Hipp-O-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and barrel-aged versions of their Oatmeal Milk Stout. The brewery’s Barrel Aged Series further includes a rum-barrel-aged Baltic porter and a cranberry sour—brewed with a mélange of yeast, bacteria and New Jersey cranberries.
River Horse is also currently gearing up for their 20th anniversary. They’re currently working on an anniversary beer for that very occasion: based around their year-round Tripel Horse, a Belgian-style tripel as one might expect, with some aged in Bourbon barrels and some in red wine barrels with cherries and oranges, the blended result aimed to channel an old fashioned.
(Yes, we’ll probably try to snag some of it.)
In the meanwhile, while that final blend remains a twinkle in Rakow’s eye (or something to that effect, and maybe not the twinkle thing), we’ll immerse ourselves in this amazing Rare Beer Club exclusive they’ve built for us: an amped-up take on their stellar chocolate porter. Sit back, dig into that chocolate and Madagascar vanilla, and savor a big something special.
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