Here’s the thing about snobbery: It’s surprisingly easy to get heavily submerged in the trappings and intricacies of a complex subculture without recognizing those same trappings elsewhere.
Case in point: Me and beer, vs. me and coffee. Obviously, as an alcohol writer, I’ve developed a taste for some of the finer things that the genre has to offer. I’ve been called insufferable in online reviews for long-winded tasting notes on beer or whiskey, and likewise told that I’m hopelessly out of touch with how “regular folks” consume those drinks. That’s sort of the nature of the job.
But at the same time, you’d think that experience would stop me from looking at intense coffee aficionados with a quizzical eyebrow, and … I must confess, it really doesn’t. Despite having a palate that is pretty well-attuned to beer, I can’t bring myself to expect the same sophistication from coffee, the beverage that so many start their day with the world over. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate a good varietal pour-over from time to time, because I certainly do. But I also happen to be perfectly happy on a daily basis with cheap drip coffee from fast food restaurants, or pods from the Keurig. If anything, it almost feels like an advantage—I don’t need the “good coffee” to be happy! Look at all the money I’m saving, Mom!
In this, I’m hardly in the minority, and so I can only imagine that the “average” beer and coffee drinker will be pretty hyped about the idea of a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee porter, right? It’s certainly a collaboration that seems to make sense, bringing together Harpoon, one of the country’s oldest (and 18th largest) craft breweries, with Dunkin’ Donuts, perhaps the biggest “coffee and donut” chain in the world. They’re two companies known for approachable products that eschew much of the “artisanal” imagery you’d find at a smaller craft brewery or independent donut shop. It’s craft beer homogeneity, meets donut homogeneity.
So let’s get to tasting, then.
On the nose this porter is certainly coffee forward, with a big, smoky waft of freshly roasted coffee up front, chased by light elements of mocha and just a trace of pine. It smells more “fresh pot of coffee” in terms of character than many modern coffee beers, having more ashy and “burnt” notes than the more pure, sweeter “cold brew extract” character that many seem to be seeking. It certainly doesn’t seem to be lacking in roast, that’s for sure.
On the palate, this beer seems even more coffee forward. Thin of body, with not a ton of supporting malt character, it’s effectively dominated by coffee, which is likewise very dark and roasty/ashy, like a strong Italian or French roast. The beer actually finishes fairly dry, certainly drier than I would have expected, and it feels like it could have used a creamier texture or more malt sweetness to stand up to all the coffee and balance it out. The overall effect reminds one of unsweetened ice coffee, which may be exactly what certain beer fans are looking for. There’s a wisp of piney hops here as well, and minimal bitterness, but it’s still a beer that drinks very easily.
Also: Do I really need to point out that it’s a missed opportunity to not put some DONUTS in this beer? You’re with me, right?
Overall, this coffee porter feels like a collaboration where one side’s contribution ended up outweighing the other—in this case, Dunkin’s coffee overpowering the porter that it was meant to meet it halfway. It still drinks easy for its 6% ABV, and there are likely fans out there who will love this, but it will be drinkers who appreciate drier beers and heavier roasts.
Brewery: Harpoon Brewery
City: Boston, MA
Style: Coffee porter
Availability: Limited, 6-packs of 12 oz bottles
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.