Fundamentals #70 — Boxcar English Porter

It’s fun to watch Boxcar’s head Brewer Sam Dickison work. He exudes a zen-like calm, even when his situation becomes a little more stressful.

Arriving at the taproom one Friday early in 2020, I witnessed Sam under slightly more duress than usual. He was brewing with an experimental dark malt from Simpson’s, one of the UK’s largest and most well-regarded malt producers. Called Roast 200, it’s meant to produce a beer deep brown in colour, full of roasted coffee flavours and aromas, but the brew was taking a bit longer than it should.

Malt is in a fascinating place at the moment. With almost 2,500 breweries in the UK constantly looking for ways to innovate and appease seemingly insatiable fanbases, ingredient suppliers are working hard on new concepts in order to help brewers keep pushing things forward. We see this in hops through new varieties like Sabro and Cashmere, in yeast with strains like Voss Kveik and now in barley, Simpson’s Roast 200 being one example.

But there’s more to it than just flavour. Malt and hops are also a connection to agriculture. In the US, there has been an emergence of “craft maltsters”, small batch producers not only pushing the boundaries of flavour, but also working to connect drinkers back to the farms the products they enjoy were grown on. We probably won’t see this kind of emergence in the UK, because our heritage maltsters – as large as they are – are already producing industry-leading products. What they are investing in, however, are ways of better engaging with smaller breweries, such as producing smaller batch sizes and resurrecting heritage barley varieties such as Hana and Chevalier. Fingers crossed, malt will become an increasingly larger part of the beer conversation over the next few months.

Which brings me back to Boxcar’s English Porter, the third in its series of traditional British styles, following its excellent Dark Mild and a sumptuous Best Bitter, a collaboration with Mills. For a 6% beer, this porter is quite light in terms of body, although it has plenty of structure, supporting intense aromas and flavours of dark Italian espresso. Poured straight from the fridge, it presents a hint of astringency, but give it a few minutes to warm up and tantalising black treacle and molasses notes come to the fore, softening its flavour. It’s worth every minute of stress Sam endured, as this is a supremely enjoyable beer.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. To be first to read articles from Matt and our food writer Claire Bullen every month, why not subscribe to our All Killer No Filler subscription box?