5 Sources of Inspiration for Alaskan Smoked Porter

6 Degrees of Fermentation by | Jan 2016 | Issue #108
Illustration by Brett Affrunti

Alaskan Smoked Porter | 6.5% ABV | 45 IBU

Alaskan Brewing Co. co-founder Geoff Larson talks about the drinks (and other things) that inspired one of the most award-winning and sought-after beers in recent history: Alaskan Smoked Porter. First brewed with alderwood-smoked malts in 1988 and released annually since, Smoked Porter has the remarkable ability to age indefinitely; in fact, Larson is still holding on to an original case.

From Larson:

The alderwood-smoked flavor of a traditionally smoked piece of salmon was the main inspiration for making a beer that carried with it the history and tradition of Alaska. When my wife Marcy and I started the brewery in the mid ’80s, I often met two of my friends after work, Grady Saunders, who founded Heritage Coffee and Roasters, and Sandro Lane, who founded gourmet salmon processor Taku Smokeries. We were all working with roasted or smoked products, and we got to talking about what would be the perfect beer to match with this local delicacy of smoked King or Sockeye salmon. I thought about how brewers at the turn of the century in Juneau would roast their malt over wood-stoked open flame, and hit on the idea of using the alder-burning salmon smoker to roast some malts. I chose Porter as a typical darker style that was historically brewed in Alaska.

Heritage Coffee
The deep roast of Heritage’s coffee inspired me to think about how malts are also roasted and how a lighter malt could also carry a smoky flavor if treated properly in a smoker.

Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
This was an early darker beer that was around when there weren’t many others. The depth of flavor to this sweet, malty beer was eye-opening, and influenced my journey into beers that could carry more taste than I had experienced.

ABC Extra Stout
This Malaysian beer was complex and had rich layers of flavor that went on and on. It wasn’t just the malt roast, but how that blended with sweetness, alcohol warmth and light hops that made me feel like I was tasting a symphony of delights.

Anchor Porter
I was an East Coaster, so I didn’t try this when it was introduced in 1972, but I did get to try it in the early ’80s and was blown away by its complexity and subtleness. Anchor has always had a big influence on me, and they were so willing to share their knowledge in those early days of the craft beer movement.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen
I read about this classic smoked beer in Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer in 1982 and was fascinated—it was one of only 42 beers in the world that he awarded five stars! When I first brewed the Smoked Porter, it was still an imaginary point of reference but I was excited to attempt to follow in the footsteps of the masters at Schlenkerla.