Today's craft beer scene has an amazing variety of selections available to the average consumer. Today, more than at any time in the history of beer, you can find pretty much anything you could ever want and a lot of things you didn't think you would ever want or even knew existed. The variation not only between various styles of lagers and ales, but between the sub-styles of beers is absolutely amazing. Case in point: cherry porters.
No, cherry porters are not a "style" of beer I drink often. Frankly, I don't see them too often and fruit-influenced beers don't really get me riled up, so it's nothing I've much considered in the past. I just happened to be at the store, though, and saw singles of both North Peak Darkangel and Short's Black Cherry Porter (both Michigan breweries). I decided that it would be a nifty comparison experiment and picked up a single of both to contrast.
The differences couldn't have been more stark, which I suppose is somewhat expected considering the method of imparting the cherry flavor and considering the breweries involved. Darkangel is made with cherry juice added, which contributes a clean, somewhat tart edge cherry quality to the roast and chocolate of the porter. It's more evident in the smell than the taste, which is somewhat disappointing. It seems to fit with the impression I get from other North Peak beers: solid, yet somewhat uninspired. I wouldn't turn down it someone offered me one and I might even buy one at the bar if there wasn't much of a selection, but it just doesn't have anything 'WOW' about it.
The Short's offering is a completely different animal. Rather than adding juice, Short's Black Cherry Porter employs a cherry puree. The differences between the effects of the different approach is striking. Where Darkangel is subtle, the Black Cherry Porter is in your face. Both the smell and taste is dominated by the earthy, deep black cherry flavor. I suppose this would be a drawback if you wanted a straight-to-the-style porter, but if you wanted that, why in the heck are you drinking a cherry porter? No, this Short's offering falls in line with the rest of their experimental, food-tasting beers (Key Lime Pie, PB&J, etc.) as a bold departure from the base beer that is knocked about my the later additions. If you want a cherry porter that tastes like cherries, this is your beer. If you want a traditional porter with a slight wisp of cherry, check out the Darkangel.
With all of that in mind, what is your favorite cherry (or other fruit-based) beer?