BRECKENRIDGE MAY NOT have been the first to put vanilla bean in their porter, but they have certainly become the most famous to do so. In fact, their Vanilla Porter seems so ubiquitous that it’s hard to believe that the Denver brewery only ranks about 40th among the nation’s largest craft producers. Appropriately, this places them alongside Left Hand, from neighboring Boulder County, whose famous Milk Stout is another world-beating dark ale that could easily be an ingredient in most of Dairy Queen’s recipes.
Breckenridge’s flagship is reasonably deemed a porter for its depth of color, which seems at first but reveals reddish depths like dark rum once down towards the dregs, and substantial grist of roasted barley and black malts. But at only 16 IBUs the Vanilla Porter is surely one of the least bitter porters on record, substantially below the range of even mild English brown porter. Four hops were used (Chinook, Palisade, Perle, Golding), yet their presence is so mild as to be all but unmentionable.
This leaves the beer’s bouquet and finish wide open for the vanilla, which hardly needs the help in asserting itself. Thankfully, Breckenridge chose well here (sourcing beans from Papa New Guinea and Madagascar), and the vanilla flavors are smoothly natural instead of cloying like extract. Carbonation is a touch too tame, though perhaps it’s best that the vanilla is allowed freely with two kinds of roasted malts late on the palate, silky and a little smoky, before tapering off into an unexpectedly light finish. Some caramel malts help the beer from being purely one note, but only just. Between the minimal hopping, 4.7% ABV, and light body it’s clear that Vanilla Porter isn’t too concerned with complexity. It’d rather sidle up to a scoop of ice cream in a beer float. For which, admittedly, it’d be perfect.
Served: 12 oz bottle