It was with a heavy heart and great sadness that I recently learned of the passing of a good friend. Many knew this friend was in poor health and was in serious trouble. But we never really thought we'd lose our companion of so many years.
Through a recent email, it was confirmed that the best example of the relatively obscure Baltic porter style is no more. The Okocim Brewery recently decided to discontinue its quietly acclaimed Okocim Porter.
The oft-neglected Baltic style is not even popular enough to constitute a sub-style of the porter group under the Association of Brewers' style guidelines. This style is a near relative of the imperial stout style. These deep, rich porters, popular in Poland, Finland and Russia, are full in flavor with a fortifying alcohol content. In a nod to hybrid style beers, many Baltic porters are brewed with lager yeasts.
In every style of beer, there is usually one or two beers that serve to define the category. For the Baltic porter style, the powerful 8.1 percent a.b.v Okocim Porter stuns with its massive malt aroma and flavor. The Okocim pours with a deep, dark brown color, a remarkable tan head, and offers a huge, rich malt nose, with some coffee hints. This beer lets you know upfront that it isn't messing around. It reaches its full potential after warming at room temperature for a few minutes, and has a layered, almost dry finish. On my most recent taste, the bottle had been aged for more than a year and help up very well.
Though not widely available in its time, ethnic package stores in the Chicago area always possessed ample supplies of this fulfilling brew. And there is good reason for such a distribution point: Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, Poland.
So how did such a beautiful beer meets its demise? According to a source at Stawski Distributing, Okocim's American importer, production costs coupled with the parent company's (Carlsberg acquired a greater share of the company in December 2002) desire to focus on higher selling products brought this classic to its deathbed.
"I understand people, breweries, want to make beer that sells," says the representative. "But Okocim Porter is not Miller, or Zywiec for that matter. It appeals to a select few, it's a treat, it's something special,
it's not the next Corona..."
While the Okocim Porter may never have been a big seller, it is still painful to see the departure of a classic example of a style. Imagine beer drinkers the loss of other defining beers, such as Anchor Steam, Guinness Stout, or Pilsner Urquell.
The people at Stawski, and fans around the U.S., are devastated by the news. "I myself wanted to start a petition somehow to let the brewery know that the people want it and the category of Baltic Porters needs it around to secure the standard of what a Baltic porter should be," says the representative.
If there is any silver lining it is that Stawski's distributors stocked up on Okocim in the last six months before the importer ran out of the beer. So bottles of the classic are still available in package stores in select markets.
While the news has been slow to spread, it seems certain that this classic representation of an obscure style is not likely to return., though some still have their hopes. The Stawski representative put it best: "Keep making it in the name of good beer!"
Okocim's export manager can be reached via e-mail if you care to comment.
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