Although the winters in San Diego don’t get too brutal, the brewers at Ballast Point Brewing Company were in the mood for a bit of a warmer—a winter ale that brings comfort on those days when you can see your breath in Southern California.
Victory at Sea—a slang term used by surfers today to describe blown out and choppy conditions in the water—is an imperial coffee porter that clocks in at 10% ABV. Winter Ales are traditionally pretty spicy, but Victory at Sea employs vanilla sweetness to round out the beer’s big profile; the belly-warming spice comes from the beer’s boozy burn and the presence of roasted coffee, courtesy of Caffe Calabria.
Caffe Calabria was chosen because a bunch of the crew lived in the neighborhood and were big fans of the coffee they roast. The brew master worked with the roaster to get the right beans, roasted to the right level, to avoid as much bitterness as possible.
COLOMBIA VALLE DE CAUCA SUPREMO
The Cauca region, named for the Cauca River, is a region thick with diversity in terms of both ecological factors and the coffee growing population. Despite the various ethnicities and decendances, the growers of Cauca are consistent in their cultural practices as well as their coffee producing systems.
Coffee grown in the Cauca region experiences heavy rainfall and rich volcanic soils. Daily temperature fluctuation combined with high altitudes slow the maturation of the coffee and allow the beans to develop more flavor characteristics before they are taken off to the mill to be processed.
COSTA RICA TARRAZU
This coffee is grown in the exclusive Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. The small, high mountainous Costa Rican Tarrazú region, south of San José, has the ideal conditions. It is hand-picked at optimum ripeness, sun dried and hand graded to ensure the highest quality 100% Tarrazú Estate Coffee. The conditions are perfect for producing gourmet coffee…rich volcanic soil, high elevation, seasonal rainfall, and a cloud cover in the afternoon to shade strong sun.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the the Victory at Sea Imperial Porter—a collaboration between San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing Company and Caffe Calabria. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Valle de Cauca, Colombia // Tarrazu. Costa Rica
elevation: 1600 – 1700 // 1800 meters above sea level
cultivars: Various // Bourbon, Caturra, Typica
process: fully washed, patio dried
style: Imperial Porter
alcohol by volume: 10%
international bitterness units: 60
stemware: Bourbon Snifter
Visually, Victory at Sea Imperial Porter is a very deep, dark, charred brown—almost black, like dark chocolate—and its topped with an impressively thick (a whole finger’s width) and foamy tan-colored head. This beer also has incredible legs, with lacing that lingers up and down the globe of the snifter after every sip.
The aroma is intense and has a bit of a booziness to it, but it’s also sweet. Chocolate malts and roasted barley dominate the aroma, but underneath them I’m detecting scents of toffee, dark berries, molasses, oatmeal, and Bourbon barrel.
Taking my first few sips, the taste follows the nose… And it’s amazing.. A velvety full-bodied beer gushes over my tongue and inundates my taste buds with absolutely incredible flavors. I’m getting the typical advertised flavors of chocolate malts, coffee, vanilla, roasted barley and a pretty boozy burn (though not at all overpowering), but there’s so much more happening than that in this coffee porter. There is also a spicy undertone of nutmeg, cinnamon, graham cracker, and Bourbon barrel (which is probably contributing to its booziness, too) and the sweet subtlety of black cherry, raisin, and blackberry. And it all wraps up with a chewy, sticky finish – like a burnt marshmallow.
Full body; velvety mouthfeel; berry acidity; clean finish.
I’m just going to get right to the point: Ballast Point Brewing Company and Caffe Calabria’s Victory at Sea Imperial Porter is, very likely, the best traditionally coffee-infused beer on the market (“traditional” meaning a stout or porter). It’s certainly the best this reviewer has tasted.
Most coffee stouts/porters are pretty simplistic in a way—you get the coffee and the chocolate and the barley notes, and that just about does it. Ballast Point has done a very strong job here in incorporating some more complex flavors. It takes the standard flavor of a porter – which, really, has become something of a pigeonhole term – and expands upon them, adding elements of complexity to the style while maintaining a lovely simplicity.
This one goes so far above and beyond the standard porter that it belongs in its own world.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.