Port Brewing Company had its humble beginnings as Pizza Port, a small restaurant in affluent Solano Beach, Calif. In 1987, siblings Gina and Vince Marsaglia bought the struggling pizza joint along the Pacific Coast Highway, just north of San Diego, and transformed it into a successful local favorite. They served pizza and wings in a large room full of hand-built picnic benches that seemed reminiscent of a modern, craft beer version of the classic German beer hall.
Before they brewed their own beer, Pizza Port had a lot of local craft beers on tap, which at that time was ahead of the trend. Co-owner Vince began to tinker with home brewing in his spare time, and soon enough Pizza Port became a brewpub. They have since expanded their brewing operations to become Port Brewing Company, and have opened three additional locations in the San Diego area. They have gained a worldwide reputation for their excellent brews, and in 2009 Pizza Port beers won nine coveted medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
The recently frigid weather has awoken in me an urge for dark, dark beer. Accordingly, I went on a search and happened across Port’s Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout. Brewed once a year since 1997, Santa’s Little Helper is the brewers’ self-proclaimed “annual insurance policy against lumps of coal” in their stockings. Deciding to try it while it’s still available, I grabbed a 22-ounce bottle from Mad Greek’s for $9.90 — a bit pricey for a grad student on a budget, but what the heck. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, especially when there’s limitedly released beer from the West Coast involved.
I poured a bit of the brew into a large wine glass. The thick, dark brown foam stands and a pure, opaque black color is immediately noticeable. This beer is very, very dark — not a shred of light coming through the glass. It’s easy to see that this beer means business. On the aroma I noticed crisp dark malts and mild hops, and even a bit of alcohol. The taste is dominated by roasted malt flavors, ranging from coffee to caramel notes, with an interesting musty flavor that is hard to describe — almost like aged cheese, but in a pleasant way. The finish is a bit bitter due to the roasted malts, but there is also a pleasant warmth from the alcohol. Most remarkable, though, is this beer’s smooth, creamy and very viscous texture.
Due to its abundance of flavor and thick mouthfeel, one little sip of this beer goes a long way. It’s also dangerously hard to tell that it measures in at 10 percent ABV because of its smooth taste. Overall, Port’s Santa’s Little Helper is a delicious sipping beer and a delightful refuge from this obnoxiously cold weather.
10.0 percent ABV