Wild Woods Brewery | Ponderosa Porter
Average Reading Time: 3 Minutes
Style: American Porter | ABV: 6.7% | IBUs: 45
Picture yourself walking up Mount Sanitas Trailhead in Boulder on a sunny, warm fall day. Your mind is clear and the air is fresh. All of a sudden, you ask yourself, “Am I losing my mind, or do I smell vanilla cupcakes?!”. This is the origin story of Wild Woods Brewery’s Ponderosa Porter as recounted to me by its female co-founder, Erin Evans.
At Wild Woods, nature is the inspiration for each and every one of their beers. The Evans duo, Jake and Erin, while on their frequent hikes, will seek out something outdoorsy that they can bring to new life through a beer. It is on the mountain trails where they get most of their beer ideas, including their Ponderosa Porter. When opening their Boulder brewery in 2012, of the six core beers Wild Woods brewed, the Ponderosa was the one that Jake and Erin were most excited about. Jake told me that Ponderosa pine trees have bark and oils that smell like butterscotch and vanilla, something I had honestly never heard of, or would think to believe!
Getting into the specifics of the beer, this American-style porter has both rye and Special B malt in its grain bill. Jake said that the 20% rye adds body to the beer without sweetness, which is balanced by the Special B, a dark, caramelized malt. Next, since Jake and Erin really wanted to capture the cupcake-y sweetness of the Ponderosa pine tree, they aged the beer on organic, whole vanilla beans. Moreover, the porter is also aged on toasted oak, so as to bring an aroma that mimics a ponderosa’s woodland forest origins.
When I sat at the bar in the Wild Wood’s taproom, Erin poured me a Ponderosa, which had a thick, dark brown hue with a noticeable tan head. Upon putting the pint glass to my nose, I smelled herbal aromas accompanied by sweet, oaky vanilla notes and a hint of smoke. In terms of taste, it is definitely the vanilla beans that come to the forefront on my palate initially. I also get some marshmallow, caramel and cocoa flavors. However, the beer has an earthy body that’s not overly sweet. The beer’s smooth finish is dry accompanied by a slight bitterness. The presence of the 45 IBUs and the added rye-tang create a nice back-end bite to round out the beer.
As luck would have it, I ran into Sam Scruby, Upslope’s head brewer in the taproom and when I asked him about his thoughts on the Ponderosa, he told me that it is one of his favorite year-round porters. He’s totally right; the balance of the sweet vanilla, smokey oak and rye make for a well-rounded and quite delectable porter! Overall, I found the beer to be complex yet extremely sessionable.
For potential food pairings, I had my work cut out for me. Two local Boulder restaurants have already been incorporating the Ponderosa Porter into their menus. Across the parking lot from Wild Woods is Blackbelly Market, a butcher-shop/restaurant hybrid. They serve a ton of meat, and Erin thinks the Ponderosa, which is on tap there, would go nicely with some game meat. For example, Blackbelly’s dinner menu includes a roast confit rabbit and Colorado guinea fowl.
In terms of a sweeter pairing, a mile down the road from Wild Woods is Basta, an Italian-style restaurant. Here, they have incorporated the Ponderosa into their homemade ice cream, the Campfire Vanilla, which is a seasonal offering. Basta beer director Chad Luman informed me that they pour some Ponderosa into the actual batter of their crème Anglaise, which the chefs use for the ice cream’s base. Since vanilla is oftentimes used as a component of this type of cream, it makes total sense that Basta would choose the Ponderosa with its strong vanilla bean presence.
The founders of Wild Woods clearly keep the Ponderosa close to their heart. In recently celebrating the brewery’s three year anniversary, they brewed an imperial version of the Ponderosa, named “Bourbon Bark,” coming in at 9.4%. They aged the Ponderosa in bourbon barrels, yum! Moreover, Wild Wood’s specialty cask program allows Wild Woods to explore the addition of different ingredients into their flagship porter. For instance, they’ve had Ponderosa casks with coffee, coconut, chocolate and hazelnuts. I am hoping they’ll do one with all four of these porter-friendly ingredients in the near future.
Towards the end of my delicious pint, Erin told me that after Wild Woods customers hear the origin story and try the Ponderosa in the taproom, they will venture out into the Front Range wilderness and track down this beer’s namesake. Then, those same customers will return and say they smelled the beer on the tree! I am hoping to soon count myself as one of these tree-smelling Wild Woods fans because who wouldn’t love encountering the smell of vanilla cupcakes on a hike?
Okay, so now you are probably wondering where you can pick up some Ponderosa to try for yourself. Fortuitously, Wild Woods is one month into packaging their beer for outside distribution. As of the time I am writing this beer showcase, Ponderosa Porter bottles are available in the Wild Woods taproom, as well as across the street at B Town Wine + Spirits, and most recently, Superior Liquors. The Evans team hopes to expand their reach across the Front Range in the upcoming months, so keep an eye out at your local liquor store!
(Picture from Wild Woods’ website of the mighty Ponderosa Pine. Working with the PD team to make this image scratch and sniff!)