When you read one of our big beer style rankings on Paste, blind or otherwise, there’s something to keep in mind: The final result is the synthesis of many opinions into one whole. We don’t always agree on which beers are best. In fact, there’s no shortage of times when two or more tasters are completely opposed on a beer. It happens.
When we conducted our tasting of American porters, Funky Buddha’s Maple Bacon Coffee Porter was one of those beers that proved somewhat divisive. It still ended up with a respectable ranking, but not one I felt was reflective of how good the beer truly was. So when I saw that this year’s batch of the highly sought-after beer had arrived, I thought this would be an ideal time to reevaluate it. And I’m glad I did, because this porter is truly delicious stuff.
That’s even more significant than typical praise, coming from me, for one simple reason: Gimmick beer all too often gets on my nerves. There’s just a limit to how many different flavors you can place in the name of a beer before it starts to sound absurd—and if “bacon” is one of those flavors, you’re already 50 percent of the way to jumping the shark completely. “Maple bacon coffee porter” sounds like a beer that you’d see from a hack brewery attempting to create a beer that will snag them local press coverage, internet attention and a line at the Great American Beer Fest. It sounds like something most likely to taste like a disaster. But Funky Buddha pulls off the unlikely coup, and that’s their brilliance at work.
On the nose, the beer smells like buttered, syrupy waffles. There’s an interesting quality to the maltiness in this thing that derives a “battered” quality I noticed when tasting it for the first time—perhaps it’s a hint of vanilla and a toasted malt background, but it evokes the whole waffle and not just the syrup. That waffle has apparently been topped with some dark chocolate chips and grade A maple syrup, all washed down with strong, black, uncomplicated diner coffee.
On the palate, you get the bacon for the first time, but its character is interesting. Usually when I see “bacon” on a label, I simply brace myself for smokiness, a flavor I seem to pick up with unusual sensitivity. Here, though, it isn’t just smoke delivering a sense of meatiness. If anything, it almost feels more genuinely “meaty”—like fat-derived meat—although it’s still subtle and restrained. There are three major flavors in the name of the beer, after all, and it doesn’t throw in all its chips on any of them. The balance and integration of maple and coffee and bacon is impeccable.
It’s also not overwhelmingly sweet, which is likely another surprise. The sweetness comes through like dark brown sugar, and there’s also a touch of cinnamon spice as well. Add it all together, and you end up with something that is undoubtedly greater than the sum of its parts.
There’s nothing more to say. This is how you do a novelty beer right. Plenty of other breweries could try and come nowhere close to pulling off the same results.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. You can follow him on Twitter.