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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Beer Here: Gandy Dancer Porter from Potosi Brewing
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Credit:Robin Shepard

For me, there's nothing quite like a good porter; I can recognize one almost by its aroma alone. These dark, often full-bodied beers have something of an attitude thanks to their caramel and chocolate tones. And it's a beer that will complement many foods. If you're a fan of the style, then the Potosi Brewing porter named Gandy Dancer is a beer to try.


What is it? Gandy Dancer Porter from Potosi Brewing Company of Potosi, Wisconsin.

Style: The porter style is an ale, and ranges from brown to deep black in color because of its chocolate and smoked brown malts. The origins of the style are traced to the 1700s, when it was a favorite beer of the porters who worked the shipyards in London. In the U.S., the porter style nearly vanished in the years following Prohibition, as light-bodied lagers appealed more to the masses.

Homebrewers and small craft beer makers helped revive the style. Potosi brewmaster Steve Buszka makes Gandy Dancer as a full-bodied American-style Imperial Porter. This subtle distinction from the traditional version gives even more emphasis to caramel and cocoa-like sweetness, with a range in alcohol from 7% to 12% ABV.

Background: Gandy Dancer is a winter seasonal for Potosi Brewing Company. It was introduced at the brewpub in 2009, and was offered in bottles for the first time last winter. Buszka travels to Stevens Point on brew days to make Potosi's bottled products.

Gandy Dancer is made with two-row roasted barley, flaked barley, chocolate and black malts, and is hopped with Northern Brewer and Cascades. The beer takes about four weeks to make, and it finishes at 6% ABV. It gets its name from the railroad workers known as gandy dancers, who laid and maintained train tracks, so called because they used tools made by the Gandy Tool Company of Chicago and timed the repetitive movements of laying tracks with rhythmic chants. Gandy Dancer is sold in six-packs for $8-$9. It is available in growlers for $10 (refill) at the brewery.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light coffee type of roastedness.
  • Appearance: Deep black color with bronze highlights. A soft and rocky tan head.
  • Texture: Full bodied with a silky mouthfeel.
  • Taste: A smooth chocolate maltiness, with just a light roasted accent.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The light aroma of coffee-roastedness lingers, while complimenting the chocolate malt.

Glassware: The English pint glass gives a nod to the tradition of the porter. It is also well suited to show off the deep black color and rocky tan head.

Pairs well with: The porter style pairs well with beef and wild game. I recently discovered a special treat: Gandy Dancer's solid chocolate maltiness and hints of roastedness are wonderful with shrimp and scallops when they're prepared on the grill or smoker.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: B (good) at BeerAdvocate, and 95/97 (overall/style) at RateBeer.

The Verdict: Chocolate malt gives Gandy Dancer its smooth sweetness, and flaked barley adds a silky mouthfeel. While there's a light roasted coffee aroma, it complements the caramel and chocolate tones of the malt. The beer is modestly strong at 6% ABV, but not as strong as some American Imperial Porters. It is best served cold, but not too cold. Gandy is a very nice dark ale, and if you like the style or are looking for an introduction to porters, you won't be disappointed.

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