The Man Who Invented Beer: Atwater Vanilla Java Porter


Every Wednesday in The Man Who Invented Beer, Nashville native Adam Cowden takes a gander at some of present-day craft beer’s finest offerings.

Some of you were probably a little conflicted about whether or not to purchase last week’s beer selection, Highland Gaelic Ale. “Sure, I like good beer,” you say, “but Asheville?! How can I reconcile my conscience with the fact that my money is going to support that teeming hipster-hive of a community?” Well, if you think that the residents of Asheville need to get jobs that don’t involve drinking or throwing paint at the wall, you can take comfort in the fact that this week’s brew comes from none other than Detroit, the bastion of hardened American blue-collar workers itself.

What’s the story?

There’s reason to suspect that the Atwater brewery actually may be a front for a German espionage cell. The Atwater brewery, according to their website, is entirely imported from Germany, and when the equipment needs servicing they call in ‘ze Germans themselves. Most of the beers brewed by Atwater are German Pilsners, and according to company representative Matt Cebula, “We’d love to make German beer all day long, but you have to make beer to sell to all people.”

The Atwater Brewery opened back in 1997 in Detroit’s Rivertown district as a microbrew restaurant, but closed its restaurant three years ago to focus exclusively on brewing beer. Today, the brewery features a simple, unadorned taproom where customers can sample upwards of 20 different varieties of beer. Aside from the aforementioned German styled beer, Atwater specializes in flavored brews such as “Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale” and “Cherry Stout.” Atwater’s brews are available shipped out to 13 different states, mostly concentrated in the Midwest/Northeast but stretching as far as South Carolina.

Why should I drink it?

Detroit’s “historic” Rivertown district may once have been a vibrant center of nightlife and small business, but now it looks like this. Atwater Brewery appears to be one of the few businesses still holding onto life in Detroit, and for that matter, one of the only signs of life in the city, period. Buy some Atwater beer, help comfort a dying city, and cross off “act of charity” from today’s bucket list.

What does it taste like?

Atwater Vanilla Java Porter tastes exactly like what the name suggests. Brewed with coffee beans and vanilla extract, it’s a yin/yang combination of bitter dark roasted porter and smooth vanilla. Don’t expect an extra creamy Guinness milkshake, however; the two tastes sit side by side rather than blending together, and the light carbonation leaves little in the way of a head. Basically, the beer is a very good dark porter with much of the after-bite taken off by the vanilla. If you’ve ever had Leinenkugel’s Vanilla Snowdrift Porter, you can expect something very similar, but smokier and heavier with more of the roasted and vanilla flavors.

Should I try it?

This is pretty much the definition of a love it or hate it beer. If you like your beer with added flavors, you’re likely to enjoy this one, but if you’re a beer purist you probably won’t. If you like your coffee with creamer, or your chocolate with vanilla, try it, and if you don’t, stay away from it. If, like me, you think that vanilla is God’s gift to dark roasted beverages, you’re going to love it. Personally, whenever I drink a plain porter, I secretly wish that someone at the brewery had accidentally dropped a bottle of vanilla extract in the vat, so needless to say I loved it. Typical of an American porter, it’s very drinkable at 6%, though definitely too strong to be consumed in mass quantities. This a great one-off beer; if you’re DD-ing and see this on tap, or if you like to have a night-cap to help you fall asleep, this would be a fantastic, tasty choice. I definitely recommend it.

Rating: 8/10