Williamston's Old Nation Brewing goes old school with Night Farmer porter

Tom Gromak
The Detroit News

Old Nation brewmaster Travis Fritts is going back to his brewing roots with “Night Farmer,” a standard porter that brings a traditional flavor forward with a host of roasted malts, not a reliance on extra add-ins.

Released March 15, the 800 cases produced quickly sold out at distributors across Michigan and nearby states where Old Nation beers are sold. It’s on store shelves, but hurry. They won’t be making more – not right away, anyway.

Fritts said the beer came from the mind and recipe kit of brewer Joe Cavanaugh, who came to Old Nation, in Williamston, two years ago with a wide 20-year brewing background and interest in “old school” styles. “We got together, and we talked about beer styles we want to do, and he said, ‘I’d really like to do a porter’,” Fritts said.   

“For us, that’s a great beer to examine, particularly for malt. It finds itself somewhere between a brown and a stout and, we think, combines the best characteristics of those two styles,” he said. That means there’s opportunity to choose ingredients like malts that create a layered flavor profile, without resorting to adding other flavors or boosting the beer’s alcohol by volume (ABV) – things that can blur the line between a porter and a stout.

“That’s what this beer kind of became to us: An ode to malt,” Fritts said. “Each malt is interesting, but the way they work in concert is what we’re looking for.” Night Farmer uses a blend of malt from the Great Lakes, Canada and England: pale, victory, black and chocolate.

“In the case of each malt, what we’re looking for are colors to add to a theme. You can kind of think of a good beer like a guitar solo. Initially it’ll evoke the general theme and melody, then it will sort of veer off into the different colors of that melody,” Fritts said.

Fritts’ description of that flavor experience: “With this Porter, (it’s) coming in with the dark malts right off the bat, so your first sip should be roasty and a little smoky, and then it should kind of fall off into sort of a smoother molasses, and then into a kind of a brown sugar and then a lighter turbinado sugar, and then rise again through chocolate and coffee and then back into the smoky roast, which is the main theme. All these are subtle, and all these carry through throughout the entire sip of beer.”

Old Nation Brewing's Night Farmer is available in a four-pack of 16-ounce cans, and is be sold primarily in Michigan with limited quantities reaching retailers in other Great Lakes area markets.

He thinks the beer succeeds as a solid entry in the traditional porter category, and generally positive scores on consumer beer ratings sites agree, he said. Night Farmer has an average score of 3.83 (on a scale of 1 to 5) out of 79 check-ins on untappd. That pleases him and his brewing staff. 

We hear the music. Night Farmer’s roasty, smoky, slightly sweet, slightly dark-chocolate flavor reminded us a little of a black IPA, but without the bite of the hops. It’s complex, with the flavors coming in waves, and even changing with the finish. It a tasty porter. Is it groundbreaking? No. But it’s not meant to be. 

“We’ve been hoping beers like this – real representations of the style – would become beers that could become short-release popular beers instead of gimmick-type beers,” Fritts said. There’s no denying the popularity of things like Strawberry M-43, but that’s really just about putting strawberry into a popular beer. “We like Strawberry M-43 (and it’s coming out again later this year), but it’s not really interesting for a brewer,” he said. Crafting a traditional style into a success is interesting.

“This is a very traditional porter. It's only 5-1/2% alcohol. There's nothing in it, but malt and a little bit of hop and yeast and water but it showcases the skill of the brewer and the brewer’s ability to build a recipe, and respect subtlety, and kind of respect the drinker,” Fritts said.

Night Farmer is available in a four-pack of 16-ounce cans and is sold primarily in Michigan with limited quantities reaching retailers in other Great Lakes area markets.

If you miss it? Fritts said it might come out again in the fall – porters tend to be a cold weather beer and give way to lighter styles for spring and summer -- but said it will definitely make the 2022 calendar of releases.