Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout
Brewed by: Port Brewing Company
Beer Classification and Specs
- Style: Stout
- Variation: Imperial (Double)
- Seasonal: Oct-Dec / July *
- ABV: 10% / 12% *
- IBU: N/A
Notes: * indicates the specialty bourbon barrel aged version.
Brewer’s Notes and Ingedients
Each year, we look forward to the release of this beer which signals the impending arrival of the jolly old fat man and his merry band of elves. Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout is as black as Christmas Eve with a decidedly smooth finish. We know you’ll find it the perfect companion for chestnuts roasting by an open fire paired with that lump of coal you’ll be receiving.
Hops: Magnum and Centennial
Additional: The specialty version is aged in bourbon barrels for 9 months.
More Santa’s Little Helper Images
Artwork: A blacked out Santa Claus is sitting at a bar with Rudolph, while an elf serves beer. The barrel aged label is the same, only this time Santa Claus is wearing an undershirt and board shorts for the summer release.
Color: Pitch black, like a lump of coal.
Aroma: Musty, bread, with sweet chocolate overtones. The barrel aged version featured plum and raisin, with oak and bourbon booziness.
Arrived in: 22 oz. / 12 oz. (barrel aged)
Served in: Tulip
Santa’s Little Helper is not only one of my favorite holiday beers, but favorite stouts overall. It also makes my short list of the best imperial stouts you can find on the market, along with Port’s other gooey project — Old Viscosity.
I’m going to try something new for this review, (more like recommendation) and combine two beers into one post: Santa’s Little Helper, and the special edition Bourbon Barrel Aged Santa’s Little Helper. Why not – its a barrel aged version of the same beer, and both of them were enjoyed right in a row.
So let’s get started with Santa’s Little Helper…
This imperial stout poured a thick, majestic, mocha colored head atop the deep black ale. The foam was creamy at first, but started to fade into pockets of larger bubbles as it melted down.
Basically, its capper transitioned from a fine cream whip, to dish soap after a few minutes. If you appreciate heady ales, you should try Santa’s Little Helper on that principle alone.
The bad news was this beer created extra work, with lacing so thick it crusted all over the glass. Be sure to at least rinse your glass when done, or else you will be picking and scrubbing the next morning.
Not like you could see through the blackness of Santa’s Little Helper, so you had to rely on your mouth to realize there was zero carbonation to this ale. Barely a pulse of effervescence, actually.
Santa’s Little Helper’s stillness made for a buttery mouthfeel, coupled with an already syrupy consistency. Too thick for rookies — only a seasoned stout fan would appreciate the deep, overly full body of this ale.
As far as flavor went, all the signature characteristics you look for in a stout came to “help” Santa. It was bitter up front, with dark malt and Baker’s chocolate, and a hint of tobacco. The lasting finish was caramelized syrupy sweetness, like maple or brown sugar.
Now let’s turn to the Bourbon Barrel Aged Santa’s Little Helper for some differences, brought on by its nine month barrel aging process. (In October, after Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout is brewed for winter release, Port sets aside part of the batch, which is aged until July for its summer release).
Bourbon Barrel Aged Santa’s Little Helper poured nowhere near as volatile of a head as the regular edition. There was only a couple fingers of foam, and it evaporated really quick.
Almost immediately I noticed the bourbon barrel aged-ness seemed to “cut”, or eat away at Santa’s Little Helper in two areas: its consistency, and flavor. From that initial splash of bourbon, some of its dark bitterness and chocolate was reduced, and this iteration of the stout was not as full-bodied.
And I don’t mean that as a knock — the barrel aged version was also top notch. Besides aroma, those were a few nuances I picked up, worth noting.
Both versions of Santa’s Little Helper were sweet. But the original formula was more raw, un-cut, lasting sugariness like a dessert, where the barrel aged variant was a more fermented (obviously), with refined sweetness.
A sweetness of smooth, oaked, bourbony flavor. Some barrel aged stouts can be overbearingly sweet, but this one was the perfect amount of whiskey notes against the dark stout base.
Oakiness carried the finish of Bourbon Barrel Aged Santa’s Little Helper. Once it warmed, the oaky wood was less dominant, and replaced with more intense bourbon, mixed with an emergence of cherry.
Final Score: 5/5
Any stout lover should have the holidays circled on their calendar for the release of Santa’s Little Helper. Whether you have been naughty or nice, be sure to treat yourself to the pricier (and well worth it) Bourbon Barrel Aged specialty version.