BREWHEADS: Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter
Who knew a tweet could send you on your personal mission in life? My friend Metal Chris retweeted a photo from Grill ‘Em All — a Los Angeles-based heavy metal-themed burger and beer bar — showing a bottle of Iron Maiden’s new beer Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter. Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter is the third official Iron Maiden beer brewed by Robinsons Brewery in Cheshire, England. Since coincidentally I was two hours away from LA while deployed with the Marine Corps, I decided I had to make it my mission in life to eat at Grill ‘Em All and drink metal beer.
First chance I got, I made a B-line for Grill ‘Em All. I devoured my Napalm Death Burger, Overkill fries, and drank the new Megadeth beer A Tout Le Monde on draft. Yeah, I decided not to get the Red ‘N’ Black since I bought several bottles the day before at a beer store in Palm Springs. Score! To round-out my heavy metal inspired trip to LA, I hung out and drank beer with my buddy Matt who is the lead singer of Yesterday’s Saints.
Ok, let’s get back to the beer.
I thought it was appropriate to drink my first bottle of Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter on Veterans Day. Iron Maiden often writes songs about military history and warfare. Their Trooper line of beers—including Trooper extra special bitter (ESB) and Trooper 666—are named after Iron Maiden’s song “The Trooper” from the bands 1983 album Piece of Mind. The song retells the British military’s disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 against Russian troops during the Crimean War. The battle inspired Lord Tennyson to pen the poem by the same name just six weeks later.
The beer also got its name from its transforming color. As you would expect in a porter, the color is very dark brown verging on black. But when you hold it up to the light, it appears crimson red. Iron Maiden's lead singer and beer maestro Bruce Dickenson noticed this color transformation during the tasting panel, “The colour? It’s not just black. . . it’s red too. The Red & the Black! Or Red ‘N’ Black as I would say!” The name was a perfect fit since Iron Maiden has an epically long song “The Red and the Black” on their latest—and highly debated—album The Book of Souls.
I respect the hell out of Robinsons and Iron Maiden for doing this heavy metal and beer collaboration right. Bruce Dickenson was involved with developing the recipe. There is a video showing the tasting panel where Bruce and Robinson’s head brewer chose the final version of Red ‘N’ Black out of several pilot batches. Iron Maiden simply could have slapped their name on a mass-produced light lager the way AC/DC, Motorhead, and Metallica did. Personally, I’ve brewed several beers with metal bands in the Washington D.C. area, and I always made sure the bands were heavily involved. If they didn’t want to be intimately involved, I wouldn’t have brewed the beer. If they are not happy with the final batch, we won’t serve the beer. Robinsons and Iron Maiden apparently take the same approach. Much respect!
Bruce Dickinson explains the process of creating a dark Trooper beer: "I like tasting outside the box. Stouts and porters were virgin territory for me, so I just went by feel. Martyn [Weeks, Robinsons’ head brewer] and I hope we have created a new take on a classic beer and one which I hope will tickle the taste buds of ale fans in a pleasantly unexpected way."
The back of the Red ‘N’ Black bottle label provides more details:
Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter is the first dark beer in the Trooper ranks and a modern take on a recipe dating back centuries. The red and black colour comes from the blend of chocolate and crystal malts which gives this full bodied beer a roasted malt and caramel backbone. The Robinsons’ yeast provides hints of both liquorice and honey character to create a delicious warming brew.
Designed yet again by Iron Maiden vocalist and ale aficionado Bruce Dickenson and the Head Brewer at Robinsons brewery, Red ‘N’ Black take its inspiration from an original Robinsons’ recipe from the 1850s, at a time when porter style beer was becoming increasingly popular in Britain.
Ok. It’s time to drink. Red ‘N’ Black unsurprisingly smells a lot like Trooper ESB and Trooper 666—a 6.66% ABV version of Trooper ESB. I suspect they all use the same Ringwood English ale yeast, which has a very distinct musty smell and slightly buttery taste. The big difference, obviously is the porter gives off whiffs of caramel, toffee and burnt toast. When I tasted Red ‘N’ Black, the first thing I noticed is that I needed to let this beer warm up. The Brits tend to drink their beer warmer than us Yanks.
WARNING - Beer Nerd Rant: We ‘Muricas like our beer frost brewed, cold filtered (all beer is cold filtered), and so cold the can turns blue. Right? What a bunch of marketing horseshit. Just in case for some crazy reason, you didn’t know; there is no such thing as frost brewed. When you brew, you literally boil the shit out of the wort for at least an hour to sanitize it, condense the sugars, isomerize the hops and drive off volatile compounds. Every step of brewing in the brewhouse is hot as hell. Frost brewed my ass.
Anyway. . . Red ‘N’ Black has a somewhat thin mouthfeel for a 6.8% ABV brew. It tastes nearly exactly has it smells. There are subtle hints of the caramel and toffee and that distinct musty flavor from the yeast. Robinsons says they have been using the same yeast strain since 1942. The yeast flavor is most pronounced in Trooper 666 where it has a stronger buttery taste stemming from diacetyl.
BEER NERD ALERT: Diacetyl is a natural by-product of beer fermentation. It is one of two major Vicinal Diketones (VDKs) produced during fermentation, the other being Pentainedione. Diacetyl tastes like butter or butterscotch. Pentainedione provides a honey-like flavor. Both can be detrimental to the finished beer and are considered off flavors if too much is present. English ales are known for having higher levels of detectable diacetyl.
My two cents: I know a lot of American metalheads and beer nerds have been a little disappointed by the Iron Maiden Trooper line of beers. They say the beers are boring, too low in alcohol, and taste “different”. I can understand their disappointment. What you have to understand is that these are true English-style beers made in a historical brewery located in England. Their beers traditionally are more subtle and balanced than most American brewed beers, which like to push the boundaries for the sake of it. I suspect if the same Robinson beers didn’t have Iron Maiden’s name on them, they wouldn’t sell well in the United States. But that does not mean they are not high quality, or by any means bad. They are well made in my opinion—just different than what we’re used to drinking.
I thoroughly enjoyed Trooper Red ‘N’ Black. In the meantime, watch young French guitar goddess Tina S. cover The Trooper and have a beer.
“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let sip the Brewheads” - Quote attributed to William Makesbeere