Article

Robust Porter

I remember the genesis of my first all-grain robust porter recipe. I was an extract brewer making the transition to all-grain and I wanted to brew a robust porter on my new MoreBeer sculpture. Luckily, I had a chance to ask Regan Dillon, who is a fanatic about robust porter, for a recipe. He came up with a recipe that served me well over the years, winning many awards. I have tweaked that first recipe many times, but the general idea is still the same. When we recently brewed a robust porter at my brewery, Heretic Brewing Company, that recipe was yet another branch from that original tree. It was just coincidence that Regan happened to stop by one day as the beer was ready for packaging. It was a great moment for me to share my first commercial batch of porter with Regan, the person who gave me my first robust porter recipe, and to have him voice his approval of the result.

Robust porter is a complex, rich, roasty ale. Examples of the style range quite a bit, from bigger, bolder American interpretations to less bold English interpretations. This style should always have a fair amount of roasted character, reminiscent of coffee and chocolate. The best examples also exhibit other malt character, such as bready, biscuit, and caramel flavors and aromas. The appearance of a good robust porter ranges from dark brown to almost black. Hop bitterness is firm, but the overall balance can range from slightly sweet to firmly bitter with the finish ranging from dry to medium sweet.

A common mistake many brewers make when attempting this style is on the roast character. Either the amount of roast is too little or too much or the flavor of the roast is far too acrid. It can be tricky getting the right balance, because you also need to account for the effects of residual malt sweetness and specialty grains versus the effects of hopping and yeast attenuation. If you decide to brew an American style robust porter, use clean, neutral ale yeast and a higher starting gravity. The hop bitterness, flavor and aroma are also higher in an American version. If brewing an English version, use a lower starting gravity, less hops and an English-style yeast strain.

You have some flexibility in choosing base malt for robust porter. My preference for almost all “American-style” beers is to use North American two-row, which gives the beer a clean, subtle, background-malt character common to many fine American craft beers. For robust porter you could also use North American pale ale malt which adds a slightly richer background malt character or British pale ale malt which adds an even deeper, fuller rich malt character. When using North American malt, I like to add about 10% Munich malt to the grain bill. It adds a background malt note that helps fill out the character of the beer. Extract brewers should use a light color North American malt extract. All-grain brewers can use a single infusion mash at a mid-range mash temperature, 150 to 156 °F (66 to 69 °C). Use a lower mash temperature when using lower attenuating yeasts or high starting gravities and use a higher temperature when using the higher attenuating yeasts or lower starting gravity beers.

Specialty malts are an important element of robust porter, but there is lots of room for experimenting with rich malt flavors. Every robust porter needs roasted malt notes and most examples include some level of caramel malt flavors. Not including any caramel malt can leave the beer tasting more like a dry stout if there isn’t plenty of unfermented sugar in the beer. Experimenting with the amounts and colors of crystal and roasted malts is a great way to change the character of your beer. The roast, chocolate, and coffee character of the style comes from the use of highly kilned grain, such as chocolate, black patent, and roasted barley. When I first learned to brew porter, other brewers told me roasted barley was for stout and black patent was for porter. I still follow that guidance to this day, but I think it is just from habit more than anything else. Each maltster has their own way of crafting black malt and roasted barley and the flavors of one product might be far better in your ideal porter than another. Highly kilned malts vary considerably from maltster to maltser, varying 100 °L or more for a similarly named malt or roasted grain. Experimenting with side-by-side taste tests is the best way to decide on which grain to use. Using a blend of highly kilned and lighter kilned roasted malts will give the best result. These roasted malts should be no more than 10% of the grist. Keep in mind that beers at the higher end of this range can be acrid depending on the blend of roasted malts. A 40/60 mix of highly kilned and lighter kilned grain, like black patent and chocolate malt, strikes a nice balance of sharper roasted notes and less burnt coffee/chocolate notes. It really depends on the other balancing factors in the beer, such as hopping and residual sweetness, which can either emphasize the acrid sharpness or mellow it out.

Crystal malts add caramel flavors and residual sweetness, which helps balance the bitterness of the roast grains and hops. For caramel flavors, I like a mid-color crystal for this style, but the type of crystal malt you use can range dramatically. The quantity and the color of crystal malt is a key part of the balancing act. The lower the color of the crystal malt the sweeter it often seems. Darker crystal malts (80–150 °L) add caramelized, raisin-plum notes, but do not seem as sweet. You want to try to balance the sweetness of the crystal malt, the residual sweetness from unfermented sugars, the sharpness of the highly roasted grains, and the hop bittering to achieve a balanced, drinkable finish. In general, your crystal malt amounts are going to range from 5 to 10% of the total grist, although exceptions
are possible.

If you are looking for more complexity, mouthfeel, or increased head retention, it is possible to add other malts as well. Oats, wheat malt, CaraPils®, and more are common additions. Just use restraint so the beer does not become saturated with unfermentable dextrins or cloying flavors. Target between 0 and 5% for these additional specialty grains.

Hop flavor and aroma comes from British or American-type hops and can vary from low to high. While you have plenty of leeway when making your hop choices, watch out for citrus hop character. Trying to combine sharp citrus notes with roasted malt flavors and carbonation often results in a sharp, acidic bite that is too much for this style. Keep in mind you are trying to build a malty ale, not a dark IPA. My preference for this style is to stick with British or American-grown versions of traditional British hops. They lend mostly floral and earthy notes, which go well with the dark malt character.

Robust porter should have a medium to high bitterness, with the balance of bittering versus malt sweetness ranging from balanced to firmly bitter. The calculated bitterness to starting gravity ratio (IBU divided by OG) can range anywhere from 0.4 to 1.0, but the extremes of that range are not likely to produce the best results. Stick in the range from 0.5 to 0.7 and it should be correct for most recipes. While you can bitter with a neutral flavor higher alpha acid hop, I like to use some lower alpha acid British-type hops, such as Kent Goldings or Fuggles, for the bittering addition. Since they are lower alpha acid, you end up using enough that the bittering addition provides a background, subtle hoppy character instead of just bittering.

Fermentation should result in a well-attenuated, low ester beer. If you prefer a cleaner, less fruity, more American ale version, ferment with one of the clean American-type strains, such as White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale), which are my favorites for this style. You will not have to worry about having an overly sweet beer with these yeasts either, as they usually attenuate well and at a range of temperatures. Other good choices along these lines are White Labs WLP051 (California V Ale Yeast) and Wyeast 1272 (American Ale II). If you want a more complex beer,
you can try British or Irish ale yeast, such as White Labs WLP004 (Irish Stout) or WLP002 (English Ale) and Wyeast 1968 (London ESB) or 1084 (Irish Ale Yeast).

Regardless of the yeast, you want good attenuation and a relatively clean profile so make certain you oxygenate the wort and pitch an appropriate amount of clean, healthy yeast. Most robust porter fermentation should be around the 65 to 70 °F (18 to 21 °C) range depending on the yeast strain and recipe. Try to pick a temperature and stick with it, holding the temperature steady throughout fermentation. Holding the temperature steady is important to getting a proper level of attenuation and avoiding off-flavors, especially if you are making a bigger beer. Letting the beer go through large temperature swings can result in the yeast flocculating early or producing solventy and/or overly estery beers. You can raise the temperature a few degrees near the end of fermentation to help the yeast clean up some of the intermediate compounds produced during fermentation, but with an appropriate pitch and proper temperature control, it shouldn’t be necessary.

RECIPES

Black Widow Porter

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.064 (15.7 °P)
FG = 1.015 (3.8 °P)
IBU = 37  SRM = 37  ABV = 6.5%

Ingredients
10.6 lb. (4.82 kg) Great Western pale malt 2 °L
1.3 lb. (600 g) Best Malz Munich malt 8 °L
14.1 oz. (400 g) Great Western pale malt (or similar) Crystal 40 °L
10.6 oz. (300 g) Briess chocolate malt (or similar) 350 °L
7 oz. (200 g) Briess black patent malt (or similar) 525 °L
7.2 AAU Kent Goldings, pellet hops, (1.44 oz./41 g) at 5% alpha acids) (60 min.)
3.15 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.63 oz./18 g at 5% alpha acids) (15 min.)
3.15 AAU Kent Goldings, pellet hops, (0.63 oz./18 g at 5% alpha acids) (0 min.)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Step by Step
Mill the grains and dough-in targeting a mash thickness that will enable your system to achieve the necessary pre-boil volume and gravity. Hold the mash at 153 °F (67 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168 °F (76 °C). Sparge slowly with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 5.9 gallons (22.3 L) and the gravity is 1.054 (13.4 °P).

The total wort boil time is 60 minutes. Add the first hop addition once the wort starts boiling. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings and the second hop addition with 15 minutes left in the boil. Add the last hop addition at flame out. Chill the wort to 67 °F (19 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 2 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 2.4-liter starter.

Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C) until the yeast drops clear. At this temperature and with healthy yeast, fermentation should be complete in about one week. Allow the lees to settle and the brew to mature without pressure for another two days after fermentation appears finished. Rack to a keg and force carbonate or rack to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar, and bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.

Black Widow Porter

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.063 (15.5 °P)
FG = 1.015 (3.7 °P)
IBU = 37  SRM = 36  ABV = 6.4%

Ingredients
6.6 lb. (3 kg) Alexander’s Light liquid malt extract (or similar) 2 °L
1.3 lb. (600 g) Best Malz Munich malt (or similar) 8 °L
14.1 oz. (400 g) Great Western pale malt (or similar) Crystal 40 °L
10.6 oz. (300 g) Briess chocolate malt (or similar) 350 °L
7 oz. (200 g) Briess black patent malt (or similar) 525 °L
7.2 AAU Kent Goldings, pellet hops, (1.44 oz./41 g) at 5% alpha acids) (60 min.)
3.15 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.63 oz./18 g at 5% alpha acids) (15 min.)
3.15 AAU Kent Goldings, pellet hops, (0.63 oz./18 g at 5% alpha acids) (0 min.)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Step by Step
Mill or coarsely crack the specialty malt and place loosely in a grain bag. Avoid packing the grains too tightly in the bag, using more bags if needed. Steep the bag in about 1.5 gallon (~6 liters) of water at 165 °F (74 °C). The idea is that your temperature, once you add the grain, is in the malt conversion range and will convert some of the starch from the Munich malt. After about 30 to 60 minutes, lift the grain bag out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water. Allow the bags to drip into the kettle for a few minutes while you add the malt extract. Do not squeeze the bags. Add enough water to the steeping liquor and malt extract to make a pre-boil volume of 5.9 gallons (22.3 L) and  the gravity is 1.054 (13.3°P). Stir thoroughly to help dissolve the extract and bring to a boil.

The total wort boil time is 60 minutes. Add the first hop addition once the wort starts boiling. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings and the second hop addition with 15 minutes left in the boil. Add the last hop addition at flame out. Chill the wort to 67 °F (19 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 2 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 2.4-liter starter. Follow the remainder of the all-grain recipe at left.

Regan Dillon Porter

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.063 (15.4 °P)
FG = 1.015 (3.7 °P)
IBU = 36  SRM = 39 ABV = 6.4%

This was my first porter recipe!

Ingredients
9.4 lb. (4.25 kg) North American pale malt 2 °L
1.4 lb. (630 g) Munich malt 8 °L
1.4 lb. (630 g) crystal malt 40 °L
11.3 oz. (320 g) chocolate malt 350 °L
7.4 oz. (210 g) black patent malt 525 °L
7.4 oz. (210 g) CaraPils® malt 2 °L
5.5 AAU Kent Goldings pellet hops, (1.23 oz./35 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (60 min.)
3 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.67 oz./19 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (30 min.)
2.7 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.60 oz./17 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (15 min.)
2.7 AAU Kent Goldings, pellet hops, (0.31 oz./9 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (0 min.)
1.4 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.31 oz./9 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (0 min.)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Step by Step
Mill the grains and dough-in targeting a mash thickness that will enable your system to achieve the necessary pre-boil volume and gravity. Hold the mash at 154 °F (68 °C) until enzymatic conversion is complete. Infuse the mash with near boiling water while stirring or with a recirculating mash system raise the temperature to mash out at 168°F (76°C). Sparge slowly with 170 °F (77 °C) water, collecting wort until the pre-boil kettle volume is around 5.9 gallons (22.3 L) and the gravity is 1.053 (13.2 °P).

The total wort boil time is 60 minutes. Add the first hop addition once the wort starts boiling. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings and the second hop addition with 15 minutes left in the boil. Add the last hop addition at flame out. Chill the wort to 67 °F (19 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 2 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 2.4-liter starter.

Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C) until the yeast drops clear. At this temperature and with healthy yeast, fermentation should be complete in about one week. Allow the lees to settle and the brew to mature without pressure for another two days after fermentation appears finished. Rack to a keg and force carbonate or rack to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar, and bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.

Regan Dillon Porter

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.063 (15.4 °P)
FG = 1.015 (3.7 °P)
IBU = 36  SRM = 39  ABV = 6.4%

Ingredients
6 lb. (2.7 kg) light liquid malt extract 2 °L
1.4 lb. (630 g) Munich malt 8 °L
1.4 lb. (630 g) crystal malt 40 °L
11.3 oz. (320 g) chocolate malt 350 °L
7.4 oz. (210 g) black patent malt 525 °L
7.4 oz. (210 g) CaraPils® malt 2 °L
5.5 AAU Kent Goldings pellet hops, (1.23 oz./35 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (60 min.)
3 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.67 oz./19 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (30 min.)
2.7 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.60 oz./17 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (15 min.)
2.7 AAU Kent Goldings, pellet hops, (0.31 oz./9 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (0 min.)
1.4 AAU Fuggle, pellet hops, (0.31 oz./9 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (0 min.)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Step by Step
Back when I started brewing I used an ultra-light extract made by Alexander’s (California Concentrate Company), but any fresh, high quality light color extract will work well. If you cannot get fresh liquid malt extract, it is better to use an appropriate amount of dry malt extract (DME) instead.

Mill or coarsely crack the specialty malt and place loosely in a grain bag. Avoid packing the grains too tightly in the bag, using more bags if needed. Steep the bag in about 1.5 gallon (~6 liters) of water at 165 °F (74 °C). The idea is that your temperature, once you add the grain, is in the malt conversion range and will convert some of the starch from the Munich malt. After about 30 to 60 minutes, lift the grain bag out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water. Allow the bags to drip into the kettle for a few minutes while you add the malt extract. Do not squeeze the bags. Add enough water to the steeping liquor and malt extract to make a pre-boil volume of 5.9 gallons (22.3 L) and the gravity is 1.053 (13.2 °P). Stir thoroughly to help dissolve the extract and bring to a boil.

The total wort boil time is 60 minutes. Add the first hop addition once the wort starts boiling. Add Irish moss or other kettle finings and the second hop addition with 15 minutes left in the boil. Add the last hop addition at flame out. Chill the wort to 67°F (19 °C) and aerate thoroughly. The proper pitch rate is 2 packages of liquid yeast or 1 package of liquid yeast in a 2.4-liter starter.

Ferment at 67 °F (19 °C) until the yeast drops clear. At this temperature and with healthy yeast, fermentation should be complete in about one week. Allow the lees to settle and the brew to mature without pressure for another two days after fermentation appears finished. Rack to a keg and force carbonate or rack to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar, and bottle. Target a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.