This is the final installment of our series on porter. Earlier articles dealt with water treatment, dark grain profiles, ingredients and recipe advice, handling dark grains in the brewhouse and specialty porters.
There are a lot of variants of porter — smoked porter, vanilla porter, coffee porter, honey porter and porter fermented with lager yeast. These show up frequently at homebrew contests and are all available commercially. However, this doesn’t exhaust the types of specialty porter. Here are a few of the less common variants.
You can brew porter with a variety of flavored sugars, including molasses, brown sugar or maple syrup. These sugars can be added late in the boil and usually comprise about 5–10% of the fermentables.
The chocolate malt aspect of a porter can be accentuated by adding actual chocolate to the beer. Chocolate can be added in a variety of forms. The best for brewers is cocoa powder, unsweetened baker’s chocolate of cacao nibs. Basically, look for chocolate that has had most of the fat (cocoa butter) pressed out of it and not sweetened or otherwise flavored.
You can add cocoa powder or bakers chocolate in the boil. For 5.0 gallons (19 L) of beer, anywhere from roughly 1 to 8 oz. (30–230 g) can be used by boiling it for 5–15 minutes. You may want to bag the cocoa powder, as that can be hard to clear from the beer.
If using cacao nibs, use roughly 2 to 12 oz. (60–340 g ) for 5.0 gallons (19 L) of beer, in the secondary fermenter.
Chocolate combines with lots of flavors, including vanilla, mole ingredients (peppers, cinnamon), fruit and many others. So, there are a lot of possibilities to pair the chocolate with.
The dark roast flavor of a porter pairs well with many fruits, especially cherry and raspberry. This can be done by adding fresh fruit or fruit purée in secondary. For 5.0 gallons (19 L) of beer, 5–10 lbs. (2.3–4.5 kg) of cherries or 2.5–5 lbs. (1.1–2.3 kg) of raspberries would produce a moderate to strong fruit flavor, but not overwhelm the dark grain character.
Holiday Beer Spices
Do all the “regular” spices that show up in Christmas or holiday beers work in porter? They sure do. Use “the usual” amount of spices added late in the boil.
Oak-Aged and Brett-Aged Porters
You can age porter in barrels, or using oak chips, cubes or staves, for an oaky flavor. Oak has some vanilla notes in it, so it can work well with the chocolate flavor of a porter, at least if it isn’t overdone. A couple ounces (around 60 g) of oak cubes in secondary should work well for most homebrewers, as long as you sample the beer every day or so and separate it from the oak when you reach the desired level of wood.
You can also inoculate a porter with Brettanomyces, either in addition to the oak or by itself. Brett will add it’s characteristic byproducts to the porter, and will consume some carbohydrates that brewers yeast can’t utilize. As such, let it age in the carboy for at least a few months before bottling — and once bottled, check the carbonation by opening a bottle occasionally so it doesn’t build up too much. Porter can be inoculated with Brettanomyces when you pitch your brewers yeast, or added in secondary. Both Wyeast and White Labs sell Brettanomyces cultures. It can also be introduced by using contaminated oak.
Split Batch Porters
As you probably noticed, many porter variants can be made by adding the special ingredient in secondary. If you brew a batch of porter, you make both the “regular” porter and one or more specialty porters. You could, for example, brew 10 gallons (38 L) of porter and make a few specialty porters in 1-gallon (~4 L) jugs and keep the rest of the plain porter as is. If you make small batches of the specialty porter and keg the rest, you can “spice” the specialty porter aggressively. If the special ingredient is too powerful, you can use the remaining porter to dilute it to a reasonable level.