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A Focus on Brown Malt: The Dark Side Robust Porter

September 12th, 2014 // By // Recipe of the Month // View Comments

PorterHello, and welcome again to Brew Along with Us! This month, we will be looking at a recipe for a robust porter that includes an underutilized and underappreciated malt that is returning from the annals of history to once again gain popularity: brown malt!

It is a malt with a lot of history in England that can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. I won’t go into the history or production in depth; there are plenty of resources out in cyberspace and on the printed page that are better suited for this. I will, however, say this: it seems brown malt and the production of porters went hand-in-hand, and that brown malt is produced through a light roasting of pale malt that was traditionally done by drying the malt over direct fire at a relatively high heat. The resulting product, say the experts, would have been different than today’s product, but not radically so.

Today, what we have to work with are brown malts produced by the big maltsters, particularly the English maltsters who have kept the malt alive. The products that are available are generally excellent, providing a rich roasted coffee flavor and aroma that goes well in darker ales, such as browns, porters and stouts. It is also described as giving beers a full smoothness.

As summer is coming to a close, I thought it would be good to start brewing darker beers. The coolness that signals the approaching winter is the perfect weather to sit back and enjoy a nice roasty porter. A robust porter is a style that can vary quite a bit. The BJCP (beer judge certification program) guidelines describe a robust porter as having low to high hop aroma, and state that some examples may be dry-hopped. It also states that either a subtle or aggressive hop character is acceptable. In addition, the guidelines state that roast character and malt flavor can vary greatly, as can by-products of fermentation, giving the beer either traditional “English” or “American” character, depending on the brewer’s interpretation. However, it is best summed up by the overall impression stated in the guidelines: “A substantial, malty dark ale with a complex and flavorful roasty character.”

It is worth mentioning that the flavor contributions of brown malt have been noted by many brewers as mellowing nicely with time, so this may be a beer you give a little extra time to before enjoying. Or set a few bottles back for future enjoyment…if you can resist!

For this robust porter, I am using a significant amount of brown malt in the base and going more along traditional English lines, with a complex, roasty malt character contributed by the brown malt and a small addition of chocolate malt. Maris Otter makes up the majority of the base, as it contributes a nice richness with a hint of nuttiness. These malts are balanced out by a generous portion of Simpson’s medium crystal malt, which is comparable to a crystal 60, but has a distinct caramel flavor and sweetness that I really enjoy. Two additions of Fuggle hops at the beginning of the boil and with 15 minutes left give this beer a respectable, yet restrained hop character. As far as yeast goes, I’m one to go with an English yeast. That being said, an American strain can lead to a cleaner, more neutral flavor profile with less fermentation by-products that may be produced with English strains. Ferment this with whatever appeals more to you.

There you have it! Feel free to brew along with us, and make any changes you would like. As always, keep us informed of what you do and how yours turns out, we would love to know!

The Dark Side Robust Porter Recipe (for final volume of 5.5 gallons)

Estimated O.G. = 1.063
Estimated F.G. = 1.016
Estimated ABV = 6.2%
Estimated bitterness = 35 IBUs

Grain Bill
9 lbs. Maris Otter malt
3 lbs. Brown Malt
1 lb. Medium crystal malt
0.5 lb. Chocolate malt

1.5 oz. Fuggle hops (5.3% AA), added at the beginning of the 60 minute boil
1 oz. Fuggle hops, added with 15 minutes left in the boil

2 packs (or make an appropriate starter) Wyeast 1098 British Ale, Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale yeast, or 1 to 1.5 packs Safale S-04 dry yeast. If using an American yeast strain for a more neutral profile, try 2 packs (or make an appropriate starter) Wyeast 1056 American Ale, Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale, or 1 to 1.5 packs Safale S-05 dry yeast.

Brewing Process

  • Mash at 153F for 60 minutes. Drain and sparge to collect wort, then proceed with boil as normal.
  • Chill to 64F, pitch yeast and ferment for two weeks at 64-68F.
  • A secondary fermentation for one week to improve clarity is optional. Most English yeasts flocculate well, so a secondary fermentation may not be required. However, depending on strain used, your beer may benefit from this additional step for improved clarity and less sedimentation in the bottle or keg.
  • A conditioning time of up to 1 month in the bottle or keg may mellow out some of the roasted flavors and improve the overall flavor of the beer.

Extract Version: Replace the Maris Otter malt with 6.6 lbs (2 cans) of Munton’s Maris Otter light liquid malt extract and 5 oz of corn sugar (a single pack of priming sugar is ideal). Steep the specialty grains (brown malt, Simpson’s medium crystal and chocolate malt) at 150-155F for 30 minutes using a muslin grain bag. Remove the bag, allowing the grains to drain into the boil kettle. Turn off the flame and dissolve the extracts and corn sugar in the kettle. Turn the flame back on, bring to a boil and proceed as normal. You may also choose to add the corn sugar in the last 10 minutes of the boil.

UPDATE 3/2/2015: We now have created kits for this beer! Check out our All-Grain and Extract version of the Dark Side Robust Porter today!

6 responses to “A Focus on Brown Malt: The Dark Side Robust Porter”

  1. Joe Bray says:

    This looks great Wes!

  2. Adam Kerkhoff says:

    I made this beer gluten free for a couple people for Christmas. They absolutely loved it! Thanks Wes. :)

    • Wes Martin says:

      Glad to hear it worked out for you in a gluten free form, Adam! We’ve had a really good response to the regular version and are looking into developing it into a kit. I find the brown malt really brings out a great roastiness and some coffee flavor. If you don’t mind me asking, what did you do for the gluten free version? I’m sure there are a few others who would love to know too, if you don’t mind sharing your secrets!

      • Adam Kerkhoff says:

        Hey Wes. We have been using Clarity Firm in quite a number of home brews including this one. It is the best thing to sliced bread for the Gluten Free crowd. Last time we were at GF, I got 4-5 vials of it.

  3. Lee Wilson says:

    Wes, how much priming sugar at bottling?

    • Wes Martin says:

      Hey there Lee! I would recommend 5 oz of priming sugar – 1 oz per gallon of beer. If you are unable to measure by weight, about 3/4 of a cup should work just fine. Let me know how that works out for you!