This is a beer I've been wanting to do a tasting of for a while now. Not only is it one of the historical porters I brewed over the winter and have been waiting to drink ever since, but it was also made with a sizable portion of homemade brown malt that I had kilned over a hardwood fire; in an attempt to simulate the brown malts used around the turn of the century. History in a glass. Can't get much better than that!
First, a little back story about the brown malt. Originally, my intention for making brown malt came about because I was skeptical of using modern brown malts in historical porter recipes. Since brown malt was used in such high amounts in those early recipes, I found it hard to believe that our modern day drum-roasted brown malt could produce a beer of similar flavor as those brewed with fire-kilned malts. After doing some research about making brown malt and finding the materials, I made three batches of the stuff. The first batch I made was kilned over hornbeam, the traditional type of wood used to make brown malt. In fact, places like Hertfordshire (England) became centers of brown malt production due to the ample supply of hornbeam wood so needed for producing the huge amounts of malt required by the London breweries. (The basic premise for making brown malt was to spread green malt over a wire-mesh screen and dry the grain at a medium temperature before adding the hornbeam to the fire and quickly bringing the temperature up. The intense heat resulted in a "blown" malt, as the grains snapped, popped, and charred under the fire). Anyways, this first batch of brown malt was used to brew a historical porter that is now bulk aging with brettanomyces clausseni in the secondary. My second and third batches were kilned in the same manner as the first, but over a mixture of hornbeam and cherry wood. The last batch was kilned longer than the others, in an attempt to impart a smokey, charred, and "empyreumatic" flavor so noted in those historical brown malts. I used it for this beer.
The recipe for this beer is from the Whitbread brewery and dates from the 15th of July, 1836. The grist was 77% pale malt (I used Maris Otter), 20% brown malt, and 3% black malt for an original gravity of 1.064. I didn't know the hopping rates, so I used UK fuggles for about 45 IBU. I did a single infusion mash, although I suspect the original beer would have had employed a set of gyles and long boils. The beer was fermented with wy1318 for twenty days. It has been in the bottle now for nearly three months.
Whitbread 1836 Porter: Historical Porter
Appearance - Pours a clear, black color with beautiful ruby highlights and a light, tan colored head that quickly settles to a fine ring. Some lacing. Clarity is excellent.
Aroma - First impression is of dry chocolate, tawny port, and some light fruity esters. No diacetyl. The biscuit malt character is rather muted and the beer has a slightly sweet, burnt sugar aroma as it warms up. Reminds me of a chocolaty, roasted dessert wine. Not smokey.
Taste - Strong, dry cocoa powder and spiced coffee followed by a very dry, burnt sugar-licorice type of flavor. Amazingly, the beer has a definite 'wood' flavor, almost as if it ha been aged in an oak barrel for an extended amount of time. This has to be from the wood-kilned malt. There is also a slightly charred chocolate flavor, almost as if you baked a chocolate cake in a wood fired oven. However, there is virtually no smokiness in the beer. The esters are lightly fruity and there is no discernible hop character. No diacetyl. The bitterness is moderate and paired with the dry character of the beer, it finishes somewhat thin and crisp. Some sweetness is perceptible. Not sour or tart.
Mouthfeel - The beer is dry and the carbonation is lightly prickly. It has a wine like viscosity once the carbonation dissipates.
Drinkability & Notes - Where to start with this one. First, the flavor profile of this beer is really unique, completely unlike any beer I've ever had. In many ways, it reminds me more of a chocolaty port wine than a beer, but at the same time it has the hallmark flavors we so associate with porters. Also, the chocolate flavor of this beer is virtually spot for a dry cocoa powder. However, what is most surprising, is the amount of 'wood' flavor the beer has. In a few historical accounts, it mentions how porter takes on the "flavor of the wood," which I had always assumed was a smokey flavor from the malt. Yet, while the beer did have a light smoke character when the beer was very young - like a few weeks into fermentation - the smoke character was all but gone by bottling time. Lastly, while I very much enjoy the flavor of this beer, it definitely is a sipper. The beer isn't acrid or hash tasting and drinks smoothly, but the overall flavor combination is a bit shocking at first. A good beer to pour into a snifter and enjoy by the fire!
Things to consider:
- Could it be possible that such early porters were not as smokey as we may have originally assumed? When I first kilned my brown malt, I was surprised that even while the malt was in close proximity to the fire for over an hour, the malt didn't smell or taste particularly smokey. However, once I brewed with it, the wort did take on a smoke character, but only to have it dissipate once fermentation was complete. In someways, the lack of smoke character is not surprising considering hornbeam is noted to produce a very hot fire without lots of smoke. The cherry wood behaved similar to the hornbeam too.
- Porters brewed around this time could have been considerably 'black' in color. Some sources indicate these beers would have been more of a light amber to brown in color, but all of my batches of brown malt produced a beer that was considerably dark in color. Not as black as our modern porters, but still quite opaque.
- It is safe to say that modern brown malts are NOT going to give you the same flavor as the fire kilned ones. Brewing a historical 1800's beer with 21st century brown malt? Your doing it wrong! :) I'm not saying my process was exactly the same as the historical ones, but the flavors I got from the kilned brown malt were entirely different than that of the modern stuff. Also, I was very surprised how the fire kilned brown malt imparted such a degree of 'wood' flavor to the beer. When I first tasted this beer, I had originally thought I got the bottle mixed up with one of my oak-aged ones. Could historical porters have had more wood flavor by means of the malt, than we originally thought?!
Lastly, I will be making another batch of hornbeam kilned brown malt here in a few weeks. Some if it will be used for another beer and the rest will be sent to some people interested in trying it out for themselves. More experiments to come. Interestingly, the brown malt I made wasn't nearly as diastatic as I had originally intended.