Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Straw-Kilned Porter Tasting

What began as an attempt to make some historical, wood-kilned brown malt, has now evolved into something entirely different and equally ridiculous. Back in December, I made a batch of non-diastatic brown malt that was used to brew two batches of historical porter; one from an 1834 St. Stephens recipe and the other from an 1836 Whitbread. While both of these beers were similar in composition, they were brewed with different types of brown malt. The first batch used hornbeam kilned brown malt, similar to those made in the mid 19th century, and the latter batch used a mixture of cherry-wood kilned brown malt (not traditional) with some highly roasted 'porter malt.' A portion from each of the batches has been aging with brett C, among other bugs, in an attempt to replicate the flavor of 'vatted porter.' After that, I brewed a porter from 100% straw-kilned brown malt, like those made in the mid 1700's.

This beer was brewed in early June and has been in the bottle for just over a month now. While it is still too early to come to any conclusions, I thought it would be a good time to see how this beer is coming along. Aside, historical sources seem to indicate that straw-kilned brown malts resulted in porters that had little smokiness (after aging) and were black or brownish in color. As for what they really tasted like, we don't know.

1700's Straw Porter : Historical Porter

Appearance - Pours a clear, opaque-black color with a very bubbly head that slowly settles to a fine ring. The beer turned out much darker than I had assumed it would be, could be due to the long boil and/or the nature of using 100% brown malt.

Aroma - The nose of this beer is really unique. Right away there is a faint campfire smokiness that quickly transitions into an intense, cocoa and chocolate liqueur aroma. Behind that is a slightly rustic, woodsy character with some light fruity esters. Honestly, it is hard to tell where these aromas are coming from - malt, esters, straw, fire? My friend think he picks up some brett character, which could be a possibility. I bottled this beer right after bottling the 1834 porter with brett C, so I may have cross contaminated the beer in the process. If so, it's not very apparent...yet. 

Taste - It starts out with the same lightly smokey character as found in the aroma, followed by a strong cocoa and chocolate liqueur flavor. Like the other historical porters I've brewed, this beer has a similar chocolaty-vinous character about it, although the flavors aren't as intense. The bitterness level is medium-low and the esters seem to be restrained. The beer has a slightly rustic, almost primitive flavor to it... of earth, wood, fire... that gives it, dare I say, an 'elemental' quality. No hop aroma/flavor that I can tell and the beer finishes rather clean, dry, and neutral. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel - The level of carbonation is more fizzy than I would like, although the bottle was not refrigerated prior to tasting, and the mouthfeel is rather thin and dry. 

Drinkability & Notes - One of the things I like so much about historical beers, is that they so often change your perspective of what beer is and what it can be. It is hard to describe the taste of something as unusual as this, but so far I am pleased how this beer is coming along. The straw definitely adds its own character to the beer, although it will probably take some time and a few side-by-side tastings to see what the difference really is. So far, I am surprised how dark this beer turned out... given the method used... and how little smokiness the fire and straw imparted to the beer. Lastly, whether or not this beer tastes remotely similar those brewed in the mid 1700's, who knows, but at least we know that you can brew a porter from 100% straw-kilned brown malt. 

6.0% ABV, 30-35 IBU, Wyeast 1882 Thames Valley II


  1. Hey Wiil,

    It's Craig from drinkdrank. Send me an email to—I have a whole bunch of questions to ask you about your hops!

  2. Will, I just caught up with this report and find it fascinating. The dryness and thin mouthfeel are actually the signs of authenticity since reports from the early 1800's indicate porter should be well-attenuated and dry, one comment stated, "like claret". Stout, being stronger and made with more extract, was the big-bodied brother to porter. The flavour sounds quite right too (i.e., roasty/smoky but not overly so), however, I wonder if the bitterness was high enough. Period accounts insist on a decidedly bitter palate for porter unless long-aged. Your's was not really aged all that long. I think doubling the IBUs might have approximated more the palate of a 1700's or 1800's porter since accounts indicate anywhere from 3-6 pounds hops per (36 gallon) barrel, depending on style within the porter family and length of storage. That's a lot of hops, I don't care how much alpha acid content has changed! :)

    Maybe you could give a current account of the same beer and some of the others, i.e., how has aging affected them? Thanks again.


    1. Gary,

      Thanks for the comment. I was really surprised how all three porters, the straw kilned and hornbeam brown, took on a wine like mouthfeel, not unlike that of a carbonated tawny port. Interestingly, while all of beers attenuated to around 1.015, they taste/feel much thinner than that... but not in an astringent or oxidized type of way. Moreover, the flavor is pretty unique... lightly smokey, dry cocao, and roast. The first two batches (hornbeam) have almost no smokiness, while the straw kilned is still holding on to a bit of it, given it is still quite young.

      As for the bitterness, I intentionally under hopped all three batches as I wanted to make sure I could get a good sense of the flavor the brown malt contributes, rather than have all those hop flavors/bitterness get in the way.

      I will post another tasting here soon with all of the batches represented, including the 'vatted' versions. I haven't tried any of them since August. Lastly, should you ever find yourself by way of Syracuse area, you're more than welcome to a few bottles.


    2. Thank you very much Will. I live in Toronto and have visited Syracuse a few times for the beer bars downtown (Clark's, Blue Tusk, Empire City Brewing) and may get down there again, I will bear in mind, thanks again.

      Your taste reports accord very closely to numerous (period) accounts I've read of the porter palate between the later 1700's and 1850 say. Some would have been more bitter than others of course, so that alone would not make a difference, although it would be interesting to try a highly hopped oneBut But I think you really did nail it!



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