Brewology: Trials, errors, and the joys of chocolate porters

Posted: April 19, 2014 by Brandon Daniel in Beer Science, Brewology
Such a magical place...

Such a magical place…

Greetings faithful readers and beer connoisseurs, the NMDSBC is here to bring you another installment in the Brewology series!  With a few amateur home brewers in our collective, these articles are dedicated to the craft of making beer right out of our homes from scratch. We attempt to document the process as much as possible and always enjoy questions and feedback from everyone. As always, keep in mind that we are not professionals at this by any means, but we enjoy sharing our experiences with our readers!

If you happen to know any of us then you know that the gentleman of the NMDSBC are busy individuals. Between work, school, musical gigs, covering sporting events, and whatever the hell it is that Porter Pounder does (I kid, but seriously … what does he do?), it is pretty challenging to get all of us in the same room for any period of time, let alone a few of us. But we always do our best to get together in the name of beer, especially when it comes to getting our hands dirty and creating a home brew of our own!

Being the Dark Side Brew Crew, it seems only appropriate to whip up a batch of something deep, dark, bold, and well, metal (cue the Pantera). Various ideas and recipes for things such as stout variations and even a black IPA were thrown around; ultimately the porter idea won. Originally a chocolate coffee porter was in the mix, but due to a combination of my busy schedule and laziness when I wasn’t busy, the coffee was phased out of the recipe. In anticipating that this may be the case, you’ll see I did pick some of the traditional bold malts that one might expect in a porter, and basically upped the quantities of the malts that would impart more coffee characteristics. Although there will definitely be a coffee beer in the cards at some point soon, I think the bold malt bill makes up for the loss enough to still make this a good beer.

Blacker than the blackest black: transferring to secondary fermentation

Blacker than the blackest black: transferring to secondary fermentation

About four weeks ago Porter Pounder and I, along with our good friend Daniel Hicks in tow to see what this whole homebrewing thing is all about, spent an afternoon putting it all together and making beer happen! The recipe was solidified prior, minus a few tweaks that occurred in the grain room of Southwest Grape & Grain, and consisted of Vienna malt for the base, 120L caramel, crisp chocolate, CaraAroma, 80L crystal, black malt, roasted barley and flaked barley. Now if you are familiar with porters, you can see that I went against the grain (pun intended, heh) in using Vienna for a base malt. The thought here was the Vienna malt, being sweeter than a tradition porter base such as a pale malt, would add a good amount of sweetness to the beer. Having measurements of the other bolder grains that were more substantial than I’d used in my previous attempt at a porter, it was important to me to try to balance everything out as much as possible. The crisp chocolate malt was picked due to the rich coffee hints, which was meant to augment any additional coffee flavors put into the brew. We should also be looking at a slightly roasted, but rich and possibly creamy body. Quite simply, we wanted enough sugars to be converted by the yeast during fermentation, but still wanted residuals to give that flavor in the end. In terms of hops we kept it fairly straightforward, using small amounts of Cascade and Fuggles. This was an interesting combination, but after taking into account things like aromatics, alpha/beta acids, and malt bill, I settled on the Cascade for aroma and Fuggles for bittering and finish.

Now comes a confession that I’m not terribly happy with: I used an adjunct. Unsweetened cocoa powder to be specific. Why did I do this and why is it a bad thing, you ask? To answer the first question, I wanted to get an extra hit of chocolate into the mix. Chocolate beers that I’ve enjoyed always have an added element of richness and the same was to be had in this beer, dammit! Now as for the second question: well, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing … depending on who you ask. Some might argue that using adjuncts spoils an all-grain homebrew, some feel the flavors that are derived from these are not very brewer-friendly, or that they just impart very processed flavors in the final product. So it really isn’t a matter of right or wrong, only a matter of preference. I utilized whole vanilla beans in a porter previously and that worked quite well; in retrospect, I should have used the same process on cocoa nibs to get that something extra which I was looking for.

Brandon finally got a new bottling hat!

Brandon finally got a new bottling hat!

Oh, well, sue me.

The brew itself went surprisingly well, especially considering a few extenuating circumstances such as not having everything I needed for my turkey fryer burner and having to boil on an electric burner. Remember when I said “sue me”? Anyway, fermentation started after almost a 24-hour lag, but the English Brown Ale yeast took effect and did its job nicely. Primary only took about six days before transferring to secondary fermentation to let it age for a bit longer. Secondary fermentation lasted about three weeks before racking and bottling this past Sunday evening. A preliminary reading on the ol’ hydrometer has it clocking in at about 1.060 and a little over 6-percent ABV. There is plenty of chocolate aroma present, with roasted barley and subtle coffee notes as well. Of course all of this means nothing if the taste is not there, but all things considered this should be a pretty solid porter … only time will tell. How much time? Since the beer is bottle conditioned using priming sugars we are looking at another three weeks. A few bottles have already been set aside for aging just for fun.

Oh, and as for the name of the beer? Well as an homage to one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite bands … I have dubbed thee: Porter in The Yard! After the album “Prowler in The Yard” by Pig Destroyer. What can I say? My love for all things beer and metal runs deep.

All in all, another round of fun with friends concocting batches of delicious homebrew. As soon as the porter is ready to enjoy you can expect a review article, and keep an eye out for another installment of Brewology very soon when we get together for a batch that Porter Pounder will be doing. Spoiler alert: it’s a black IPA. Until next time …


— Brandon Daniel


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