This recipe appears in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” Learn more at mashmakerbook.com.
When asked to come up with a recipe for this sporting life–themed issue, I thought, “Nothing says fox hunting like Brettanomyces in Irish porter.”
This month we’ll brew a batch of history-inspired porter with a mixed-culture fermentation and a bit of choose-your-own-adventure decision making. Snug down your tweed caps and prepare to shock some delicate Victorian sensibilities.
What makes it tick
Porter from the 19th century did not joke around—original gravities were much higher than the wartime and postwar 20th century versions of the same beers. Similarly, the hop rates were high and the beers were bitter, not hoppy (see also: the Throwback English IPA recipe from February 2014).
This is going to be a simple beer, ingredients-wise: two malts, a single hop variety. It’s patterned after 19th century Irish porter, so we’re calling for base malt from the Malting Company of Ireland (the former house maltings of the Beamish & Crawford brewery in Cork). Back then, porters and stouts were all-malt, so the color/flavor grain will be malted black patent rather than unmalted roast barley, which didn’t come into use in Irish ale brewing until the 20th century. Also, no brown malt—that was a London porter thing.
Hops will be a single big bittering charge; I’m calling for East Kent Goldings, but Fuggle would be authentic here, too. If you want to further substitute or mix-n-match to hit the target IBU, non-UK varieties like Styrian Goldings, Hallertau, or even Cluster would be historically appropriate (U.K. brewers made liberal use of imported hops in the later 1800s). Just keep those 20th century hybrids like Challenger and Target out of our precious anachronistic illusion.
After a straightforward brew day and ale fermentation, it’ll be time for some decision-making: running or keeping? Publicans of the era would have served a beer like this either as a running porter—fresh for immediate consumption and quick turnaround—or a keeping porter, aged for many months or more.
Drinking this beer young will highlight the tarry, French-roast quality of the black patent and the bittersweet admixture of malt, ale yeast, and hops. Time in the secondary fermenter and cellar will significantly mute the hop bitterness but also lean out the body, as well as add overtones of leather, smoke, funky esters, and ripe fruit to the roasted malt character. If you have a cask and beer engine, this would be a great beer to pour through it.
Fermentation with a blended culture of ale yeast and Brettanomyces will make both outcomes possible—in the same batch, if you want.
A recipe to try
Irish Hunter Porter with Brett
Target OG: 1.060; Target IBU: 55–60
• 10 pounds MCI Irish ale malt
• 8 ounces black patent
• 3 ounces East Kent Goldings
• Wyeast 9097 Old Ale Blend
Key points for key pints
• Mash high for Brettanomyces. Brett is capable of consuming more complex sugars than Sacch can handle, so a dextrinous wort will give it fuel for the long haul. Plus, if serving this as a running porter, it’ll make the bitterness and roastiness of the youthful beer more approachable.
• Brett-phobic? Choose a single-strain Sacch—a clean-ish, dry-fermenting strain like 1028 or 1098. With the number of Brett beers brewed in this column this year, you’ve heard this before, but let’s review anyway: Brettanomyces is a yeast, just like Saccharomyces—which means it can be eradicated just like any other microbe. If your cleaning and sanitation regimen is tight, you shouldn’t need to worry much about cross-contamination.
• Bottle conditioning a keeping porter? Use strong bottles and use a lower-than-normal priming rate, as the Brett cells will continue to ferment dextrins after packaging.
To the homebrewery
Note: these steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process. Refer to the instructions for your brew system and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.
1. Make a yeast starter prior to brew day. Normally with a blended culture like this, I’d advise against a starter because it will shift the balance of microbes—the slower-working Brettanomyces population will shrink in proportion to the faster-acting Saccharomyces. However, the pickup of Brett in these historic beers would have been largely incidental (e.g. via extended contact with a wooden tun or cask) and the high mash temp and extended aging will help offset the effects of the population change. All that’s to say: we can bend the rules here.
2. On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approximately 170°F.
3. Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.
Mash & sparge
1. Add all grains to strike water and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 156–158°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 60–90 minutes. While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.
2. When the mash rest is complete, heat it to 170°F for mashout.
3. Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle.
1. Add 2.75 ounces East Kent Goldings hops when the wort begins to boil and boil for 60 minutes.
2. Cool it!
Fermentation and beyond
• Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate well, and pitch yeast.
• Aim for a fermentation temp of 68–72°F. When fermentation activity begins to slow, allow the fermenter to warm up to approximately 72–74°F for a 2–3 day diacetyl rest.
• If doing a running porter, the beer can be packaged and served as soon as it’s clear enough for your delicate Victorian sensibilities.
• If making a keeping porter, rack to a secondary fermenter and hold for three to 12 months, or as long as you can stand it. The beer could be packaged at any point, but it may be advantageous to let the Brett fermentation run to completion under an airlock to avoid the risk of over-pressurizing a keg or bottles. Don’t be alarmed if the beer forms a pellicle (a pale skin on the surface) during this aging period—that’s the Brett doing its thing, and the beer can be siphoned out from underneath it at racking time.
Until next time: Drink it like you brewed it.
Like this recipe? You can find it and 63 other witty and detailed homebrew recipes in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” In each recipe, Dawson includes suggestions on how to modify and customize each beer, along with all-new essays on Malt, Hops, Yeast, and Water, giving readers critical insight into the building blocks of every successful brew. On sale now for $24.95 at mashmakerbook.com.