Monday, November 23, 2009

November Brewing and Porters vs. Stouts

This month has been a busy one for brewing. Six 5-gallon batches brewed, 4 of them bottled, and 2 will be kegged. The 4 are the aforementioned single hop pale ales. They seem to have come out pretty well. We'll see once they are carbonated and chilled. My favorite so far (warm and flat at bottling time) is the Crystal hopped pale ale.

I hadn't really planned on brewing more than those four, but that is mainly because I hadn't considered how quickly my kegs would run out. Two nights of the guys coming over to hang out, one of those nights with hot chicken, and the kegs get pretty low. My special bitter was exhausted within 3 weeks. The cappuccino stout is still pouring, but only because I've been milking it (get it?). So anyway, my two new batches are another batch of special bitter and then a vanilla stout to replace the cappuccino stout.

These brews had problems. And the problems were mostly out of my own control. When I purchased the malts from my local homebrew store, the mill was set too coarse, so the malts didn't get crushed enough. This effected the beers to the effect of losing about 25% of my expected initial gravity. The special bitter has been a very consistent beer for me to brew, so the cause of the difference was obvious to me; especially after analyzing the grains further. Some of the grains weren't crushed at all. Disappointing. The vanilla stout was supposed to be a little stronger than I would usually brew, but ended up being about normal due to the grain problem. (For anyone local who has concern, I did contact the homebrew store, and upon inspection they found their mill settings to be off. They have since fixed it.) As disappointing as this is, I will still have good beer to drink. But I also have more resolve to control even more of the steps of the beer making process. So there may be a grain mill in my future.

Having brewed a vanilla stout, some people who were recipients of last year's (over-carbonated) vanilla porter may be asking why I call this one a stout instead of a porter. The difference between porters and stouts has long been discussed and argued. Some sources I have read lately point to times, maybe 40 years ago, when there were clear-cut differences. These days, however, it is mostly up to the individual brewer since strength, color, sweetness, IBU's, etc. for both porters and stouts are all over the charts. So with that, I feel like it is my duty, as a (home)brewer who makes both types of beer, to clarify the difference to me.

I try to make my stouts dryer (except for the sweet stouts (milt stout, cappuccino stout, etc.)) and more one-dimensionally strong and dark then the porters. My stouts will often use a lot of the darkest malts (black patent, etc.) to cause the dark colors and flavors and should usually leave the mouth dryer, with less of an aftertaste, because they have less going on. My porters, on the other hand, typically have a broader spectrum of flavors such that, while they may be just as dark, there is typically more complexity and lingering flavors on the palate. This is achieved in the porter by using more variety of varying degree dark malts in the grain bill. The outcome if still a very dark beer (and sometimes maybe darker?) but with more levels of dark taste.

I hope that is clear enough. Enjoy your beers.


1 comment:

Eric said...

The line between a porter and a stout has definitely been blurred, to the point that it hardly exists at all anymore. But I still have distinct differences in my head as to what I expect out of each. To me, a stout should be more bitter than a porter (even sweet stouts should still have noticeable bitterness), and the malty flavors in a stout should lean heavily toward the roasted/coffee/smoked/burnt realm. Porters, in my mind, can have some of the roasted character of stouts, but should lean more toward the nutty or bread-like malt flavors. You can also take a little more liberty with your yeast and hops in a porter, as fruity esters and even a moderate amount of hop flavor can really round out the beer. Hop and yeast characters should almost always be avoided in stouts, though. That's my $0.02, anyway :)