The Circle of Beer…

You may notice some cosmetic changes to the website happening, as we streamline and update the format and the look. We don’t plan to change much as far as the content and style go; that all seems to be working pretty well.

One piece I have been asked to do more frequently, though, is tasting notes and reviews. I guess there are some folks out there who respect my taste and opinions about beer and want to know what I’m drinking when I’m not drinking my own homebrew. So OK, I will try to take notes from time to time and post some reviews of recent interesting commercial beers I’ve tasted.

One person who has asked for these reviews is my friend Sarah, wife of webmaster Rick. And coincidentally, she dropped off a beer for me the other day that she had found in a store (not ours) while doing some errands. She and Rick shared 5/6 of a six-pack while waiting for me to get around to tasting my one bottle and giving my two cents. I’ve done one better and actually given them a clone recipe to brew it. Since today would have been Sarah’s late step-father Greg’s birthday, it seems especially appropriate to raise a glass to him, review the beer and publish a recipe to brew your own at home.

Coal Porter, brewed in Bar Harbor, Maine, by Atlantic Brewing Co.

This is a deep reddish-brown to almost black porter, with a thin but resilient tan head. It pours with the impression of thickness (which it really isn’t) and glows in the glass.

The nose reminds me of espresso beans (not necessarily brewed espresso, just the roasted beans), with hints of molasses and burnt sugar. There are some hop notes in the nose (a very English profile, to my senses) but the balance is towards roasted malt and sugars.

The first taste has traces of the same molasses, burnt sugar, perhaps toffee, and roasted malts. I detect a bitterness at the back of the tongue, but not much hop “flavor”. As the beer warms a little, there is more molasses and caramel, perhaps even a hint of praline/pecan. I like the balance between the roasted malt and the sweetness, it might well benefit by just a bit more mid-boil hop flavor.

This is not so much an American-style porter (like, say, Great Lakes Brewing’s Edmund Fitzgerald or the late-lamented Catamount Porter) but more of a mellow, sweet English-style brew, even approaching the sweetness and roastiness (if not the strength and full body) of the Taddy from Samuel Smith’s.

Overall impression: very drinkable sweet porter, not far from an English brown stout in terms of malt profile. If you like hoppy, aggressive American porters, this is probably not going to be your favorite. But if you like a more malt-oriented sweet porter, you will enjoy Coal Porter.


The Recipe:

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 8 lbs. 2-row pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. 60°L crystal
  • 1/4 lb. dark Munich malt
  • 1/4 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1/4 lb. black malt
  • 8 aau’s* Target (or Magnum) hop pellets
  • 5 aau’s Willamette (or Fuggles) hop pellets
  • English Ale yeast (Danstar Windsor dry yeast, White Labs London Ale yeast)
  • 1 cup amber DME (for priming)

OG: 1050

IBU’s: 37.5

Mash: 60 minutes in 13 quarts water at 152°F.

Sparge: 13 quarts water at 170°F.

Kettle: 60 minute boil, Target hops for 60, Willamette at knock-out.

Pitch yeast at 70°F.

Primary fermentation: 68 – 70°F for eight to ten days.

Secondary fermentation: cool (45 – 50°F) for three weeks.

Bottle condition cold for months (Atlantic claims to cellar theirs for six months before release).

What’s an “aau”? Hops used in a recipe are measure in basically three ways, depending on where you are in the process. The bitterness of a particular batch of hops is indicated as a “percent alpha acid”, or %aa. The higher the number, the more bitter the hop. The number of ounces of a hop used multiplied by its aa rating give the “alpha acid units” value, or aau. For example, 1/2 oz. of a 7% aa hop would give 3.5 aau’s. 2 oz. of a 4.5% aa hop would give 9 aau’s. When the hops are used in the boil, the aau’s are multipled by a utilization factor (ranging from .7 for dry-hops or hops added for less than 5 minutes of boiling; to 4.5 for hops in the boil 90 minutes or longer), a table of  which can be found in our Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers’ Handbook (p. 299). This gives you the approximate IBU (International Bitterness Units) rating. In this recipe, there are 8 aau’s for 60 minutes (factor of 4.25, or 34 ibu’s) plus 5 aau’s at KO (factor of .7, or 3.5 ibu’s), thus 37.5 IBU’s in total.

All part of my job…

I recently donated a brewing session to a silent auction fundraiser. Not only is it good and important to contribute to worthy causes, but I usually end up hooking another new homebrewer. Part charitable work, part preaching the gospel. Probably some karma in there as well. And here we are having survived the Rapture, living to brew another day.

This morning, Ginny and Chas, winners of the auction, came over to participate in the brewing process and to taste and learn about a few beer styles. I let them crush the grains and help watch the kettle, while I regaled them with stories about brewers and beers, successes and failures, and in the end I am pretty sure they are going start brewing fairly soon. Chas has a background as a biologist and as a chef – the perfect combination. And Ginny is a woman who likes dark beer and IPA. I don’t see how they can go wrong…

We tasted my Doppelbock, my Fishhead 60 IPA, the year-old Scotch Ale and the Rauch-Schwarzbier. Starting at about 9:30 am on a Sunday… and it was Ginny’s birthday, to boot! So happy birthday and cheers!

Smoked Porter

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 7 lbs. organic 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. German Rauchmalt
  • 1/2 lb. 120°L crystal malt
  • 1/4 lb. malted wheat
  • 1/2 lb. Carafa III malt
  • 1/2 lb. kilncoffee malt
  • 1/2 lb. dark Munich malt
  • 1 oz. Revolution hop pellets (@6.2% aa)
  • 1 oz. Independent hop pellets (@5.4% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Columbus hops(@13% aa)
  • White Labs London Ale yeast (WLP013)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Heat 13 quarts water to 165°F. Crush grains. Mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 155°F. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil. Adde Revolution hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Independent hops, boil 20 minutes. Add Columbus hops (in mesh bag), boil 10 minutes. Remove Columbus hops and remove kettle from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour wort into a sanitized fermener, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 7 – 10 days at 65°F. Rack to secondary, condition cooler (55°F) fo ten to fourteen days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age 2 weeks.

OG: 1060

IBU’s: 48.4

Notes on style: Porter was originally, so they say, a “tonic” for baggage porters in London. It was said to fortify the men who carried heavy stuff around. Stout developed as an even stronger fortifying beverage. The porter style sort of disappeared until brought back in the 1960’s and especially the 1980’s by North American crat brewers. This particular version is something like the one brewed by Alaskan Brewing, although they smoke their malts over alder, this recipe uses a German beech-smoked malt.

Notes on hops: This recipe gave me a chance to try some new hops. Revolution and Independent were developed by brewmaster John Maier of Rogue, in Oregon; Columbus is a newer bittering hop (also known as Tomahawk and Zeus), here used as an aroma hop in a late-kettle addition.

Time for a Holiday (Porter)

Mid-August, the heat waves of July are over, back-to-school sales are in full bloom, about half the baseball teams are already eliminated from the postseason, and it’s nearly time to harvest the hops. The first Octoberfests are hitting the shelves (a little early, in my opinion, sort of like having the Christmas decorations up before Halloween…) and soon we will see the winter lagers, warmers, spiced special ales… Late summer, and it is most definitely time to brew the official winter holiday libation.

I try to do something a little special and a little different each year. Different beer styles, different added flavors, spices, etc., but usually something strong to raise the spirit and warm the body. Some have been more memorable than others, and I am hoping that this year’s will be a hall-of-famer.

Based on a Robust Porter style, I added sweet/woody spices at the end of the boil to add an aromatic twist. The English flavor and aroma hops complement the high-alpha US bittering hops, and there’s enough malt in there for anyone!

2010 Solstice Porter
5 gallons, all-grain


  • 10 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. black malt
  • 1/2 lb. dark crystal (120°L)
  • 1/4 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/4 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1/2 lb. malted wheat
  • 1/2 oz. Galena hop pellets (14.1% aa)
  • 1 oz. Fuggles hop pellets (4% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (5% aa)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch grated nutmeg
  • White Labs Bedford English Ale yeast (WLP006)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 153°F for 90 minutes. Heat 14 more quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 27 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to boil. Add Galena hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Fuggles, boil another 25 minutes. Add EKG hops, boil 5 minutes (60 total), turn off heat. Cut vanilla bean and break cinnamon stick into 3 or 4 pieces each, add along with grated nutmeg to wort. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate, pitch yeast (leaving cinnamon and vanilla in wort). Seal and ferment 8 to 10 days. Rack to secondary (removing cinnamon and vanilla at this time), age 14 to 20 days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cool (45 – 50°F) for two months or more.

OG: 1070
IBU’s: 43

Notes on yeast: White Labs recommends this yeast as “perfect for porters”. I was originally going to use a London ale yeast, but this was a new release and I thought I’d give it a try.

Notes on style: I am often asked what the difference is between a porter and a stout. Ask ten brewers and you will probably get ten slightly different answers. Both are dark ales, both can run from dry to sweet, from hoppy to malty, from relatively low in alcohol to huge. The major flavor difference, for me, is the use of roasted (unmalted) barley. The typical stout flavor profile is full of deep, bitter roasted barley notes, while porters exhibit typically more black and chocolate malt aroma and flavor. The line blurs…

Note on spices: Freshness is of the utmost importance when brewing with spices – use, as in this recipe, fresh whole vanilla beans (not vanilla extract), whole fresh cinnamon sticks (not pre-ground), freshly grated nutmeg…

Note on holiday beverages: I also brewed a holiday Mead this year, adding vanilla beans (2) and 2 or 3 tablespoons of bitter cocoa powder. It was a 3-gallon batch, with 7 lbs. local honey. The OG was over 1090…