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American Porter wort in carboy
American Porter wort in carboy

Brewing an American Porter

American Porter wort
American Porter wort

The first featured Beer Style in this series of articles on How to brew different Styles of Beer? comes from the ‘American Porter and Stout’ category in the BJCP 2014 Guidelines and is the style of an American Porter.

In the following sections we are going to examine different aspects of this style such as its background, the style guidelines, ingredients used, sample recipes, brewing process, and finally the outcome of brewing a batch of this beer.


According to Alex Fodor’s article on Robust Porters in Brew Your Own (Dec 1997 issue) the original Porter may well have been a blend of beers from three different casks in London around the early 18th century. Early Porters would have been deep ruby in color with some malty, toasty and even smoky flavors.

The hopping regime at that time was to add everything at the beginning of the boil leaving residual bitterness without any hop character. The brews were then aged in oak for several months and prone to a degree of souring from bacteria or wild yeasts.

Yeast starter
Yeast starter
(Dry English – WPL007)

As kilning techniques improved the quality of malted barley, brewers could reduce the amount of dark specialty malts used in their beers and increase the proportion of pale base malts whilst retaining similar color and flavors. This had the overall effect of sizeable cost savings and resulting in the Porter that we know today.

By the 20th century consumption of Porters had dropped and was replaced by Pale Ales in the UK, Dry Stouts in Ireland, and Lagers in the USA due to the influence of German immigrant brewers.

The various styles of Porter brewed today, including Baltic and Robust/American Porter, are generally all derived from the original Brown or London Porter.

An American Porter is a version of a pre-prohibition and/or English Porter that is both higher in alcohol and also hoppier making it more bitter.


In the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines all Porters were combined within one category (see here), but have now been split out into different categories with Robust Porter being renamed to American Porter and categorised as follows:

BJCP 2014 BJCP 2008
Category 20: American Porter and Stout 12: Porter
Styles 20A: American Porter 12A: Brown Porter
20B: American Stout 12B: Robust Porter
20C: Russian Imperial Stout 12C: Baltic Porter

In the new guidelines there has been some tweaking to the vital statistics of this beer style which are now as follows:

  • Original Gravity (OG) = 1.050 – 1.070
  • Final Gravity (FG) = 1.012 – 1.018
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV) = 4.8 – 6.5%
  • Bitterness (IBUs) = 25 – 50
  • Color (SRM) = 22 – 40


Maris Otter malted barley
Maris Otter malted barley
(2-row base-malt)

According to the BJCP 2014 Guidelines the following are characteristic ingredients used in the brewing of an American Porter:

  • Malts: may contain several malts, prominently dark malts, which often include black malt (chocolate malt is also often used).
  • Hops: American hops are typically used for bittering, but US or UK finishing hops can be used; a clashing citrus quality is generally undesirable.
  • Yeast: Ale yeast can either be clean US versions or characterful English varieties.
  • Water: Not specified.
  • Additions: Not specified.


Below are some sample recipes for 5 gallon batches of American Porters from leading authors in the homebrewing community together with some analysis on how they comply with the style guidelines:

– Black Widow Porter –

Specialty grains
Specialty grains:
– Crystal 40L malt
– Chocolate malt
– Black Patent malt

Source: Brewing Classic Styles
Author: Jamil Zainasheff

  • 11.75 Lbs American 2-row Pale Ale malt
  • 1.5 Lbs Munich malt
  • 1.0 Lb Crystal 40 malt
  • 12 oz Chocolate malt
  • 8 oz Black Patent malt
  • 1.75 oz Kent Goldings hops (60 min)
  • 0.75 oz Fuggles hops (15 min)
  • 0.75 oz Kent Goldings hops (0 min)
  • California Ale yeast (WPL001)


  • OG: 1.064
  • FG: 1.015
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • Bitterness: 37 IBUs
  • Color: 35 SRM


  • Malts: the only aspect that appears unusual is the choice of Munich malt that is neither originally from the UK or US that Porters are associated with. Jamil may have chosen this to help provide robust malty flavors.
  • Hops: the varieties selected are all UK in origin with a classic bittering, flavoring and aroma hopping regime.
  • Yeast: the choice of a clean US yeast that is balanced and accentuates hops flavors is as per the style guidelines.
  • Statistics: are within the expected ranges with the alcohol content and color being towards the upper end.

– Blue Last Porter –

Bittering hops
Bittering hops
(Northern Brewer pellets)

Source: Brew Your Own (Dec 1997 issue)
Author: Alex Fodor

  • 8 Lbs British Pale Ale malt
  • 12 oz Crystal malt
  • 12 oz Chocolate malt
  • 2 oz Black Patent malt
  • 0.8 oz Northern Brewer hops (60 min)
  • 1.0 oz Cascade hops (0 min)
  • British Ale yeast (Wyeast 1098)


  • Malts: these are in-line with the style guidelines though the specific Crystal malt was not specified. I suspect lower Lovibond (e.g. Crystal 40L) would most likely be used to provide some caramel and toffee flavors but without being too sweet.
  • Hops: the guidelines suggest US hops for bittering but Northern Brewer is originally an English hop. US Cascade is however specified for finishing which should bring some balance to the beer and give more of a robust American character. The guidelines do advise on avoiding citrusy hops which Cascade could potentially contribute to the beer especially when added at the end of the boil.
  • Yeast: the choice of a British Ale yeast meets the guidelines as it “ferments dry and crisp, producing well-balanced beers with a clean and neutral finish” according to the Wyeast description.
  • Statistics: none were specified with this recipe.

– Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter clone –

Irish Moss clarifier
Irish Moss clarifier

Source: Zymurgy (Jul/Aug 2008 issue)
Author: Amahl Turczyn Scheppach

  • 9.5 Lbs Pale Ale malt
  • 0.75 Lb Crystal 55 malt
  • 8 oz Black Patent malt
  • 8 oz Roasted Barley malt
  • 0.75 oz Northern Brewer hops (60 min)
  • 0.25 oz East Kent Golding hops (60 min)
  • 0.5 oz East Kent Golding hops (35 min)
  • 0.5 oz East Kent Golding hops (10 min)
  • Irish or American Ale yeast


  • OG: 1.062
  • FG: 1.014
  • ABV: 6.3%
  • Bitterness: 38.6 IBUs
  • Color: 41 SRM


  • Malts: all the selected malts appear to be within the style guidelines.
  • Hops: the varieties selected are all UK in origin with a classic bittering, flavoring and aroma hopping regime though for modern home- and craft brewing the flavoring and aroma times might be deemed to be a bit on the long side.
  • Yeast: an Irish yeast would perhaps be a bit out of style (more commonly used for Irish Stouts) but an American yeast would fit more within the guidelines.
  • Statistics: meets the guidelines with the alcohol content being towards the top of the style and the color being slightly high.


Flame-out Aroma hops
Flame-out Aroma hops
(Cascade whole flowers)

The recipe chosen for brewing this batch of American Porter was the Blue Last Porter using some slightly unusual, though not necessarily unique, selection criteria. I recently purchased a new brewing system and needed to find a recipe with ingredients I already had but wanted the style of beer to be something that I had not previously brewed. I also needed a recipe that I could take to my upcoming Homebrew Club monthly meeting that could be brewed as a base recipe but then easily adapted to a Holiday beer.

Blue Last Porter met all of these criteria and will be re-brewed for the Holidays with the following additional ingredients:

  • 1.0 oz Sweet Orange Peel (10 min boil)
  • 6.0 oz Bourbon (30 days)
  • 1.0 oz Oak Chips* (14 days)
  • 1.5 Vanilla Beans or extract equivalent (14 days)
  • 1.5 Cinnamon Sticks (14 days)

* these may be soaked in some of the Bourbon.

Carboy fermenting
Carboy fermenting with blow-off tube

A slight adjustment was made to the Blue Last Porter recipe by substituting the British Ale yeast with a Dry English Ale yeast (White Labs WLP007) because the homebrew store I visited did not stock Wyeast products.

Due to the recipe not quoting the vital statistics I decided to put the details into my BeerSmith software and adjust some of the quantities and ratios so that the various characteristics fitted within the style guidelines and where possible towards the middle of the specified ranges.

Here are the resulting vital statistics:

  • OG: 1.058
  • FG: 1.014
  • ABV: 5.7%
  • Bitterness: 37.6 IBUs
  • Color: 29 SRM

The 5 gallon batch of beer was brewed on my new Brew-Boss Electric Brewing system which uses the Brew In A Bag (BIAB) technique – please click here to see how the first brewing session went with this new setup.

Brewing steps within Brew-Boss application
Brewing steps within Brew-Boss application

The steps used included:

  • Charcoal filtering the borough water and leaving it to stand overnight in order to vent off the chlorine.
  • Measuring out and milling the grains, also measuring out the hops and irish moss.
  • Sterilizing the fermentation equipment.
  • Heating the strike water to 155 deg F before mashing-in (adding the grist to the hot water).
  • Mashing for 90 mins at 153 deg F so the starches convert into sugars).
  • Raising the temperature to 168 deg F to mash-out and stop enzymatic activity i.e. halt the conversion of starches to sugars.
  • Boiling for 90 mins with the first hop addition at 60 mins and last hop addition at flame-out or zero mins.
  • Adding Irish Moss at 15 mins to help clear the beer.
  • A yeast starter was prepared comprising of 8 oz of DME (Dry Malt Extract) in two liters of water and placed in a flask on a stir plate together with one vile of yeast.
  • Yeast nutrient was added to the wort once it had been cooled.
  • Wort was aerated with Oxygen via a diffusing stone connected to an O2 tank with a regulator.
  • Yeast starter was decanted prior to pitching into the wort so that most of the spent wort did not go into the beer.
  • Primary fermentation was at 63 deg F for one week in a temperature controlled freezer.
  • The beer was racked off the trub (sediment) into the secondary fermenter and held at 63 deg F for two weeks.
  • Beer was force carbonated to 2.3 volumes of CO2 after cooling the beer to 36 deg F.


Brewing temperature profile
Brewing temperature profile

According to the style guidelines an American Porter should have the following characteristics:

  • Appearance: Medium to dark brown, almost black in color – the amount of dark malts in the grist will produce this depth of color.
  • Aroma: Medium dark malt aroma, often with a lightly burnt character – the choice of Chocolate and Black Patent malts should help contribute to these characteristics.
  • Flavor: Strong malt flavor featuring a lightly burnt malt character, may have some roasty, chocolate or even coffee notes – these characteristics will be contributed to by the mix of dark grains in the malt bill.
    A dry finish and varying hop flavor – the dryness will be achieved by using an attenuative yeast that will help achieve a low FG (Final Gravity) whilst the hop flavor will depend on the blend of hops used.
  • Mouth-feel: Medium to medium-full body and a moderate carbonation – mashing at 153 deg F should help achieve this mouth-feel by producing long-chained sugars that the yeast find more difficult to consume whilst a 2.3 volumes of CO2 should produce a moderate level of carbonation.
  • Overall: A substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character.

One ingredient that is common to all three sample recipes is Black Patent malt that is sometimes just referred to as Black malt. The color of this malt is dark brown to black and the flavor is dry roasted and sharp to neutral per the description provided by Briess.

When used in small quantities this malt will add some color to the beer but when used in higher quantities can contribute some astringency to the mouth-feel. Usually Black Patent malt is used in conjunction with Chocolate malt in Porters to produce chocolate flavor notes that are desirable in this style of beer.

Sampling the end result
Sampling the end result

How did my batch of American Porter turn out?

The Original Gravity fell short of the target and the fermentation did not quite attenuate as much as expected with the overall result being a lower alcohol content. The OG and FG are within the style guidelines but the ABV is 0.2% below the range for alcohol content. Here are the actual vital statistics:

  • OG: 1.051
  • FG: 1.016
  • ABV: 4.6%

The tasting notes are as follows:

Black in color with a light tan head. A roasty aroma. Flavor is roasty with some coffee notes and noticeable bitterness. Moderate carbonation with a good mouth-feel and a lingering roastiness.

The most important outcome is that it is a good tasting and very drinkable beer so I am very happy with it and would brew it again.

What’s Next?

In my next article in this series I will be examining Brewing a Strong Bitter which is in the ‘English Bitter’ category. The actual beer I will be brewing is an Extra Special Bitter (ESB) so please check back for that article to be published.

Brew-BossThis article is made possible by Brew-Boss, to find out more about Electric Brewing systems and configuration options offered by Brew-Boss please click on their logo to check them out.

Comments or questions? If you have any comments or questions on this article please do not hesitate to leave them below.

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