One of my favorite presentations from Homebrew Con week was Peter Jones and Michael Stein‘s presentation about Pre-Prohibition Porter at the Beer Judge Certification Program’s (BJCP) judges reception. In contrast to modern craft porter or English-style porter, Pre-Prohibition Porter refers to American-made porter from, you guessed it before Prohibition. In 2016 there are only two commercial examples of the style that survive, Stegmaier Porter and Yuengleing Porter.
Like any classic beer style, Pre-Prohibition Porter was a style that was designed to make use of locally available ingredients. In the late 18th and early 19th century, American brewers were trying to make beers similar to London porter. Domestic barley and hop harvests were unreliable at best. Most of the barley grown in the US was 6-row barley which is higher in protein and enzymes than 2-row barley. To compensate for the type of malt and it’s relative scarcity, early American brewers used adjuncts like corn, sugar, molasses, or anything fermentable that could be found. Generally speaking Pre-Prohibition Porter is lighter in body, has a less assertive malt and hop flavor than a modern American Porter, while the fermentation character is cleaner than an English porter.
As the style evolved there were two processes commonly used for making Pre-Prohibition Porter. Some porters were brewed porters that were essentially made the way most beers are typically made. Dark malts were added to the grist which imparted the color and any roasted character. Stegmaier Porter is a brewed porter. Borrowing from the English tradition Stegmaier Porter is fermented with an ale yeast.
The other porters were what is called rack and brew porters. Brewers would make a pale beer which was often a pale ale, cream ale, or lager, and then rack the beer onto a darkening agent. The most common agent used was porterine. Porterine is frequently made with corn syrup which is boiled down until it’s black in color. If you have ever tasted a dark beer, likely made by a macro brewer, with no discernible roasted or dark malt character, it may well have been darkened with a similar coloring agent. This gave rack and brew beers like something of a bad reputation. However, some brewers used porterine made from barley malt.
While early American Porters were ales like their English cousins, the style was so popular that as German immigrants brought lager yeasts to America in the mid 1800s, many German brewers brewed porters with lager yeasts. Jones and Stein served a porter they made with a barley-based porterine recipe they developed, and fermented with a lager yeast at the reception . Yuengling Porter is reportedly also a rack and brewed porter fermented with lager yeast.
I enjoyed the beer Jones and Stein served at the reception. If I was going to brew this style of beer, I wanted to make a rack and brew porter to have the experience of making the porterine and blending it in. Larrupin Lou’s XXX Ale with it’s historic malt bill is a perfect base to blend with porterine to make a Pre-Prohibition porter. By splitting the batch of Larrupin Lou’s I could brew both beers at the same time!
I made my porterine at home a couple of days before brew day. I followed Jones and Stein’s recipe from the reception, except I substituted their roasted barley for chocolate malt. I typically associate porter with a more chocolate flavor than a roasted flavor in a stout. I want any flavor contribution from the porterine to reflect that.
The process of making the porterine was steeping the grain like one would do for an extract batch, then boiling it down for two hours. I added my recipe to BeerSmith so I could get an estimate of the color of the porterine, and figure out how much I would need to add to the beer to suitably darken it. I think I started with too much water, because I ended up with more than the two pints they suggested. Now I have some extra for future batches or to just play with by adding to other beers.
To split the batch, I couldn’t split the batch after the boil because Larrupin Lou’s is too hoppy to be made into a porter. The modern HBC – 438 hop would also be out of place in a historic beer. What I ended up doing was preparing a mash for a six gallon batch, splitting the wort after the mash, and conducted two separate boils. This way each beer could be hopped differently.
I brought my burner and kettle to Andy’s and we boiled both batches at the same time. I blended the porterine into the wort before the boil on the off chance that it would make the beer darker. My burner and kettle boiled off more wort than Andy’s converted keggle and burner. I’ll top off the wort with bottled water when I package both beers.
While I am serving both Pugnacious Pete’s and Larrupin Lou’s at Ales for ALS, I can only enter one beer into the competition. I still haven’t decided which way I am going to go. I am leaning more toward Pugnacious Pete’s because the BJCP added a description of Pre-Prohibition Porter to the 2015 guidelines. With the historic-inspired malt bill, Larrupin Lou’s might not taste quite like a modern pale ale; I can picture the judges knocking it down for that. With any luck I can sample both on packaging day before I have to decide.
See the full recipe here.
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