How To Brew American Porter | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: January 28, 2021

American Porter dates back to the 1700s. Porters were known to English beer drinkers as Brown Porter, now referred to as English Porter largely due to the 2015 BJCP style guidelines.

There are four recognized Porter styles. The four styles include: English Porter, Baltic Porter, Pre-Prohibition Porter, and American Porter.

The American Roots

The original roots of the American porter reflected the traditions and tastes from the British who colonized this new land. One of the more noticeable differences in American brewing was the use of adjuncts. 

Due to the unreliable grain crops, corn, molasses, pumpkin, peas, and squash was used in addition to malt. The use of adjuncts would have a significant effect on porter production in America for two centuries. 

Porters…The President’s Beer of Choice

Robert Hare is said to have brewed the first commercial porter in America dating back to 1776 in his brewery.  As an anti-Imperialist, Hare was forced to flee to Virginia when the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777-1778.

Hare’s porter was in great demand by George Washington, whose 1789 “Buy America” campaign prompted Washington to state he would only drink porter made in America. 

The Production of Porters in America

With the president declaring his allegiance to American porters, many Philadelphia breweries were brewing their own porters. These included: Joseph Potts’ brewery, Morris Brewing Company, Reuben Haines, and the Robert Smith Brewing Company.

The porter that was brewed was for local consumption and also distributed to the mid-Atlantic states as far south as the Carolinas. 

The Heyday of American Porters

By the 19th century, breweries in every state were producing porters. The German immigrants brought lager beer to the U.S., however, porters were so popular that even the German brewers were producing these same American porters. One could say that this was the heyday of American porters. 

Style Profile for American Porter

Appearance

The color of an American porter is usually fairly dark brown, it can appear to be almost black. Held to the light the beer shows its beautiful ruby and mahogany highlights.

Clarity should be good. It will have a mocha colored head and contain good to moderately good head retention. 

Aroma

The aroma is driven by the dark malt. Medium-light to stronger dark malt aroma characterized as lightly brunt. There are notes of graininess, caramel, coffee, chocolate, bread, and toffee.

Hop aroma is resin, earthy, or floral. Hop notes can range from low to high. Dry hopping is an option for an American porter and will increase the hop aroma. 

Flavor

For the style there should be a mid-strong profile that equated to light burnt malt, as well as coffee and/or chocolate notes. The dark grains can contribute a sharpness to the malt profile, but should not be harsh, acrid, or burnt.

The dark malts may add medium to high bitterness. Hops balance the malt with flavors such as: resinis, earthy, or floral. Fruity esters are moderate if present at all. Beer finished dry to medium-sweet. 

Mouthfeel

Medium to medium-full body should be expected of this style. Some slight astringency from the roasted grains may be present, but should not be overpowering. Moderately low to somewhat high carbonation. 

Food Pairing

When it comes to pairing an American porter with food, roasted or smoked food, barbecue, sausages, blackened fish. Cow milk cheeses such as Tilsit or Gruyere. For dessert, an American porter will pair well with anything peanut butter, chocolate, and coconut. 

Tips for Brewing your own American Porter

Grain

The grist for an American porter is usually some sort of American pale malt; usually domestic 2-Row. The base malt should make up 70-90% of the grain bill. In a five gallon batch, most American porters use 0.5 to 0.75 pounds of dark grain.

These dark grains usually include: chocolate malt, and black patent. Some brewers will argue that roasted barley can be added to a porter and then some will say that makes the beer more of a stout. Coffee malt, debittered black malt, and Carafa malts can be added as well.

Crystal/caramel malts can provide body, some sweetness, and color. They usually make up 10% of the total grist. Normally a 40 – 60°L crystal/caramel malts are used. 

Hops

The use of American hops is used for a bittering addition. The flavor and aroma hops can be American or English varieties. Good bittering hops include: Northern Brewer, Cascade, or Chinook.

Yeast

An American yeast strain that is clean, neutral, and well attenuating is probably best for an American porter ale. White Labs California Ale V WLP051 and Edinburgh Ale WLP028 and Wyeast Londen ESB 1968 or British Ale 1098 all work well.

Also, dry yeasts could work well here too, such as Danstar Nottingham or Safale US-05. 

American Porter the By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 22 – 40 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.050 – 1.170 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 – 1.018 FG
  • IBU Range: 25 – 50
  • ABV Range: 4.8 – 6.5%

Martin Keen’s American Porter Recipe

Grain

61%            7 lbs        Pale Malt (2-Row)     

17 %           2 lbs        Munich Malt  

10 %           1 lb          Crystal 45

  4 %           8 oz         Black Patent Malt

  4%            8 oz         Chocolate Malt

  4%            8oz          Carapils

Hops

1.00 oz         Cascade – Boil 60 min

1.00 oz         East Kent Goldings – Boil   10 min

1.00 oz         Willamette – Boil 10 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg   London Ale Wyeast 1028

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins 

Transcript: The BJC P guidelines describe American Porter as a substantial malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt profile. “Complex and flavorful”, no pressure there then!

My name is Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. On the menu today is American Porter, and I’m also going to be taking a look at a pH meter so I can test that my mash pH is where I think it is.

Now on my Homebrew challenge I have brewed Porter already. It was an English Porter, English porters are one of my favorite dark beer styles going,… really enjoyed it.

The difference between a English Porter and an American Porter in one word robust. It’s bitter. It’s darker. It’s dryer.

The beer I’m going to build today has an original gravity of 10 55. So 5.6% ABV. So for the ingredients in my grist, I’m using 2 row malt at 61% and Munich malt at 18%. I’m also adding crystal 45 and that will make up about 9% of the grist.

Now this is the dark beer. We need some roasted malt. I didn’t want to go too crazy with roasted malts here and throw everything in the kitchen sink in. So I’m just sticking with three roasted malts, and those are black patent malt, Carapils, and chocolate malt. Each at 4%

Getting your pH right during the mash can really help make sure that you get a consistent conversion and good brew house efficiency numbers. And I used to have a pH meter, but then I, uh, I kinda left it out. It got dry. I threw it away.

And since then, I’ve just been using beerSmith to estimate what my pH should be. And if the pH is a little bit high, I’m aiming typically for about 5.2. So if it’s above that in beersmiths estimation, I have been adding some lactic acid, but this is all being completely theoretical because I didn’t have a pH meter to check anything.

So I have a new pH meter that I found on Amazon. And I want to give this a go today to see what my actual mash pH is compared to what beer Smith is telling me, and also to be able to make adjustments and to see if those adjustments actually worked.

Now, when it comes to a pH meter, there is a certain amount of care that needs to be taken care that I didn’t so much take with the last pH meter, but there’s two things you really need to consider. One is calibrating the pH meter out of the box, and second is to store it in a way that’s going to keep it working good. So that’s open this guy up and work on the first task, which is the calibration.

So in here we’ve got the pH meter itself. And then there is also a couple of solutions that pH four pH seven solution, which we’re going to use with the calibration. It’s also, uh, a little strap included here and a nice laminated card with some instructions on what to do. This is the pH meter it’s self. It comes with four AAA batteries, which I can just access from the top here. So that’s nice and easy to change.

The previous pH meter, I had used some kind of specialized batteries, which were a pain to replace when they finally gave out. The other thing I noticed is I haven’t opened this up yet, but you can see there’s a little bit of liquid here in the fill. And it does recommend in the instructions that you do keep this wet. So the instructions tell me to gently stir this in the calibration solution and then long press to enter the calibration mode.

Okay. That says cow, we’ve now calibrated to 7.0, so without any calibration, it thought that this buffer solution was 6.9.

Okay. Now there is a second point calibration. The two point calibration that you can do, which is with this 4.0 buffer solution, as far as storage goes, it does recommend that, that you dry this off before storing it. And then you put a little bit of liquid in here up to the fill line to just make sure that it doesn’t run dry.

And I did see online that people were recommending instead of using tap water or distilled water to store it, that you can actually get some dedicated solution. That’s what I have here. This is storage solution for the pH meter. So I’m going to be pouring that up to the fill line and storing it in the solution. And hopefully I will have a pH meter that will last me a bit longer than the other one did. Okay.

So I’m calibrated. I’m ready to go. Let’s try this out in the mash.

A pH reading of 5.1 that is right where I want it to be. Now, typically when you are mashing with some darker grains, then the pH is generally a bit lower and you have to do less with it.

If this were a lighter beer than I might need it to add some lactic acid, but I will just keep an eye on this throughout the mash and check that I am within my pH. If it starts to creep up for whatever reason, then I would add some lactic acid,

But it’s nice to know I’m where I should be.

So we are looking at a bit of a hoppier beer than I made with the English Porter. I’m looking for an IBU around 33. How I will get there is I’m going to use in a five gallon batch, I would use one ounce of cascade hops.

These are going to go in at the start of the boil. And then with 10 minutes to go, that is where I’m adding some flavor and aroma. I’m getting that through an ounce each of Willamette and East Kent Golding hops.

Gravity came in at 10 54. For the yeast, I’m going to add it. Wyeast 10 28 that’s London Ale Yeast. Yes, it’s a British yeast going into an American Porter, but I think you really can’t go wrong with this yeast when it comes to robust dark beers. Okay. I’m going to ferment at 68 Fahrenheit, 20 Celsius. Then give it a taste!

Time to taste the American Porter. Everything you need for the recipe for this is in the description. And if you want to buy recipe kit, you can get that from Atlantic Brew Supply. Just check out the link.

So Lauren, let’s take a look at, uh, American Porter, um, pretty dark. So it’s extremely dark, but if you look really, really close, do you see like there’s a little bit of like mahogany. Oh, Oh yeah. It’s not black. Is it? There’s a, yeah, there’s a tint of like Crimson. Hmm. Yeah.

Head retension? Awful terrible. When you poored these they had a nice foamy head, that’s all disappeared. Fair enough. Okay. Uh, how about the aroma? Awesome. Oh, and I think, of course, I think it’s like really like thick and velvety smell and like kind of heavy, but this doesn’t really smell but heavy to me. No, it’s um, getting, uh, a sort of a light roastyness.

I would say a toasty roasty, like very it’s very subtle though. Then I would have expected it to be like, bam. To me, it smells quite similar to dry Irish stout actually it’s is as you say, not overpowering, but yeah, definitely a nice roasty smell to it. Yeah. All right. I’m quite excited to try this one. See what we think.

Quite pronounced roasty character, but there is also something that’s a little bit different to the English Porter that we brewed. And I think that really all comes down to the fact there’s more hops in this. Um, and definitely in the finish of the beer, I am getting a bit of bitterness, um, yeah. Bit of hop flavor to it, which wasn’t present in, in the English one. Yeah, I can, yeah. I can taste a little bit of the bitter with like the mouthfeel, like the aftertaste.

That’s quite an interesting combination though, actually, because I’m pretty used to just drinking, uh, English, porters, English stouts, uh, Irish stouts, that sort of thing. Uh, so when you start adding in a little bit of hop bitterness, uh, at the end of it, um, no hop arome, we, we neither of us picked up on that, but a bit of hop bitterness as well. I think that makes for quite an interesting take on, on Porter.

Now we’re staying in the dark category just for a little bit, we’ve got two more dark beers to come and next week’s Bay. I’m going to be interested to compare to this week’s beer. It’s also America and it’s also a little bit more hop forward. That’s also a dark beer.

So we’ll try that one next week, but for now, Lauren, cheers.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.