How to Brew a Baltic Porter

by Steve Thanos | Updated: March 11, 2020

Baltic Porters came into existence as the response to hoppy Pale Ales that gained popularity and notoriety in Britain during the 18th century.

Brewers took their base recipe for a Porter and made some adjustments. The main objective was to make sure it is strong enough to hold up to the hop additions and allow it to age well.

What’s in a Name?

Have you ever wondered how a Porter received its name? Since this beer style was very popular with dock workers, who were busy loading and unloading ships, the term porter was used when referring to this particular beer style.

We hear a lot these days about breweries needing to get beer out very fast. No brewer wants to sit on beer and not make money off of it.

The same was true when it came to Baltic Porters. Since Porters were being held for up to six months, only the wealthy brewers were able to brew these beers.

Even the wealthiest of breweries still wanted to make money off of their beer. As Jeff Alworth in his book, The Beer Bible, the increase of beer exporting grew between the years 1750 and 1800.

Robust Porters ended up being shipped to Ireland, North America, South Africa and the East Indies before the Pale Ale.

Baltic Porters were also shipped to Northern Europe and ports along the Baltic Sea.

Considering that these beers were consumed where there is normal chill in the air, it is no surprise these beers took off. With the alcohol content ranging from 6.5% – 9.5% abv, these beers kept a drinker warm inside.

Innovations in the Beer World

By 1791, William Knox of Scotland, moved to Göteborg to become Sweden’s first porter brewery. In 1806, thanks in part to a British naval blockade of the French coast, the flow of beer supplies was halted from Britain to the Baltic region.

In true brewer fashion, if it’s not readily available, innovation takes over. With this blockade in place, many breweries began to show up.

In 1819, Nikoli Sinebrychoff, from Russian, started a brewery in Finland. Also in 1822, yet another porter brewery developed in St. Peterburg.

Experimentation

With these Baltic breweries now brewing these beers, regional ingredients were now being used. Continental malt and hops took over in place of British varieties.

Lager yeast took over for ale yeast. This provided the beer with a nice, clean profile, free of the fruity esters of their counterparts, the British porter; think German Schwarzbier.

Recipe Development for a Baltic Porter

Grains

Domestic 2-Row can certainly do the trick here as a base malt. However, if you want to add a little something extra to your beer, you may consider Munich or Vienna as a base grain. By considering these two base malts, you will obtain a more bready backbone.

Whatever base malt you decide to use, it should consist of anywhere between 50 to 70 percent of your grain bill. Other base malts to consider is a little Pilsner malt. This could add a little cracker note that may complement the bready notes of Munich or Vienna.

A 50/50 split of Munich and Vienna is certainly not off the table here as well.

As for Specialty malts, you should consider the crystal malt choices that are out there. A medium crystal malt will carry some caramel sweetness (40 – 60°L). A darker crystal will have more flavors associated with plum or raisin, a little nutty and/or roastiness.

Also, color needs to come into play here when considering recipe development. Chocolate malt or roasted barley are often used to impart some color. A little goes a long way, so don’t be heavy handed with this addition.

Some other specialty malt to consider include: Biscuit, Victory, Special B, Wheat, Oats, Brown Malt, or Amber Malt.

Specialty grains should be only 10% of the grists here.

Hops

Restrained hop character is where we are at with Baltic Porters. Not much hop aroma is expected and a low flavor with a bitterness being medium or low is what is expected.

Traditionally, Baltic Porters were hopped with regional hops.

Since this may be difficult to obtain, a hop with herbal and spicy “noble” character may be used. Such hops as Lublin, Saaz, Hallertau, Spalt, Magnum, and Tettnang are all good choices.

Yeast

When brewing a Baltic Porter, you have two choices. You can either go ale or lager with your yeast selection. Below is a good list of yeast to get you started brewing your own Baltic Porter.

Ale yeast is included to pay homage to the way the beer was originally brewed in the Baltic region. The key is to ferment your ale yeast at 60 and 70°F(15-21°C).

  • Wyeast: Scottish Ale (1728)
  • White Labs: German/Kölsch Ale (WLP029);
  • European Ale Yeast (WLP011)
  • Dry: Fermentis SafAle K-97; Mangrove Jack’s New World Strong (M42); Lallemand Nottingham

Lager recommendations include:

  • Wyeast: Bavarian Lager (2206);
  • Octoberfest Lager Blend (2633)
  • White Labs: German Lager (#WLP830);
  • German Bock Lager (#WLP833)
  • Joystick (A18) or Harvest (L17) from Imperial Yeast.
  • Dry: Mangrove Jack’s Bavarian Lager (M76);
  • Fermentis SafLager W-34/70;
  • Lallemand Diamond Lager

Martin Keen’s Baltic Porter Homebrew Recipe:

Grains

  • 10 lbs Light Munich
  • 5 lbs Pilsner; German
  • 8.0 oz Carafa II
  • 8.0 oz Caramel 60
  • 4.0 oz Pale Chocolate (225.0 SRM)

Hops

  • 1.50 oz Perle Pellets [7.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min
  • 1.00 oz Styrian Golding Pellets [3.80 %] – Steep/Whirlpool Hop

Yeast

Style Profile

Here’s what the BJCP has to say about this style:

Appearance

With a color not quite black, but close to it, the Baltic Porter can range from deep mahogany to opaque brown. Thick, creamy, long-lasting head. Clarity is good.

Aroma

Complex malt sweetness with some notes of caramel, nutty, toffee, deep toast, and even licorice. Dark notes of chocolate, molasses and even coffee are even present. The darker aromas should never come across as burnt. No hops are to be detected.

Esters and a deep alcohol aroma is present. Dark or dried fruit complexity is also present in the aroma. At higher strength, a port-like characteristic comes out in the aroma.

Mouthfeel

Full bodied with moderately high carbonation. Smooth but light with mellow alcohol warmth,

Taste

It really is all about the malt with Baltic Porters. A deep, malty complexity with caramel, nutty, toffee, and molasses. Soft coffee, chocolate notes are also present. Drying finish with a clean lager character. Hop bitterness is low to medium.

Pairing

Think hearty beer likes heart food. Roasted poultry, barbecued or smoked beer, grilled sausage, venison. Instead of a Stout to add/pair with your chili/stew, think a Baltic Porter.

Baltic Porter Style Ranges

  • Color Range: 17 – 30 SPM
  • Original Gravity: 1.060 – 1.090 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.004 – 1.010 FG
  • IBU Range: 20 – 40 IBUs
  • ABV Range: 6.5 – 9.5.%

Transcript: Yup. Today we’re going to Whirlpool!

Hi, I’m Martin Kean. I’m taking the Homebrew challenge to brew 99 beer styles. Today I am brewing a Baltic Porter. Now this is a beer that’s common to the Baltic sea area and it’s designed to get you through those long cold winter months.

Now this is a beer that is a high gravity complex and multi lager beer.

Now at 8% this is a big beer, so we’re going to use a lot of grain here. For the base malt we are using primarily light Munich malt. I have 10 pounds of light Munich here and I’m going to combine that with five pounds of German Pilsner malt, so that will give us quite a rich base for this beer.

Now in terms of specialty malts, we want to get those dark Porter characteristics, but we want to avoid any kind of burnt or coffee flavors to this beer. So to get there I have eight ounces each of caramel 60 and Carafa II and then four ounces of pale chocolate malt.

Baltic Porter Beer Recipe Homebrew Callenge Malts caramel 60 and Carafa II 4 ounces of pale chocolate malt

I’m hoping, whirlpooling will bring me three advantages. First of all, it will mean that all the particulates in the hop kettle will end up in the center of the hop kettle at the bottom, giving me clearer wort through something called the Tea leaf paradox.

Secondly, I’m hoping for better hop utilization of my aroma and flavor hops when I add them in the whirl pooling stage right at the end of the boil. And thirdly, I’m hoping this will make it easier to chill my wort because instead of taking my paddle and stirring the wort, um, while it’s cooling with my immersion chiller in there, it’s basically going to stir itself.

So what do I need to do to convert my uni brow system to have a Whirlpool? Well, first of all, I have this, this is a Whirlpool arm and this goes inside one of the ports in my kettle and then the liquid will flow through here and then come out at pressure through this. At the other end of this Whirlpool arm.

I have a butterfly valve. And the butterfly valve is going to connect to the other side of the kettle to this Whirlpool arm and allow me to regulate when liquid is going to flow through it or not. So I can open it up and close it just by turning the handle of this valve.

Now the other sort of issue I have here is I now have four things that I need to insert into my kettle and I only have three ports. So to get around that, I’m using this T here.

So this tee will be used to put the thermometer in this part. Um, so that the works as it’s flowing through will still run by the thermometer and I can regulate temperature that way.

And that means that the port I was using for the thermometer can now be the port that I use for my Whirlpool arm. So those are the three components. Let’s go. Set it up.

How to Brew a Baltic Porter | Homebrew Challenge 10 Whirlpool setup

So I’ve got everything set up here. I have, uh, coming over my outlet port. Now I have my tee that has the thermometer inserted and then I’m coming out to this valve as usual.

And then around the side I’ve got my valve that is connected to my whirlpool arm or that’s not connected to anything right now because I’m about to start mashing and I don’t need to Whirlpool. When I do start the Whirlpool the way that I’m going to do that is I’m going to take this tubing here that’s currently recirculating to the top of my kettle and I’m going to connect it to the Whirlpool, but uh, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The first thing I need to do is mash in. So let’s get that grit into this kettle.

Mashing in here at 152 Fahrenheit for about 60 minutes trying to get to a pretty beefy pre-boil gravity of 1.070

Now we want to get this beer to an IBU of 30. I’m going to do that by using perle hops. I have 1.5 ounces here. These will go in at 60 minutes. Then at the end we’re going to cut the heat, start the Whirlpool. And at that point we will add one ounce of Styrian golding.

Whirlpool is whipping around in there. So now time to add the Styrian golding hops.

So I ran the Whirlpool for about 10 minutes. The temperature sort of ranges between 195 to about 185. Now I’ve moved my sanitized immersion chiller into the kettle and I’m running water through that cold water. So now start the chilling process and I can see that the Whirlpool is still going when I have that immersion chiller in there, which means I’m free from having to stir it.

I’ve now disconnected the hose from the Whirlpool arm, put it into my brew bucket and I’m going to pump into there.

Now given this is a high gravity beer, I’m going to do a step that actually I often skip and that is to airrate to the warts. So I have this one here and some oxygen.

So the gravity came out at 10 83. I was looking for 10 82 so that’s really on the money. I’ve now moved a bit into my chest freezer to cool down to 50 Fahrenheit at which point I’ll add my yeast.

This is WLP 830 German lager yeast.

As for the Whirlpool, well it seemed to work really well. It was great not to have to stir the wort as it was chilling and hopefully we’ve got some of those hot aromas into the beer by whirlpooling them. But there’s any one way to find out that’s to taste it.

So tasting time that there has a, it came down to 10 21 which is a robust 8.1% beer. Lauren, how do you feel about dark, strong beers? Well, I think I’ve already said before that I’m not a big fan of dark beers. I like strong beers, but dark beers is not my forte, so I’m excited to kind of try this. Let’s, yeah, well let’s see what you think.

So this is a Baltic Porter. Similar a little bit, I think to an English Porter, but much, much stronger. A bit more of a, a malt, uh, taste to this. So let’s, uh, let’s first of all take a look and sit. We think of the color it is dark, dark. Yes. It is dark as we were hoping for.

Oh, how about aroma? Smells quite like chocolatey or like coffee or, yeah, I think that’s a very dark sort of, uh, uh, sort of a roasty smell to it, right? Yeah. Well let’s, let’s go in for the taste and see what you think of this Baltic Porter. Okay.

Going back to that last bit that we tried, that was the same color that had like, that very like surprising, like mellow taste. I can’t remember what beer with that. So it looks exactly the same.

So I guess I was like hoping it’d be this tastes that thought, but this is also surprisingly very good. So it’s, yeah, this one swartz? A black lager and it looks like it’s going to be very roasty and it really isn’t. This one I think is a combination of roastiness and quite a bit of sweetness. This is actually quite mild for roastiness and the sweetness.

It’s like like an Imperial milk stout or something. To me, I’m not getting, yeah, not, not really getting the sort of strong coffee or burnt flavors at all. No burnt, no. No. Not too much coffee that I could smell the coffee, but I can’t taste the coffee. I know.

No, I had been saying that the last few years that we’ve done have all been quite strong beers. Wich go great with mature cheese. Yeah, we should be doing tasting pairings really.

How to Brew a Baltic Porter | Homebrew Challenge 22 Fermentation Notes

Apparently he’s getting cheer. Cheers? He’s getting cheese. I’m just going to sit here awkwardly and welcome to lauren and Martin’s cheese and beer tasting sessions. So we’ve got mature, extra mature cheddar from.

I’ll start there and let’s see how that pairs with this dark beer smell. It smells mature and cheesy. Do you not think that really compliments the beer? Holy moly.

So we both did a different thing because you finished your cheese and then drank and I still had cheese chewing and drank at that was delicious.

Oh, well how about, okay, how has this dip in your cheese? Let’s basically what you did. 15 ways to get more fat. This yes. As if the other reason that 8.1% beer were insufficient. Now cheese, basically saturated fat on a plate. So cheese is so good.

So what are we rating now? The cheese or the beer? No, no, no. We’re rating the cheese and the beer together. How do we think they pair? Great. Oh, I’ll drink to that.

Cheers. 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.