Ben Stange on June 10, 2016 4 Comments In the ever more extreme world of American Craft Beer, the consumer is always looking for new and interesting flavors in their beer. From aging on bourbon to brewing with sweet honey to hopping beyond all sense and reason, American beer drinkers seem bent on exploring the limits of our favorite beverage, and it makes being a craft beer fan alternately a lot of fun and very exhausting. One of the trends in craft beer that doesn’t seem to get as much notice as super-hops and barrel aging is adding smoke to beer. If you search online for a smoked porter recipe, for instance, you will find hundreds of examples and a multitude of ingredients to brew with. While the style has not yet hit its stride in popularity, it is a delicious variation on the porter beer style, and makes a great accompaniment to smoked or grilled foods. So, let’s explore smoked porter a little more in-depth. We will discuss some history of the style, some key elements to crafting a good smoked beer, and then provide a smoked porter recipe that you can easily brew at home. A Little History About Smoked Porters According to homebrewer lore, all porters were once made with smoked malts, and the smoked porter we drink today is simply hearkening back to the times when all malt was dried over fire and imbued with the aroma and flavor of smoke. If you believe the tales, the smoked porters were incredibly popular and every good Londoner was a huge fan. It’s a romantic notion, but it’s not true. Smoke in a London porter was never an ideal flavor, and was even actively avoided by brewers whenever possible. I’m a big beer nerd, and I read old brewing books for fun sometimes. I currently have copies of The London and Country Brewer (1736) and Town and Country Brewery Book (1830) and like to read them from time to time. Each of them has something to say about smoke in beer, and you can assume these authoritative texts were not out of the ordinary for the time. In The London and Country Brewer, they say “the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of smoke.” In the Town and Country Brewery Book, they also mention that “the wood dried has a most unnatural Taste, that few can bear with.” So, clearly this was not a commonly desirable flavor in beer, much less as commonplace as to think that “all porters” used smoked malt. It is true that almost all readily available malt before the 19th century was dried over fired, and that the use of wood fire would impart a smoky taste to the malt, but there were several other ways to dry malt, including several that would not impart as much smoke to the malt. For instance, some malt was sun-dried, while others were dried over straw or coke, both of which would leave very little or no smoke flavor at all in the malt. The myth is just a myth, after all. Even so, smoked beers were popular in the West Country of Britain, partially because they were mostly made there, and as any new craft beer drinker can tell you, smoke flavor in beer is an acquired taste. So, while smoked porter was never as popular as German Rauchbier (and that’s not all that popular where it is brewed, but seems to enjoy a novelty status in a lot of other places), smoked porter has truly found its home in American craft beer. Balance is the Key to Smoked Porters As in all beer, the trick for brewing the best smoked porter is in finding a balance in the flavors. This can be a bit more difficult than in a pale ale, for instance, as the smoke adds more dimensions that need to work together or to balance each other out. In a typical Porter, for instance, you have to balance the roasted flavors with the bready and sweet flavors of malt, and you have to consider that the roasted malt and the hops will contribute bitterness, but that they are different kinds of bitterness that also need to have balance. Once you add smoke in, you have another flavor that can contribute both bitterness and now smoke to the beer, so it all has to work together. It’s a complex balancing act, but it all has to start with a good porter recipe. To brew a good smoked porter, start with your favorite porter recipe and then substitute some of your base malt with some smoked malt. It may take some trial and error to get the balance just right, but you’ll find it eventually. Smoky the Porter (All-Grain Recipe) This is my favorite smoked porter recipe. If you want to try your hand at brewing a smoked porter, this is a great recipe to start with. Below I have listed out all of the ingredients you will need, along with the procedure to follow. Please leave a comment down below if you have any questions, or just to let me know how it turned out. Recipe Specs Recipe Type: All-Grain Batch Size: 5 gallons Volume Boiled: 6 gallons Original Gravity: 1.052 Final Gravity: 1.011 SRM: 37.6 IBUs: 29 ABV: 5.3% Ingredients You Will Need: 6 lbs 2-row base malt 3.5 lbs. Weyerman Smoked Malt 6 oz. Roasted Barley (50°L) 4 oz. Black Patent Malt 4 oz. Chocolate Malt 4 oz. Roasted Wheat (55°L) 1 oz. Glacier Hops at 5% AA (5 AAU) for 60 minutes 0.5 oz Challenger Hops at 8% AA (4 AAU) for 60 minutes 0.5 oz Cascade Hops at 6% AA (3 AAU) for 60 minutes Safale US-05 Dry Yeast (or White Labs WLP001 or Wyeast 1056 Brewing Procedure: Mash at 152° F for an hour. Mash out at 170° F and sparge with 180° F water to make 6 gallons. Heat to boiling and then add all of the hops. Boil 60 minutes and turn off heat. Cool as quickly as possible to 70° F, rack to your fermenter, and pitch yeast. After 7-10 days, rack to secondary if desired. After 14 days, prime and bottle or keg. Smoky the Porter (Extract With Grain Recipe) This is a slight variation on the all-grain recipe above. All of the ingredients will remain the same, aside from substituting the 2-row malt for light dry malt extract. Ingredients You Will Need: Substitute 4 lbs of light dry malt extract for the 2-row malt above. All other ingredients remain the same. Brewing Procedure: Steep your specialty grains in water and heat water to 152° F for at least 20-30 minutes (the longer they steep, the more flavor you’ll get – to a point). Remove the grains and add your malt extract. Stir well, dissolving all clumps. Heat to boiling and then add all of the hops. Boil 60 minutes and turn off heat. Cool as quickly as possible to 70° F, rack to your fermenter, and pitch yeast. After 7-10 days, rack to secondary fermenter if desired. After 14 days, prime and bottle or keg.