The Pale Rider Porter

Because death needs something robust to get him through the end times.


The winter is in full force, and my second beer of the season will be a bit bigger than my earlier Christmas Mild. I really like porters, and since I have never brewed one before, I figured that it was time. Porter was probably the first industrialized beer in the world. In 18th century England, patrons used to ask the bartender to mix the various beers they had in certain proportions to get the taste they want, sort of like a Black and Tan today. Legend had it that Porter (or originally called entire) was first brewed as an equivalent to a popular combination called “three threads”.

At least that is the legend I originally learned  from the Brewmaster Table, but according to Wikipedia, that story arose due to some misinterpretation of brewing terms in a famous history of porter written by John Feltham. It actually started out as a more aged version of the earlier brown beer. The first style of beer aged at the brewery itself, ready to drink out the door, and the first beer produced on an industrial scale. It was very popular with the street and river porters and the name stuck. Eventually porter fell out of favor, and all but the stout porter, or simply Stout died out. Even breweries like Guiness, now famous for its Stout, eventually dropped the beer it started with. It wasn’t until 1978, when craft beer was emerging again in the  UK, that the style started to come back.

What exactly makes a robust porter robust? It is more Robust than a brown porter of course. It has more alcohol, has more hops, and  has some black  patent malt. It also generally seems like it could be an American version of the porter. A glance at the list of commercial examples on the BJCP style guidelines basically lists American breweries making Robust Porter and English breweries making Brown.

I took my recipe from the Robust Porter episode of the The Brewing Network’s: The Jamil Show. You can find the recipes over at, a site which only lists award-winning recipes. These recipes are probably similar,  or even the same as the ones in his book Brewing Classic Styles.

I adjusted the recipe, as I used dry malt extract, and his extract recipe calls for liquid malt. Let’s hit the main points:

SRM: 32.4
IBU: 34.1
OG: 1.064

I did a partial mash with the following ingredients:

1 lb 6 oz Crystal 60L
1 lb 6 oz  Munich Malt
10 oz Chocolate Malt
7.3 oz Black Patent Malt

This didn’t work out well. I tried to do brew in a bag. I used the recommended amount of water that Beersmith told me, but with the bag I had and the width of my pot, the water didn’t really cover the grain completely. This made it hard for the water to regulate the temp and different parts of the grain had widely different temperatures. I will have to change the method next time, probably with a bag that doesn’t keep the grain so tight.

After the “fun” of mashing, I brought the water up to boil, and threw in half of the 6 pounds of extra light Dry Malt Extract, and 1.7 oz of East Kent Goldings at 5.6% Alpha Acids. At 15 minutes I threw in a Whirflock tablet. This is the first time I have ever used a fining agent. A fining agent binds to the proteins and help make the beer nice and clear. Whirflock is essentially Irish Moss – a red Algae – in a convenient tablet form.

Then I threw the rest of the extra light DME in, and threw the last 0.75 oz of East Kent Goldings in at flame out. I chilled it down to about 65 degrees topped it off to 5.5 gallons and realized my original gravity was under by over 13 points. To fix this I threw in more extra light DME until it hit 1.063, and am hoping for the best.

I have been listening to the Jamil Show a lot, and he  is constantly stressing that proper  fermentation is the key to good beer. Therefore, I made a yeast starter for the first time. To make a yeast starter, you essentially take your liquid yeast and put it in some water with light extract (i.e. you make a low gravity wort) and let it start to ferment. During the first stage of fermentation, the yeast eats all the oxygen in the liquid and multiplies. Then you take your multiplying yeast and throw them in your beer to get a healthy fermentation. Unfortunately, to get the recommended amount of yeast with out a mechanical means to constantly introduce oxgen you need about 3.5 liters of yeast starter. Good thing I have a gallon jug and an extra 12 ounces of DME lying around. Every time I passed it, I gave it a shake help it along.

I pitched the yeast, aerated the wort, and took the bucket to the basement, where there has been a surprising lack of bubbles lately, The krausen did form, so something must be happening.

Beer Judge for Chicago Craft Beer Week

In celebration of Chicago Craft Beer Week which starts off at 3 different places tonight, I’ve decided to become a BJCP certified judge.  Really, it might be a few craft beer weeks before it happens, but Craft Beer Week has made me want to get serious about it. It will take a lot of hard work. It will take a lot studying. It will take a lot of beer drinking (I know, very hard indeed). Then I will have to wait for a BJCP test to come around to my neck of the woods so I don’t have to make a vacation of this test. This won’t be as simple as the Certified Beer Server Exam from the Cicerone Certification Program that I past last month. That one only required me to read up a bit on draught systems and the effects of alcohol. The rest was pretty straight forward for somebody who knows a decent amount about beer.

I found a 75 page study guide for the exam from 2010. Unfortunately, it looks like they changed the exam considerably in April, so its not very useful anymore. From reading the study guide it looks like before april, everybody had to take an essay and tasting section. The essay questions where all known in advance, with the only variable being the beers and styles the question were about.If you got less than 60% you were Apprentice rank, and if you got over 60% you were Recognized rank. Anything higher required experience and judging points and higher scores on the test.

Now it looks like you first have to take the BJCP Beer Judge Exam, which is a web-based exam which an unpublished pool of questions. It is pass and fail. If you pass you are considered provisional. If you fail you can take the test again in two days (and pay the fee again). To become an actual rank you have to take the Beer Judging Exam which is basically a tasting test within a year. Above 60% will get you a recognized rank. There doesn’t seem to be an apprentice rank anymore. There is a written Proficiency exam for those who want to advance to higher ranks. For those higher ranks you average your scores to see if you can advance. This is different than the old way, when the tasting portion was only 30% of the combined score.

Is there anybody who has already gone through this process already (new or old version) that could give me some pointers or tips? I can research it all I want, but practical advice derived from real experience is much more useful.

Certified Beer Server Exam

This Saturday, I passed the Beer Server Exam by the Cicerone Certification Program. This is a multiple choice exam that covers everything from beer styles to the effects of alcohol on the human body. Now that I have passed, I could go on to take the Certified Cicerone Test.  This has a short answer portion, and a tasting and demonstration portion.

The beer server exam is a multiple choice exam which isn’t incredibly difficult for somebody familiar with beer. I figured I probably could pass the test after I started this blog and found I could write large parts of my posts without researching (don’t get me wrong, I still research every blog post I write, including this one). I had previously read about draught systems when I finally found out about the program last year and decided I could possibly pass this. I obviously didn’t follow through then.

There are really two certifications in the beer world that seem to matter. There is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and the much newer Cicerone Certification program. To explain the differences between the two, it might be better to compare them to the more well known versions in the wine world. These are the Wine Judge Certification Program and the Certified Sommelier Examination. Each of these programs has multiple levels.

The Wine and Beer Judging Certification programs as the names indicate are around for the sole purpose of training qualified judges to work at both amateur and professional Beer and Wine tasting competitions. The program primarily covers styles, tastes, aromas, mouthfeel, appearance, and off flavors.

The more common title is the Sommelier. Most people know these as the person who comes to your table at fancy restaurants and suggests different wines to go with your meal. Their jobs really goes much further. Besides, suggesting wine pairings, they may be in charge of the entire wine list, and they may train the wait staff. They may also be in charge of procurement and proper storage of the wine. Of course, a restaurants would not be the only one. A liquor store with a large wine section might employ one, a liquor distributor would probably employ one, and a vintner themselves might employ one.

When I decided I could do take this test, I basically read up on the effects of alcohol on the body and started to read through some of the BCJP descriptions of styles where listed as possibilities on the exam. I planned on reading about draught systems some more, but I forgot and before getting through half the styles just took the test. I got a 91% and actually German/Czech beer styles were my weakness. This makes sense as beer styles were the largest section, the most specific, and lower central European beers are probably my least favorite styles (not to say I don’t like them, but there has to be a least favorite).

Up until a few years ago, the beer world lacked any kind of certification program on the level of sommelier. They had the BJCP, but just because you know about taste and styles, doesn’t mean you know how to keep a draught system clean and in proper working order, or how to properly store and rotate beer so off flavors don’t develop.  A lot of times when you get a draft beer from a bar and it has off flavors, it’s not the brewers fault, it’s because the bar hasn’t cleaned the draught lines in over a month and some nasty germs have taken up residence within.

With the craft brew explosion, people actually started caring about the taste of this perishable product, and how is an employer to know if somebody really knows anything about beer? Well, here comes the Cicerone Certification Program. A Sommelier is a word from middle French that referred to a person in charge of supplies. Over the centuries, it came to be somebody only in charge of wine. A Cicerone is a guide. An interesting choice of words, since a Cicerone’s job would be to guide a customer to a good beer that goes with their food and that hasn’t developed off flavors under their care.

The first level is the Certified Beer Server. There is an increasing number of bars and brewpubs that require the waiters and bartenders to at least pass this test. There are now over 13,000 people who have passed the test. That’s a pretty good start for a program that has only existed for a small number of years. The next level is a Certified Cicerone, which could theoretically one day be a job description in itself. A restaurant who takes beer seriously could employ one to be in charge of beer storage, the beer menu, and beer pairings.

The last level is Master Cicerone. So far there are 3 people who can claim the title. It is a two day test in front of a panel of industry experts which includes essay question, taste tests, and oral examinations. These people should be highly sought after in the beer industry.

Where do I go from now? I don’t currently work in the beer industry, so that requirement for Certified Cicerone may be hard to get. I can get a recommendation from somebody in the beer industry.  If I do manage to get one, then I may take the next step. And of course, it helps with another career option if my current one doesn’t work out too well.