Baltic Porter is a very strong, robust Porter brewed to fight off the harsh winters of thriving 18th and 19th Century Baltic trade routes. Though the style originated in England, it was subsequently brewed throughout Northern Europe. This week we take a look at the Baltic Porter beer history, style, recipes and how to brew it at home.
Baltic Porter owes its origins to the rise of wildly popular English Porter in the 1700’s. Though Porters of the time were already much stronger than today’s beers (many exceeding 7% ABV), an even more robust version of Porter was made for export across the North Sea to support Baltic trade. As the style grew in popularity it was also brewed in virtually all of the Northern European and Baltic states including Germany, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Denmark and Sweden. (Ref: Wikipedia)
Like English Porter, the character of the beer has changed over time. The earliest Baltic Porters were made from wood kilned brown malts that had a smoky roasted brown somewhat bitter flavor. They also were brewed with top fermenting ale yeasts. They were often highly hopped to preserve the beer and also offset the heavy flavor of malts (over 7% ABV for many early porters).
Some authors also claim Baltic Porter owes some of its heritage to Russian Imperial Stout, another export beer brewed in England for export to the Russian imperial court in the 1700’s. Like Baltic Porter, Russian Imperial Stout is a stronger, sweeter more robust version of the stouts made domestically in England at the time.
In the mid 1800’s as the beer was brewed more widely and continental influences drove production, most Baltic Porter brewers switched to bottom fermenting lager yeasts in a tradition that continues today. Also as industrialization occurred, coke fired kilns eliminated the smoke flavor from brown malts, and gradually the Porter base of mostly brown malt was replaced by a combination of modern pale malt, Munich, Vienna and roasted malt. While taxes and supply shortages during the Napoleonic wars drove the alcohol content of other Porter’s down to modern levels, Baltic Porter remained a strong beer at a robust 7-10% alcohol content.
The Baltic Porter Style
Baltic Porter has a complex flavor profile combining a rich malty sweetness with caramel, toffee, nutty, toasted and sometimes licorice flavors. A warm alcohol profile is present, as the moderate fruity ester profile common to many English beers. Some variations have a smoky or dark roasted profile similar to Schwarzbier though the flavor should not be burnt.
Since lager yeast is used the finish should be relatively clean. Hop flavor should be moderately spicy (often from Lublin or Saaz hops). The overall impression should be a full bodied, smooth Porter with a well aged alcohol warmth. The beer is generally well carbonated to enhance mouth feel. The beer should be rich and robust, but not as strong or robust as a Stout or Imperial Stout.
Baltic Porters start with a high gravity of 1.060 to 1.090 for an alcohol by volume content of 5.5-9.5% Most Baltic Porters are in the traditional 7.5-9.5% ABV range. Hop rates of 20-40 IBUs are needed to balance the roasted malt flavor (0.46 BU:GU bitterness ratio). They are dark brown to black in color (17-30 SRM).
Brewing a Baltic Porter
Modern Baltic Porters start with a combination of Pale Malt and Munich/Vienna base malts that make up about 70-80% of the grain bill. If using a Pale-Munich or Pale-Vienna mix often 50-50 is used. However, it is not uncommon for some continental versions to use a base of all Munich or all Vienna malt.
Debittered Chocolate or Black malt provide the bulk of the color and roasted flavor (up to 10% of the malt bill). A variety of other specialty malts are often added (5-10% total) for complexity and body including Crystal/Caramel malts, brown malt, amber malt, caramunich, carafoam, etc…
Historical versions often make heavy use of brown and amber malts and may even include a small amount of smoked malt in an attempt to recreate the slightly smoky brown malt base of the 1700’s. Spices are sometimes added for complexity in small quantities including anise or black licorice.
Baltic Porter is typically mashed at a moderate conversion temperature to generate both body and alcohol content. Continental noble or spicy hops are used including Saaz and Lublin. Continental lager yeast is now widely used, with fermentation at lager temperatures. Some historical variants still use ale yeast, but these are fermented at low (near lager) temperature.
Water profiles are not a major feature of the style – so use of a moderate profile is sufficient. The style is highly carbonated to enhance mouthfeel.
Baltic Porter Recipe
Here is a sample recipe for a Baltic Porter that makes heavy use of Munich malt and some brown malt to provide the malty, complex base.
Makes 5 Gallons, All Grain, No spices used
- 8 lbs Pale Malt (2 row Belgian or German)
- 4 lbs Munich Malt (9 SRM)
- 8 oz Chocolate Malt (450 SRM)
- 4 oz Black Patent Malt
- 2.25 oz Saaz hops (boil 60 min)
- 1 pkg Belgian Lager Yeast (White Labs WLP815)
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