Ask the Pros: Brewing an Incendiary (and Award-Winning) Brown Porter

Last year was a great one for dark beers from Incendiary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While their Schwarzbier earned its spot on our list of Best 20 Beers in 2023, this porter also nabbed gold at the World Beer Cup. So, what makes it tick?

Josh Weikert Feb 19, 2024 - 7 min read

Ask the Pros: Brewing an Incendiary (and Award-Winning) Brown Porter Primary Image

Photo: Jamie Bogner

I love a good brown porter when the weather turns cooler. … Then again, I also love a good brown porter when the weather turns warmer, so maybe I’m not the greatest judge of what makes something a great seasonal. Or it may just be that this style’s signature traits—deep toasty malt, restrained roast, and easy drinkability—lend themselves to far more occasions than its dark brown color suggests.

The team at Incendiary, for their part, is making a strong case that these dark and malty beers can work anytime, anywhere, and their peers are recognizing them for it. Not only did their Brown Porter win gold at the 2023 World Beer Cup, but so did their Schwarzbier. (The latter also scored 99/100 with our blind-tasting panel this year became one of our Best 20 Beers in 2023; for more on brewing that beer, see their Brewer’s Perspective Gold Medal Schwarzbier with Incendiary.)

Like the Schwarzbier, the Brown Porter—at 5.3 percent ABV—is one that seems to reward multiple pints. Yet there are also layers of malt depth that reward slowing down to pay attention. For insights into this beer’s inner workings, I reached out to Incendiary director of brewing operations Matt Medley.

Notes from the Pro

Incendiary has brewed a range of porters, including Baltic, imperial, one with sweet potato, and a more robust American take they simply call Porter. As with some of the others, there was a certain pragmatism behind brewing the Brown Porter that won gold.


“Our goal was to clean out the grain room [and] make a kitchen-sink brew,” Medley says. “We’d try to keep things in balance and use up as many partial bags as possible while keeping something tasty on year-round for the porter drinker.”

That’s not to say that these porters are haphazard. “We’d play around and push the balance in different directions,” Medley says. “We’d move the needle one way or another for things like roast, chocolate, or body.” In this case, he says, the recipe is an homage to Asheville’s locally beloved Green Man Porter.

In Medley’s view, it’s the flavor ride that this beer takes you on that makes it particularly interesting. “This porter starts out with a kick of roast that quickly turns to baker chocolate, followed up by residual sweetness [and] body from the oats, wheat, and double-roasted crystal that catches the tail of the chocolate note, moving it into milk-chocolate territory.”

The keys to success, he says, are solid process and quality ingredients. “As far as process goes, this beer is pretty simple,” Medley says. “I’d say if you have your sanitation and temp management throughout dialed in, the real focus is in finding the right ratios of specialty malts that you like for this style, and [in] adding in some wheat or oats for some extra mouthfeel. As far as plugging ingredient suppliers, I am a big fan of DRC, and there is only one place to get that.” That would be Simpsons, which makes the proprietary malt also known as Double Roasted Crystal. DRC tends to contribute some deep caramel and dark-fruit notes.


As for pitfalls to avoid, Medley provides this guidance on the grist: Don’t get carried away with the roasted or chocolate malts. “When it comes to writing dark-beer recipes, getting the roast character and bitterness right has been the bane of my existence,” he says. “If you’re new to making these, I’d recommend starting with 3 percent roast and dialing the bitterness all the way down to the bottom of the style. If you have access to something like Tetrahop”—that’s a bittering hop extract—“I’d pull the BUs down to 11 to 13, and add back if you need to, just so you can get a feel for the character it adds.”

It’s sage advice. Roast and hop bitterness tend to amplify each other and can quickly become unpleasant if overdone. “Just to clarify: When I say roast, I’m mostly referring to roasted barley,” Medley says, “but there are other dark malts that add a sharp bitterness. Definitely read the malt descriptions and take note if you see terms like ‘sharp and intense.’ They ain’t lying.”

Translation and Application

There is a lot of overlap between Incendiary’s approach to porters and my own at home, especially on Matt’s last point above: avoiding sharp flavors. We take a different path to get there—I prefer chocolate rye to their Carafa III—but the fundamental approach is the same: Let’s get in all that deep, crystal-malt goodness and some roasty character while keeping the beer clean and smooth.

The addition of the wheat malt or oats—or, may I suggest, a half-pound of flaked barley—softens up the mouthfeel and adds just a touch of balancing sweetness. That’s an option I sometimes take on more hop-forward brown ales, but it obviously works well here, too. The same applies to fermentation practice: Start cool, limit diacetyl, and take your time to get a complete fermentation.


I also love seeing the use of Simpsons DRC here—it’s a fantastic dark crystal malt, and it’s absolutely suited to this beer style. If you’ve never used it, this recipe is a great opportunity to try it out.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to see how and why a beer made with this recipe won gold at the World Beer Cup: It’s true to its roots, and it leverages its ingredients to produce plenty of character. There’s a lot more to porters than roasted malts and ale yeast, and Incendiary clearly has a knack for producing flavorful yet balanced dark beers—even when they start as “kitchen-sink” brews.

This recipe would be an outstanding one to try for a new-ish brewer, especially if you’re looking to avoid a hop bomb (for a change of pace, perhaps, or to save a few bucks). For the more advanced brewer, meanwhile, it provides an opportunity to play with some different specialty malts and see what they can do.

If you do it right, you should wind up with an excellent rendition of a highly drinkable beer, perfect for those times when you want a bit more oomph and richness from your pint.