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Brewing Hop-Forward Baltic Porter with Poland’s Browar PINTA

Like many Polish breweries, Browar PINTA embraces its country’s signature beer style—Baltic porter—with high-gravity gusto, going for hefty body and deep malt flavor. Lately, they’ve added a new dimension to these ponderous beasts: expressive dry hops.

Joe Stange Sep 26, 2021 - 7 min read

Brewing Hop-Forward Baltic Porter with Poland’s Browar PINTA Primary Image

Photo: Courtesy Browar PINTA

With its new brewery in the southern village of Wieprz, Poland—near Zywiec, a name familiar to fans of Polish beer—Browar PINTA is celebrating a decade of brewing this year. Its first beer was Atak Chmielu, or “Attack of the Hops,” and it may have been the country’s first commercially brewed American-style IPA.

PINTA continues to crank out all sorts of IPAs, but it also brews a style much more traditional to Poland: Baltic porter. PINTA’s take on the style already had more hop presence and bitterness than most. More recently, it’s borrowing a page from those IPAs—getting an added aroma burst from both whirlpool and dry hopping.

Here’s their approach to brewing Imperator Bałtycki, a 10.5 percent ABV core beer that they refer to as an “imperial Baltic porter.”

Grist, Mash, and Boil

To get the richness of malt flavor they want, the PINTA team embraces a foundation of Munich—about 30 percent of the grist. “We like maltiness from Munich malt in a Baltic porter, and this is the main base malt,” says Pawel Maslowski, the brewery’s managing director. Equal portions of Vienna and pilsner combined make up half the grist. Then there’s a layer of CaraBohemian for caramel richness, plus a healthy dab of dehusked Carafa Special II for color and soft roast character.

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In Poland, a typical starting gravity for Baltic porter might be 22°P, or 1.092. For Imperator, PINTA starts at about 25°P, or 1.106.

Polish drinkers are used to seeing a beer’s starting gravity listed on the bottle—a side effect of excise taxes based on a beer’s original gravity. The number of degrees Plato is effectively a measure of richness and heft—no doubt confused at times with the beer’s strength. When it comes to bigger beers such as Baltic porter, the effect is something like the IBU arms race with IPA years ago—how high can you push that number?

“Traditionally, a lot of breweries just put this number for a customer to know how big the beer will be,” Maslowski says. “So it’s a competition, but it’s also a little bit of tradition.”

As with today’s heftier American imperial stouts, getting gravities up that high can be a trick, depending on the size of your mash tun. While another Polish brewery, Widawa, gets there with an elaborate double mash (see Porter, the Polish Way), PINTA simply crams as much malt as they can get into their tun and then opts for a long boil of about two hours, to further concentrate the wort.

In the mash, they’re aiming for fermentability, performing a step mash that helps ensure full saccharification. Their European malts are not quite as well modified as most modern American malts. “We want to be 100 percent sure the saccharification is complete with these lower-enzymatic malts,” Maslowski says.

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Their water at the brewery is fairly soft already, but they treat it with a bit of calcium chloride to boost the impression of body in the finished beer. After the long boil, they also add some calcium carbonate to lift the wort’s pH back up to about 5.2 before fermentation.

Hopping

Even with that ample malt cushion, PINTA’s Baltic porter is one of the most bitter in Poland. The recipe used to surpass 100 IBUs as calculated, says head brewer Bartek Ociesa, but more recent batches have settled between 80 and 90. (“If anyone is still calculating it these days,” he says.) They formerly got a bittering charge from high-alpha Columbus (aka CTZ) but have more recently been using FLEX—flowable hop extract made by John I. Haas.

The idea is to cut down on hop material up front, so that they can add more later without getting too sludgy. “It really saves more hops and green stuff, so we can add more in the whirlpool,” Ociesa says.

Fermentation

First of all, every Polish brewer of Baltic porter wants to make sure we understand this: It’s a lager, and you have to use a lager yeast or else it’s not a Baltic porter—no matter what our style guidelines might say.

Healthy fermentation is important in any lager, but it’s critical when the gravity is so high. At PINTA, they add yeast nutrient just before knockout, then they pitch fresh yeast slurry from a lager fermentation. On the next day, they add another batch of fresh wort to help fill the fermentor. On the third day, they pump in some pure oxygen to keep all those yeast happy.

Maslowski and Ociesa say it’s crucial to keep the fermentation temperature low—about 48°F (9°C)—for the first couple of days. This helps to ensure the cleanest beer possible. Then they allow a slow rise until fermentation is complete, including a two-day diacetyl rest. Then they gradually cool the beer over several days to 34°F (1°C) before lagering for as long as 10 weeks. They naturally carbonate the beer via spunding—using the CO2 created by fermentation.

The Twist: Dry Hopping

Lately, PINTA has been releasing dry-hopped variations on Imperator Bałtycki—most recently with Sabro and Strata hops. However, they don’t dry hop until that long lagering process of 60 to 70 days is complete. Then they dry hop for six or seven days using their Rolec Dry Hopnik—a special pressurized tank through which beer recirculates through purged, ground-up hop material. Then they centrifuge and bottle.

Big, but Balanced

Ociesa offers a final word on what might be the most challenging part of a beer like this: a fermentation healthy enough to attenuate the beer to a balanced flavor. You want a lot of body, but you don’t want it to cloy.

“It has to have this nice dryness or at least semi-dryness,” he says. “So you have to really take care of this fermentation—but on the other hand, you know, keep the body big.”

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