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Make Your Best Pre-Prohibition Porter

Pre-Prohibition Porter is described in the guidelines as being like a less-hoppy American Porter and a less-caramelly English Porter.

Josh Weikert February 12, 2018

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In honor of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, it seems appropriate to bring you a beer that is actually sometimes referred to as a “Pennsylvania Porter,” a “Philadelphia Porter,” or an “East Coast” Porter! Pre-Prohibition Porter has a lengthy history, drawing on both the English and German brewing legacy that could be found in Colonial Pennsylvania right up through Prohibition, when mass-market dark beers were a common staple of local and regional breweries (and still are, today). Modest alcohol, low levels of roast character, a generally clean fermentation, and more make this a great all-purpose choice for homebrewers who want to keep more than IPA on tap, and it can be a great option for people who lack real lagering capabilities. Let’s talk about some P-O-R-T-E-R PORTER as I watch the Lombardi Trophy parade up Broad Street.

STYLE

Pre-Prohibition Porter is described in the guidelines as being like a less-hoppy American Porter and a less-caramelly English Porter. Those are valid, but from a production perspective I prefer to think of this beer as a dark Kolsch: not a lager (like Baltic Porter), but not nearly as “active” in fermentation nor as aggressive in its flavors as other porters. It’s a true dark hybrid. Low hops flavor, low biscuit or caramel, low chocolate and coffee roast, low adjunct notes – this beer is far from flavorless, but it is restrained, especially in comparison to the aggressively robust American Porter. Much like the Pre-Prohibition Lager, this is an “Americanized” version of an existing style in the colonial sense – brewed using what was available in early America – rather than in the “extreme” sense, as we see with many other styles. For all its restraint, though, brewers err when they make this beer too nondescript. “Low” shouldn’t equal “boring,” so our recipe will hit a lot of notes softly – but it will still hit them.

RECIPE

The base here is actually my Schwarzbier recipe, with refinements. Munich and Maris Otter might be a bit too rich for what we need here, so start with Pilsner and Maris Otter instead, about four pounds of each. The guidelines would have you use 2-row or 6-row, but…why? We keep the half-pound of 45L British Crystal and quarter-pound of Carafa II, but substitute a pound of Chocolate Rye for the half-pound of Pale Chocolate. The added spice feels redolent of a Colonial era barn dance, and as a huskless chocolate malt you’ll get roast flavors without aggressive roast bite: just what the doctor ordered. We get away with the big crystal and chocolate malt additions because we’re also going to add some simple sugars which will dry and thin out our finished beer: add half a pound of molasses, pre-boil. Our gravity is higher than the Schwarzbier, at about 1.053, but this is still definitely not a robust beer in terms of alcohol.

For hops, you have a choice: you can either bitter to 25 IBUs at the top of the boil, or increase your hops usage to maintain the same IBU level but add them instead with about 25 minutes to go in the boil. I choose the latter, to add just a touch of hops flavor and aroma, adding Northern Brewer hops which have a rustic New World woody character.

Finally, rather than a “proper” lager yeast, I recommend using the Wyeast German Ale Yeast (#1007), at cool temperatures. It’s clean enough, and a good attenuator.

PROCESS

Be sure to kill the heat before stirring in your molasses (I usually add it at lauter and let the warm wort do the dissolving for me), but otherwise this is a standard mash and boil. If you’re someone who usually worries about DMS from Pilsner malt, don’t – the style allows for a bit of corn flavor, and while I don’t get it out of this recipe, it wouldn’t much matter if I did. Fermentation can be completed pretty quickly, compared to lagered versions. Oxygenate well after chilling, then pitch. Start at 62F, hold for a week, and then let the beer free-rise to 70F or so to finish up. Upon completion, carbonate to two volumes of CO2, and you’re done!

IN CLOSING

If you find that the finished beer is a bit too stark for your palate, you can add half a pound of flaked barley to the mash, but I like it less-creamy. I’d also add that the molasses might make the beer seem sweeter than it actually is (those burnt sugar flavors…), so you may need to adjust your IBUs or increase your carbonation slightly to properly balance it, in perception. Otherwise, hoist a pint in honor of the victorious Philadelphia Eagles, and enjoy a beer that George Washington himself brewed and drank! What could be more American than that?

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