Real Fermenting: Robust Porter - Steeped Grains

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Robust Porter - Steeped Grains

Steeping grains is a easy way to get some extra color, body and flavor into your beer.  In this recipe for a Robust Porter, I use a CaraMunich grain and a Chocolate Malt grain. You can buy these premilled from homebrew supply stores. I order mine from the Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz. They have a special this month on any organic product (15% off). I'm not associated with them - it's just a great deal.

This brew represents the next step up in complexity from an all-extract brew. I wrote about that simple method when I brewed a Pale Ale - which turned out a little weak in body. After the steeped grain/extract brew comes a partial mash brew. Later in the week, I'm going to write up a partial mash California Pale Ale, which I also made today.
Weyermann CaraMunich (5oz) and Briess Chocolate Malt (4oz) grains

The leftover grains in their storage tubs

These sweet storage tubs are just right for about a pound of grains. A pound is all I need for my 1 gallon batch brewing operation. They seal up airtight and stack nicely. Any unused grains should be stored in a cool, dry place.

There are three stages to this brewing process. They are Steeping the Grains, The Boil, and Fermentation. We make a grain tea, then add the extract and hops for a 60-minute boil. We cool this wort, pour it into the primary fermenter and add yeast. It'll ferment for a week before we dry hop it for one week in a secondary fermentation. Finally, it goes into bottles.

Steeping the Grains

We'll steep the grains in warm water for 30 minutes. It's important that the water is not too hot. Anything above 170-180F will start to extract tannins from the barley husks. Heat 0.6 gallons of water in a pan. This doesn't need to be sterile water as it will be boiled later. Use a thermometer to check that it is at 160F before adding the milled grains. If you have your own mill, you can grind the malt a little finer than you would for a mash, because you don't need the husks to be in a good shape to help sparging, as you would for a mash. For the rest of us, just get your homebrew store to mill the grains or smash your grain up with a rolling pin. Stir the grain into the water and try to keep it as 160F for 30 minutes. You can cover it. I only had to apply more heat a couple of times.

5 oz milled CaraMunich 
4 oz Chocolate Malt
0.6 gallons water (9.6 cups/2.4 quarts)

After 30 mins of steeping, you'll have a dark and roast malt-smelling grain tea. Strain out the grain using a sieve or some cheesecloth in a colander. Save the grains for your Spent Grain Bread. Pour the liquid into a pot with plenty of room left over. You need enough room to prevent boilovers and to bring the total wort volume up to 1 gallon.

The Boil

In the boil, we dissolve the malt extract and process the hops to extract the bitterness from them. Bring the 0.6 gallons from the grain tea (actually, a little less because the grains are damp now, right?) to the boil. As soon as it starts boiling, turn off the heat and stir in 1lb 6oz of liquid malt extract. Make sure it is fully dissolved before turning the heat back on. It could burn on the bottom of the pan. Return it to the boil, add 1/4oz of Opal hops (9.2% AAU) and set your timer for 30 minutes.

0.6 gallons (slightly less) grain tea
1lb 6oz liquid malt extract
1/4oz Opal hops, 9.2% AAU (7 grams) (60 minutes)
1/4oz Whitbread Goldings hops, 6.1% AAU (7 grams) (30 minutes)
German Opal 1/4oz

After 30 minutes, it's time to add the Whitbread Golding hops. I am adding hops in this staggered way to try to get a fuller hop flavor. Boil the wort for a further 30 minutes. 
Boiling the wort

Once the wort has boiled for 60 minutes total, it is done. It is also sterile, so from now on, anything that goes in the wort or touches it must also be sanitized (read: extremely clean). Turn off the heat and pour in water to make the total volume back up to 1 gallon. This should be around 0.6 to 0.8 gallons depending on your "efficiency". Efficiency is just how much of your original wort you end up with after the boil. In a wide pot with a small batch like this, efficiency is going to be pretty low. I used chilled bottled mineral water, but you could use distilled water, or just some tap water you boiled for 20 minutes earlier.

It is good to use cold water, as this helps get the temperature of the wort down quickly. While the wort is hot, it is susceptible to getting oxidized if you splash it around too much, which we really don't want. Carefully pour the cold water in and put the pot into a tub of cold water. I used our unused guest bath for this purpose, but you could use a sink. Or even an Immersion Wort Chiller, if you are fancy homebrew person. You can stir it around to help it cool quicker; just don't splash it around.


Until now, we've been very careful to make sure nothing living is in the wort. But for this fermentation, we need yeast. I used Safale US-05 Dry Yeast, but any dry ale yeast will be okay.

1 packet SafAle US-05 Dry Yeast

As soon as the wort is cool, pour it into your primary fermenter (like this) and sprinkle in your yeast. Give it one last stir and, using a clean cup or a wine thief (turkey baster), take a sample to measure the original gravity. As you can see below, I hit 1.054 on the nose, which is just about perfect for a Robust Porter

Original Gravity of 1.054
Seal up your fermenter and pop an airlock on. I check back the next morning and it was bubbling away nicely. If nothing happens within 24 hours or so, you should try adding more yeast, or get in contact. Leave it to ferment for one week. Room temperature is probably okay (as long as it is below 78F or so), but as I am going out of town this week, I'm leaving mine in the bath of cold water, which will hold the temperature down a few degrees.

After 7 days in the primary, siphon the brew into your secondary fermenter and add 1/4oz of Fuggles hops. This is dry hopping, and should give the porter a strong hop aroma. The brew stays in the secondary fermenter for a further 7 days. At that point, it is ready for bottling. Follow a bottling process like this one I documented earlier

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