Note: in the current (2015) BJCP Style Guidelines, Baltic Porter is style 9C. Category 9 Strong European Beer, contains more strongly flavored and higher alcohol lagers from Germany and the Baltic region. Most are dark, but some pale versions are known.
The information below is still valid, but for those studying for the new BJCP exam, it may be incomplete. Use it as supplemental reading for the style and I will endeavor to update the styles as fast as I can.
A Baltic Porter is a dark, malty lager, usually about 10% ABV stronger than a robust porter. The beer started out being brewed as an ale when Britain began exporting porters to the Baltic area. To make sure the beer arrived in good shape, the English brewers brewed the beer with more alcohol and hops. Thus the Baltic Porter is to porters as a Russian Imperial Stout is to stouts. The beer’s dark brown color masked the cloudiness and the smoked highly kilned brown malts of the time also masked other brewing problems. There was also a portion of stale ale added which imparted a pleasant acidic character to the beers and which helped make Baltic Porters quite popular.
Brewers from countries neighboring the Baltic Sea became inspired by all the money England was making. They began brewing their own versions. These beers are still being brewed in countries bordering the Baltic coastline and include Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Denmark and Sweden. Although it was introduced as an ale, during the second half of the 19th century, the breweries around the Baltic began making the beer as a lager, with bottom-fermenting yeast. Very few top-fermented examples remain today.
Some important factors to remember when brewing this strong European beer include getting the dark fruits and rich flavor without the accompanying acrid and burnt notes, and keeping the ester profile low with an appropriate yeast or fermentation profile. To keep the bitterness down, use a de-bittered black malt such as Carafa Special from Weyermann. This will give you a touch of roastiness, but none of the bitterness usually associated with the husks in roasted barley or black barley. Some residual sweetness will also help smooth out the harsh flavors of the darker malts. Use a German lager yeast for their clean profile, but if you must use an ale yeast, find a clean American ale yeast and ferment as cool as possible. The bittering hops are mostly from Hallertau, such as Tradition or Mittelfruh. Many Baltic brewers add small amounts of Czech Saaz or Polish Lublin as aroma hops. Some even add some licorice to the boil to increase the licorice aroma and fullness in their beers.
Baltic Porter Description
- Aroma: These beers should have a rich malty sweetness often containing caramel, toffee, nutty to deep toast, and/or licorice notes. It should have a complex alcohol and ester profile of moderate strength, and reminiscent of plums, prunes, raisins, cherries or currants. Occasionally, Baltic Porters will exhibit a vinous Port-like quality. You will sometimes note some darker malt character that is a deep chocolate, coffee or molasses but never burnt. There should be no hop aroma, and no sourness. The overall impression should be very smooth.
- Appearance: The beer will be a dark reddish copper to opaque dark brown (not black) and exhibit a thick, persistent tan-colored head. It should be clear, although darker versions can be opaque.
- Flavor: As with aroma, the flavor has a rich malty sweetness with a complex blend of deep malt, dried fruit esters, and alcohol. They have a prominent yet smooth Schwarzbier-like roasted flavor that stops short of burnt. It should be mouth-filling, with a very smooth and clean lager character. No diacetyl should be present. The beer starts sweet but darker malt flavors quickly dominate and persists through finish. They may be just a touch dry with a hint of roast coffee or licorice in the finish. Malt can have a caramel, toffee, nutty, molasses and/or licorice complexity. Light hints of black currant and dark fruits. Medium-low to medium bitterness from malt and hops, just enough to provide balance for the malty sweetness. Hop flavor from slightly spicy hops (Lublin or Saaz types) ranges from none to medium-low.
- Mouthfeel: This beer is generally quite full-bodied and smooth, with a well-aged alcohol warmth (although the rarer lower gravity (5.5% abv) Carnegie-style versions will have a medium body and less warmth). It has a medium to medium-high carbonation, making it seem even more mouth-filling. It is not heavy on the tongue due to carbonation level. Most versions are in the 7-8.5% ABV range.
- Overall Impression: It often has the malt flavors reminiscent of an English brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwarzbier, but with a higher OG and alcohol content than either. Very complex, with multi-layered flavors.
- Comments: Baltic Porters may also be described as an “Imperial Porter”, although heavily roasted or hopped versions should be entered as either Imperial Stouts (13F) or Specialty Beers (23).
- Ingredients: Generally lager yeast (cold fermented if using ale yeast). De-bittered chocolate or black malt. Munich or Vienna base malt. Continental hops. May contain crystal malts and/or adjuncts. Brown or amber malt common in historical recipes.
- Vital Statistics: OG: 1.060 – 1.090 FG: 1.016 – 1.024 IBUs: 20 – 40 SRM: 17 – 30 ABV: 5.5 – 9.5%.
- Commercial Examples: Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland), Okocim Porter (Poland), Zywiec Porter (Poland), Baltika #6 Porter (Russia), Carnegie Stark Porter (Sweden), Aldaris Porteris (Latvia), Utenos Porter (Lithuania), Stepan Razin Porter (Russia), Nøgne ø porter (Norway), Neuzeller Kloster-Bräu Neuzeller Porter (Germany), Southampton Imperial Baltic Porter.
References: Information for this page was adapted in part from the Wikipedia article entitled Porter (beer), Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, the Beeradvocate.com article entitled Baltic Porter, the article Introducing The Baltic Porter written by Jens Eiken from The Jacobsen Brewhouse in Carlsberg, Denmark and published in the Scandinavian Brewers’ Review Vol. 64 No. 5 in 2007, and the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines.