NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Robust Porter has been removed as a separate style. Look for Style 13C English Porter and Style 20A American Porter instead.
Robust Porter History
Robust porter is a style with recent origins (although it no longer exists as far as the BJCP is concerned). The original beer would have been much different than the beer we drink today.
Originally made with brown malt for the bulk of the extract, the beer would have been a deep ruby color with malty, toasty, and smoky flavors from the brown malt.
Robust Porters can be differentiated from a Stout by because it lacks a strong roasted barley character. It differs from a brown porter because a black patent or roasted grain character is usually present, and it can be stronger in alcohol as well.
The Infamous Beer Vat Incident:
Porters were the beer of choice for English workers during the Industrial Revolution. No article about porter would be complete without mentioning the infamous “beer vat” incident.
The volume of porter needed to quench the thirsts of so many workers was so high that conditioning and aging the beer in kegs wasn’t practical. The British brewers began using vats, big vats, to store and age their porter in.
One of the largest was around 20,000 barrels in volume (one British beer barrel equals 36 US gallons so this would have been about 720,000 gallons of beer). In 1814 this vat collapsed under the weight of beer inside and sent a giant wave of porter throughout the surrounding area and into the streets. It killed eight people.
It wasn’t long before pale malts were in use by brewers. Brewers found that they could make dark beers cheaper by brewing with this pale malt and adding highly kilned darker malts for color and flavor. The flavor probably wasn’t the same as before, but before long, no one knew the difference. This beer was probably very close to the style as we know it today.
At the turn of the last century, porters began falling out of style as beer drinkers moved on to the new pale ales and gin. In Ireland however, a bigger version of the Robust Porter, called Stout, became the big seller in pubs and has remained so. In the United States, porters fell out of grace as well as German brewers lauded the new lagers that were so popular in their homeland.
As with many styles, the American craft beer movement along with the British Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) revived the style and it now has the same status that it had 200 years ago.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.048 – 1.065 FG: 1.012 – 1.016 IBUs: 25 – 50 SRM: 22 – 35 ABV: 4.8 – 6.5%.
This beer can be a stronger, hoppier and/or roastier version of a porter style beer and can be designed as either a historical throwback or an American interpretation of the style.
Traditional versions will have a more subtle hop character (often English), while modern versions may be aggressively hopped. Both types are equally valid in competitions (well, not any more since the style has been removed).
There are several important factors to remember when brewing a Robust Porter. Even though there is a fairly wide range for the style, all Robust Porters need a big roasty character.
These beers may contain several different malts. Most are dark roasted malts and grains, which often include black patent malt (chocolate malt and/or roasted barley may also be used in some versions).
Hops are frequently UK or US varieties, depending on your recipe intentions, ie a traditional or American version.
Water with moderate to high carbonate hardness is typical when brewing this beer.
To balance the roasty notes in the beer, you need some smooth notes like a bready or caramel background. Without these flavors to smooth out the roastiness, the beer would be more like a Dry Stout than a Robust Porter.
The 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines do not distinguish between an American version and British version of this beer.
If you want to brew an American version, you need to use a fairly clean American yeast and more American hops which makes the beer bigger in flavor and bitterness than the British counterpart.
For authentic British style Robust Porters, use an English yeast, lower starting gravity, and less (English) hops.
The real challenge in this beer is the level of roastiness. Too much or too little can easily push this beer into different style categories.
References: Information for this page was adapted in part from Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, and the article in Brew Your Own magazine entitled Robust Porter: Style of the Month written by Alex Foder and appearing in the December 1997 issue.
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