Skilled brewers can achieve a fine balance between strong flavors and easy drinkability. A well-brewed Robust Porter is a great example of this balance. Between the dark malts used and the hop varieties, how does one brew the best Robust Porter?
Brew a delightful Robust Porter with alkaline water that has more chlorides than sulfates. Start your grain bill with US or UK 2-Row. Then add character with black patent, chocolate, and crystal malts. Pick a yeast strain that attenuates well, flocculates well, and has low to no ester production.
A Robust Porter takes quality ingredients and proper processes. Keep reading to learn what these look like and brew your best Robust Porter.
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What is a Robust Porter?
The Robust Porter is a stronger take on the English Porter.
Also commonly known as an American Porter, the Robust Porter is a fairly wide style. It is typically dark brown with a flavor profile dominated by roasted malts. The style can include medium to high hop bitterness with notes of earthy flavors.
It can be slightly lighter than an American Stout or as strong as most other Porters. This is true for the ABV, SRM, and flavor profile.
This leaves some room for interpretation and experimentation. Some brewers include some fruity esters from the English styles. Others focus on the roasted malt flavors and American hops.
Defining characteristics of a Robust Porter include:
- Color – 22 – 40 SRM, medium brown to very dark brown often with garnet highlights
- Common flavor – Roasted malts, chocolate, bitterness
- Aroma – Roasted malts, medium to light hop aromas
- Mouthfeel – Medium bodied, medium to medium-high carbonation
- IBUs (Bitterness) – 25 – 50
- ABV – 4.8 – 6.5%
What matters with this style is that it should not be overwhelming in any of its flavors. It should be strong without reaching imperial strength.
History of the Robust Porter
As a porter, the Robust Porter traces its roots back to England in the 1700s. If we skip over the origin of the porter style we come to the 1970s when Robust Porters grew alongside the craft brewing scene.
Robust Porters started as an American craft brewer’s approach to pre-Prohibition Brown Porters. This newer version was stronger in many ways including hops, alcohol, and malt flavors.
The style was featured in many brewing competitions over the years. In 2008, the BJCP had a style guideline for Robust Porters. This guideline is no longer in the BJCP, but the current American Porter style guideline mentions that another common name is Robust Porter.
Official guidelines aside, many breweries still use the Robust Porter label.
Popular commercial Robust Porters
For the beer enthusiasts and the beer curious here’s a quick list of Robust Porters you should try:
- Anchor Brewing Porter – Anchor’s addition to the style does not have high bitterness. Instead, it combines roasted malts with hop flavors with a delicious result.
- Founders Brewing Co. Porter – This Porter seeks to create a complex experience of sweet malt flavors and hop flavors. Together they take you on an adventure.
- Smuttynose Brewing Co. Robust Porter – Deceptively light and drinkable, this robust porter contains a flavorful experience from first to last sip.
- Bell’s Porter – Bell’s Porter brings light chocolate and roasty notes to a hint of hops. At 5.6% ABV it is a great sessionable beer.
How to brew a Robust Porter
Once you’ve explored some great examples of a Robust Porter, you may be thinking of how to brew your own. In order to brew the best beer you need to know the style forward and backward. To that end, I will break down everything you need to know.
Robust Porters should start with hard water that favors chlorides over sulfates. Black patent, chocolate, and crystal will add character and lend your brew its signature color. You’ll want to use yeast with high attenuation, high flocculation, and low ester production. A wide variety of hops can be appropriate for this beer.
Let’s start by going over some great choices for the recipe and ingredients. Then, we can look at the process including brew day, fermentation, and bottling.
Recipe and ingredients
While you can’t have beer without fermentation, you can’t get anywhere without quality ingredients. There are of course no wrong ingredients, but some will go together much better than others.
The recipes for this style typically use the same ingredients with some variation here and there:
- Water profile
- Base grains
- Specialty grains or other additions
Below are some tips and guidelines to get you started, but feel free to experiment with the style.
In general, good-tasting water produces good-tasting beer. However, a targeted water profile suited to your beer style can make all the difference.
The best water profile for a Robust Porter has a lean toward chlorides over sulfates. As a darker beer, you may need to adjust for the pH drop that comes with dark malts. Raise the alkalinity slightly with some calcium carbonate.
Sulfates in the water profile add to the hop characteristics and overall bitterness. Chlorides on the other hand enhance malt flavors. Too much sulfate in your Robust Porter will make it overly dry and bitter.
Use a brewing water calculator to determine the exact levels you need to offset the dark malts in your grist.
In a Robust Porter, use a US 2-row or a US Pale Ale malt. The 2-row will provide a great blank canvas while the Pale Ale will provide a little more depth to build upon.
The choice is dependent on your specialty grains. Go for a simpler base grain if you want more varieties and complexities of specialty grains. Another possibility is an English grain like Maris Otter. Determine whether you want to go for an American or English lean.
The majority of your grist should be one of these base grains.
Specialty grains or other additions
You can truly use any specialty malt you think will add something to the beer. Just be sure to include some darker malts for the color and roasty flavors.
Specialty grains in a Robust Porter can range from crystal malts to black patent. Chocolate malts (US or UK) are a common choice along with crystal malts.
Crystal malts are another choice that most consider necessary as they add some sweetness. Feel free to skip over crystal malts if you are adding sweetness from another source.
Many brewers also use flaked oats to improve head retention though this is optional.
Don’t use much more than 30% to 40% of your grain bill on specialty grains. Too much can lead to stronger flavors and darker colors than desired for this style.
Unlike with many beers, the hops in a Robust Porter are secondary to other ingredients.
A Robust Porter uses hops for the flavor and aroma with a hint of bitterness. Since the style is so varied you can increase the bitterness up to 50 IBUs. There is more leeway for the level of hop flavors.
The hops can be European or American varieties. No matter what you choose, ensure that it pairs well with the malt flavors you’ve selected. The main focus is the malts with a secondary focus on the hops.
Bittering hops added early in the boil will go through a process called isomerization. This is what gives a beer its bitterness.
A Robust Porter calls for anywhere from 25 to 50 IBUs. For convenience use higher alpha acid concentration varieties for bittering.
Here are some good choices for bittering hops for a Robust Porter.
|Name||Purpose||Alpha Acid %|
|East Kent Goldings||Aroma||4.5-6.5%|
|Chinook||Bittering + Aroma||12-14%|
|Cascade||Bittering + Aroma||4.5-7%|
Aroma and flavor
On the other side are the hops you include for their aroma and flavor.
Aroma and flavor hops added towards the end of the boil don’t add much bitterness. Instead, they add oils that provide flavor and aroma.
Here are a few good choices to get you started.
|Name||Flavor/Aroma||Alpha Acid %|
|Willamette||Floral, fruity, spicy||4-6%|
|Fuggles||Vegetal, woody, floral||3.5-6%|
|East Kent Goldings||Woody, citrus, spicy, vegetal||4.5-6.5%|
Another important ingredient for brewing a Robust Porter is yeast.
A Robust Porter calls for a yeast strain that has medium to high attenuation, high flocculation, and medium-low to no ester production.
Look for yeast strains dependent on your aims. A yeast with low ester production will be correct in one beer but an odd choice in another.
Below are some good dry yeast options for a Robust Porter.
Below are some good liquid yeast options for a Robust Porter.
After acquiring all of your ingredients you can move on to brew day. What you do on brew day can have just as much impact on your results as your choices of ingredients. On brew day, one of the most important aspects is sanitization. Be thorough when sanitizing.
All-grain, partial, and extract brewing each have important considerations for you to make. When doing all-grain or partial brewing you need to consider mashing and sparging. From there the other considerations are similar. The boil step and on is the same for all three.
Let’s break down each step with the Robust Porter in mind.
For a Robust Porter, your mash temperature should be between 150°F and 156°F. This range will allow you to retain some sweetness without being overly sweet.
If you used a lot of crystal malt or a lot of other unfermentable sugars you can mash on the lower end of the range. Use your best judgment on where you should mash within this range based on your ingredients.
The boil is necessary to sterilize the wort, denature enzymes activated during the mash stage, and stabilize the proteins.
The boil for a Robust Porter should be an hour long. Depending on the Alpha Acid concentrations of your hops, you may have some early hop additions. However, most of the hop additions will be in the latter half.
The hop addition times are heavily dependent on the amount, alpha acid concentration, and purpose. Since this style calls more for the flavors and aromas than the bitterness most recipes call for late additions.
Whirlpool or flameout
Boil aside, there are other times to add hops. They aren’t strictly necessary but can be great for adding flavor and aroma.
Adding hops during flameout can be a great way to get the flavors and almost no bitterness. This is done directly after the boil and before you pitch yeast. As you transfer to your fermentor create a whirlpool as you drain the boiling vessel. You may need a flameout addition in a Robust Porter.
This is only possible when you have a vessel that can drain from the bottom. Whirlpooling can also be a great way to collect the trub in the middle and reduce the amount that gets in your fermentor.
As always, fermentation is crucial but mostly hands-off.
Keeping the fermentation temperature consistent aside from deliberate step-ups is crucial for quality beer. Be sure to avoid direct sunlight and keep the temps in the mid-range for a Robust Porter.
Keeping the fermentation at a consistent temperature will help keep your brew clean from any fermentation byproducts. You may want to let the temperature rise slightly later on in fermentation if you are looking for those fruity esters. Be sure not to let ester production run rampant, however.
While the temperatures are yeast dependent there is a rough range you should keep your Robust Porter near.
Try to keep your fermentor around 65-70°F for the entirety of the process.
If you miss your temp goals by a few degrees or can’t keep it consistent it won’t be the end of the world. This level of micromanaging is great for elevating your final product but isn’t essential.
Bottling or kegging
The debate between bottling and kegging will go on for as long as brewers have a choice. It is truly up to personal preference and setup.
There is little preference between bottling and kegging for Robust Porters. Kegging will allow you to bulk condition while bottles can make it easier to save portions for aging.
Choose the method that is easiest for you.
Robust Porter recipes
If you aren’t one to create your own recipes here are a few that you can follow for great results. These recipes are from various brewers as credited below.
- Coffee Porter (All Grain)
- Robust Porter 3 (All Grain)
- Vanilla Java Porter (Extract)
Coffee Porter (All Grain)
This recipe comes from user Mikel Davis on Brewer’s Friend.
- US Pale 2-Row – 12 lb
- Flaked oats – 1.5 lb
- German Chocolate Rye – 1 lb
- US Roasted Barley – 12 oz
- German Carafa III – 12 oz
- US Caramel 120° L – 10 oz
- Magnum hops – 1.75 oz
- Willamette hops – 1 oz
- Mild coffee – 3 oz
- Cocoa nibs – 1.5 oz
- 100% Cocoa – 2.5 oz
- Heat 7.5 gallons to 151°F.
- Add grain bill and mash for 1 hour.
- Collect 7 gallons of wort.
- Boil for 60 minutes. Add the Magnum at the beginning.
- At 10 minutes left add 0.5 oz of the Willamette.
- Flameout and add the rest of the Willamette and the coffee. Then transfer to the fermentor.
- Cool and pitch yeast.
- Maintain 65°F during fermentation.
- After primary, rack to the secondary fermentor. Add the cocoa and the cocoa nibs.
- Rack to keg or bottles after a week or two of secondary. Enjoy!
Robust Porter 3 (All Grain)
This recipe comes from user Herr Braumeister on Brewer’s Friend.
- US Pale 2-Row – 10 lb
- US Caramel 40° L – 1 lb
- German Munich Light – 1 lb
- UK Black Patent – 0.5 lb
- US Chocolate – 0.5 lb
- Columbus hops – 0.5 oz
- Cascade hops – 1 oz
- Heat 5 gallons to 154°F.
- Add grain bill and mash for 1 hour.
- Collect 6.5 gallons of wort.
- Boil for 60 minutes. Add the Columbus at the beginning.
- At 15 minutes left add the Cascade.
- At 5 minutes left add the whirlfloc.
- Flameout then transfer to the fermentor.
- Cool and pitch yeast.
- Maintain 65°F during fermentation.
- After fermentation, rack to keg or bottles. Enjoy!
Vanilla Java Porter (Extract)
This recipe comes from user rr5025 on Brewer’s Friend.
- LME light – 6.6 lb
- Molasses – 0.25 lb
- UK Chocolate – 0.25 lb
- UK Black Patent – 0.25 lb
- UK Brown – 0.5 lb
- UK Crystal 60° L – 1 lb
- East Kent Goldings hops – 2 oz
- Fuggles hops – 1 oz
- Irish Moss – 0.2 oz
- Coffee – 3 qt
- Heat 2.5 gallons of water for your boil.
- Add the steeping grains when the water is around 140°F.
- Steep for roughly 20 minutes.
- Remove the grains when the water is around 170°F.
- When a boil is reached, add the malt extract.
- Boil for 60 minutes. Add 1.5 oz of the EKG hops right away.
- At 30 minutes left, add the Fuggles.
- At 15 minutes left, add the Irish Moss.
- At 10 minutes left, add the rest of the EKG.
- Flameout and transfer to the fermentor.
- Cool and pitch yeast.
- Maintain 70° F during fermentation.
- After fermentation, rack to secondary and add the coffee.
- After a week or so on secondary, rack to keg and force carbonate or bottle condition.