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Posted in Beer & Brewing, Life
November 4, 2012

Recipe/Tasting: Northern Brewer White House Honey Porter

Northern Brewer’s White House Honey Porter

This is the first beer I’ve ever brewed.  Only stands to reason that it should be the first beer I review.  But before I dive too far, I should explain how I intend to do these.

First, recipe/brewing and tasting posts will normally be kept separate.  But with this being the first, and the idea for the blog coming a little after the time I actually brewed this batch, we’re combining the two here.

Second, since the recipe/brewing post will come before the tasting, I’ll just order this one in the same way.  With that said, let’s get to the beer!

Recipe:

With this being my first beer, I stuck 100 percent with the kit from Northern Brewer, which was assembled to mimic the actual Honey Porter recipe cooked up at the actual White House.  There were a few differences.  For one, the good folks at the Northern Brewer store here in Milwaukee swapped out the original Nottingham dry yeast for a package of Wyeast #1056 liquid yeast (one of the handy-dandy smack-packs).  So this is the recipe and instructions provided with the kit.  For the link-averse, it looks like this:

Specialty Grains:

  • 1 lb Briess Caramel 20
  • 0.75 lbs Briess Munich Malt
  • 0.625 lbs English Black Malt
  • 0.188 lbs English Chocolate Malt

Fermentables:

  • 6.3 lbs Gold malt syrup (at 60 min)
  • 1 lb Honey (at 60 min)

Hops:

  • 0.5 oz Nugget hops (at 45 min)
  • 0.5 oz Nugget hops (at 30 min)
  • 0.5 oz Hallertau hops (at 0 mins/flameout)

Vitals (according to the EXTRA handy Brewer’s Friend):

Brewed September 30, 2012, Bottled October 21, 2012

Following the instructions I put 3.5gal water in the pot (it was probably closer to 4, but my kettle doesn’t have markings), and heated it up to 170˚.  The instructions actually called for bringing it up to a boil, and then placing the specialty grain bag in to steep until it cooled to 170˚.  However, one of the guys at the store recommended only heating it to 170˚ and letting them steep for an even 20 minutes in order to keep from extracting harsh tannins from the mash.  So I followed the advice of the guy who had done this kind of stuff a lot.

After steeping the specialty grains, I pulled the bag, and brought the mixture up to a full rolling boil.  Pulled the kettle off the burner as told, and added the fermentables, stirring it with a big brewing spoon as if the whole thing were a vinaigrette getting its oil-add.  After returning the newly-made wort to the burner, I remembered something the guy at the store mentioned.

A helpful little product called “Fermcap S.”

Specifically, I remembered I didn’t get any.  And it prevents boil-overs beautifully as I found on a later brew day.  But on this one, the wort foamed up, and would have boiled over, despite the pot only being a little over half full, had I not been able to fumble on my oven mitts and remove the kettle from the burner as I did.  Crisis (narrowly) averted.

The second attempt to boil was much calmer.  It foamed up, but came about an inch shy of the rim of the kettle, and then settled back down.  The unhopped wort smelled like dry, chocolately cookies.  VERY pleasant.

At 45 minutes, I added the first hop addition.  The Nugget hops made the wort smell more like chocolate flowers, if you can imagine that.  Almost like a chocolate cake made with an IPA.  HEY…that sounds like an idea!

At 30 minutes, the second round of Nugget hops went in.  The floral qualities returned from the new hops, but the bitterness was apparent to the nose.  The chocolate aromas also began to fade a bit.

Curiously, at 0 minutes, when the final Hallertau hops were added and the wort was pulled from the heat, the chocolate aromas returned, smelling more like the first hop addition, but with an added malty/bakery note.  That was interesting.

Everything was cooled using a cold water/ice/running water bath in the sink.  Everything cooled in about twenty minutes.  Overall, I was able to rack about 2.5 gal of wort into the bucket.  Yes…I have a bucket.  Told you it was my first round.  Topped off with cold water, but apparently only to about 4gal.  The problem with the bucket fermenter is that you can’t tell what’s wort and what’s foam.

In the end, I racked it into the bottling bucket three weeks later with 3.2oz of table sugar for priming.  Ended up with 38 complete bottles.  Much less than I originally thought I should get.

Tasting:

Appearance: (2.5/5) Dark.  Very dark.  To the point of opacity.  Maybe that’s because it’s only been conditioning for two weeks at the time of this writing, but maybe it’s because I don’t try to leave the yeast dregs entirely in the bottom of the bottle.  I like them.  So sue me.  The head is a light tan, and very thick, but dissipates within about five or ten minutes, leaving little lacing on the glass.

Aroma: (3/5) Very malt forward.  You can’t get much of the hops at all on the nose, but you do get that chocolate, bakery, cakey aroma over anything else.  There’s also a bit of fruitiness to it, perhaps cherries.  Yeah…that’s cherries.  Pleasant to the palate.

Taste: (3/5)  Again, the maltiness dominates, with a high sweetness from the honey.  Much more sweetness than the 1.012 final gravity would have me think.  But at this point, I’m not experienced enough to tell if the calculator is off, or my palate isn’t tuned to fine beer tastings yet.  But the sweetness is there, the chocolate isn’t as much.  Instead it’s malt, honey, and a little bit of that cherry.  No hop flavor, and just enough bittering to keep this brew from being a complete sugar-bomb.

Drinkability and Mouthfeel: (4/5)  Infinite.  I’m sure that doing this recipe as an all-grain (which I may, some day, given more money) would be more complex, and a little more fun, but as it is, an extract kit with specialty grains, I could drink this all day.  Especially with the Milwaukee autumn weather chilling off more and more.  It’s not as heavy as you a porter could be, either.  I think part of that was getting the carbing right.  The bubbles are just the right size and quantity to make this an overall pleasant beer.

Design: (3/5)  As with all the beers I intend to brew, I’m making a set of bottle labels out of simple address labels.  Enough space to tell me what it is, when it was made, and to have a little fun with it.  And small enough to be a perfect neck-wrap label.  You could see it in the image above on the bottle.  I like it.  I like how the design conveys the source of the recipe (the fancy-schmancy White House), but cleanly juxtaposes it against the hardy origins of English robust porter ales.  What do you think?

Final Score: (17.5/25)  Overall, this was a great first run.  Furthermore, it was a successful first attempt at brewing.  It was very satisfying, all the major pitfalls were avoided (no infected, band-aid beer!), and it made me want to get the second batch going before I had even had a chance to rack and bottle the first.

That being said, it’s an extract kit, and there’s much more that can be done with beer.  Not much more with my own limited selection of equipment, but more overall.  And if I want to score this beer in fairness with other major-craft-label offerings, I have to ding the hell out of myself.  And that’s what I’m doing.

EDIT: Updated the calculations with the new Brewer’s Friend calculator.  When I tasted everything, I thought the beer was a bit sweeter than the TastyBrew’s 1.014 FG would indicate, and that the bitterness from the hops was nowhere near 51.  I think the 35 from Brewer’s Friend may be overstating it a bit as well, but I may change my mind with a little more experience.  The OG and the SRM were both very close, and seemed to match the recipe well enough, but I also thought the alcohol content was a bit more noticeable than the pedestrian 5.3% figured by TastyBrew indicated.  One of the big strengths of the Brewer’s Friend calculator is it lets you add in what yeast you’re using, a feature lacking in TastyBrew’s configuration.  Here’s the original stats:

Vitals (according to the handy TastyBrew.com):

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