Monday, September 27, 2010

Porter Point Proven

This week was the Virginia Beer Blitz held by the Colonial Ale Smiths and Keggers, a homebrew club based in the Virginia's colonial era capital, Williamsburg. The competition itself though was held at the St George Brewing Company in Hampton, just a bit further along from Williamsburg. I entered the following three beers:

  • Red Coat Exporter (recently renamed Red Coat Export India Porter) in the robust porter category
  • Machair Mild, the peat smoked beer I have mentioned before
  • Gunnersbury Gold, a best bitter, single hopped with First Gold
Obviously the Machair and Gunnersbury were easy to place into categories, the Red Coat though posed something of a problem. As I have written about before, Red Coat was brewed to prove a point. Said point being that the Black IPA/CDA/India Black Ale fad that is sweeping the nation is, in fact, nothing more than over hopped porter, and of course using hops like Simcoe and Cascade.

Thus I took the recipe for a clone of Widmers Pitch Black IPA as published in Brew Your Own magazine, cut it down to the size of a single gallon (being cheap and not wanting to waste time and effort on something I thought would taste like crap) and replaced the original hops with British equivalents. Out went the Warrior and Cascade, in came Admiral and East Kent Goldings at the right amounts to achieve 65IBUs. Everything else though was left the same, including the use of a clean American ale yeast.

In the original article, homebrewers were encouraged to enter their Black IPA beers in Category 23 of BJCP competitions, the catch all for anything that hasn't already been micro-managed to within an inch of its life, and to enter Black IPA/CDA/IBA as the "base beer" required in that category. My original plan had been to enter Red Coat in that category, claiming the base beer to be "British Style Black IPA" or something equally meaningless. Eventually though I decided to enter it in the Robust Porter category, after all that is what I am convinced it really is.

Red Coat Exporter took gold in the Porter category.

As far as I am concerned, my little project has proven that Black IPA as an innovation is twaddle, and Ron's posting about Barclay Perkins' hopping rates in EIP confirmed my suspicions. In reality then, the originators of the "style" were doing nothing more than reviving an old British style of beer and giving it an American twist in the form of the hopping schedule. Nothing revolutionary, innovative or even wondrous about that - after all that is what happened with IPA (perhaps Pete Brown will do a a follow up to Hops and Glory but this time with an Export India Porter?!).

Can we please dispense with the hysteria about this "innovation" and just accept the historical facts and give this style its proper name in the competitions and guides so beloved of stylistas, even if "American Style" has to be appended to the name? I brewed Export India Porter, Widmers brew an American Export India Porter, simple really isn't it? Maybe one of the British brewers will jump on the bandwagon and make an Export India Porter using British hops, Thornbridge? Lovibonds? Everards? Fullers even? What about BrewDog doing one for the homeland?

My next task is to scale this recipe up to my normal size brews and brew some more to satisfy the wave of people who have asked me in the last 24 hours for a bottle, and of course for entering in further competitions - I don't think my one remaining bottle will go very far really! On a side note, Machair took silver in the Mild and Brown Ale category, coming second to the eventually winner of Best of Show. The picture is Machair Mild, as I haven't got round to taking pictures of Red Coat yet!


  1. well done on taking Gold and Silver!
    Did you see Andy Crouch Beerscribe 1st sept post, he does link it to porter but also gives you the chance to vote on what to call your 'dark hoppy ales'!!

  2. Congrats on the gold, Al. And nice work on the ruse! I'm with you on this whole Black IPA issue.

    I'd be interested to see how hoppy the Red Coat is, as I'm wondering what your hop utilization was like with the scaled-down recipe. Regardless, I'm glad you took the path you did, and were awarded a medal for it, too!

  3. First and foremost, congrats on the medals. They are well deserved and earned.

    And, although I agree with you in your thinking that the BIPA/CDA/IBA style is a bastardization of the porter style, I don’t think this competition is the case to prove it. It appears to me the “style” is driven by a handful of factors, not the least of which are the American hops. You did not use those big citrus hops. If you had used citrus-leaning hops, you would have still made an amazing ale, but I don’t think it would have done as well in the competition. It would have been too far out of style. By using British hops, you made a hoppy porter but not necessarily a BIPA.

    But I think the BIPA is a new type of hoppy porter. I’d certainly be in favor of calling this sub-category an “American Porter”. In much the same way that I have won medals with my version of Mike McDole’s Janet’s Brown Ale, which is a HUGELY hoppy brown, it would not have done well in the English Brown category. It is borderline out of style for the “American Brown” sub-category, but it works. I’d say that a highly-hopped porter, with distinctly American hops, ought to be an American Porter.

  4. You didn't use NW hops so you didn't make a CDA or BIPA, or whatever you want to call it. You can't use the British equivalents because there are none that give the right flavor profiles. Would you also say that a Baltic Porter is a bastardization of a porter? What about other styles that are so close to each it would be difficult to tell them apart? With a black ipa you're supposed to try to minimize the roasted malts while keeping it black. Gimmicky? Maybe a little, but when it's pulled off well it will knock your socks off.

    Where did you pick up your Widmer 10? I'm wondering if some of the hop profiles had died out during transport.

  5. beerandscifi,

    yes Baltic Porter is a sub set of porter. Historically speaking, Baltic Porter was a top fermented beer inspired by the strong porters that were shipped from Britain to the Baltic region, where local brewers started making their own versions. In the 19th century these brewers converted to the new bottom fermentation method and thus Baltic Porter became the lager that it is today. I do believe that some breweries, in Sweden if I recall, maintain the top fermenting tradition with Baltic Porter.

    I have only had two black IPAs, Dogzilla Black IPA, which I wrote about almost a year ago, and a collaboration beer made by the brewers on the Brew Ridge Trail here in Virginia. Interestingly, when I mixed stout with an American IPA and did a blind tasting with a few people, not one of them could differentiate between the black IPA and the stout/IPA mix.


    Thanks, I was really shocked at getting medals at all! Perhaps for another experiment I should use a traditional robust porter malt bill, replace the hops with some American hops and enter it in Cat 23 as a Black IPA? American Export India Porter I think would be a good style to have under American porter.

    Eric, James and Jamey,

    Well done on your medals!


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