Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Bohemian Porter?

Once upon a time I was sat in a brewpub in Brno. On the wall of the brewpub, called Pegas since you ask, was the following sign:

For those unversed in the Czech language, the sign reads "Original Porter from České Budějovice, from the City Brewery". On the opposite wall was the same sign in German, in which "Měšťanské Pivovaru" was "Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis", or the brewery known today as Samson, originally founded in 1795. The idea of Bohemian Porter has kind of intrigued me ever since.

When I lived in Czechia there was basically just one Bohemian Porter in regular existence, the delightful 19° Pardubický Porter, but when I was digging around in Pivety.com, I came across several labels for other Bohemian made porters, such as Třeboňský, Brněnský, and more Budweiser Porter.

There are plenty of other examples that show porter being brewed in Bohemia was most definitely a reality before the descent of the Iron Curtain in 1948. Clearly from the gravities on the labels, porter was a strong dark beer with a gravity of, at least, 19° Plato, which is basically the modern Czech description of a porter.

The thing that often played on my mind was whether the Bohemian Porter of the late 19th/early 20th centuries became the modern tmavé pivo, and I was never convinced. Tmavé is, after all, just a colour descriptor, it doesn't denote the strength of a beer, it's bitterness, or even its point of origin, it is just tells you to expect a dark beer. Even then, it can fall on a colour spectrum from deep red to pitch black, and some lagers marketed as "tmavé" are paler than other breweries' polotmavé, that's amber, beers. It seems as though porter stood apart from the morass of tmavé, with its strength being a key differentiator.


As I have been digging into various newspapers and journals in the Austrian National Library's newspaper archive, I have come back time and again to "Der Böhmische Bierbrauer", the journal of the Brewing Industry Association in the Kingdom of Bohemia. It was here that I found another part of the porter story...a recipe of sorts, and the beginnings of a process. 

So I set about trying to understand what was going on in this, according to the article's author, "well known brewery whose products are highly esteemed and sought after". In the same article, the author discusses "märzenbier" and "kaisersbier" as well.

Anyway, we start with the grist, 2250kg of malt kilned to 76° Réaumur (about 95° C), which thanks to information from Andreas Krennmair would be in the ball park of Munich malt, and 175kg of "Farbmalz". "Farbmalz" literally translates as "colour malt", a phrase in Czech that is still used today - "barevný slad". Farbmalz can also be known as "rostmalz", which is obviously "roasted malt", so we are talking about something similar here to Carafa malts, whether I, II, or III, I really don't know, but that's the ballpark we are playing in. And that's it, a simple grist of 92.8% Munich malt and 7.2% roasted malt.

The grist goes into 48 hectolitres of water, that's 1109 US gallons, or 924 Imperial gallons, a mash then of 1.7 litres of water per kilo of grain. Being an article in the official organ of the Bohemian Brewers' Association, I am going to assume that certain process elements were simply understood and thus not written down. Thankfully though, the author does use the magical incantation of "Dreimaischenmethode", a literal translation of which would be "three mash method", but remember where we are and to whom the author is communicating, and here we have porter being made with a triple decoction mash. We are not told what temperatures are being targeted, but again his audience probably didn't need that level of detail, just do a triple decoction mash, with the first decoction being boiled for 25 minutes, the second for 30, and the third for 20, mashing out at 59° Réaumur (73°C/164.7°F). Oh, and during the third decoction add 52 kilos of hops, assuming here that the hops were added to the decoction while it was boiling, there would have been some isomerisation of the alpha acids to contribute bitterness - but here I am kind of at a loss, so if anyone can explain this better, that would be great.

If I understand the German correctly, the pre-boil gravity was 17.8° Plato, working on the assumption here that "°S" is shorthand for "grad Stammwürze", which post boil came to 22.2°P. With the wort vatted for primary fermentation, it was held at 5.5° R (7°C/44.6°F) for the first 9 days, and then allowed to rise in temperature to 9°R (11°C/51.8°F) for a further 9 days. After 18 days of primary fermentation the finishing gravity was 9.6° P, giving our Bohemian Porter an abv of 7.2% going into the lagering process, which lasted 10 months.

Now, I am not saying that I have an iron clad recipe for porter as being brewed in Bohemia, mainly because I am not the audience for this journal and thus there are gaps in my knowledge, but I think this shows that Porter was understood in Bohemia as a strong, dark, well aged, lager, and was more than just a curiosity. Wonder if I can persuade someone to try making one...

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