Oct 13 2009

Homebrewed Chocolate Cherry Robust Porter Split Batch

So here’s the story of the chocolate cherry robust porter.  It was my latest split batch, and it ended up going three ways.

The inspiration for the chocolate cherry brew came from the cocoa nibs I won from the Dominion Cup homebrew competition.  I won a little over 2 lbs of Askinosie Chocolate cocoa nibs (which are the same ones used by Dogfish Head for their Theobroma beer) and knew that I had to work them into a beer somehow.

I had planned to do a porter, and it seemed like a good time to combine the cherries (which I had bought months ago and frozen) with the cocoa nibs to create some sort of black forest porter.  The cherries will add some sweetness to the beer, and I figured the nibs would help balance that out.

I think this story will have a happy ending.  We’ll see.

In my continuing mission to spin out a lot of different beers out of single batches, this one started as a robust porter towards the lower end of that style.  It began as 6.5 gallons of 1.055 OG robust porter. (Definitely at the low end of the style.)

I took 1 gallon of the cooled wort and pitched Safale 04 dry yeast into it, which is a quick fermenting English ale yeast.  I let that go at room temperature, and it appeared to be done within 48 hours. A later tasting will tell me if it fermented a little too hot, but it dropped down to a 1.010 FG.

The remaining 5.5 gallons where racking into a carboy, and I pitched Safale US-05 onto that, which is a neutral Cal Ale-type yeast.  That was ramped up from 68° to 72° F degrees over primary fermentation, and it finished out at a 1.011 FG.

I racked about a gallon of the US-05 robust porter into a small jug, and I set that aside. 

Here’s where it gets interesting.  I decided to put the remaining 4.5 gallons of US-05 robust porter on cherries and cocoa nibs.

First I thawed and de-pitted 8 pounds of cherries. This always ends up being a harder and messier work than I remember from the previous time. 

 Cocoa Cherry Porter - Cherries

Only 2 pounds when I took this shot

Cocoa Cherry Porter - The Pits

The pits

There are many different ways and times to add fruit to beers. If you are working with fresh fruit, it is a good idea to freeze them at some point. The freezing process will help rupture the cell walls of the fruit, making it easier to extract flavors from them. Freezing is also a good way to insure that you can capture the fruit at peak ripeness.

If you are adding fruit to primary fermentation, you’ll want to steep them in the wort at flame out, or hold them at 160° F to sanitize them.  Since I wanted the freshest fruit flavor possible, I added them to this beer in secondary.  Sanitation is important at this stage as always, but once a beer is past primary, the alcohol level is high enough and the pH level is low enough to discourage the growth of contaminating organisms.

Keeping as clean as possible, and having a sink full of a Star San mix nearby, I prepared the cherries and then pureed them in the blender.  I added that 8 pounds of cherries to the secondary carboy and, on top of that, add 6 ounces of cocoa nibs. 

Cocoa Cherry Porter - Nibs

6 ounces of Cocoa Nibs

With all the those additional sugars being added, I made sure to suck up a little yeast when I was racking the beer over and it promptly started to re-ferment again.


Cocoa Cherry Porter - Carboy

Cocoa Cherry Porter - Carboy Close-Up

Who dumped a Slurpee in my carboy?

Yeah, it looks unsettling, but the samples I’ve taken so far taste really, really good.  Like drinking a chocolate covered cherry with liquor inside.

It is going to be hard to figure out what the ABV for this will be.  The cherry puree floats on top and the hydrometer read 1.014 right after secondary racking.  It looks like it has dropped back down to a 1.012 again which might put us in the neighborhood of a 6.3% ABV beer.  Honestly, that number is probably wrong, and I’m not all that worried about it.

This one was put into tertiary last weekend, and will be bottled soon.  More on that later.

I’m looking forward to comparing and contrasting the differences between the S-04 and the US-05 yeasts.

In the end was left with:

1 gallon of Robust Porter fermented with Safale S-04 at 6.0% ABV
1 gallon of Robust Porter fermented with Safale US-05 at 5.8% ABV
4 gallons of Robust Porter with cherries and cocoa nibs fermented with Safale US-05 (??% ABV)

I’m also still working on a name for this one. Maybe a foreign name for black forest.  Perhaps it will be Forêt Noire .

A recipe will follow with the tasting notes.


Oct 29 2008

Robust Porter Batch 2008 – Velvet Hammer – “VP”

Another of my homebrew distribution notes…. This one was later renamed the Velvet Hammer, and it got 2nd place in the Stouts and Porters division of a Virginia BJCP homebrew competition. – jb


This one is a robust porter.  I hesitate to tell you the “secret” ingredient in this one because it will affect your perception of it.  Either you won’t taste it at all, or that will be the only thing you taste, instead of it being a background note, hopefully, adding to complexity.  But I’m sure I’ll give it away in the end.

A robust porter is a fuzzy style that is stronger and darker than a normal porter.  It is approaches the stout style, but it doesn’t quite achieve the same roast character.   I went the American side of this style sticking with the cleaner American yeast and American 2-row pale malt as the base.

This is another one where the malts took center stage.  The malt bill was ~14 lbs of pale malt (base grain, cleaner malty base), 1.5 lbs of Munich malt (toasted malt flavor), 1 lb Crystal malt (caramel, slight sweetness, better head retention), 0.75 lb chocolate malt (not really chocolate, of course, but the flavor and black color) and 0.5 of black patent malt (sharp roast flavor, black hole blackness in color).

The hops were in the background, but I played with them a little.  I used East Kent Goldings (UK) hops for 60 minutes in the boil and they were mostly for bittering, almost some floral aroma may have snuck through.  I also did some early first-wort hopping (putting some hops in the mash when I was soaking the grains to extract the sugars necessary for the boil and the beer.)  I was shooting for that early addition to give the beer a more rounded hop bitterness and flavor.

Speaking of the mash, I held these grains at 153 degrees for 60+ minutes before the sparge into the pot for a 60+ minute boil.  That temperature is a little high but intentional in that I wanted some of the sugars to be unfermentable so the finished beer would be thicker and smoother.

This one was brewed at the beginning of September and it has taken a while to calm down and mellow.  It is ready to go now, but it you want to let it age for a while, it will get better.

Feedback is nice.  (“It was good” or “It sucked” are feedback.  Not the best, but better than silence.)

Returning empty bottles are always good.

The secret ingredient?  A vanilla bean.  This one is temporarily called the Thrillah with Vanillah.