There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun.

-Jack London, To Build a Fire

I forgot how dark it is here in winter.  Having been away down on the 43rd parallel, I had blocked from my mind what it was like up here on the 61st.   In December, the skies turn their darkest – and so do the beers.  With a day length of just under five and a half hours from sunrise to sunset, there is plenty of time to relax indoors with a stout by a fire.

A winter warmer.

A winter warmer.


This past holiday I was called upon to provide beers for an annual family get together on the night of December 24th.  I tried to put together a collection of varying brews I thought would intrigue the uneducated palate as well as be beers I had on hand (or that were easy to brew.)  I already had Lambic v3, a Hard Cider, and a fantastic DIPA (a recipe I’m trying to nail down perfectly.)  I needed something dark.  Enter the idea for a Porter/Stout style of beer.

Loosely basing the malt bill on a porter I’d made for a bourbon barrel back in 2011, I decided to bump up the chocolate and roasted barley.  I also used a large amount of brown malt, an addition I found to be really tasty in the 2011 Porter.  Oats were added for smoothness, and I put together a few simple hop additions I felt would be complimentary, but not intrusive.  Planning stages were fine.  It was the execution that caught me.

Crushing outdoors. Scenic, but chilly.

Crushing outdoors. Scenic, but chilly.

Enter “Mistake 1”:  I went to the brew store while my wife and son waited patiently in the car.  I told them all I was doing was grabbing some yeast (for a different project).  It was a last minute decision to grab the dark malts I’d need for this brew.  My solution was to toss random amounts in different bags and weigh them when I got home.  Any excess could be used for other brews.  When I got home, I found that I only had grabbed 5 oz of Black and 6 oz of Roasted.  They had seemed heavier in the store.  I had wanted 3/4 lb of each as I was going to cold steep the dark grains.  Since I realized this mid-brew (as all good mistakes are realized) I decided then to add these dark malts to the end of the mash (Just in case I didn’t make it back to the brew store), and I’d buy and cold steep some more later.  Well, I did make it back.Thus began…

“Mistake 2”:  Somehow on sleepy ‘Dad brain’ I thought “I’d like to have 3/4 of a pound total – so I’d need another 6oz to get to the 12oz I wanted.” In my head I was thinking 3/4 of a pound is the same as 6 out of 8, which means that if I have 6 oz I should get .75 pounds of each, totaling 1 and 1/2 pounds, which is the 12 oz I need because 12/8 is 1.5.  If you’re not following that, don’t worry.  Neither was I.  It wasn’t until later I realized how far off I was.

Obligatory photo.

Obligatory mash temperature photo.

BIAB is the way to go for me now. Once I had the eyebolt in the ceiling, the rest just fell into place. Never has mashing and cleaning been so simple. Now I just need more joules on my stove.

BIAB is the way to go for me now. Once I had the eyebolt in the ceiling, the rest just fell into place. Never has mashing and cleaning been so simple. Now I just need more joules on my stove.

I brought home my 1.5 pounds of dark malts (which I thought were 12 oz) and cold steeped overnight.  I pasteurized the dark wort and added it to the already fermenting beer a few days after brew day.  When it came time to keg the beer, I was in for a major surprise.

Crash cooled.

Crash cooled.

I kegged the beer on Dec 21, three days before the party.  I was using my carbonation stone, so I was carbonated in less than a day.  We’d been having heat wave and the beer sat on my porch at a lovely 35F.  The first sip was somewhat of a shock.  Whoa.  This is dark.  Did I put some instant espresso powder in this?  What could it b-   oh.  oops.


The Darkest Mistakes

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5.5 gal 60 min 35.2 IBUs 41.2 SRM 1.057 1.013 5.8 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Robust Porter 12 B 1.048 - 1.065 1.012 - 1.016 25 - 50 22 - 35 1.8 - 2.5 4.8 - 6.5 %


Name Amount %
Pale Malt (2 Row) US 8.25 lbs 65.01
Brown Malt 2.5 lbs 19.7
Roasted Barley 14.08 oz 6.93
Chocolate Malt 12.96 oz 6.38
Oats, Flaked 4 oz 1.97


Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Phoenix 0.75 oz 60 min Boil Pellet 11
Saaz 1 oz 15 min Boil Pellet 5


Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
SafAle English Ale (S-04) DCL/Fermentis 73% 59°F - 75.2°F
Safale American (US-05) DCL/Fermentis 77% 59°F - 75°F


Step Temperature Time
Mash In 150°F 75 min


Brewday Notes:  Cold steep all grains. Recipe slightly modified to account for extra grain that was added.   After cold steeping, pasteurize and add to wort.  If desired, taste test as dark wort is added until roastiness is satisfactory.


Looks:  Insanely dark.  No light passes through.  The head is as dark as well.

Smells:  Coffee, light graham cracker notes.  Roasty.

Tastes:  Similar to the smells, with a very light finish that kicks in the back of the tongue due to  excessive roasted malts.  I think 100% cold steep could fix this.  Really strong coffee flavors, dark malt notes.  Not an overpowering body.  A really tasty beer for these winter nights.  More of a porter/stout hybrid than a straight up stout.  Its definitely a slow drinker.  Each sip is multiple waves of roastiness and coffee notes.   I plan on doing some blending with this (at about 5% rate) with Partial Eclipse.

3:30 pm. Photo has not been adjusted. Overcast days are grey.

3:30 pm. Photo has not been adjusted. Overcast days are grey.