Notes on the making of my Polymorph Porter

Monday night, I opened a bottle of the first porter I brewed. I took a picture for the Internets that looks something like this:

Polymorph Porter

(click image to embiggen at Imgur)

It turned out much better than I expected, considering there was a near disaster when I brewed it. Read on if you want to hear a story about making beer, and how it really is difficult to screw up, no matter how hard you try.

This is the Chocolate Maple Porter from Brooklyn Brew Shop. I had a few hours to myself one afternoon recently, so I spent it brewing. I was careful, made meticulous notes, compared what I was doing in the kitchen with what I'd read in books and online, etc.

It's only a one gallon kit, but I boiled it in the 6 gallon kettle I use for my regular 5 gallon batches. When I was finished, I put the lid on the kettle, and set it into my sink, which I'd filled about halfway with water to cool the wort. Physics happened, and the kettle started to float. I caught it, and weighed it down so it wouldn't try to bob around and tip over.

Whenever I finish brewing, I cool my wort by setting the kettle in the sink with some cool water, and after that water starts to warm up (yay thermodynamics!), I dump in twenty pounds of ice in two ten pound increments. (Can you see where this is going?) So I put in the ice, physics happened, and the kettle floated and tipped over. I caught it before the lid could completely come off, but I still lost about half of the wort.

At this point, I was pretty angry with myself for making such a stupid mistake, but it looked like the wort had only spilled out, without letting any water or ice in, so I remembered to relax and decided to go ahead and finish it. "At the very least, it'll be an interesting experiment," I thought.

So I cooled the wort, pitched the yeast, and let it ferment for a week. I kept expecting it to get infected, but it never did, and when I bottled it (I only got 5 bottles), it looked and smelled great, and it tasted like a porter.

So flash forward to Monday night. As you can see, it doesn't have much of a head on it, but it's really smooth and very, very viscous. It has a burnt chocolate/dark chocolate flavor, with a hint of caramel. I don't really taste the maple at all, but I also screwed up and primed with honey instead of maple syrup, so that may have contributed to that.

So, overall, considering that I really screwed up at least once in the process, I'm happy with it. I'm especially happy that I went ahead and took it all the way to bottling, and I'm interested to taste it in another week or so, after it's had even more time to condition.

If nothing else, I hope this an inspiration to other newbies like me, who may be afraid of screwing up their beer. If my experience is any indication, it really is difficult to mess up.

If you can make oatmeal, you can make beer. It's incredibly fun, incredibly rewarding, incredibly easy, and when you're finished YOU HAVE BEER THAT YOU MADE. If you're looking to get excited and make something, it's a great place to start.


For those of you who don't brew beer. Here's an oversimplified version of how I did it for the Porter:

  • Soak grains in hot water for about 45 minutes. (This is called Mashing.)
  • Remove grains from the water, leaving behind tasty stuff. Pour more hot water through the grains to get any other good stuff that's clinging to the grains. (This is called Sparging.)
  • Bring the resulting good stuff, called your wort (pronounced wirt, like the kid in Diablo), to a boil with some clean water. Add hops according to a schedule for an hour to give it bitterness, flavor, and aroma. (This is called The Boil, and is the first and only step that has a name that sounds like what it actually is.)
  • Cool the wort to about 70 degrees and add the yeast. (This is called Pitching the yeast.)
  • Put it all into something to ferment for about a week or so. (This is called Fermentation, and it turns out that I lied in step 3.)
  • Put it into bottles with some priming sugar, wait two weeks or longer, then drink. (This is called Awesome.)

You can get the glass as part of a set from Think Geek.

I used Beer Labelizer to make the label. So did redditor arkorobotics who did this one.

There are a ton of mail order places, if you don't have a local homebrew shop like I do. Check out the vendor list at Homebrew Talk if you're interested.

79 thoughts on “Notes on the making of my Polymorph Porter”

  1. Just talking with coworkers about how it is pretty hard to completely screw up a home brew as long as it doesn’t get contaminated. Coworker grew some Cascade and Centennial hops this year and brought some in this morning, not as hoppy as he wanted but next year they should produce better. Still really cool to crush some fresh off the vine hops and enjoy that scent. He is throwing them in an IPA he’s making now anyway, just to see what happens. I look forward to trying some 1 gallon brewing soon.

  2. I’m actually brewing this same set kit right now as my first foray into homebrewing since helping my dad out as a kid. How did you deal with taking gravity readings with a batch this small? I’ve had mine sitting in a 1 gallon carboy for about a week, and I was thinking I would just let it do it’s thing for another week or so, before bottling.

  3. Have you ever had a problem with the boil over? I remember my very first batch, I used a pot that was WAY too small, and I didn’t leave enough room at the top for the boiling foam to rise. My entire stovetop was caked in burnt, carmelized malt extract, and the kitchen was full of smoke. My roommates just left, but in the end, even that batch somehow tasted delicious (I’ve had some other problems with boil over in the past that are mostly my fault for not paying attention. Happened a bit the other day with my Belgian Double IPA, but that seems to be going well so far!)

  4. Step 2b: Step 3 is really really smelly. Please warn everyone in your household that does not have an orgasmic reaction to the taste of beer that they may want to arrange to be in the next county or lay in a supply of gas masks when you’re going to do this. (I say this will all affection, but having smelled this step at close range, I seriously recommend this for any brew-miesters living with people who don’t like bitter-tasting stuff, like me.)

  5. It's such a small batch, I didn't want to waste any of it on readings, so I didn't bother. I let this one ferment for two weeks, and I was happy with that. I suggest you prime with grade B maple syrup, because it has a more robust flavor than grade A.

  6. So far, no. I've been very careful to monitor the boil, because I don't want to risk The Wrath Of The Wife if I get wort on the stove.

  7. I haven’t actually tried home brewing yet but your tales are making me want to start soon, especially this porter.
    Being surrounded by fantastic craft breweries here, it is just so much easier to go down and enjoy all their hard work and keep my kitchen clean.
    When I stop being lazy, I am going to make my own porter.

  8. I’m probably never going to try this since I’m not a beer drinker, but I always love your instructions. They’re simple enough that someone with no idea of what’s going on can follow them and they’re always funny.
    (I wonder who came up with “sparging” for it.)

  9. You may want to invest in an immersion wort chiller. You have to sanatize it well to prevent infection, but it cools the wort ultra fast and you don’t risk floating pots.

  10. I bought a copper submersion wort chiller after my first brewing attempt. That first time, I left the carbuoy out in the snow to cool but it still took forever to cool. I still have the same chiller — best brewing purchase I ever made. Next time, make physics work for you. Save time and worry less about infection since you can pitch the yeast a lot earlier.
    Also, yeast starters in a gatorade bottle, FTW.

  11. Time for a wort chiller, Wil. I’f you’re feeling particularly maker-like, you can put it together with parts from a big-box home improvement store (copper tubing, vinyl hose, a few hose clamps) for a lot cheaper than you can buy one from a homebrew supplier. I would also suggest that rather than use it as originally intended (hook it up to your sink and just push tap-temp water though it and back out into your sink, wasting a ton of water) that you get a el-cheapo garden pump (~$15) and employ an ice chest and 30 lbs of ice, and recirculate the water through the ice, wasting minimal water and getting it colder than your tap ever will.
    You’ll save a lot of water, a lot of hassle using your sink as a water bath, and most importantly you’re chilling the brew rapidly — this is critical for a good cold break, and to reduce the “infection window” that exists between 80 and 140 degrees. It takes me about 8 minutes to chill a 5 gallon batch).
    You just slip the chiller into your pot in the last 15 minutes of the boil (thereby sanitizing it… just make sure it’s clean before you do this), and when your boil is done you fire up the pump and stir in a counter direction to the flow. It sounds like a lot of hassle, but moving your pot into a sink or tub and continually changing the water and adding ice, and potentially cross-contaminating your brew with the water-bath is no picnic either. It’s one of those tools you’ll wonder how you did without once you start using it.
    I’d be happy to offer long-distance advice on constructing/improving one if you’re interested.

  12. While i have no interest in brewing beer, i do like a good beer. However, i judge a beer by its aftertaste, of which bud and miller etc are not included blech. When you say it tasted burnt, was that the overall taste or the aftertaste?

  13. Will, I love the sharing you’re doing with regards to your brewing experiences. My only experiences with home brewing were my best friend’s grandfather brewing his own in their apartment, like 20+ years ago, and all I remember from it was how much it STANK. I’d love to try brewing my own and see how it turns out. Time to research and see where I can get ahold of some homebrewing stuff here in the Toronto area. :)

  14. I just use a laser printer and avery labels. They're not especially waterproof, and it's honestly a lot of trouble for 50 bottles that go pretty fast, but if you're giving bottles away, it makes a nice package.
    Someone advised me to use the 3/4 inch Avery labels to put the style and bottling date on the caps, because it's easy, clean, and leaves the bottles blank for next time. I've been doing that, and I'm very happy with it.

  15. I run into the same laziness in Wisconsin. We have New Glarus and their brewing selection is outstanding. Outside of WI you rarely see much beyond Fat Squirrel or Spotted Cow, but in-state the selection both regular and seasonal is a lot of fun. That said, I’m planning on making my first brewing attempt a Porter. Something close to my favorite, Great Lakes Brewery’s Edmund Fitzgerald.

  16. I’m currently working on a project to create my own Ginger Beer Plant and brew an alcoholic ginger beer like our forefathers used to do. As an initial foray, I tried out Alton Brown’s ginger ale recipe using whatever yeast I happened to have lying around, which happened to be all purpose baking yeast.
    The end result was an overcarbonated drink that burst in a totally non-suggestive manner out of the bottles whenever opened, making a sticky mess, and tasted like ginger ale, but smelled like bread dough. . . at least, until allowed to “breathe” in the glass for a time, after which it smelled like cleanness and tasted like crisp refreshment.
    Regardless, I’ve now put in an order for some champagne yeast to do my actual GBP.

  17. Here’s an easy clean up for baked on stove goo. Get a Scotch-Brite pad, some non-abrasive all purpose cleaner, and a vibrating power sander with velcro attachment. The velcro will hold the pad in place. Dads with power tools can be quite dangerous in the kitchen, but that stove top is CLEAN.

  18. I used English Ale yeast for my recent foray into Ginger Beer, and it carbonated nicely, without a lot of yeast-y flavors. I didn't use nearly enough ginger, though, so it ended up tasting like weak kombucha. Good luck on yours!

  19. Nicely done! And extra points for the Tempest pint glass. My favorite arcade game ON THE PLANET. When I had my bday party at Ground Kontrol, my friends couldn’t keep me away.

  20. That was me. A little story:
    Using homebrew as a bribe, I convinced my two artist friends — an illustrator, and a watercolor painter — to design labels to my specs, that I did digital post-production on to fit the fancy labels I had (neck and main labels for each bottle), and they were some absolutely gorgeous zombie themed bits of fine art (my home-brewery is ‘Ol Shambler Brewery).
    That all ended after five batches of beer. It’s enough of a pain in the arse to clean the original labels from the bottles I recycled to use for my homebrew, and now I was committing to cleaning my own labels off each and every bottle. That’s 52-ish bottles per five gallon batch for those of you keeping score at home. My commitment to a beautiful looking label was trumped by my desire to minimize the amount of time I spent hunched over my sink.
    So, with the 3/4″ Avery labels I print the brew name and stick them on the caps, and they get disposed of when the cap gets tossed into the recycle bin. The bottles get a rinse and go into a bucket to get a quick soak in OxyClean Free at a later date (once I get enough of them to make it worth my time), a final rinse, and onto the bottle tree to dry before getting boxed up for reuse with another batch.
    I do, however, have some lovely original home-brewery artwork to hang in the bar in the future. *grins*
    My meads and wines, however, do get nice labels. Those don’t get consumed quite as quickly, and there are fewer bottles per batch.

  21. Man, you're turning out to be my homebrewing patron, aren't you? :)
    For the labels, I'm starting to make a cool one (or get a friend to do it for me) so I can stick it into my log book, and then I put it onto at least one bottle, that I set aside for my library, to be consumed at some meaningful date in the future.
    I wish it was easy to get some blank cardboard six pack carriers, because I could just slap a label on that.
    I trust that you've seen the place online that lets you get custom printed caps?

  22. “Homebrewing Patron”… I might just put that on my resume. *grins*
    When I started homebrewing, I fell so completely in love with it that I swore an oath to Crom that I would do my best to lend assistance and advice whenever possible to anyone getting into the hobby, thereby cementing their addiction and making them as big a fanatic for it as I am. One of us, one of us, one of us!
    Now you’ve had a taste. Soon (if not already), you’ll start talking about homebrewing to anyone who even mentions it within the tri-state area. People who ask merely to be polite will soon find themselves pinned into a corner — like a moth skewered by a hat-pin to a board — as you ramble on about mashing grains, or fresh hops vs pelleted, oblivious to their vacuous stare and the thin line of spittle rolling down their slackened jaw.
    Should you find another brewer and start a conversation, you’ll fail to observe those around you backing away slowly, some of them crossing themselves as if to ward off demonic possession, as you and your conversational partner slip into what can only appear to outsiders as a cold-war Russian cipher of gibberish terms: wort, sparge, O.G., F.G., T.G., flocculation, attenuation, krausen, autolysis, saccharification.
    And. It. Will. Be. AWESOME!
    Also, not to continually harp on Austin Homebrew, but they do carry the blank six (and four) pack carriers. Dunno if it’s worth it with the shipping, but if you’re ordering other stuff it may work out.

  23. I must thank you for harping on Austin Homebrew. Their prices are good and shipping is cheap (free over $100). I haven’t been brewing lately due to shipping costs (no local supplier) so I was ecstatic when I followed your link in a previous post and saw all that Austin Homebrew has to offer. Today, I received my first bulk order from Austin Homebrew, enough for 8-12 five gallon batches of stouts, porters, and the like. That should keep me through the winter.

  24. You’re pretty passionate about your brews, Mr. Wheaton. Maybe you should do a book about your experiences, how to, and a couple of recipes? I’m sure your beer-lovin’ devotees would love to know what a Polymorph Porter tastes like. If you don’t have enough to fill a book (or don’t feel confident devoting a whole book because you haven’t been doing it that long), maybe you could do a chap book?

  25. Love the name and the label!
    My brother started brewing a year or so ago and does not like being too detailed with the details. Trying to control it too much kind of ruins the fun for him.

  26. Solution to labels, keg instead! I have been home brewing for 6 years now and just started kegging. I will never bottle again! If you want to take some to a party just fill a growler. Secondary to the keg, force carb it, fully carbed within a few days. You still have to let it condition though.

  27. Hey Wil!
    Don’t get me wrong, your beer stuff is great, by O-M-G you’re back on THE GUILD!!!!!!! That’s so AWESOME!!
    I knew it! I knew it since i asked you at FedCon although you said you couldn’t tell me 😉 You had that I’m-so-excited-but-I-can’t-tell-you-smile (even though I sometimes thought you probably just laughed at me because I forgot all the english vocabulary and grammar rules I ever learned because I was so excited)!
    Anyway, it’s so cool that Fawkes is back – I love that character and you are so good at portraying it!

  28. I’ll have to give this a try, even though I know that down the end of this dark road lies the place where I wind up with a closet containing over nine thousand different GBP cultures made of every possible type of yeast known to man.
    After that, the only place left to go will be to cultivate a sentient SCOBY and become a supervillain.

  29. I’ve resolved never to touch alcohol myself (bad family history) but I’m finding it awesome that brewing can be such an interesting hobby. Thanks for sharing your experiences with it!

  30. If there’s a way to screw it up, I’d be able to find it. But still; the idea of brewing my own sounds better and better the more I read about your adventures. Hmmm….

  31. Will – you might consider getting a copper immersion wort chiller – I made one myself years ago when I was brewing in college, but considering the cost of them now, it’s much easier to just buy one.
    Your local shop sells them I have little doubt.
    Just drop that sucker in the wort, run water though it from the sink and it cools magically in seconds.
    Copper + Water + Thermodynamics =’s Awesome

  32. My friend and I brewed some hoppy stout last weekend and added about a gallon too much water. The dry hopping didn’t work well either but we can throw some in a day or so before bottling.
    He uses CO2 canisters to carbonate it and puts the brew into used soda 1 or 2 litre bottles. He has these little screw on tops that allow him to put in CO2 under pressure then he just pops the connector off and leaves the cap with the valve on. It saves on getting glass bottle but you have to drink a little more over one or two days lest it get flat on you.
    Also, enjoyed your limping work on the Eureka season finally. My wife didn’t see your cane at first. It happens that’s the type of cane she was using after he ankle injury, not that that’s an uncommon type now. We’re still both disappointed a) we have to wait a year for the next season bar the Christmas episode and b) that next season is the (rushed) last. I don’t like people who make decisions based on only their pocket books when running a company and I suspect none do but those making the big bucks. I hope that you and the others will find equally enjoyable and profitable work to do.

  33. A Second for a wort Chiller, it is incredibly easy and inexpensive to make. Back in the 90s when I was doing it I did use it “as Intended” and ran the water from the tap, through the chiller, and down the drain.

  34. It has been 15 years since I home brewed, but iff I remember I just printed them onto plain paper and used milk to stick the label onto the bottle. I never had an issue with them not sticking and they come off very easily while soaking.

  35. There are 2 types of brewers. Those that have suffered a boil over, and those that are just about to.
    Just don’t get distracted by the cute new dog, or your wife, or blink…

  36. I think a lot of porters and stouts don’t show much of a head. There’s that magic that a correctly poured Guinness will do, but I used to drink a lot of Sheaf Stout, and that never had much of a head.
    To an extent I think you want it that way a little bit. The viscosity hangs on to the bubbles, and moderates the body on the tongue. Though I drink them, far too often, there’s something about fizzy pilsners that don’t do it for me. It’s like you can’t decide if you’re really a drinker of beer, or a kid who wants a soda with his hot dog that has the added benefit of making you feel more attractive and intelligent.
    I’m sure you know this, but the original beers were from Egypt, probably also the source of the world’s first breads. Kinda makes you rethink that whole low-carb thing, huh? Anyway, those beers were more of a thickened cold soup, the alcohol content improved their shelf life. There have also been discovered very thin clay and stone trays, which if filled with water and exposed to the temperature differential of the haze free night sky of the desert would probably have made ice, and provided all those pyramid builders with a frosty breakfast beer.
    and btw I damn near cried when Fox walks off without quoting anything. Damn near cried.

  37. mmm Maple Chocolate Porter…
    I’ve found honey to be tricky to ferment, so I’d guess that you’d only want it as a part of the priming equation.
    My Belgian Double Fig Ale totally flopped on the fermentation. I failed to stir it properly after adding sugar before bottling! D’oh! Still tasty flat but could be better….

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