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. Wil, I have posted responses to your homebrew related posts but haven’t brewed in a few years (2006 to be exact) due to reasons already mentioned. Thanks to your enthusiastic posts, and the advice of other people who responded to them, I have found a source for ingredients that doesn’t break the bank account on shipping. I just wanted to thank you for kick-starting my interest again. This week I received a bulk order that will be enough to brew 10 batches of beer: stouts, porters, and other fall/winter brews. I also ordered a MaltMill ( which will arrive on Monday. I ordered the grains unmilled because I am not going to brew all 10 batches at once and the grains store better in their factory preset unmilled state.
    This Monday, I am having a small brewing party to show some friends how it is done and hopefully pique their interest in homebrewing.

  2. Luckily for me I live in Gloucestershire in England and have access to many a fine Brewery and Pub.
    Some of my favorites include, Wadsworth, Hook Norton and Wychwood Breweries. Luckily in the last 10 years Real Ales and Ciders have taken off and the local super markets are full of it.
    Good to see it’s taken off over the pond as well. I sampled some good Ales when I stayed in Seattle in the early 2000’s and also found a bar selling bottles of Hobgoblin by Wychwood.

  3. The trick with boilover is to keep a spray bottle of plain cool water next to the stove. As you near boil, watch for the foam. If it starts to foam up, spray it really quickly until it starts to subside.
    This is a small scale version of what we do in professional breweries, only we use a hose.

  4. Wil, Is it true that you’ll be in Australia next year (April) for ‘Video Games unplugged’ along with Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub of Penny Arcade?

  5. Wil, this is completely unrelated to beer, but I just finished MotFC: Vol 1 and greatly enjoyed it. I would definitely be willing to buy a Vol 2 or an expanded audio edition of Vol 1
    Thanks for offering all those podcasts; even though it was a year later, they spurred me to eventually buying the ebook (at the 20% rate that day you mentioned the sale on G+)

  6. That’s no action figure, my friend… that’s “The Ex” knife-holder. I have one just like it, and it’s mondo cool. It’s one of the very few things I can actually claim I was on the forefront of (yeah, the polio vaccine would be a more notable claim, but hey, I take my victories where I can get ’em, no mater how trivial). I learned about it when it was a concept idea a few years back, and was called “The Voodoo” knife holder. Was actually shocked when it eventually made it into production.
    They’re widely available, but I like to support the friendly folks at ThinkGeek:

    TypePad HTML Email
    Will do. I brewed a Smoked Porter and a Russian Imperial
    Stout on Monday night. Right now, I'm making an Irish Stout. By the time they
    age a little, cooler weather will be here (hopefully). I would make another
    batch today, but I'm out of primary fermentors.

  8. Okay, so I doubt I’m the first to suggest this, but you need to offer “brewing with Wil Wheaton” as an auction for Child’s Play.
    I rarely get inspired to do things, but me and my Dad have been talking about adding a home brew to his restaurant, and I’m pretty sure this is the kicker.

  9. Hey Wil, you talking about getting excited and making things again reminded me to show you something my friends and I got excited and made. It’s an EP on that we recently uploaded to SoundCloud having recorded it earlier this year, our second one’s going to be on iTunes in a couple weeks or so. This band’s relevant to you Wil because you (and to a fairly major extent John Scalzi) inspired the name. For we are The Velvet Wesleys! Search us on Soundcloud, we also have a Facebook page, and Twitter account @Wesleysphere. Can’t wait to know what you think!

  10. I second that, would love to hear tales from a professional. And Wil, I guess when you have your first boil over, we’ll get a post titled “Beer Trek: The Wrath of Anne”

  11. Brilliant that you finished off your experiment. Have you been taking gravity readings or are you going by feel at this point? Also, have you considered kegging yet? Once you start begging, you will almost never bottle – with the exception of giving homebrew away to friends and entering competitions.

  12. Wil, I have another recipe for you: a strong Scotch Ale. I just racked this into the secondary. I always taste my beers at this time. Although they are very young at this point I can usually judge how they will turn out. This ale already tastes great, in fact it is very drinkable right now. I brewed it last Saturday. I bought the ingredients from Austin Homebrew Supply.
    Strong Scotch Ale, 5 gallon batch
    1 lb Special B, steap
    0.5 lb Special Roast, steap
    10 lb Pale extract
    1.5 oz Perle hops, boil
    0.5 oz Fuggle hops, finish
    Scottish ale yeast
    This measured 6.9% alcohol at racking. I plan to leave it in the secondary for at least two weeks. This is a birthday gift for a friend, so i will be bottling it – this will be the first time I have bottled a beer in 12 years. I hope you try the stout recipe I posted awhile back, mine is in the secondary.

  13. Wil, I forgot to add this to the Irish Stout recipe when I posted it:
    Often, I will add about a pound of rolled oats to the stout recipe. Cook them first, using extra water. Let cool to about 160 degrees before adding to the mash. If doing the extract version I open the grain bag, put it into the big brewing pot keeping the open end out of the water, pour the cooked oats and water into the open grain bag, and then tie the grain bag closed. Oats do not have enzymes to convert starch to sugar and therefore have to be mashed/steeped with the other grains for the enzymes to convert the starches.

  14. Wil, I’ve followed you’re blogs off and on for years (back to the LJ days) but have lost touch over the last few years and I’m just now trying to catch up again, so forgive me if you’ve already mentioned this.
    Home brewing is one of my hobbies and I’m curious if you are using a pre-made kit or something you put together to brew? Also..have you ever tried any of the recipes from They are hard to screw up and I fell in love with the Pumpkin Lager years’s become one of my holiday traditions to brew a batch.

  15. I had an Irish Malt Whiskey beer years ago in France and loved it but can’t remember the name to save my life.
    Anyone familiar with a similar beer or know of a recipe that might produce something similar?

  16. I make my beer using extract and grain from my local homebrew shop, Eagle Rock Homebrew Supply. I'm doing my first all-grain next weekend.

  17. Years ago, around Halloween I came home from work and found the entire neighborhood smelling like a pumpkin pie. I followed my nose to a neighbors house and found him making Pumpkin Ale and I fell in love with home brewing, and pumpkin ale on that night.
    Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different recipes, some in kit form, some just crazy experiments. I’ve stumbled on a lot of interesting things and never made a horrible beer..but still nothing beats a good Pumpkin Lager or Ale..magic in a bottle!

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