2008 BJCP Style Guidelines
12B - Robust Porter

NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Robust Porter has been removed as a separate style.  We do have Style 13C English Porter and Style 20A American Porter.  

The information below is still valid for the older style, but if you are studying for the current BJCP exam, use this information as reference material only.

Smuttynose Porter

Robust porter is a style with recent origins. The original beer would have been much different than the beer we drink today. Originally made with brown malt for the bulk of the extract, the beer would have been a deep ruby color with malty, toasty, and smoky flavors from the brown malt.

Porters were the beer of choice for English workers during the Industrial Revolution. No article about porter would be complete without mentioning the infamous "beer vat" incident. The volume of porter needed to quench the thirsts of so many workers was so high that conditioning and aging the beer in kegs wasn't practical. The British brewers began using vats, big vats, to store and age their porter in. One of the largest was around 20,000 barrels in volume. In 1814 this vat collapsed under the weight of beer inside and sent a giant wave of porter throughout the surrounding area and into the streets. It killed eight people.

It wasn't long before pale malts were in use by brewers. Brewers found that they could make dark beers cheaper by brewing with this pale malt and adding highly kilned darker malts for color and flavor. The flavor probably wasn't the same as before, but before long, no one knew the difference. This beer was probably very close to the style as we know it today.

At the turn of the last century, porters began falling out of style as beer drinkers moved on to the new pale ales and gin. In Ireland however, a bigger version of the Robust Porter, called Stout, became the big seller in pubs and has remained so. In the United States, porters fell out of grace as well as German brewers lauded the new lagers that were so popular in their homeland.

As with many styles, the American craft beer movement along with the British Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) revived the style and it now has the same status that it had 200 years ago.

There are several important factors to remember when brewing a Robust Porter. Even though there is a fairly wide range for the style, all Robust Porters need a big roasty character. To balance the roasty notes in the beer, you need some smooth notes like a bready or caramel background. Without these flavors to smooth out the roastiness, the beer would be more like a Dry Stout than a Robust Porter. The guidelines do not distinguish between an American version and British version of this beer. If you want to brew an American version, you need to use a fairly clean American yeast and more American hops which makes the beer bigger in flavor and bitterness than the British counterpart. For authentic British style Robust Porters, use an English yeast, lower starting gravity, and less (English) hops. The real challenge in this beer is the roastiness, too much or too little can easily push this beer into different style categories.

Robust Porter Description

  • Aroma: A Robust Porter has a roasty aroma (often with a lightly burnt, black malt character) which may approach that of a Stout. It may also exhibit some additional malt character in support (grainy, bready, toffee-like, caramelly, chocolate, coffee, rich, and/or sweet) of the roastiness. Hop aroma in a Robust Porter can vary from low to high (US or UK varieties). Some American versions may be dry-hopped. Fruity esters are moderate to none and diacetyl may below to none.
  • Appearance: The color of the beer can be medium brown to a very dark brown, often with ruby highlights. Some versions can approach black in color. The clarity may be difficult to discern in such a dark beer, but when not opaque, the beer should be clear (particularly when held up to the light). It will have a full, tan-colored head with moderately good head retention.
  • Flavor: A Robust Porter will have a moderately strong malt flavor, usually featuring a lightly burnt, black malt character (and sometimes chocolate and/or coffee flavors) with a bit of roasty dryness in the finish. Overall flavor may finish from dry to medium-sweet, depending on the grain bill. The hop bittering level, and attenuation will also affect the perceived sweetness. There may be a sharp character from dark roasted grains, although should not be overly acrid, burnt or harsh as in a stout. The beer may have medium to high bitterness, which can be accentuated by the roasted malt. Hop flavor can vary from low to moderately high (US or UK varieties, typically), and balances the roasted malt flavors. Diacetyl should be low to none and fruity esters moderate to none.
  • Mouthfeel: Robust Porters should have a medium to medium-full body with moderately low to moderately high carbonation. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth or a slight astringency from roasted grains, although this character should not be strong.
  • Overall Impression: This is a substantial, malty dark ale with a complex and flavorful roasty character.
  • Comments: Although this is a rather broad style open to brewer interpretation, it may be distinguished from Stout as lacking a strong roasted barley character. It differs from a brown porter in that a black patent or roasted grain character is usually present, and it can be stronger in alcohol. Roast intensity and malt flavors can also vary significantly. It may or may not have a strong hop character, and may or may not have significant fermentation by-products; thus may seem to have an “American” or “English” character.
  • History: Stronger, hoppier and/or roastier version of porter designed as either a historical throwback or an American interpretation of the style. Traditional versions will have a more subtle hop character (often English), while modern versions may be considerably more aggressive. Both types are equally valid.
  • Ingredients: May contain several malts, prominently dark roasted malts and grains, which often include black patent malt (chocolate malt and/or roasted barley may also be used in some versions). Hops are used for bittering, flavor and/or aroma, and are frequently UK or US varieties. Water with moderate to high carbonate hardness is typical. Ale yeast can either be clean US versions or characterful English varieties.
  • Vital Statistics: OG: 1.048 – 1.065 FG: 1.012 – 1.016 IBUs: 25 – 50 SRM: 22 – 35 ABV: 4.8 – 6.5%.
  • Commercial Examples: Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Meantime London Porter, Anchor Porter, Smuttynose Robust Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Boulevard Bully! Porter, Rogue Mocha Porter, Avery New World Porter, Bell’s Porter, Great Divide Saint Bridget’s Porter.
  • References: Information for this page was adapted in part from Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, and the article in Brew Your Own magazine entitled Robust Porter: Style of the Month written by Alex Foder and appearing in the December 1997 issue.

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