Polish Porter Celebration

Polish Porter. Is it just Porter brewed in Poland? Or is it a unique style that can be brewed anywhere? If the brewer’s intent is pure, and the right ingredients and processes are used, it can most definitely be made elsewhere. This article explores the rich history of Porter brewing in Poland and the cross-cultural ways in which beer can be used for diplomacy. This beer was brewed in March, 2016 at the District Chophouse and Brewery by Brewmaster Barrett Lauer, Assistant Brewer Rob Fink, and beer historians Michael Stein and Peter Jones. It was served there but also at the American Homebrewers Association’s Homebrew Con 2016 held in Baltimore, Maryland.

A visit from a Polish beer writer in 2013, Michał Marańda, who hailed from his nation’s capital and came to sample the beers of our nation’s capital, spurned a cross-continental correspondence which lead to our discovery (and America’s rediscovery) of a dark beer from Poland.

1847 Polish Porter
1847 Polish Porter, Image provided by Michał Marańda at https://www.facebook.com/PolskieMinibrowary/

Porter brewing in Warsaw has occurred for over 150 years, with the first known Porter ad dating to 1847. As you can see from the ad, there is English in the copy exclaiming Polish Porter as “Extra Double Stout” a product with a rich history in England. Essentially, Polish Porter was being marketed as an English product and rightfully so as it was brewed in the English tradition, a beer fermented with ale – not lager – yeast..

1877 Polish Porter
1877 Polish Porter, Image provided by Michał Marańda at https://www.facebook.com/PolskieMinibrowary/

The following ad, from 30 years later in 1877, advertises Porter brewed in the Bavarian style, a Bock beer, also March beer. This Porter was brewed in the Marzen, or March beer, style, indicating that it is a lager.

Over the course of 30 years we see Polish Porter marketed as an English-style product and then as a Bavarian-style product. This changing is not unique to Poland or Porter. Over time beers that are sold as the same thing by name often experience recipe changes–be they ingredient, process, or marketing based. The etymological study of beer styles is a fascinating one with both the 1847 and 1877 ads for Polish Porter appealing to a foreign product by a foreign brewing nation, despite both being produced in Warsaw at the same brewery.

In early correspondence with Michał Marańda in late 2015, inquiring about the production of Polish Porter, he responded “we have an original recipe for famous Warsaw Baltic porter. It’s from 2003, one year before closing the Warsaw brewery” of course the difficulty is that the recipe and all of the means of production were documented in Polish. Their document, which loosely translates to “Instructions for the Technological Production of Dark Strong Beer” was instrumental in designing this recipe. And it certainly helped that a dedicated group of Polish beer historians have taken to collecting information on about 250 beers from the Krakow and Mazowsze regions of Poland over the last 150 years.

As any brewer considers brewing a historic beer, the question of historical accuracy comes to mind. This can take on many shapes and forms, but I have always felt that a brewer’s intent should be considered when brewing any beer from centuries past. The malts and hops used in the original may no longer be available to a modern brewer. But if the historic brewer’s intent was to make a clean, delicious, dark-lager in the Porter style of the time, that intent can be replicated.

Using the example of hops, we didn’t use Marynka hops as the recipe specifies. But we did use Junga hops, which have the Marynka hop as a parent. As we achieved brewing a beer with 100% Polish hops my itch of historical authenticity was scratched. Additionally another site of a Polish homebrewer stated that while Marynka or Sibyl were good bittering hops, hops are not the main role in the style and her advice loosely translated to “so you might as well check the other varieties.” And check we did. Neither Lost Lagers nor any brewery in Washington, D.C., to our knowledge, had ever used Junga hops before.

Sphinx Stout exported to Brooklyn, courtesy of Grzegorz Berlinski, http://www.browarymazowsza.pl/
Sphinx Stout exported to Brooklyn, courtesy of Grzegorz Berlinski, http://www.browarymazowsza.pl/

Since the brewing of this beer it has come to our attention that this beer was actually exported from Poland to the United States. We are uncertain of the exact date this bottle of “Sphinx Stout” was brewed. But based on the dates of 1933, when Prohibition was repealed, and 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, we feel confident that this beer was exported in that six-year span. Uncertain if anyone alive remembers this beer, our desire to re-introduce America to a beer we believed was true to the brewers’ original intent: to make a clean, delicious, dark lager in the Polish style.

Celebrating Polish Constitution Day with a Lost Lager at the Polish Ambassador’s Residence. From Left: Barrett Lauer, Whitney Jones, Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf, Peter Jones, Michael Stein, and Polish Embassy Senior Adviser Artur Orkisz

Given the cross-cultural nature of beer, we wanted to play to our pride in America as a front-runner of historic and innovative brewing. Brewmaster for the District Chophouse and Brewery, Barrett Lauer, seemed like a natural fit given his passion for brewing clean, delicious beer, not to mention that he himself is of Polish descent. Equipped with the knowledge given to us by several Polish beer writers, homebrewers, and historians all interested in preserving the historic status of Polish Porter, we knew we stood on the shoulders of giants.

Beyond our wildest dreams, true Polish-American diplomacy was done when the beer was served at the residence of  Ryszard Schnepf’s, the Polish Ambassador, for Polish Constitution Day.

Just like the United States’ relationship with Poland, Polish Porter is a relationship between brewer and drinker that oppressive regimes could not stomp out. When the Warsaw Brewery opened in 1846, three Polish men, Blazej Haberbusch, Konstanty Schiele, and Henry Klawe became the owners. On some level (though the extent is undocumented) the brewery continued to operate in Nazi occupied Poland. In 1946, the brewery became nationalized and in 2001, the Austrian firm Brau Union AG purchased the brewery. In 2004, Brau Union AG was absorbed by Heineken NV. Shortly thereafter, the brewery ceased operations and 250 people were no longer employed. But despite the ups and downs of Nazism, Communism, and a shuttering from one of the world’s largest breweries, Polish Porter is a style that will live on.

Beer is special because it can foster cross-cultural relationships. This particular beer is also special because of it’s rich and unique history. Unbeknownst to us at the time of brewing, Polish Porter had actually been exported to America prior to World War II, it was labeled “Stout” and we know from the label that it was imported to New York.

We truly believe that the richness of history is reflected in the culture, brewing, and marketing of beer throughout the centuries. We strongly encourage homebrewers and independent brewers alike to investigate some of the beers that have been forgotten in the United States. Below you will find our recipe for recreating Polish Porter. Inherent in the article is a call to all brewers (big and small) to recreate some historic beer and please contact us should you have any questions.











Here is Frank Clark, master of historic foodways at Colonial Williamsburg foundation, making his proprietary sugar and turning it Porter color.
Here is Frank Clark, master of historic foodways at Colonial Williamsburg foundation, making his proprietary sugar and turning it Porter color.

If you’re attending the American Homebrewers Assoication’s 38th Annual National Homebrew Conference, Homebrewcon for short, come see us on Saturday, June 11, at the Baltimore Convention Center, rooms 318-323 at 10:15AM. Our talk is titled The Dark Ages: Baltic, Munich or Kulmbach? we’ll be pouring two Lost Lagers, Polish Porter, and Kulmbacher Dark Lager. More on those lagers in a separate post.

Of great import to those interested in history, historical beer and beer culture, are talks by beer history colleagues Frank Clark and Travis Rupp. Mike first met these amazing individuals in beer at the conference Frank hosted in Colonial Williamsburg in March, Ale Through the Ages.
You can see Frank present Welcome to the Dark Side! The Evolution of Porter at the Baltimore Convention Center onFriday, June 10 at 11:30 a.m. in seminar room 301-303.You can see Travis, who is a Professor at University of Colorado at Boulder and Special Projects and Beer Archaeologist at Avery Brewing Company, also in Boulder, Colorado. present Ancient Beer Brewing in the World of Wine: Bronze Age Greece through Alexander the Great Saturday, June 11 at 11:30 am – 12:30 pm. This is the time slot right after our presentation so you can be sure to catch us there at Travis’ presentation once we wrap.
In recent historical memory is the first conference the American Homebrewers Association’s held in Baltimore, in 1995. For an excellent read and recall of that conference, the beer brewed for it and a nice round up check out Tom Cizauskas’ post here.

1847 Polish Porter

Chophouse Mash Tun
Peter Jones and Barrett Lauer mashing in at the Chophouse’s second floor brewhouse.

We recently had the great fortune of being able to re-imagine an iconic Baltic Porter with the amazing brewers at District Chophouse, Barrett Lauer and Rob Fink. The United Warsaw Brewery’s Baltic Porter was first mentioned in newspaper advertisements in 1847 and has been beloved ever since. The Brewery, like many, was destroyed during World War II. In 1950, it was rebuilt and continued to brew Piwo “Królewskie Porter” on a small scale until it closed in 2004. Besides its ardent Polish fanbase, the dark lager (Baltic Porters are made with lager yeast unlike most British or American Porters which are commonly made with English or American ale yeast) won numerous Polish and international beer awards.

Mike was first inspired to research this beer after a chance meeting with a Polish beer blogger, Michal Maranda, from Warsaw, who visited and reviewed several of the District’s fine establishments in 2013. After corresponding overseas, researching, and a little help with translating Polish to English, we reached out to Barrett and the Chophouse team. The beer turned out wonderfully with a smooth, medium-dry finish and notes of chocolate, lightly roasted coffee with a hint of toasted pumpernickel.

Chophouse Mash tun with carafa malt
Mike Stein, reviewing the mash post-carafa addition

Though the taste is complex, the grist was simple, consisting of only 3 malts: Pale, Munich, and Carafa. With Barrett’s suggestion we sprinkled the Weyermann Carafa malt at the end of the mash to encourage it’s darker color without introducing as much astringency. Polish Junga hops in the bittering and final additions completed the royal beer. It will be served at the Chophouse through Tuesday, May 10. After that, look for it at special tastings including our lecture at the 2016 National Homebrewing Conference in Baltimore.

Update: Polish Porter was also featured in the April/May 2016 issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News! For more on this beer, also see our post reprising some of the Homebrewcon lecture.


Peter Jones, checking the gravity with a refractometer
Beautiful wort


Lost Lagers at the Dumbarton House

For our newest beer, Colonial Panic we teamed up with the good folks of Pen Druid Brewing Company located in beautiful Sperryville, Virginia. The upcoming release of Colonial Panic will take place at the Dumbarton House, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 from 7:00-9:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased here.
Pete with hops
The composition of this beer is similar to what George Washington would have imbibed during his lifetime. American beer from about 5 miles away from the town of Washington, Virginia, the first town George ever surveyed. This beer features molasses (as is one of his key ingredients in his 1757 recipe for small beer) as a great source of color and contributes a dryness to the mouthfeel. The sorghum molasses contributes a complexity that was common in 18th Century Porters. Comprising the beer’s grist is pale malt and oat malt, malted just up the path from the brewery, by the Copper Fox Distillery’s malt house. The beer was hopped with Maryland’s first certified organic hop grower, Organarchy, in Cumberland, Maryland, a Cascade variety from the 2015 harvest. Finally, the beer was fermented with what Pen Druid calls it’s “own cocktail of wild yeasts and bacteria from the Virginia Piedmont reflecting the terroir of Rappahannock.”
Mike in front of barrel
It is no secret that the first President’s love of beer focused largely on Porter. As is relayed by Mount Vernon’s Encyclopedia “George Washington is known to have purchased large quantities of beer and porter before the Revolution both from England and within America” this may or may not surprise you. Though the statement, “[d]uring the eighteenth century, a number of well-known English breweries were founded” is perhaps an understatement as England was the brewing epicenter of the world and many brewing nations lacked the scientific and technical prowess that England had.

Today, the United States is the epicenter of brewing innovation and many nations are looking to us to see what is hot and cool within the realm of possibility within the world of brewing. It is our hope that you will join us on May 25th and try our porter for the first (and only!) time it will be poured in Washington, DC.
Pete and Josh stirring mash

Cider Tasting at the Hill Center

On November 6th, Mike Stein led a guided tasting of several delicious ciders from Pipetown Traders, paired with gourmet popcorn from Capitol Kettle Corn at the Hill Center near Barracks Row. Participants enjoyed the unique pairings and Mike’s commentary on the different styles, traditions, and producers of cider. The event was hosted by Drinky Events – who also provided many of the photographs. You can learn more about Drinky Events and their future activities on their Facebook Page. Follow our twitter account for future events featuring Lost Lagers.