This Beer Recipe Came From Hops Grown at the Smithsonian

A storied brewmaster unveils how he came to brew the “Victory Garden” Porter

Smithsonian beer curator Theresa McCulla and colleagues from the Smithsonian Gardens harvest hops from the National Museum of American History’s victory garden. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)
smithsonianmag.com

This year marks my 50th year of homebrewing. In half a century, one of the most memorable beers I’ve tried was brewed by the Falstaff Brewing Company and presented at the very first Great American Beer Festival, held in 1982. The beer was a special batch of the brewery’s “Narraganset Porter.” It was darker, fuller in body, and had a more notable roasted and toasted dark malt flavor compared with the ‘Gansett Porter I knew. But the beer’s distinguishing feature was the brilliance of the Cascade hop, which was loaded into the aging barrels—a technique now known as “dry hopping,” as opposed to the more traditional method of adding hops only during boiling. I remember experiencing this hop infusion as a bright explosion of citrus and pine flavors.

In 1982, America’s few microbrewers were already adding hops at the end of the boiling period (known as “late hopping”) for extra flavor and aroma, but I don’t recall that dry hopping had yet made its way into American microbrewing. So that Narraganset Porter was probably American’s first modern-day dry-hopped beer.

In 2018, I decided to recreate this beer, because there was nothing like it currently being brewed. So I formulated a recipe to replicate what I experienced back in 1982. When I learned that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History had a “Victory Garden” in which the Institution grew Cascade hops, I offered to homebrew a batch of the beer using the museum’s hops and some of my own homegrown wild hops, which was then served in December 2018, at a holiday reception at the museum celebrating homebrewers and professional and local craft brewers.

It’s a beer I continue to rebrew at home with my own homegrown Cascade hops to this day. Even now, in the spring of 2020, I continue to fine-tune the recipe, while thirsty friends rave about it. Empty kegs deserve refilling!

Beer recipes can be confusing for those who’ve never brewed beer before, but here’s a summary of the ingredients and the process if you want to try it yourself. And if you’re wondering how to find a homebrew supply shop, here’s a link to the most comprehensive directory of local shops anywhere. Many shops are currently offering curbside pickup, online ordering, gift cards, and more.

Smithsonian “Victory Garden” Porter

  • Bitterness is balanced and not assertive
  • Alcohol by volume is about 5.5% to 6%
  • Color is very dark brown, but not as dark as a stout.
  • Yield: 5.5 gallons of beer

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs. Pilsener malt (a light barley malt grain serves as a base malt)
  • 1 lb. flaked brewer’s corn (this lightens the body, adding no flavor or aromatic character)
  • 8 oz. (225 g) aromatic barley malt (this is a lightly toasted grain contributing a fresh toasted bread-like character)
  • 4 oz. (113 g) black malt (very darkly roasted malted barley contributing dark color and coffee-cocoa like flavor and aromas
  • 3/4 oz. mild-flavored German hops such as Hallertau, Tettnang or Spalt—boiled for 60 minutes
  • 1/2 oz. commercially available heirloom hops, such as Cluster or Bullion—boiled for 5 minutes. (I use 2.5 oz. very low-bitterness, homegrown wild hops)
  • 1 oz. Cascade hops, for citrus and pine-like flavor—added after boiling
  • 1.25 oz. Cascade hops—added 10 days before bottling or kegging to a fermenter such as a carboy or other fermenting container (best to check with your local homebrew supply shop)

Outline of the process

The malt grains are lightly crushed with a grain mill (most homebrew supply shops offer free use of their grain mill) and added with the flaked corn into 150 degree F. water. Enzymes in the malt convert starches to fermentable sugars over a period of about one hour at 150 degrees F. The grains are strained out, rinsed, and a sweet liquid known as wort is collected in a brewpot. The wort is boiled with hops for about 60 minutes. Then it’s cooled and placed into a fermenter.

Add the yeast, which subsequently digests the sugars. The first part of fermentation takes 10-14 days, and is best fermented at about 55 degrees F. After primary fermentation is almost complete, the beer is transferred using a siphon hose to another fermenter, leaving behind the yeast sediment in the primary fermenter. This beer is best cold-aged (called “lagering”) for about 4-5 weeks at about 35-39 degrees F. Once fermentation and lagering are complete, the beer is bottled, canned or kegged.

Then you wait, relax and not worry for a week or three.

Then comes the best part. You enjoy the beer.

Cheers. Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew…and immediately plan to brew your next batch.

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