Cloned Beer Reviews: Titanic Plum Porter
We have two plum trees in our garden. And between them, they produce a lot of plums. And when I say a lot of plums, I mean a LOT of plums.
Every year we have the challenge of finding a use for them all. Since we moved here, I’ve made plum wine, at least two different kinds of plum brandy, and plum ketchup. There’s been plum jam. And a heck of a lot of plum crumbles have been made. Oh, and of course, we’ve eaten quite a lot of plums straight off the tree.
One year I was discussing the annual plum usage conundrum with some friends. One of them’s a real dark beer lover. When it comes to porters and stouts, she’s in heaven. And knowing I’m a homebrewer, she suggested using some in a batch of Plum Porter.
I put it on the back-burner for a long time, but finally in 2022 I have it a go. Plum porter. Titantic Brewery make a rather famous version of it, so I went hunting for a clone of the recipe. The one I found was hosted by a homebrew shop’s website. They posted the recipe up, and also sell a kit of all the ingredients. Titanic Plum Porter Style Recipe Kit, they call it. Seems a pretty good indication that it should be a close match. I duly ordered all the relevant ingredients, stewed a big batch of plums, and got brewing.
Well, I say all the relevant ingredients. There was one that I couldn’t get hold of. The recipe calls for 75 drops (yes, 75), of plum extract. Could I find plum extract? Well yes, I could. Could I find plum extract for a price that was affordable? Err. No. It was either out of stock in the places I tried, or prohibitively expensive. I found one place where a small bottle plus delivery would have cost almost twice as much as the rest of the ingredients put together.
It seemed crazy. So I compromised, stewed a few more plums, and hoped for the best.
One beer brewed, I got got hold of a bottle of the original stuff to do a bit of a comparison.
So, how did it go?
First off, the colour. Well both are dark as you’d expect from a porter. The Titantic version is slightly redder. Mine is blacker. You’d only really tell though if you were looking closely. The head on the Titanic version is also whiter, where as mine is browner.
Aroma? Well that’s probably where the lack of plum extract comes in as the Titantic version is clearly fruitier. The same comes through on the taste as well. The Titanic version is tad sweeter. My home-brew version is darker, richer.
The two are quite different. But tasting them, there’s something about my version that reminds me of another beer. A famous stout in fact. There’s something about the 2kg of stewed plums that I added that gives a slightly sour taste to my beer. Something slightly akin to the Guinness twang. It’s an interesting combination. A little sour, quite dry, and with a definite aftertaste that lingers. I sense similar qualities in the Titanic original, which makes me think that the plum extract they use helps to mellow it out.
One other thing that was definitely a big difference happened on opening the bottle. The Titantic version opened as you’d expect. You could open it. And then pour it. Job done. Unlike mine where as soon as you opened the cap even a crack, beery foam started gushing out of the bottle. Some didn’t. But also some of the bottles spouted liquid into the air a good 10cm when opened.
It’s a problem I’ve had a few times and never worked out why.
I know what’s supposed to be the cause. Bottling the beer before its ready is usually it. When you brew beer you have to be very careful that the yeast has finished its work. During the fermenting stage, the yeast gorges on the beer’s ingredients. And as it does, it creates carbon dioxide. As part of the bottling process you “prime” the beer by adding some sugar. If your fermentation is finished, this is fine. The yeast has a bit of fun with the extra sugar and creates a little carbon dioxide in the bottle. This is why your beer is – let’s say – sparkling. The bubbles in it are carbon dioxide.
But if you bottle before the fermentation is finished, the yeast creates too much carbon dioxide. At best you end up with gushing bottles on opening. At worst, you end up with exploding bottles. I had that once. I was finding bits of glass on the floor for weeks.
Thing is, in this case – and all but one of the other times I’ve had this problem – I’ve been convinced fermentation had completely finished. I couldn’t for the live of me work out why there was a problem. I was only after brewing this beer and going through my records, that I spotted a common factor. Every time I’d had this lively beer problem, I’d used the same brand of yeast – Lallemand’s Lalbrew London Yeast. It’s supposed to be a good yeast for British ales, and was supposed to help bring out the fruitiness. However it turns out every time I’ve used it, the bottled beer has gone crazy when opened it. And the reverse is true. Bar the one occasion with the exploding bottles (where I don’t have the records), every beer I’ve brewed that went a bit crazy was one where I’d used that yeast. I don’t know why. It just did. I’ve not had this problem with any other yeast. But it’s been a consistent problem with the Lalbrew London. Funnily enough have decided not to ever use that yeast again.
It was whilst doing the tasting, that I discovered the clone recipe probably wasn’t the most authentic. See, helpfully, Titanic Brewery spell out the different malt and hop types on their bottle label. A lot of beers put just “malt” and “hops” but Titanic goes to the next level. On malts they use Maris Otter, Dark Crystal, Wheat and Pearl. In contrast this clone recipe includes Munich Light Malt, Amber Malt, Special B, and Carafa II. A strange combination of darker malts, often used in German and Belgian beers rather than an English porter.
On the hops front, Titanic use a mixture of Pilgrim, Herkules, Goldings, and Celeia hops. The recipe was following specified Admiral and Brambling, although I threw in Target instead of Admiral.
And then there’s the plums. Whilst we don’t know how many drops of “Natural Plum Flavouring” Titanic use, they don’t list whole plums as an ingredient. Had I known all this from the outset, I probably wouldn’t even have bothered brewing the beer in the first place. The main exercise was, after all, to use up part of the plum glut.
The differences in malt no doubt accounts for the colour differences, and certainly some of the flavour. The hops, I’m less clear what difference has been made, although I can see why whoever created the recipe went for Brambling Cross as it’s quite a fruity hop.
All in all, there’s obviously some substantial differences between the original and the clone. Indeed, by not being able to include the plum extract, I was always going to end up with a different beer with quite different qualities. In fact it’s quite clear that as a clone it’s a bit of a failure. But as a creation of a tasty beer, it’s worked well.
Would I brew it again? Even if I could get the plum extract? And if I used a different yeast. Well, probably not. Not because it’s not a tasty beer. But more because of the brewing process. The inclusion of the plum in the recipe I used caused various challenges, and clogged up some of my equipment meaning I lost about 5 litres of beer.
However it was interesting to try it out. And I also learned some things about brewing along the way. Namely that Titanic Brewery rock for putting lots of detail on their ingredients on their labels. That you should never trust a recipe you found on the internet to be an authentic clone. And that I would be best avoiding Lalbrew London Yeast if I don’t want to cover the house with beer. Oh, and when a recipe calls for 75 drops of plum extract, and you miss it out, well you’re not going to get anywhere near close to the right beer at all.
Cheers to that then.