Ebulus Cervisiam Delectamentum

EbulumCDepending on where you live, it’s not to late to get out in the woods and gather some elderberries. They make a nice wine of course, but they also make a tart and fruity beer. An elderberry braggot (beer and mead hybrid) is also a tasty possibility. The berries are the fruit of Sambucus species. In Europe, they come most commonly from the Dwarf Elder (Sambucus ebulus.) This tree was known as the Ebull in ancient times, the term taken from its Latin name. The beer made from elderberries is called Ebulum, and appears as a recipe in books from the early 1700s. The Oxford Dictionary defines ebulum as a name for elderberry wine, but London & Country Brew III (1743) says “make a white Ebulum with pale Malt and white Elder-berries.” This was possibly a barley wine.

Elderberries have a long history of medicinal use, with a reputation for successfully treating colds and flu. For this purpose they are usually made into a syrup. The raw berries are somewhat toxic, and so they are cooked. Elderflowers also have medicinal and culinary uses, notably as a background flavoring for the cordial Sambuca.

This Ebulum has a Chocolate Surprise. In addition to the pale malt (in this case Maris Otter) in traditional recipes, this one has chocolate malt, an English blend of crystal malts, and Dingeman’s debittered black malt. It is spiced with elderflowers, grains of paradise, and cinnamon, finished with Muscovado sugar at flameout. A touch of lactose added just before bottling creates a full mouthfeel and a bit of residual sweetness that balances the berries’ tartness.

Stripping two kilos of elderberries from their elaborate stems is tedious work. Drinking the results after a year of aging is a delectable reward.

Rum-barrel Hop-burst Robust Porter

RBRobustPorterPCRobust Porter is the best kind of porter. Who would want a pathetic porter? The freight porters of old were a strong bunch. This is a strong drink for them.

To add to this porter’s robustness, the brewer uses the technique of “hop bursting.” Hop burst recipes call for adding to the wort only one large charge of the freshest possible hops with fifteen minutes left in the boil. The result is considerable bitterness, but with a huge amount of flavor and aromatic oils retained in the brew.

But this is more than just Hop Burst Robust Porter. It is Rum-Barrel Hop-Burst Robust Porter! Take toasted oak cubes and cover them with your favorite rum. Let it sit for two weeks, and then pour the tincture into the secondary fermenter. You are rewarded with a thick, rich, wildly complex beverage. After a long day down at the docks, this is going to be a big reward. This is seriously good Porter.

All Aboard! Steam Porter


Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco gets credit for reintroducing Porter beer to the world, after its production declined to essentially nothing in the place of its birth, London, England. Strictly speaking, because Anchor owns the trademark for the term “Steam” as it refers to beer, this beer is not named Steam Porter.

The “steam” part refers to the yeast it uses, namely, White Labs WLP 810 San Francisco Lager. Plus, I can still remember the Coast Daylight steam train that ran from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the 1950s, and the porters that worked on it. A romantic beer in memory of romantic days. All Aboard!

Shasta Daylight

There’s no record of what the original porter beers tasted like, apart from descriptions dating from Edwardian times calling them “sweet, bitter, and a bit burnt all at once. Very warming.” The workers of the time, including porters, accustomed to a bland diet, are thought to have been attracted to the robust, astringent and bitter flavors rarely encountered in their everyday consumption.

Some information exists though, regarding what they were made of. The earliest available recipes, dating from around 1750, show that the most prominent ingredients were pale malt and brown malt. This was not the same as the brown malt that is available today. Back then, the malt was processed by turning it out on a metal floor above a fierce wood fire. Despite its dark character, it retained a lot of sugar and malting enzymes, making it suitable for assuming a large proportion of the mash.

Today’s brown malt is an English product still, but processed in drum roasters like its darker cousins the black malts. Black malts themselves now provide a significant addition to modern porter recipes. But porter is still distinct from stout. Significantly, historically accurate porter should not be opaque black. Rather, it is a very dark ruby red when it is brewed properly, as All Aboard! is.

Besides a hefty addition of modern brown malt to provide a nice rich nutty flavor, All Aboard! uses five grades of crystal malt, plus Melanoidin malt to add more red color to the brown. Small additions of chocolate and black malts create layers of complex flavor. Munton DME provides the base sugars, and flaked barley creates a thick head.

Historically, all manner of strange ingredients were added to create distinctive flavors, most notoriously Nux Vomica. Hangovers were inevitable. This recipe ventures less far. Instead, for interest it settles for 4 grams of gypsum, 2 grams of cracked Grains of Paradise and 12 grams of sea salt.

Traditional Golding and Fuggles English hops provide bitterness and flavor, and homegrown Willamette hops add aroma. With a start at 16 Plato (1.064) this is a beer up to the demands of the most hard-working porter in Londontown.

Aromas of nutty toasted grains combine with nice floral notes. Its malty-full richness, with a chocolaty bitter tang, contrasts with its residual sweetness. At 7.7% alcohol by volume it is an assertive but not hot beverage. Delicious and inebriating, it makes me want to pick up my bags and head for the station.