The rule of three suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying or more effective (like the Holy Trinity or The Three Stooges). Cigar City Brewing’s triad of craft brewed porters is another such example — three dark, refreshing craft-brewed brawlers that have conquered awards and accolades around the nation. Since porters are our Beer of the Month, we took the opportunity to talk to Wayne Wambles, master brewer and all around nice guy at Cigar City. Just a little background first: Cigar City is comprised of a 15-bbl (two vessel) brewhouse and a 30-bbl brewhouse (four vessel) in the Carver City-Lincoln Gardens neighborhood of Tampa, Fla.
Craft Brewing Business (CBB): Wayne, thanks for taking the time. Today, what is your brewery’s flagship porter? Can you give us a little history about your overall porter production?
Wambles: We actually brew two porters, Puppy’s Breath and Jose Marti. Jose Marti is an American porter, which means that it is higher in alcohol and hoppier than a standard robust porter. We brew it more frequently than Puppy’s Breath. We package Jose in bottles and kegs, whereas Puppy’s Breath has always been draft only. Puppy’s Breath is a stronger version of a robust porter but it is more traditional. We just boosted the alcohol by 2.5 percent ABV, which makes it 8.5 percent ABV. Jose is on the calendar for seasonal production. We make Puppy’s Breath at our whim. Puppy’s Breath was produced in 2009 for the first time and Jose was produced in 2010. Kalevipoeg is a Baltic porter that we brewed in 2011 for our 1000th batch. It is named after an Estonian poem about a giant. It is a lager that boasts 9 percent ABV.
CBB: How much porter do you brew each year?
Wambles: This year we have Jose Marti scheduled for 135 bbls of seasonal production. Puppy’s Breath is always an undetermined volume but will probably be around 45 to 60 bbls for the year. Kalevipoeg is at our discretion.
CBB: What are some of the main ingredients in your porters? What types of malts and hops are in there? Do you use coffee, vanilla, chocolate or bourbon? Can you tell us?
Wambles: Maris Otter or two-row, chocolate malt, black patent malt and different C malts are the main grains in Jose and Puppy’s. The hops for Puppy’s Breath are simple. We just use Northern Brewer, Willamette and EKG. I won’t discuss my hop bill for Jose Marti. All I will say is we use a great deal of hops and we use many different varietals in the beer. The main malt flavors that I focus on in my porters are chocolate, toffee and caramel. We use all natural ingredients in our beers and the amount of experimentation is far too vast to begin to discuss.
CBB: What advice would you give an up-and-coming craft brewer when considering how to brew a porter product? What insights can you share about ingredients and brewing techniques that might help a fellow indie brewer craft a successful porter?
Wambles: Focus on chocolate, toffee and caramel malt characters for both brown and robust porters. Brown porters should be more malt centric. That means that you will want to be conservative with your hop bill on these beers. Robust porters can handle higher hop levels because they have a higher original gravity and can stand up to additional IBUs. Feel free to experiment. I generally feel this way about all styles, but there would be no Jose Marti American Porter without eradicating the box.
CBB: I know you’re a brewer, but what marketing advice would you give a new brewing business when it comes to selling a porter product?
Wambles: I’m no marketer. We create our beers with our palates in mind first and foremost. We are our worst critics. It is all about the quality of raw materials and process, which ultimately create the beers that we like to drink and as a result of that, we hope that our consumers do as well.
CBB: Those are all tasty beers — how many awards have your porters won? Can you name a few?
Wambles: I sure can. Here’s the list: the 2012 U.S. Beer Open Championships, Gold Medal Kalevipoeg, Baltic porter category; 2011 World Beer Championships, Jose Marti, 90 points, “Exceptional”; 2011 Best Florida Beer Competition, Gold Medal, Jose Marti, Imperial Porter; and the 2012 Best Florida Beer Competition, Gold Medal, Jose Marti, Imperial Porter.