Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Beer Hacking: Pardubicky Porter vs. Orval, Tasted & Revisited

That picture shows how I knew it was working: a bit of brown liquid had blown through the rubber gasket on the swing-top. At the height of activity, the bottle was hissing like an asthmatic cat, releasing built-up carbon dioxide as the yeast did its work. It meant that my first experiment in beer hacking was successful, at least as a proof-of-concept. What remained to be seen was how it would taste.

What I started with was originally straight Pardubický Porter, a Baltic Porter from the Pernštejn brewery here in the Czech Republic. I liked the beer plenty, but sometimes I thought it was too sweet. And I wondered if I could change it using a minimal amount of effort. In particular, I wondered what it would taste like if it was inoculated with brettanomyces. So I filled a couple of swing-top bottles with draft Pardubický Porter and dosed them with the dregs from a bottle of Orval, which I knew should contain some brettanomyces.

I called it “beer hacking,” meaning “modifying a commercial beer to suit your own tastes.” The idea got some attention. Jeff Bell commented that he didn’t think it would end well. William Brand wrote in to note that Orval actually has two yeasts in each bottle, so I’d be getting regular ale yeast as well as brett. And some dudes on Reditt started debating if it would work or not.

Oh yeah. It worked.

My original thought was that the yeast in the Orval bottle might be dead, so all I would end up with would be the effects of autolysis. But when I found the bottle spitting and wheezing in the beer room, I knew there was enough life for the beer to undergo a secondary fermentation. I let it sit upright at winter room temperature for five months, and then opened it at the end of a recent kitchen table tasting.

It spewed like Champagne.

Once the gushing stopped, we poured four good glasses. Instead of coffee and cocoa sweetness, the nose had loads of horse-blanket and barnyard aromas. There was a tack-like leatheriness in the mouth, with a lovely tannic structure. It was sour — not lambic sour, but sour-sweet like a Flemish red. And the mouthfeel was quite different for me: the hacked beer gave the impression of being more substantial, vinous and heavy in the mouth.

If you put it in stemware and gave it to an unknowing guest, he’d probably ask what kind of wine it was.

I’ve still got one bottle left, which I’ll try again in a few months. And another project with a different beer — a simple hack of a standard Czech pale lager — is currently underway in the refrigerator right now, which I’ll report on in a few weeks. I still plan to age Pardubický Porter in an oak barrel someday, or at least put it on oak chips. The possibilities for beer hacking are endless.

Of course hacking a beer is not the same as brewing one. But at least it’s slightly more involved than the basic, open-bottle-pour-in-face type of beer consumption. Not every experiment in beer hacking is going to land butter-side-up: my attempt to make an Eisbock last month resulted in two very flat, very unfrozen, very ruined half-liters of Czech strong lager. But it is all in the name of science.

Our thoughts are with Bill Brand. We’re raising a glass of hacked beer to him tonight.


The Eschenbräu Brewpub in Berlin


Czech Beer Expressions


  1. I am playing with the idea of using some brett to secondary condition a couple of bottles of my homebrew when it is ready, that would make it a sour smoked Scottish mild ale – I think.

  2. pivnizub

    Very good idea ! I’would do the same as soon I can get a bottle of Pardubitzer Porter…… Last year I’ve filled up a bottle (1000 ml) of Schumacher Alt with freshly pressed raspberry juice and stored it in the refrigerator. I didn’t dare ’till today to open it, but I’m very curious… ;-)

  3. It was a very interesting drink indeed…. It still retained some of the personality of the Porter, but it was a completely different creature.
    I wonder what that could acheive with some kvasnicové, or nefiltrované……. Or as Al said during the tasting, using the dregs of other trappists or similar….

  4. Put this one onto reddit as well, to follow up the earlier submission. :)

    Anyway, interesting that it turned out so well.

  5. And to think, I thought homebrewing by myself was cutting edge. Damn, I need to keep up with the times! Glad to hear it turned out tasty.

  6. No, homebrewing is much cooler. This is a slightly different idea: not making a beer, but making someone else’s beer more like what you want to drink.

  7. Interesting experiment, a few things to keep in mind if you hack in the future, you may want to use Plastic bottles because depending on the amount of residual sugars the bugs may create too much pressure for the glass to handle.

    You are limited to either using only bugs (like the different strains of brett, or lacto) which you can get from orval and the lambics, if you pitch regular Trappist yeast it will pretty much flocculate out because all of the easily accessible sugars have already been consumed by the original yeast. However if you want to take it to another level you can add different fruit juices or ingredients and if the beer isn’t filtered it will eat the new sugars (store it room temperature for a few days before refrigerating again to help rouse the yeast) or add a dose of dried or fresh yeast and you should get the same effect. I have also heard of people making sour beers using yoghurt bacteria cultures, you can always give that a go to sprinkle a bit of the culture in the bottle and see what happens.

    Another interesting hack would be getting your hands on some hop pellets and dry hopping a few bottles with a couple of pellets. Eventually the hops will settle to the bottom leaving an intense bouquet behind.


  8. Although I feel late to the beerhacking party, it’s an engaging experiment that I may get to one day when I’m looking to make improvements to others’ beer. Right now I’m having enough trouble with improving my own!


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