On Imperial Stouts (or The Gratuitous Krausen Appreciation Society)

In November 2017 I planned an Imperial Stout with a short brew length to see what the biggest beer was I could get out of the kit and mash tun (at that time).

I’ve had some great Imperial Stouts over that year and Winter seemed just the right time of year to be thinking of brewing big roasty, toasty, viscous, vineous Stouts of that ilk.

This was a bit bigger than anticipated…

It needed Fruit….

It needed Time…

And now its on oak!

I had half an eye on a few competitions in 2018 and the Homebrew Expo as part of the Manchester Beer Week.

So I set down to plan the recipe.

I like a roasty and toasty Impy, but I wanted something that had hidden strength to it: a softness that belied it’s strength, so opted for an oatmeal stout as the base recipe.

The Recipe

As ever, the Brewing Classic Styles book was a good yardstick for my recipe formulation.

• 3.40 kg – Pale Malt, Maris Otter

• 0.12 kg – Black (Patent) Malt

• 0.12 kg – Chocolate Malt

• 0.12 kg – Roasted Barley

• 0.14 kg – Oats, Flaked

• 1.00 kg – Munich Malt

• 0.10 kg – Wheat, Torrified

• 0.12 kg – Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L

• 0.12 kg – Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L

  • 0.50 kg – Light Dry Extract – (7.7%) – 15.8 EBC
  • 0.25 kg – Brown Sugar, Dark
  • 60.0 g – Northdown – Boil 60 min (52.0 IBUs)
  • 20.0 g – Fuggles – Boil 30 min (11.0 IBUs)
  • 20.0 g – East Kent Goldings (EKG) – Boil 30 min (9.5 IBUs)
  • Steep Aroma Hops 20.0 g – Flyer – Steep 20 min (8.2 IBUs)

1 pkg – Dry English Ale (White Labs WLP007)

The Process

Nothing particularly unusual: a big grain bill with some dried malt extract and various simple sugars sugars to provide more easily digestible food for the yeast to get a lower final gravity but keeping some complexity from the darker sugars.

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Here are the first runnings. It was like engine oil!

After vorlauf and sparging I collected enough for a post boil volume of about 10 litres. The sugars and dried extract in the grist were dissolved in the boil kettle and the OG was 1.111

Fermentation

I pitched the yeast (a one litre starter was necessary) and after a surprisingly short lag time, I checked on progress:

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it was clearly happily fermenting away and had no problems with the high OG. Turns out WLP007 is very happy with a big beer!

This is also one of the more surreal ‘yeast sculptures’ I’ve seen over the years.

Aging on fruit

It was a great beer, but lacked punch for the hops or roast in the grain bill. I decided to age it on fruit after my attempts at a date flavoured stout previously.

I took the beer out of the first fermenter and transferred it to a smaller bucket with 200g each of dates, fresh cherries, raisins and sultanas.

It then steeped for a good six months and was mini kegged for the Homebrew Expo in Manchester Beer Week at Beer Nouveau.

It was now over 11% ABV!

Reception

It was a bit special. Dark, slight roast but masses of dark fruit.

It was reminiscent of Pedro Ximinez Sherry so it was named PX Approximation for the Expo.

It had some good reviews (we put the beers on unTapped for “honest” feedback.)

And it still carries on… on oak!

After the Expo, there was 5 litres left. I also had 5 litres of an English Porter left over from kegging and blended the two together. This time I put medium toasted American oak chips in it.

It’s kegged now and carbonating, but wow, the oak combined with the richness and fruit really works.

Now if only I could properly barrel age it?!

Summary

Use fruit in ageing big beers. The alcohol keeps the nasties away and it really delivers.

Blend finished beers more.

Chuck oak at things.

But keep them within similar styles, colours, hopping etc.

Saufbruder and a home brew expo

Since I visited Munich a few years ago I fell into German beers in a big way. Whilst there is no denying that I enjoy hoppy, bitter, juicy and dank beers to be found from some of the best craft breweries – there is something about German beers that I keep coming back to time and again as both a home brewer and consumer of commercial beers.

I like to think that centuries of brewing tradition – albeit to what can seem a relatively limited “palette” of pale, low hopped lagers – has every right to be considered a crafted product as the more boundary pushing beers brewed by the new wave of breweries.

I have done a few iterations of Munich Helles a few Kellerbiers and a Dunkle. The lighter styles are probably my house or stock beer and have been a useful yardstick for checking whether my process and procedures are working and dialled in since they do show up any flaws easily.

So in June I put my Munich kellerbier into the Manchester Beer Week Home Brew Expo held at Beer Nouveau to get some unbiased feedback.

I named it saufbruder: drinking buddy or companion in German and dispensed it from keg. I had some good feedback and had a great time. Whilst I didn’t come tops in the competition by any stretch, I had brewed a well received lager it seems.

So I have a few pointers which have worked out well for me (there may be an element of superstition rather than sound science in some of these):

  • Gone in 60 minutes?

DMS precursor is produced during the boil and is particularly present in pilsner malts. It can however be driven off with a vigorous and lengthy boil so I err on the side of caution and go for a 90 minute boil with the lid off as much as possible to vent it off. I haven’t found any particularly corny flavour in my beers which is the flavour associated with DMS, so it’s hopefully lacking in my beers.

  • Make a starter

Lagers need a good healthy pitch of yeast and a starter helps produce the right yeast cell count to prevent off flavours from stressed yeast or yeast that is having to reproduce rather than consume the sugars to attenuate the beer. I find a 2 litre starter from a liquid yeast pack works well and I normally just add this after a gentle rouse to the cooled wort. It is really quick to produce a krausen and is always well under way within a few hours of pitching.

I use the Southern German Lager WLP838 from White Labs which is a very good vigorous fermentor and seems to produce quite a lot of sulphur during fermentation and this doesn’t carry through into the finished beer it seems.

I’ve also reused this about 4 times from each batch, keeping it in the fridge and repitching after reactivating with each starter and it has been robust enough to kick start every time even after a few months in the fridge.

  • Can you cold ferment?

I am lucky to have a cellar, where I can get low temps in winter for my lagers, but don’t let a lack of cold conditioning space put you off. I have a Munich helles and an IPA both fermenting at the moment and both are quite happy with about 16 to 18 C in the cellar at the moment. I have not noticed any sulphur or esters or phenols with my summer or slightly warmer fermented lagers. There were no complaints of this from tasters at the Manchester Beer Week home brew expo who tried my kellerbier (or at least were too polite to mention them!?) so I can only fairly assume that I am getting a clean fermentation even if a bit warmer.

I do raise the temperature a little by using a heat pad or brew belt near the very end of fermentation when it is close to reaching the final gravity which is supposed to encourage the yeast to consume any unwanted byproducts that cause off flavours.

  • Do you have to lager or have access to cold conditioning?

Well in the main yes, If you want to brew a lager. That is what lagering is after all: cold conditioning. It drops the relatively slow flocculating yeast out of suspension and conditions and smooths the flavours in the beer. It is preferable to lager in bulk rather than in each bottle but only from the perspective of reducing the amount of yeast carried over before bottling. I have lagered in 6 litre Demijohns in a small fridge with good results, but this was a faff at bottling. Outside of winter I have managed perfectly well with the fermentor sat in an ice bath of ice blocks to cool it to help drop the yeast out, and time also helps.

On the other hand I find that kellerbiers are a great way to make a lager with limited or no access to cold conditioning. They are traditionally served young or ‘green’ and it’s acceptable for them to be cloudier with yeast in suspension (but not as much as a wheat beer say). This is also one of my favourite styles and there is something I think that is added by the unfiltered yeast that a regular lager lacks.

So in reality don’t let the lack of a fermentation chamber put you off brewing a lager. Time and relatively unsophisticated methods of reducing the temperature can work very well.

  • So what’s craft about German lager?

Without getting too proscriptive about what a craft beer is / isn’t or should / shouldn’t be, part of what I think makes a craft beer is ingredients: their quality and source; and integrity of process.

I try to source quality ingredients for the malt and hops and try to source German ingredients where possible. Quality in should really equal quality out. Process and attention to detail also count towards the finished product. A rushed lager shows I think in the end result and integrity of process counts a lot.

These apply equally to the brewer of an ultra juicy DIPA as it does a malty crisp refreshing helles lager with a balance of hop bitterness and flavour.

Comments that I had at the home brew expo were to the gist of “I could drink that all day” or “I can imaging drinking that in the garden on a hot day”.

If your beer is envisaged in a biergarten then I think you’ve hit the right note somewhere in your process.

Don’t forget to string your hops!

It’s that time of year again when I nearly forget to string my Hallertauer hops at the allotment.

Looks like I only just managed to catch then this week before they got a bit too keen to work their way up the posts. The weather has really seen them shoot up:

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There are far too many bines so the aim is to train 2-3 bines per string. Time to rope the string up:

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The rope is coir, a natural coconut by-product, which has the right strength for providing support to the hop bines and plenty of texture for them to cling too on their way up (and across in my set up). I always forget to soak the coir so that it doesn’t slacken in the wet when it rains next, but I can always tie off the end again to take up the slack.

The coir is best fixed using really secure galvanized hooks to tie the ends off to:

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When the coir is tied off with a (very un-boy scout style) knot, these pegs can be screwed into the soil to get a really good purchase. The advantage with these is that you can tighten the coir if it does slacken in the rain, but you have to leave enough to screw in later, or you can reposition the peg further away before screwing back them back in.

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So that’s the stringing finished. It took about half an hour for this arrangement. Which allows for the right amount of growth height, but in an area where a 6-8 metre post is a problem.

There are plenty of bines this year so I hope to train 2 or 3 up each string and I “should” get an even better crop than last year.

It’s important to select 2/3 that are healthy, but will allow for the right amount of growth through the season to reach harvest. I may have to select two or three of the shorter bines, and sacrifice the first shoots to make sure that those chosen get the maximum number of days growth.

They grow clockwise, so over the following weeks I’ll train these up and across and keep nipping any unwanted shoots out.

Drying or using them up can be problem for me, so this year, weather / disease / pests / yields permitting, I aim to offer these as a “green hop” for any of the local home brewers (or commercial brewers for that matter) to use.

Here’s hoping for a good 2017 harvest.

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Harvesting Hops 


It’s nearly harvest time and the hop cones are getting papery and yellow with lupulin.

I’m really chuffed with how well the Hallertauer has grown for its first year. I’ll definitely have enough for a brew day (either green hopped or I may try to dry some).


I’ve tried 10 cones in a hop tea leaving them steep for an hour or so and they had a pleasant bitterness. They had a grassy edge to them but that might be their “green” edge coming through. I’d be interested to see if they had any more “spicy” flavour if dried.

I have an idea in mind for drying, but I need a few days of dry, sunny weather to dry them out again before harvesting as we’ve had a spell of wet weather.

Overall I’ve been very impressed with how well they’ve grown particularly for year 1. I think they will need some better supports for the coir like a telegraph pole set up to give them some space. The horizontal growth has been a success and as long as I trained any stragglers they had no problem with not growing up. One to think about it you may struggle putting up a 20 foot pole!

If I decide to dry them I’ll post my attempts and what the results are.

Growing Hops

I have an allotment and at the suggestion of my dad, I have just ordered and planted two hop rhizomes to take up the space from the raspberry plants we had taken out (too leggy and a bit past their best).

I decided on one Hallertauer and one First Gold / Prima Donna. I really like the German noble hops and the First Gold is a dwarf variety so I thought I would try one of each.


The Hallertauer
 The First Gold

After extensive YouTube and ‘internets’ research (in addition to the instructions in the box) I think I have condensed Hop Growing idiot proof planting advice down to the following:

  1. They are not too fussy about soil conditions, but avoid excessively waterlogged or poorly drained soils.
  2. Plant rhizomes in late winter to early spring – they are dormant then and may put on some root growth in the cooler months before spring to get a good start when the weather warms up. Established plants can be planted in the spring when the soil has warmed up, but don’t leave it too late.
  3. Dig a good foot or so down and work the soil in the bottom of your hole / trench loosely. Add some good general purpose fertiliser to the bottom and a generous helping to the soil you will use to backfill.
  4. I found my rhizomes had very long fleshy roots on them (almost like a tap root – which I assumed them to be). I therefore tried to get as much of this to go downwards whilst coiling it round as I backfilled the soil in. I have no idea if this was right or not, but I aimed to get the  majority of the plant and what looked like last years growth about level with the soil. There are some shoots on the plants which I left just about level with the soil / lightly covered up which have grown a little bit since I planted them.
  5. A week or so later after the soil had settled, I set to making the trellis / support system:


You can see the coir twine fixed to the ground at each end with the galvanised screw type pegs. The idea is that for at least the first year, just two or three bines per twine will be trained up: one east – the other west. Each has an incline of about a foot over the length to train it upwards (hops always want to grow upwards so they do need a gradient to work up).

I think the posts are about 8 feet in height and the distance between is 12 feet giving a total ‘height’ of 20 feet which should be enough (some varieties can grow about 20 feet in height straight up, but I think I may have some bother with the local council putting up a hop support that high!).

I did think of putting two arms at the top of each pole – like a telegraph pole, but I think that I may play around with that next year when I come to review how things have gone.

Bit of a departure from what I have been posting about, but I plan to do a brew or two with the green hops (if I’m lucky enough to get any hop cones).

If you are thinking of growing your own hops, you can’t go wrong with looking at some YouTube videos from Chop and Brew (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIia4q3_rSY ) and BrewingTV  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1WsHWHqYRw ).

If you’re in the UK and are looking to source your hops for planting, try Essentially Hops website which has a good selection and also sells the galvanised screw pegs and the coir twine: https://www.essentiallyhops.co.uk/acatalog/Hop_Plants.html.

Happy Hop Growing!

Saison Tasting Notes

After a week carbonating in the bottle and cooled in the fridge before serving, the Saison is ready!

 

Good colour and aroma. Very dry finish and a good head, but this doesn’t last too long. It needs quite an aggressive pour to get that head, so there is likely to be more yet to get out of carbonation. 

It tastes like a good Belgian should, slightly spicy but with a rich malt flavour. Not bitter or overly hoppy either. 

No discernible honey flavour though which is a bit of a disappointment. The recipe could have stood for more honey to bring that flavour out, but this would have meant a higher ABV unless I had lengthened the batch size. Something to experiment with next time?

Not much in the way of “barnyard” or “horse blanket” like flavours. But there is a certain rustic quality which is pleasing. A pleasant one to drink- not challenging although strong at 7.5 ish %

All in all, This one is just right. 

Brewery offline

Well, we’ve had another cellar flood, but this time it was bad. Really bad. Six inches deep of bad. The kind of bad where you don’t know what to do but stand in it in your wellies helping the Water Board help clean it up to stop the smell kind of bad. 

Suffice to say this was not a good month. This was a sewer water flood of epic proportions. Things have been damaged, we have the insurance sorting things out and a skip is arriving tomorrow to take things away before they disinfect the cellar. Again. There has, it is fair to say, not been much time to brew, and even if I did I have nowhere to put it to ferment. 

The brewing equipment is all fine but this has been a really horrible thing to happen.

On the bright side, a Munich Helles that I had brewed before the disaster turned out really well. A bit sweet I think (FG was a little high – longer ferment next time to get full attenuation) but tastes really good. I put it in a small keg in the fridge but in hindsight will probably bottle next time to get the right amount of carbonation.

I’m planning a saison next. Whenever that can or will be.

So the question this blog post is: 

Where would you brew if you had a mini disaster in your home brewery?