PM#9 – Black Widow – Anniversary Stout 2013

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Recently, I got the idea of brewing a big beer for consumption in October to celebrate my third year of being a homebrewer. A barleywine is an obvious choice, but I think I prefer the idea of a high-gravity stout which will fall somewhere between a foreign extra stout and an imperial stout. It will be around 8% ABV and I’m planning on using some darker crystal malts which will smoothen out over 8 months aging and should lend the beer some intense vinous flavours. I’ll use a good quantity of roasted barley also which will also mellow into a smooth roastiness during the extended aging period. Hopping will be kept simple with a single bittering addition of Magnum and a large charge of Northern Brewer for flavour. I’ll be targeting a robust bitterness of 55 IBU which will mellow slightly between now and October.

I was planning on using this beer to make my first foray into the world of oak-aging, using an ounce or two of medium-toast American oak chips. But I’ve decided to leave the oak for my next stout, which is going to be a bigger Imperial stout.

Recipe

Boil Size: 15.00 l
Post Boil Volume: 13.11 l
Batch Size (fermenter): 15.00 l
Bottling Volume: 15.00 l
Estimated OG: 1.082 SG
Estimated Color: 37.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 55.5 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 65.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients

2.300 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) 47.0 %
0.275 kg Roasted Barley (300.0 SRM) 5.6 %
0.240 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM) 4.9 %
0.160 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 75L (75.0 SRM) 3.3 %
0.160 kg Chocolate Malt (450.0 SRM) 3.3 %
0.160 kg Wheat Malt, Ger (2.0 SRM) 3.3 %
0.400 kg Light Dry Extract (8.0 SRM) 8.2 %
14 g Magnum [14.20 %] – Boil 60.0 min, 34.1 IBUs
1.200 kg Light Dry Malt Extract [Boil for 20 min](8.0 SRM) 24.5 %
0.50 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins)
40 g Northern Brewer [9.00 %] – Boil 15.0 min, 16.5 IBUs
1.0 pkg Safale American  (DCL/Fermentis #US-05)

Mash Day 04/03/2013 – At the last minute, I decided to increase my gravity to bring this beer up to 8.5% ABV. I mis-calculated with the temperature of the strike water. It was 72°C and after doughing-in it had dropped to 65.5°C. I attempted to put some heat under the small mash pot but I was worried about the grain bag melting on me. I also figured that a more fermentable wort might be a desirable in such a big beer. (Thinking about it now, I’m not sure I’d want this in a big stout. I like them to be pretty chewy.) Let the mash stand for 60 mins anyway. I didn’t stir during the mash.

Brew Day 05/03/2013 – Pretty uneventful brew day, until I measure my OG. I had confidently topped up to the 15 litre mark on one of the large fermenters and took a gravity reading. My OG stood at 1.076 instead of 1.082. Not entirely disastrous but still not what I was shooting for. I’ll likely end up with a beer just under 8% now. The wort looked and smelled great but not the syrupy consistency I expected. Could this be the lower mash temperature? I suspect the drop in mash efficiency was due to the lower temperature mash, but it’s also conceivable that I was off with my volume of top-up water. I think the beer will still be pretty good; it’s hardly likely to be thin in body when it’s 7.8% ABV. But I am concerned that the gravity and body won’t stand up to the extra 10 IBUs I added to compensate for the increased target OG. The sample from the trial jar did not taste hugely roasty either – but there was a huge amount of sweetness there which could have masked it. Fresh sachet of US-05, rehydrated with boiled water.

06/03/2013 – Small layer of kreusen on top this morning. I’m expecting this to be a very volcanic fermentation given the high gravity and the high proportion of roasted malts.

12/03/2013 – Surprised to see the kreusen has completely dropped in this, which is most uncharacteristic for US-05. Maybe I had a bigger pitch rate than I thought? 1 sachet in a 15-litre batch? I’m worried that the recent cold temperatures may have made the yeast drop out. Moved into kitchen to warm up, just in case it has gone to sleep.

13/03/2013 – No activity this morning and it looks and smells like beer. It’s still got a few small bubbles rising to the top, so it looks like it’s fermenting or at least cleaning up. I’ll leave it a few more days and take a gravity reading. If it’s fully fermented out, I’ll probably leave it another week. With such a big OG I don’t want to be rushing this off the yeast.

22/03/2013 – Bottled using 80g dextrose. Got 14 bottles regular stout, 10 bottles of vanilla bourbon stout – each primed with 10ml of vanilla-infused bourbon, and finally two bottles of an experimental stout: bottled aged with chipotle chilli. Each bottle got half a chipotle with the seeds and pith carefully removed.

11/08/2013 – This is actually my second taste of this, and it’s really good. Great caramel and body. Could probably use a touch more roast to balance all that caramel, but the balance is not bad at all. The burnt aftertaste is really nice. It’s quite boozy, but the alcohol isn’t hot or overpowering. Even though it’s at the lower end of the scale of ABV for Russian Imperial Stouts, it certainly drinks like an RIS. It’s got the body and the alcohol presence to push it firmly into the “Imperial” category. Plenty of balancing bitterness there, I just hope there will still be plenty of bitterness for next years competition.

26/08/2013 – Had a bottle of this last night. Didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the last bottle, but that could have been because my palate was shot with several hoppy IPAs. It’s really smooth and caramelly. The alcohol is noticeable but it’s quite smooth also. I’m not sure if the bitterness level is going to stand up to another 6 months aging, but we’ll have to see. I’m planning on opening a bottle of the bourbon version soon too.

28/08/2013 – I was just reading on John Palmer’s online version of “How to Brew” that roasted barley has “less of a charcoal bite to it than does Black Patent”. This might explain why I’m not getting the same lovely burnt toast aftertaste that I got with my Pork Chop Porter, which used black malt.

See here: http://www.howtobrew.com/section2/chapter12-1.html

06/10/2013 – Even though I planned on “cellaring” this beer for my 3-year anniversary, there’s actually few bottles left. I gave a few of them away and have been periodicaly sampling the odd bottle too. But I do have a couple left with which to toast my 3-year anniversary as a home brewer. The beer did not turn out quite as I hoped; it’s not nearly as roast as I like my big stouts. It also missed it’s gravity by quite a few points and the low mash temperature also means it’s lighter bodied than I’d hoped. Having said that, it’s still a great beer and the alcohols have aged out to the extent that you’d never know this was an 8% beer you were drinking. While the body is relatively light, there is plenty of caramel malts peeking through. It’s very complex, in fact. The bourbon version is also delicious, plenty of vanilla and bourbon flavour showing through, but not overwhelmingly so. I might even push the dosage to 12ml (or even beyond) on subsequent versions of this. I hope to crack open another bottle of this on the 10th!

17/10/2013 – I finally opened a bottle of the Chipotle-aged stout and all I can say is “wow”! A really good result, but I think the level of heat would be too much for most people. You are left in doubt as to what sort of beer this is. There’s a huge smoke flavour from it too, really complex. I’ll definitely do this again, though I might consider reducing the amount of pepper I put in each bottle. I’ll try a quarter of a dried pepper next time and see what that does to the flavour. I can report that the chili stays intact in the bottle which is something I was a little worried about. But it sinks to the bottom of the bottle and easily drops out of the bottle with the beer dregs. It’s a really good experiment to try as you get a second beer out of your batch of stout. And you can experiment with flavours on a bottle by bottle basis. My next stout is going to be bulk-aged with some ancho chilis, along with some other Mexican flavourings to produce a mole stout.

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11/01/2014 Pre-competition Tasting – Pours with an impressive, thick head. Aroma is sweet caramel and roast. Not a huge amount of alcohol on the nose. Taste is absolutely fantastic! Roasty and sweet and the level of alcohol is really subdued for a beer that’s almost 8%. Great raisin-fruit flavours in abundance, even though the beer is pretty cold in the glass. Should improve immeasurably as it warms in the glass. Finishes dry. Perfectly balanced after the extended aging period. A definite entry for 2014’s competition, but most definitely in the “Foreign Extra Stout” category, not “Russian Imperial Stout”!

12/01/2014 – Wow! The vanilla-bourbon version has held up extremely well! As happened with the last time I did this treatment to a porter, it has taken on an extraordinary chocolate-like quality. It’s got a real smoothness too, which puts me in mind of an intense coffee-chocolate milkshake. For that reason, I’m going to enter it in the competition as “Five Dollar Shake”. Tastes absolutely fantastic. Very impressive head which lasts very well, a half-finger of dense, mocha-coloured foam. Wonderful. Hope the judges think so.

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