It seems like it’s been far too long since I’ve done a good homebrew post. Not brewing for three months while at Siebel got me pretty much completely off the subject and today was only my third brew since coming home in December. Sad, I know. It’s not like I haven’t been busy writing; you can check out my recent work for West Coaster if you’d like. That stuff isn’t about homebrewing either though so this comes at the dreariest of times. Job-hunting has been rough over the last couple months, with two interviews at awesome breweries and two disappointments. Might as well brew to pass the time, right? Here we go.
For the second year in a row, St. Patrick’s day has loomed in the future and inspired me to brew a dry stout. Well, it may have started last month down in San Diego at Pizza Port Ocean Beach. “Where’s My Light Saber?” was the beer; a beautiful little stout with a funky name. Then they slayed it again with another dry stout called “Where’s My Valentine?” for the Brewbies festival at Pizza Port Carlsbad a couple weeks later. OK, so maybe it was actually the same beer… I never got around to asking. Dry stouts aren’t always the most exciting beers. Plenty of brewpubs and small breweries pump one out to catch the Guinness fans, and they can fall into the trap of too closely trying to emulate that sorry, dumbed-down shadow of itself. Many times they are watery and a little bland on the roast flavor. Nitro service often doesn’t help either, muting the great coffee aroma that roasted barley can give to the style. Nitrogen has a peculiar quality of not being as good at delivering volatiles when it comes out of solution, when compared to CO2. When you get a truly inspired example by a killer brewery though, it can be a thing of beauty. A session beer full of flavor and satisfyingly roasty and bitter, while still remainly very smooth and drinkable.
Rye Irish Stout is my attempt to take the basic paradigm of the dry stout and put my own twist on it. At its core, a dry stout is a medium-low alcohol beer (3.5-5%abv or thereabouts) that is dry and very roasty. Because our modern understanding of the style is derived from the big three Irish stouts from Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish, roasted barley is often the grain that is most associated with dry stout. The truth is roasted barley didn’t come into wide use until the 20th century, far after those breweries became well known for their porters and stouts. At this point It’s only proper to thank Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell for their amazing blogs and books on British brewing history that have imbued just a little of their massive knowledge on me. But why not branch out and add some other roasted grains to the mix? BYO’s Chris Colby did a nice article on dry stout in their last issue (Oh, so I guess you can add that to the inspiration list) where he suggests adding a smaller amount of chocolate malt for added complexity. Check. But why not go even further?
Black Patent malt is the OG of the dark malt world. It was revolutionary at the time it was invented because it was so dark that it allowed porter brewers to use mostly pale malt for their beers and add a much smaller percentage of black malt to get the color and flavor that they wanted. Pale malt has a better extract potential than the brown malt that porter brewers used to use, so they could now produce more beer form the same amount of malt. I think we can all agree that more beer is a good thing. Brown malt was still used in a smaller percentage for a long time afterward by London porter brewers, but the Irish brewers switched almost exclusively over to black malt and pale malt in a very short amount of time. Then they switched over to roasted barley. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t got that far yet!
Black malt is less aromatic than roasted barley, and tends to have a more acrid, burnt flavor, even though it is often the same color. One thing that it does do that I prefer over roasted barley is provide foam color. Stouts with black malt tend to have tan to light brown heads, while those with only roasted barley usually have white to light beige heads. The germans, being the technical innovators that they are, figured out a way to produce a chocolate or black malt that has a much smoother flavor and much less bitterness and roastiness in general, but with the same color as regular chocolate or black malt. Weyermann from Bamberg is the main player in this specialty malt, which they call Carafa Special. I got to visit Wayermann during my time studying in Germany, and I can tell you that it is one of the coolest places you can go if you are a brewer. The amount of malts that they make at the ancient-yet-modern malt house is truly stunning, and their products are second to none in quality. They make Carafa Special by removing the barley husk before roasting it because the burnt husk is what provides most of the burnt flavors in dark-roasted malt. Carafa Special is a really cool malt to use in a stout or porter because it allows you to make sure you get a very deep black color and dark head without having to worry about going overboard on regular roasted malt and ending up with a beer that tastes too burnt and harsh. I’m sure Weyermann has seen a boost in sales of Carafa Special to American craft brewers lately because it’s also the main (or sometimes only) dark malt used in Black IPAs. If you use only Carafa Special, you can get a beer that is almost black but barely has any roasted flavors. Wyermann makes three different colors of Carafa Special: I, II, and III. I is chocolate malt color, II is dark chocolate, and III is full on black. I used II because that’s the only one Seven Bridges carries. If given the choice, I would have liked to go with III for maximum color.
So there we have it for dark roasted grains: roasted barley (Seven Bridges only has Briess 300L. I would have preferred the 500L version but they sadly don’t make that organic), chocolate malt (350L), black patent malt (500L), and Carafa II (430L or so). More dark malts than you would typically find in a dry stout, but not uncommon in a bigger stout like a Russian imperial. I was still unsatisfied. Sure, the roast was going to be a little more intense and complex than your typical roasted barley-only dry stout, but I wanted something else to give it some unique character. Rye is a grain that I have been wanting to brew with for a long time, and I recently had a pretty good rye imperial stout from Hess Brewing Co. in san Diego. The rye added a nice touch, but I figured it could do even more in a smaller beer. Just under 25% seemed like enough to get some good rye character without getting into the stuck-sparge danger zone. Rye is supposed to be earthy and a little spicy, and provides lots of beta glucans and proteins for body and head retention when compared to barley. Those same beta glucans can be a bitch in your mash and make everything all gummy, clogging up your filtering bed and stopping your runoff, which is why it can be dangerous to use to high of a percentage without rice hulls added for filtering aid.
I decided on one more character malt to round things out, which is victory malt from Briess. Victory malt is described as toasty and nutty, with an aroma of baking bread. 12% of the grist looked like enough to get a nice complex maltiness without overdoing it. For base malt I went with Crisp Pale Ale malt, which is an English pale ale malt that crisp says they make with the best crop of barley from each harvest. It’s darker than most American 2-row barley malts at 3-4L and provides a nice toasty, bicuity malt profile that English base malts are known for. That’s it for malts. On to hops.
Irish stout would typically call for a single bittering hop addition, with maybe a small flavor hop addition at about 30 minutes as well. IBUs are usually around 40, though I’d be willing to bet that Guinness isn’t over 30 these days. Varieties would be English; either aroma or bittering. Screw that. I have plenty of columbus and centennial on hand and love hoppy stouts. Centennial for flavor and aroma and the much-higher-alpha columbus for bittering, targeting 42 IBUs (with the Rager formula) sounds about right. Not too much hop aroma, but enough to be noticeable over all that dark grain.
The obvious yeast for this style of beer is Irish ale yeast, which is either Wyeast 1084 or White Labs 004. Supposedly it’s Guinness’ yeast strain and ferments very well in dark worts. I’ve never fermented with that strain before, using American ale for my last dry stout. Honestly, any ale strain could work here, though something American, Irish, German (but not weizen), 0r english would give roughly the expected flavor. Something from a traditional porter brewer would be optimal. I was fully prepared to just go with cal ale from White Labs because it’s so wonderfully clean, dry, and easy to use. Then at the shop I got talked into just giving Irish ale a go. We’ll have to wait a couple weeks to see if that was a good call. I’ve heard that it can have some diacetyl production issues, but I have a feeling that is as much the fault of poor yeast handling and fermentation temperature control as anything.
For the final ingredient, though by far the largest, I went with filtered tap water. My water has a medium level of temporary hardness that gives it a residual alkalinity suited to brewing dark amber or brown beers. I decided to add some calcium chloride to boost the residual alkalinity a little and optimize the mash chemistry for all the dark grain that is in the recipe. Dark grains lower mash pH more than pale grains, so it is important to take steps to raise mash pH if you have soft water, otherwise your beer can end up with an almost sour, unpleasant roasty bite. I also use 5.2 Stabilizer, which is a buffer that helps lock in the mash pH at the optimum point.
With all that out of the way, here’s the recipe by the numbers:
4# Crisp pale ale malt
2# flaked rye
1# Briess victory malt
0.5# Briess roasted barley 300L
0.25 Briess chocolate malt 350L
0.25# Briess black malt 500L
0.25# Weyermann Carafa Special II
Mashed for one hour at 150F with 1tsp of CaCO3 and 1tbs of 5.2 Stabilizer, and then infused 1.5 gallons boiling water to raise to mashout at 168F. Recirculated mash to clear and then ran first runnings to the kettle, mixing in another tsp of CaCO3. Added 3.8 gallons of sparge water at 170F, thoroughly mixed, let settle, recirculated to clear, and ran off second runnings for a total of 6.75-7 gallons of wort in the kettle at 1.031, which was exactly my target pre-boil gravity.
The boil was 90 minutes and hops were:
0.4oz columbus (14%aa) at 60 minutes
1oz centennial (6%aa) at 15 minutes
2oz centennial at 0 minutes
one tablet of whirfloc was added at 15 minutes and 1tbs of fermaid K yeast nutrient at o minutes. The wort was chilled with an immersion chiller to about 67F and transfered to a 6.5 gallon glass carboy. I then oxygenated for one minute with my brand new oxygenation system that has a 0.5 micron stone. Finally, I pitched the whole 1.5L starter of Wyeast 1084, which was about 21 hours old. The starting gravity was 1.042, which is exactly what I was targeting. I swear, that never happens. I did end up with a little more than the 5.25 gallons I was targeting in the fermentor, more like 5.5, so I actually got more than the 75% efficiency that I calculated for.
After a couple hours of sitting in by back bathroom shower, which is usually cool enough this time of year with the window open, the temperature was actually up to about 69F. I decided that the swamp cooler setup was going to be needed to get it down to the optimal 64F and put the carboy in that. The setup is a big round plastic tub that I put the carboy in , wraped in a wet towel and surrounded with 5 gallons of star san. The liquid buffers the temperature around the carboy and the wet towel cools through evaporation, pulling more water into it as the water further up evaporates. This morning the temperature strip on the carboy was reading 62-64 and the airlock was showing a lot of Co2 activity at just over 12 hours since pitching.
I’ll report back in a couple of weeks on how it’s tasting when it goes into bottles. Just like last year, it won’t be ready for St. Patrick’s day but I have a feeling this one is going to be worth the wait.