Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brewing: Russian Imperial Stout

I was chatting it up at Tired Hands in December when the man behind the bar asked what I like to brew. My response stuck with me as I thought about what was currently fermenting or aging or next up on the brew list. I thought about what I brewed throughout the year. I was a bit dumbfounded. "I tend to brew a lot of stouts and saisons," I said. Now when beer shopping I do not often buy stouts or saisons. I rarely buy Belgian beers in general and stouts are usually a few 22oz bombers of the Imperial variety. Every once in a while in the summer I see a big stout on tap and I can't wait to brew it. Saisons are always a toss up. A sweet saison is rough for me. They are pretty hard to get down when the yeast is more than overwhelming and the carbonation is lower than it should be. Conversely, a dry, effervescent straw-like Belgian drives me to brew saisons. I've been working on a dozen or so saison recipes over the past two years. I've dialed in one that I am happy with, but continue to work with different sugars, temperatures, and yeast strains that I will lead me from brewing these sweeter saisons that take up so much of my basement square footage.

But back to stouts. Although late in the year, I brewed a Russian Imperial a month back. I wanted to test my mash tun limit, but I did not think about water absorbtion as much as I should have when the false bottom sits so high up in the kettle. Going down from my usually 1.25-1.33 qts/gallon down to 1.15 qts/ gallon and 19 pounds of grain caused some chaos. The mash tun was nearly full and I still had a bit more grain to stir in, but I had no room. I drained off as little as I could to fit the last pound or so from the bucket. I do love the heat that holds in my mash tun when it is full though. I still do not recirculate, but direct fire when I need to. I keep a thermometer at arms reach and use the kettle's thermometer as well. Oh well. It is my method for now. Conversion went pretty well and OG was 1.096. I under shot only slightly from 1.100.

I racked off after 3 weeks. My starter was excellent, but I didn't think the blow off was going to be so vigorous. I lost just about one gallon. So with 4 gallons left I racked 3 into a 3 gallon carboy and 1 gallon into a 1 gallon vessel. I added Oak Chips that were in bourbon for 2 months. I have never used chips (as opposed to cubes or sprirals), so I am not sure what to expect other that what I have read on forums. I'm figuring on bottling the 1 gallon in April and see how long I want the rest to go.

Russian Imperial Stout
90 Min Boil
OG: 1.096
Pale Malt, Flaked Barley, Flaked Oats, Chocolate Malt, Roasted Barley, Crystal 120, Carafa III
Willamette and Chinook Hops
WLP 004 -Irish Ale 

Bourbon soaked oak chips added to secondary. Aging for 3.5 months.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Saison

Last year the Holiday-Style Brew was a Belgian Dubbel with a variety of spices w/ a decent amount of fig additions. We opted for the title, "Dubbel de Figs." This year I had a hankering to brew the Northern Brewer Saison de Noel. I must have a thing for beer names with "de" in them. What I ended up making was a Dark Saison. I went with a decent Pils base, some Aromatic, Special B, and Debittered Carafa III. Honey and Turbinado Sugar have been a nice addition to my Belgians. I picked up that little mosaic of sugars from a Brewing Network episode with Jolly Pumpkin.

I love a very dry saison. The WLP Saison I is a bit sweeter than any of the other saison strains and with the temperature in my basement hoovering around 65 degrees I had to smoother blankets around the carboy to keep the temperature as high as I can get it without a heating pad of some sorts. Why did I do this without a heating pad? I don't know, but never again without one for a saison in the winter. I had deep, looming fear of the gravity stalling in the 1.030 range. I had done my best to let go for 2 weeks.  At 12 days in I checked the gravity and sure enough it was struggling. Time to rouse the yeast. But with the Aromatic and Special B malts, a bit of fruitiness might be nice, but maybe to dubbel(ish).

It ended up finishing out at 1.010 and I am pretty satisfied. It showcases the Special B nicely, but for future dark saisons I would rather a dehusked black malt. I seem to have a bit too many Belgians laying around and nothing dark and strong. A week ago I had two nice IPAs tapped and now none. My Dark Farmhouse V.2 is bottle conditioning so adding a sour to my refrigerator is going to be nice. The Chocolate Oatmeal Stout that I brewed for a holiday gift is tapped as well. I only kegged 4 gallons and bottled a few for family. In need of something with a higher ABV during the winter I have been buying some Russian Imperials as of late. Philly Brewing Co. Shackamaxon Stout has hit the shelves and it is a nice local treat. The RIS that I brewed late in the year has nothing but months of aging to look forward to. So for now it looks like the Rye Farmhouse and future IPA will replace those kegs soon.

A Winter Eden- Robert Frost

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year's berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree's young tender bark,
What well may prove the year's high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o'clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life's while to wake and sport.

Winter Saison
OG: 1.068 FG 1.010
90 Min Boil
Pilsner, Aromatic, Carafa III, Special B Malts
Orange Blossom Honey, Turbinado Sugar
Magnum, Amarillo Hops
WLP 565-Saison 1