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.

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