Going back to the naivety and excess ambition… the sensible thing to do when using new equipment for the first time would have been to brew something straightforward, with as few variables as possible. 3kg of pale malt, a single hop addition, no drama. However, it was the middle of winter and I wanted to brew the kind of thing I loved, so I decided to have a go at doing an oatmeal stout. I’d been having a bit of beer banter on Twitter with a musician friend who loves coffee (he travels with an espresso machine wherever he goes), so I decided to do a breakfast stout that was luscious and thick from the oats, but with a big coffee kick to it. I thought it would be a bit less disheartening to mess up a complicated first AG brew than if I ruined another really simple brew.
So, with that justification out of the way, I needed a recipe. I initially started looking for a clone of Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast – which I love – and stumbled on a recipe for Founder’s Breakfast Stout, which I’ve never tried. In addition to the coffee, they add unsweetened chocolate baking nibs and dark chocolate – the recipe is here on the BYO Magazine website. It sounded pretty good, so that was my starting point. I dutifully went out and bought what I thought were the right ingredients – as I couldn’t find ‘unsweetened chocolate baking nibs’ (which I assume are a US-only sort of thing), I replaced them with some grated 100% cacao that I found in Waitrose.
When it came to assembling the malt bill, I realized something wasn’t right – I only had 3kg of Maris Otter to the 6kg I needed. If it had been one of the speciality grains, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but suddenly this big stout was looking a lot more diminutive. In a bit of a panic, I threw together every bit of malt or fermentable that I could find that wouldn't affect the colour or roasted flavour too much:
- 1kg Golden Promise that I’d accidentally bought in place of Crystal Malt when doing Brew 3
- 300g Crystal Malt (the remnants of the bag that went into the initial bill)
- 500g light dried malt extract
- 400g flaked oats (again, the remnants of the bag that went into the initial grain bill)
I resisted the temptation to add any sugar as I didn’t want to thin the end beer out too much. I also realized later that the recipe required special, debittered black malt (e.g. Carafa Special III), whereas I used standard black malt through pure ignorance.
So, here’s the actual recipe:
3kg Maris Otter
1kg Golden Promise
1kg Jumbo Oats
500g Crystal Malt 60L
450g Chocolate Malt
340g Roasted Barley
250g Black Malt (NOT Carafa Special III)
500g Light Dried Malt Extract @ First wort
35g Nugget hops (12% AA) @ 60mins
13g Willamette hops (5.5% AA) @ 30mins
13g Willamette hops (5.5% AA) @ 0mins
1 dessertspoon Irish Moss @ 15mins
55g Sumatran Mandheling coffee beans (fine ground) @ 0mins
70g Green & Blacks Organic Dark Cook’s Chocolate @ 0mins
43g Willie’s Supreme Venezuelan Black 100% Cacao @ 0mins
1 vial California Labs WLP001 (California Ale)
50g Sumatran Mandheling coffee beans (coarse ground) – 7 days in secondary
|The sparging set-up|
The set-up was a classic three-tier – boiler at top acting as a hot liquor tun, mash tun in the middle, fermenter at the bottom to collect wort, which is then poured back into the (empty) boiler when full. 15 litres of strike water went into the grist at 75, giving a mash temp of 65, which held firm for an hour (I was prepared for a loss of a degree or two, so was pleasantly surprised). I had been aiming for 68, but didn’t think I’d lose a full 10 degrees to the grain – more naivety! In addition, the mash was probably a shade too thick - there were a couple of stuck sparges along the way (solved by blowing into the tap.
The hop additions were straight-forward – 35g Nugget on 60 mins, 13g of Willamette on 30 and 0 mins. The chocolate, cacao and coffee went in right on flameout as well, and turned the dark wort absolutely jet black – just the colour I wanted. The biggest downside to using the coffee like this was that it immediately clogged up the tap on the boiler – getting the wort from boiler to fermenter took a very, very long time, as the tap kept jamming with coffee grounds. (getting the coffee out of the tap afterwards was nigh-on impossible – tell-tale coffee grounds appeared from nowhere when I was heating the strike water for the next brew!)
|Clockwise from top left, all my boil additions - a mix of cacao, chocolate and ground coffee; Irish Moss; a vial of WLP001; Willamette; Nugget; and more Willamette to finish!|
The OG ended up at 1.068 – below where it should have been if the recipe had been followed (1.078 is specified in that recipe), but not disastrous – and as I didn’t make a yeast starter and simply pitched a vial of WLP001 into the wort, it’s probably just as well. I was a bit worried when the yeast gushed out of the vial on opening, but apparently this can be a good sign – and there were no ill effects in the finished beer. The primary ferment was at about 20-22 degrees – and that was with the help of a heat mat that my parents use for their wine fermenting, and was down to 1.028 within three days and finished up at 1.022. ABV a shade over 6% - less than I’d been hoping for, but not bad considering the farce with the grain.
I racked it onto 2 more ounces of coarsely ground Sumatran coffee beans and left it to picked up their flavour for 7 days. Then, as I fancied oak-ageing some of it, I split the batch into two, bottled half of it and racked the other half into carboys containing oak chips that had been soaking in Jack Daniels for a few days – I’ll blog about how the oaking worked out later.
It went into bottles before the SF trip in February and I resisted the temptation to open any until the start of March. The colour is perfect – dark black, with a tan head, although it doesn’t stick around for very long (due to the coffee oils?). The body is a bit disappointing – I was hoping it would be feel a bit thicker with all those oats in there, although I’ve since read about using glucan rests with oats, which I need to read up on. The coffee and chocolate flavour are spot on though, and getting better as it matures – it’s a shame that it doesn’t have a bit more booze to back them up, but that’s my own fault. A bit more sweetness might help too, which could be achieved either by changing the mash temperature or adding a little lactose to the boil. I'm very happy with it though, overall - a huge leap ahead of the extract brews, despite the numerous basic errors.
I’ve christened the beer Black Rain, after one of the aforementioned coffee-loving musician’s songs – I’ve given him, Mel and a few other friends some bottles, so am looking forward to getting some feedback. If anyone reading this would like to do a swap, please let me know! I’m hoping to brew another batch of this in the coming weeks that puts right some of the problems mentioned above - Item 1: Make sure you have the right grain bill before you start.