A BrewDay: Coffee Imperial Stout

My friend Simon, one of my favourite brewers, has been showing me the ropes of how to brew for the last five or six months or so. He’s accumulated a large amount of knowledge in the last few years so it’s really interesting to pair this knowledge with my substantial experience of drinking it! I’ve brewed several with him now and two have turned out well and the others are still conditioning.

Here’s an Imperial Lager which was tapped and tested for the first time yesterday:

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This one, along with its DIPA cousin has turned out really well. Impossibly smooth, big hopped without being intrusive with a nice even carbonation.

The next one up was a Coffee Imperial Stout which I pulled the recipe together for using numerous resources on the internet. It’s this side of thing that I need to learn more about myself as I don’t fully appreciate what the choices I make at this stage will be in the final beer. There are myriad malts (and other grains) and I’ve only scratched the surface with them. However, you can’t possibly know all this stuff at once and I am happy to learn gradually.

The first task is to clean and then clean again for good measure. I’ve seen Vocation Brewery quip that brewing is 90% cleaning. That’s the problem with a process in which you rely on a microbe you have to make an environment which is great for that microbe whilst avoiding other microbes (most of the time – see Lambic beers etc.) coming to destroy your lovely beer.

Here is Simon measuring out some grain for me (you can see my little recipe book) whilst I search for another. The grains have wildly different colours and something that surprised me about stout is it only actually contain a smallish ratio of the sable variety. Think of it like cordial in a soft drink with water in this case being pale malts.

Water is heated to accommodate your spare temperature  and is then added to the mash tun which the home brewers version looks like (and is) a cool box. Then the grain is added and mixed which is called doughing-in (or mashing  – I prefer the term which links it to baking which it’s closely related – especially proper bread like sourdough) and then the lid is shut and it’s left for an hour. Next the wort (that’s what the malt sugar infused liquid is known as) is drained off and more water is added back to the tun which is the Sparge – specifically this is a batch sparge. Professional breweries do this my sprinkling, but that’s one for when you’ve got scale. On a micro scale, from what I’ve read, batch sparging is just fine.

Preparing for the boil is important – if you are trying to weigh something out whilst the boil is occurring you are going to miss your marks or it’s going to boil over or some other evil will visit you. I had three lots of hops to add (bittering, flavour, aroma – broadly speaking) as well as some coffee honey and various sugars – including some caramelised!

The boil is usually an hour and you add ingredients (primarily hops) during the course of the boil. You’ll notice there are times in the above photo – that’s actually time remaining rather than time into the boil. The mug you see is also for the boil and not for me! This was added at flameout which is immediately after you stop applying heat. The picture below to the left is me adding the caramelised sugar and to the right some flavour hops into the hop spider. Hops, which are basically a late comer to brewing, blow me away each time I smell them. Particularly fresh ones just off the vine – it’s a sublime floral, fruity smell.

When the boil is complete it’s time to cool the wort down and that’s what’s happening on the right using a coil. You want to get the temperature down as fast as properly so as not to affect the flavour of the final beer. Then you draw off the wort and add the yeast, put it into an environment conducive to the the yeast’s (that’s the boss really) requirement.

I’ll leave you with this blackboard I saw at Simon’s place:

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