Feb 02 2008
Not long ago, I was digging around in the back of my fridge and came upon a bottle of beer #4. The records from those days are sketchy, you know, on account of The Incident. It appears that #4 was bottled on May 6, 2006. It was a partial boil extract batch, since that’s what I did back then, with the following recipe:
1.0lb chocolate malt
.25# munich malt
.25# honey malt
.5# special B
3lb light DME
6lb dark malt extract syrup
1oz kent goldings (6.2% AA) (45)
1oz kent goldings (6.2% AA) (5)
I am kind of proud of this one, it’s the first recipe I formulated on my own. Back then I thought that “stout” meant “having an OG of not less than 1.080”, and the records show that this one had an OG of 1.094. The yeast is a Belgian strain: I was attempting to make something fruity and estery, but also more brooding and chocolatey than a dubbel. I called it a “Belgian Stout,” and it’s a concept I tried again later (to limited success).
Anyhow, I was sitting there drinking #4, and enjoying tremendously the raisiny, heavy chocolate notes, and thinking to myself, “self, why don’t we make another one of these?” And I said to myself, I said, “self, that’s a fantastic idea. also, for some reason, i’m feeling sentimental right now, so why don’t we dedicate it to our parents?” We both agreed that this was a great idea, and then hit upon a swell witticism, because every batch of beer needs a witticism (in case the beer comes out poorly, it can at least have a funny name or story behind it). The witticism (term used with permission) was this: beer #4 got better and better with age, so in honor of my folks, I’d make a reproduction of #4, intending to age it, and advertise widely that it, like my parents, gets better with age.
Anyhow, it’s called Fifth Commandment Belgian Stout, it’s number 18, and here’s the final recipe:
Grain : rice hulls 1 lbs
Grain : dark munich malt 6 lbs
Grain : roast barley 0.5 lbs
Grain : special b 1 lbs
Grain : chocolate malt 1.5 lbs
Grain : belgian pale malt 10 lbs
Grain : carapils 0.5 lbs
Grain : carafoam 0.5 lbs
Grain : honey malt 1 lbs
Hop : willamette 2 oz whole
Hop : amarillo 2 oz pellet
Yeast : Wyeast 1214
Mash was 90 minutes at 155F, 1.25qt/lb.
There are several things of interest to note. First, it’s all-grain. I’ve sunk so much cash into my all-grain setup that I can’t ever go back to extract, except for the batch I’m going to do real soon with the cluster hops I got. Also, since brewing #4, I’ve decided that I really don’t much care for the English hops, which turns out to be a good thing these days since they’re damned hard to get. In any case, the recipe calls for boiling the heck out of the hops, then aging the beer for a year, so after all that, it almost does not matter what hops you use. Almost: since #4, I’ve decided I like a hoppier beer, so I upped the hopbill for this one (also because I have a freezerful of the green buggers, thanks to my stockpiling nature).
I wish I could say the brewday went uneventfully. You’d think that I’d have it down by now, being on #18, but every brew provides me with a new learning experience. Last time, the learning experience was “don’t dry-hop with unbagged pellets”. This time, it was… well, read on.
My on-again off-again brew assistant, ChefJef, dropped by for the assist on this one. This is especially appropriate, as ChefJef is my brother, and this beer is dedicated to our folks. It was his third brew assist.
The mash and batch sparge went stunningly well, with no stress despite the massive 22lb mash. I had calculated that with 65% efficiency, I’d hit about 1.080 OG, but I achieved more like 75% efficiency (note: of my last 4 brews, two have been 75% efficiency, and two have been 65% efficiency. the 75-ers were made with crushed grains from Fermentation Frenzy, the 65-ers were from Williams. I suspect that the crush/freshness has as much to do with the extract as my technique.) which calculated out to a whopping 1.094 after the boil. Right on target for a faithful reproduction of #4!
After the sparge, we had 8.5G of wort. Now for the first mistake: I didn’t boil it long enough. I wanted to do a 90 minute boil, and that’s what I did. At the end of 90 minutes I had 6 gallons at 1.080 instead of 5 at 1.090. Lesson #1: boil for gravity, not volume. Lesson #1 is minor, because now I’m going to have 6 gallons of kickass 1.080 stout instead of 5 gallons of stunningly kickass 1.090 stout. I can live with that.
Yes, boilovers. I had 8.5G in my 9G brewpot. Part of the reason it didn’t boil down was that I simply couldn’t boil it vigorously enough without a wort eruption. They say there are two types of brewers: those who have had a boilover, and those who are about to. I am now quite firmly in the first camp.
The other problem: see those whole hops in the recipe? I dumped them in the boil, unbagged. No, I don’t have a false bottom, why do you ask? My wort chiller? Yes, it’s a Therminator plate chiller, why?
That’s right: I clogged the hell out of my wort chiller. We drizzled out about 1.5G before it stopped. Now, that was some ice-cold 1.5G. My last batch, I chilled 5G to under 70F in 11 minutes. I had my system down. That batch did not have unbagged whole hops. This one did.
After the wort stopped, my assistant fetched a stainless slotted spoon, and we sanitized it, and I kajiggled the pot and put the slotted spoon against the out hole. It did not work. After much despair, I began slotted-spooning out the whole hops and dumping them in a pot. This was futile, because as everyone knows, whole hops multiply, infinitely, when exposed to boiling wort. What had begun as 2oz of hops now amounted to 18 bushels, and nobody can remove 18 bushels of hops with a slotted spoon. Nobody. By the time we gave up on the futzing approach, we had maybe 2 gallons of 60F wort in the carboy. I looked at the carboy. I looked at the boil pot. I made an executive decision. I unscrewed the tube from the wort chiller and dumped the hottish (it was freezing cold outside (well, for the bay area… it was 50F or so) so the wort had chilled somewhat on its own) wort directly into the carboy. Five minutes later, I had 6 gallons of wort at 95F.
I shook it like a mofo who is too cheap to buy an oxygenator, grabbed my somewhat anemic starter, and dumped it in.
Now, many of you are saying 95F! Please, Mister Toad, that is too hot for yeast! To you I say: nuts! Yeah, I wanted to pitch at 70F, but you know? 95F is right about where I used to pitch before I had a fancy-pants chiller that can’t handle whole hops in the wort, back when I made… beer #4. That’s right, I pitched at 95F for authenticity. It was my plan all along. SUCCESS!
I bit my nails in anticipation of my success for nearly two days as I waited confidently (biting my nails) for the yeast to show some sign of having enjoyed the 95F pitch. After 2 days, I was rewarded with a massive kraeusen, perhaps the biggest ever, prompting me to fear a clogged airlock + explosion. It’s calmed down by now, all appears good, and though we may have oxidated and infected our hot wort with all that slotted spoon nonsense, there will be at least some alcohol in there — the yeast is alive!
Now I just have to wait another week to rack it, then a year to find out if it’s any good. By exercising such patience, I reckon I honor my parents even more. Cheers!