(Astute readers will have noticed that this blog has taken a heavy turn towards actually brewing beer recently. I promise you that I will return shortly to making fun of the other facets of the brewing industry and beer drinking generally. There will also be some input from a couple of correspondents in the next few weeks, so be sure to stay tuned for coverage of Houston and Vancouver.)
On the heels of the Amsterdam brew day, I was invited by Mike Lackey (ed. note: Laskey) to try my hand at brewing on the pilot system at Great Lakes. Clearly this was not an opportunity to be passed up, but it came with a couple of significant realizations. The Christmas Ale isn’t really for public consumption. If it doesn’t pass muster, I can just sweep it under the rug saying that everyone who helped brew got some of it and it was a just reward for a day spent hard at work.
The beer for Great Lakes was actually for December’s Project X (unless it is so bad that it’s unusable). This means public consumption: An actual stage to see whether people like it or not. And given that it’s a Project X brew, it might even show up on ratebeer; a fact I realized while idly stirring the wort. Add to that the fact that my brewing output tripled in two weeks. This is a trend which, if it continues unchecked, seems to suggest that by early 2016 I will be brewing all of the beer in the world.
So: some mild cause for alarm.
I have essentially adopted the following principle: Plan big. If you can’t manage to be a great success, you will have at least been a spectacular warning. Think of Guy Fawkes. He’s famous in song and story for not quite managing to blow up the houses of parliament, but he has a day named after him. Think of John Brown. Didn’t quite manage to take Harper’s Ferry, but he’s got the Battle Hymn of the Republic. History is littered with examples of splendid attempts that resulted in failure: The Titanic. The Ford Edsel. Betamax.
With this in mind, I designed a beer based around two things that I really like. Breakfast Stout and Oaxacan Mole sauce. Great Lakes, it has to be said, has produced John Bowden’s Morning Glory Breakfast Stout on several occasions and it’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed. Last week, I got to
try Founders Breakfast Stout for the first time. I liked it so much, that I decided a modified Breakfast Stout was the thing to try, but with a couple of additions. Most Breakfast Stouts according to my research have chocolate and coffee flavour and some oats for body. To me, this sounded like it could be a Mole sauce if you added some chili and some spices. I decided on Ancho chili since it’s not particularly hot and lends an interesting sweetness and some cinnamon for a little kick. It sounds farfetched, but I’ve been putting cocoa powder in my chili at home for some months now, and I know it’s a flavour range that works.
Besides, with Mike Lackey guiding me through the process, how could it fail? (Disclaimer: if it fails, please do not blame Mike Lackey. I’m the maniac with the recipe.)
I rolled in to Great Lakes around 10:00 on Tuesday with my Senior Superlative Correspondent Deluxe, Catherine Strotmann and got down to business. The Great Lakes pilot system is a lot more advanced than the equipment that I had previously used and also a great deal bigger, but I found it interesting to note that producing 15 gallons of beer is not actually any more time consuming than a 5 gallon batch. You just have to be prepared to lift buckets of water a great deal higher in order to get them into the mash/lauter tun. It was also gratifying to note that the milling system was identical to the one we borrowed during the Amsterdam brew day, except that it had the addition of a power drill for ease of use. You don’t want to mill 42 pounds of grain by hand unless you have no alternative. It would be time consuming and eventually give you brewer’s elbow.
Unlike the Amsterdam brew day, we took notes. Perhaps most importantly, we had to note the substitutions that went into the recipe. Instead of all pale ale malt for the grain bill, we had to substitute in some Maris Otter. There wasn’t any Biscuit malt, so we eschewed that in favour of Coffee Malt since the Maris Otter would give it a small amount of biscuit flavour. There were no Willamette hops on hand, so we substituted Styrian Goldings. There wasn’t any Columbus on hand so we used Chinook. I couldn’t find any Star Anise, so we did without. Probably just as well.
We mashed in at a relatively low 151-2 degrees. It would have been higher, but the equalization of temperature between
the 42 pounds of grain at room temperature and the water used brought it down a little bit. We adjusted temperature as we went and everything went along pretty well. The nice thing about having proper brewing equipment is that the steps that didn’t make sense before suddenly did. For instance, prior to sparging, there’s a clarifying step where you’re trying to get the grain bed to settle. Last time we did this with tinfoil and a pitcher which was, as the kids say, pretty ghetto. At Great Lakes, they have an attachment for the Mash/Lauter Tun that allows you to just hook up a hose to a pump stand back.
The boil went along nicely, and we had our hop additions premeasured on a side table. We somehow ended up using an extra ounce of bittering hops, but I think the IBU measurement will still be under 70 (which is slightly higher than Founder’s Breakfast Stout, but not by a whole lot.) The best part of the brew day for me was the first opportunity to mix the Ancho chili and Styrian Goldings together. They both have a slightly earthy flavour that I think should complement each other in the final product. It’s always nice to find out that you weren’t so very far off base with your assumptions.
Despite having some coffee malt in the wort, we decided that since we couldn’t add coffee directly to the secondary fermenter due to the likelihood of plugging the system up, that we would instead add it to the whirlpool. The whirlpool was a new step for me, and one that I was unaware of. It essentially helps to clarify the wort by separating the trub and hops from it. It also cools down the wort somewhat after the boil. By waiting until the wort was at a lower temperature and then adding the coffee as it cooled, it not only removed the likelihood of acidity, but also ensured a dark roast finish which should be really nice. Think of it like a giant French press that makes beer. Catherine was given the job of grinding the coffee. If you work for me, you better be able to swing a hammer.
I think that this is going to be good, at least I hope that it’s going to be good. I don’t think the chili will be overpowering (2oz in a 15 gallon boil should be gentle). I think that it will probably come out around 7%. The important thing to remember here is that I’m not insanely overconfident about this project. I never claimed to be some kind of zymurgical messiah. In fact, I’ll be content if I don’t look like a moron in front of the beer nerds and if the recipe turns out to be viable.
It’s sitting there at Great Lakes, bubbling away. Now we play the waiting game.