Brewing a Coffee Stout with three coffee additions

Jave the Stout 2.0 Coffee Stout When you’ve been brewing for a number of years, most brew days and beer go according to plan. You may miss a gravity or mash temp by a point or two either way, but for the most part they go as expected. Then, on the other hand, you have those beer that go awry from the get go, not to say those turn out to be dumpers, but you have issues or trouble of one kind or another.

When I began home brewing these experiences frustrated me a great deal. I’d post issues on a forum online and I’d always get responses telling me to RAHAHB, but this didn’t seem to assuage my contempt for the possible monstrosity I may have created. I wanted to be a good brewer very quickly, and it bothered me when things didn’t go exactly as expected. Now I know those brew days, fermentations, carbonation issues are all part of the learning experience, but are they still frustrating? Of course they can be, but I believe they make you a better brewer in the long run. This coffee stout, for better or worse, turned out to be one of those learning experiences.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m picky about the coffee I drink. I wouldn’t say that I’m a coffee snob, though my wife has mentioned that a few times, but I am selective, just as I am with beer. I tend to only use dark roast or espresso beans, and I buy local when possible. I’m fortunate to have at least a couple of local roasters to choose from, they are knowledgeable and helpful. I try to buy beans that have been roasted as fresh as possible, I only grind enough for two to three days, and I use a Moka Express the majority of the time. When I want to cold steep, which I do mostly in the summer months, I simply use a French press. But, I’m not a guy that NEEDS coffee, I’d rather go without a cup of coffee than suffer through something I don’t enjoy simply to get a caffeine fix.  This love of dark, robust coffee naturally goes hand and hand with my love of craft beer, especially when the two meld perfectly in a well brewed coffee stout. Jave the Stout 2.0 Coffee Stout-2 Aside from hop forward styles and sours, coffee stouts are something I crave through the cold winters here in Atlantic Canada. I do enjoy them any time of year, but especially when the temperature starts to dip below zero, which lasts for far too long here unfortunately. There are a couple of great examples I can get my hands on from time to time locally. First is Whitney Coffee Stout by Trailway. It’s a solid example of the style with great aroma and flavor of locally roasted coffee by Whitney Coffee. Second is Peche Mortel by Dieu du Ciel. This could be the best beer to come out of Canada. It’s an imperial coffee stout, 9.5% abv, and it gushes coffee aroma and flavor. I still can’t find a single thing wrong with this beer which is consistent with its perfect rate beer score of 100. If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying it yet, go track some down. It’s worth every penny and mile you have to travel to acquire even a single bottle or draught pour.

As usual I am behind on what I want to drink seasonally. I always have hop forward styles on tap but when I want something malty and robust I always seem to be brewing a month or two late. I originally planned to brew a clone attempt of Peche Mortel but at ~10% I didn’t want to have to wait for any alcohol heat to fade before I got to enjoy my coffee stout. So, I decided to settle in on the 6% range in the hopes that with proper mash temps combined with midnight wheat I would get a smooth body to back up the three coffee bean additions I had planned. Why three additions you ask? I brewed a coffee stout last winter that turned out fairly well, and I only used espresso beans in the mash, it had a light to moderate coffee character. Overall I was pleased with it but this time I wanted a beer to scream coffee so I went about researching how I could add even more flavor and aroma without simply using more roasted barley. In the end I settled in on three additions, the mash (again), adding cold steeped coffee at kegging, and also adding whole beans to the keg (dry beaning if you will). I have used a tincture in the past with decent results, but I didn’t want to rely on using any spirits this time around. I wanted to see just how much coffee character I could extract using simple additions with different methods at different times.

There are a few things to consider when adding coffee to any beer. First, a mash addition may add some additional bitterness since you’ll be boiling that (albeit small) addition for 60 minutes. Keeping this in mind I reduced my planned IBUs from 55 to 50 in hopes of not having too much bitterness come through in the end product. Second, when using the cold steep method at packaging, it’s a good idea to boil the water first to ensure you deal with any potential bugs. Let the water cool and begin your cold steep, 24 hours is sufficient. Finally, bean additions to the keg don’t necessarily need to be weighted down in a muslin bag, they’ll float and can be easily retrieved if needed.

Through my research for a Peche Mortel clone I had read a number of different attempts with brewers using a high attenuating Belgian strain. At least one of these claimed to have spoken to someone at the brewery to confirm this, though they didn’t specify which strain the brewery used. I assumed I could use almost any strain as all the coffee additions would likely mute most phenolics from a Belgian strain. So I went to my LHBS and ordered a couple of strains I knew I could use for other styles I had on my list to brew at some point, Wyeast 3711 (my favorite saison strain) and 3522. Both strains, I know from experience, tend to be fairly mild with respect to phenolics, esters and spicy notes. But after waiting three weeks my yeast still hadn’t arrived so I got impatient (I want my coffee stout now!) and reluctantly went with what they had on hand, Wyeast 3724. It’s a strain I hadn’t used before, mainly because I had heard of people having trouble getting it to attenuate fully, but I thought that with a planned OG of only 1.062 if I pitched a large enough starter that it would be fine. WRONG! (more on that later).

Designing the rest of this recipe was pretty straight forward, as I wanted enough malt to come through and support the coffee additions. That meant marris otter as the base malt. I find it a slightly more earthy than 2-row and I felt that would support the coffee a little better. Some midnight wheat to add roast character but also mouth feel, chocolate malt simply because I love the flavor it gives in a stout and it will compliment the coffee nicely, honey malt for a little unique sweetness and finally carapils for head retention. Hop choice was simple, magnum at the beginning of the boil for some clean bitterness (but just a little).

Recipe Targets: 5.0 gallons, OG 1.062, FG 1.015, IBU 50, SRM 48, ABV 6.2%

Grain:

4.00 kg Marris Otter (74%)

0.36 kg Midnight Wheat (6.7%)

0.36 kg Roasted Barley (6.7%)

0.36 kg Honey Malt (6.7%)

0.18 kg Carafoam (3.4%)

0.14 kg Chocolate Malt (2.5%)

0.20 kg Espresso beans (lightly crushed)

Hops:

20g Polaris (21%) @60

Extras:

1 Whirlfloc tablet @10

1 tsp Yeast Nutrient @10

3 oz espresso beans (cold steeped in ~800ml water)

1 oz espresso beans (whole,keg addition)

Yeast:

Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison

US05 (1.5L starter) for the potential stall

Brewed by my son and I, mashed in with 14L @165F, mashed out with 8L @199F, and finally batch sparged with 2.6 gallons @170F. 60 minute boil. Unfortunately I had recently made some changes to my equipment profile in BeerSmith and I forgot to adjust the recipe for any possible issues this could cause with respect to gravity and volumes. I ran into my first issue when checking my pre-boil gravity, it was low, nine points low. My OG was seven points low, this is where one simple mistake can completely change a beer (see tasting notes). After three weeks this was still stuck at 1.026, for the fourth week I raised the beer temp to ~74F and it dropped a measly four points. At this point I didn’t want to wait anymore, and I didn’t want to be left with a full stall so I prepped a 1.5L starter of US05 and pitched it 12 hours later when it was quite active. 24 hours later the airlock was bubbling every 4 seconds (whew!). After another week the gravity had dropped to an acceptable 1.015, unfortunately though I found the US05 seemed to have scrubbed much of the coffee character the mash addition had added to the beer. Jave the Stout 2.0 Coffee Stout-3 Appearance: Pours with a thick dark tan head which fades to a thin ring within a few minutes. Very dark brown, essentially black in color.

Aroma: Strong coffee and some slight dark chocolate.

Taste: Again, strong coffee and dark chocolate with medium mouth feel. Followed by some phenolics from the saison yeast as the mouth feel seems to thin out as it finishes.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation, medium body that thins

Overall: This turned out partly the way I wanted it to. It does scream coffee in both aroma and flavor which is followed by dark chocolate, which I really enjoy. Unfortunately, this is where my love for this beer turns to mediocrity. The typical flavor of the saison yeast are far more apparent than I expected they would be. While I certainly can’t recommend this recipe due to the issues I ran into, I believe it’s a solid base for my next attempt at a coffee stout.

Here’s what I learned from brewing this beer: My failure to account for BeerSmith changes lead to a much lower gravity than expected, my ~6.2% beer finished up at 5.5%. I know it’s only one percent, but a stronger malt presence would have really helped the mouth feel and helped to back up the coffee and chocolate flavor that starts so well. My impatience of going ahead with a yeast strain I didn’t want to use lead me down the road of forcing the final gravity by pitching an active starter of US05. This scrubbed out much of the coffee contributions from the mash addition. Poor planning was the root to all of these problems, I never thought to brew a coffee stout until I really wanted to enjoy one. This has been an issue in the past for me, I always have hoppy styles available but when I want something else, usually malt forward, I’m behind schedule.

Here’s what I’d do differently next time: The BeerSmith changes have already been dialed in. I would likely forego the mash addition of coffee since I think I got plenty of character from the cold steep and “dry bean” addition in the keg. The addition of oats to the mash would certainly help add the mouth feel that this beer is lacking. I’d obviously try a different yeast strain, perhaps Belgian Abbey or even just US05. Finally, proper planning, I will definitely be brewing this style next fall, ahead of the really cold weather and I’ll keep the expected ABV closer to the Peche Mortel level, maybe 8%.  As I lead with, I learned a lot during the course of brewing, fermenting and packaging this beer and I believe I’m a better brewer as a result. At the very least I was reminded, time and time again, that patience and planning are some of the most important factors in any beer going from recipe, to grain, to glass.

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Brewing an Allagash Midnight Brett Clone

My very first trip to the Allagash brewery in Portland, Maine opened my eyes to a whole new world of beer styles, flavors, and quality. At that time I hadn’t had much exposure to Belgian styles or any wild ales for that matter. On that first trip they had four samples on tap, White, Saison, Century Ale, and finally Midnight Brett. They were all great beer in their own right, and all free to sample! But I enjoyed Midnight Brett the most and luckily I was able to purchase two bottles to take home as well.

 

Midnight Brett
Image sourced from Beer Street Journal

I didn’t make any tasting notes that day, or with the bottles I brought home (Doh!) but I did remember how complex the beer was. Not to mention it still stands out for me as one of the best beers I’ve enjoyed from Allagash, along with Nancy and Coolship Resurgam. It was something completely different from anything I had enjoyed up to that point.

Here’s what Allagash has to say about Midnight Brett:

Midnight Brett gets its name from the Midnight Wheat we brew it with. The dark wheat gives it a deep, dark chocolate color. The aroma opens with fresh berries and sour cherries, and ends with a warm roastiness. Each sip offers smooth drinkability met with the zip of tart fruitiness on the palate. We brew this beer with 2-row, Midnight wheat, raw wheat, and rye malt. It’s hopped with a blend of Perle, Glacier, and Simcoe hops.  We then add our house strain of local, wild Brettanomyces yeast. The yeast works its magic over the next eight months where the beer ferments in a stainless tank. Midnight Brett begs to be shared no matter the hour on the clock.

I knew, realistically, that I wouldn’t get extremely close to recreating it. I mean, this brewery makes incredible beer, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. Ranging from their tasty classic Belgian styles (White, Saison, Black, Dubbel, Tripel etc.) to their wild ales and coolship program which create incredible complex and tasty offerings. I did email Allagash trying to get a few details to help me out when I was writing this recipe.  I was mainly looking for approximate grain percentages and a Brett strain as I assumed they used a house strain. To my surprise the Technical Lead at the brewery responded quickly, and they were quite helpful. I gave them what I had come up with for a grain bill and they responded with a “looks good”, they did confirm they used a house Brett strain but were nice enough to point me towards Brett Claussenii, calling it “a beast!”. I didn’t remember hops playing a large role in the flavor of the beer, and there wasn’t much bitterness to speak of. So I settled on using about 35 IBUs, something in the range of a Saison. I didn’t have all of the hops that were listed for their recipe, but since I didn’t find them to have a prevalent role any of the times I’ve had the beer I didn’t worry too much about it, and I tried to sub in something remotely similar.

Recipe Targets: 10 gallons, Efficiency 72%, OG 1.055, FG 1.008, IBU 36, SRM 34, ABV 6.0%

Grain:

7.0 kg 2-row 67.9%

1.0 kg Rye malt 9.7%

0.9 kg Wheat malt 8.8%

0.8 kg Midnight wheat 7.8%

0.4 kg Rice hulls 3.9%

0.2 kg Acid malt 1.9%

Hops:

Magnum (13%) @ 60

Amarillo (8.7%) @ 10

CTZ (13.4%) @ 10

Extras:

1 Whirlfloc tablet @ 10

2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 10

Yeast:

White Labs – Brett Claussenii

 

I normally don’t brew 10 gallon batches, mainly because the majority of the beers I brew are hop forward and I just can’t get through that much on my own before the hops have faded significantly. But I had signed up for a beer exchange within a local beer club, the NBCBA and I wanted half for the exchange and the other half to age for an extended period of time as per the feedback I received from Allagash.

03/11/2015 Brewed by myself, mashed in with 27L @162F for 60 minutes resulting in a mash temp of 147F (target was 149F), mashed out with 15L @207F for 15 minutes. Drained mash tun completely and fly sparged with 4 gallons @168F. Pre boil gravity was 7 points high, 1.054, I assume increased efficiency as a result of fly sparging? Boil for 60 minutes, chilled to 60F, and split wort to two primaries. Shook each carboy for approximately two minutes, pitched about 200 billion cells to each and saved a little to maintain a culture. Shook each carboy for approximately one more minute each.

Activity took off within 24 hours and continued strong for a few days. Temperature never rose above 68F, within a week krausen had fallen and SG had already dropped to 1.008! Brett C is a beast indeed. I left it in primary for another five weeks (after which time it had settled in at 1.006) before bottling to meet the exchange deadline. I tried the beer a week later and I found it, well, boring. It tasted of light roast character, had a smooth mouth feel and minimal Brett presence, it tasted similar to a dark saison, but not a good dark saison. I was worried I was going to be “that guy”, you know, the guy that brings the worst beer to the exchange and everyone is stuck with drinking or dumping the mess he created. I decided to leave the bottles for another six weeks before reevaluating and luckily it’s coming along and gaining some complexity. Below are the tasting notes as the beer is now, I do still have the other carboy that will be left for another four to six months in primary with some Brett dregs added to, hopefully, improve this even more.

 

Obscurity - midnight Brett clone-3
Tasty for this time of year.

14/02/2016

Appearance: Pours with a medium, brown and tan  head which fades after several minutes to a quarter finger. Dark brown, almost black in color.

Aroma: Some dark fruit, light roast and slight leather.

Taste: Again dark fruit, cherry followed by leather Brett notes and finally moderate roast with almost no bitterness to speak of.

Mouthfeel: Medium-high carbonation, medium body, smooth.

Overall: I am enjoying this beer more now that it has some age,complexity, and Brett character. The roast character is still a little too prevalent but I know that will fade with time. I would likely reduce the midnight wheat to 6% next time. I am looking forward to comparing this batch with the batch still in primary, I will update my tasting notes at that time. I believe this is a solid recipe and an easy one to brew, it’s going to be nice to have bottles of this around for quite some time. I hope to get my hands on another bottle of Midnight Brett next month when I get back to the brewery so I can do a side by side comparison.

 

Brewing a 100% Brett Pale Ale

A friend recently encouraged me to start a brewing blog and I was hesitant, to say the least. But after some thought I decided to give it a shot. I think it can only help to write out the progress from developing a recipe, to brewing, to the best part, tasting! So here goes…

The same friend brews awesome beer and has a very well written blog, if you’re not reading it yet you should be!

I debated for a while what beer to start with and two reasons brought me to this Brett pale ale. Firstly it’s my most recent beer, having only kegged it about a week ago. Secondly, I had some issues on brew day. Issues with brewing, fermentation, carbonation etc are all part of home brewing. Everyone experiences them at some point. So, despite having some issues on brew day I thought this was appropriate for my first post.

I mainly brew hop forward styles. Over the past couple of years I have become pretty picky, for better or worse, on what I expect out of these styles. I generally want a prominent hop aroma and flavor up front, with very little in the way of specialty malts (especially Crystal!), and I want the beer to finish dry. As dry as possible! I’m not saying this is the correct way to brew IPAs and pale ales, it’s just what I prefer.

I’ve especially been enjoying hop forward beer using Brett as a primary strain lately. You still get some classic Brett barnyard character this way, though it’s far less pronounced. What you lose in barnyard character gets made up for with lots of over ripe fruit and tropical flavors. The Brett only seems to accentuate hops that fall into that category, which is why I think I enjoy Brett as a primary strain so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m about as far from an expert with Brett as one can get, this being only my third time using Brett as a primary strain, and only the second time in a hop-forward style. From everything I’ve read Brett used in primary creates a fairly stable flavor profile, showcasing mostly fruity flavor and aroma. But this can change as the beer ages to produce more of the characteristic Brett funk. This changes a great deal when Brett is used in secondary, in this situation it exhibits a much more leather, horse blanket, barnyard profile. As I’ve said, I’m no expert, if you’d like to read more I suggest this post by The Mad Fermentationist.

For strains there are obviously numerous choices. I know someone who has made a couple of fantastic Brett IPAs using Brett Amalgamation from the Yeast Bay, so I felt this was a safe choice. From there, choosing hops wasn’t overly difficult considering what I had on hand. Vic Secret and Kohatu are a couple of new(ish) varieties from Australia and New Zealand, respectively, with both boasting fruity and tropical characteristics. Even though I hadn’t used either before, they also seemed like reasonably safe choices. From there I went with a simplified grist similar to this recipe which I’ve had and really enjoyed.

amalgamation

I built up a starter to about 300 billion cells. I only needed about 200 billion, but I wanted to over grow so I could set some aside to keep an active culture for future use.

As far as the brew day issue I had mentioned previously, this was supposed to be an IPA, not pale ale. I had recently made some changes to my equipment profile and I ended up with a lower than expected efficiency and OG as a result. I ended up 7 points low which lead me out of the IPA category and into pale ale.

Recipe Targets:

5.0 gallons, 74% efficiency, OG 1.058, FG  1.008, IBU  56, SRM 3.7, ABV  5.7%

Grain:

3.50 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) 68.1 %

0.50 kg Oats, Flaked 9.7 %

0.50 kg Wheat Malt White 9.7 %

0.30 kg Carapils 5.8 %

0.20 kg Rice Hulls 3.9 %

0.14 kg Acid Malt 2.7 %

Hops:

20g Polaris [21%] @60

40g Kohatu [6.40 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 15 minutes

40g Vic Secret [17.40 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 15 minutes

35g Kohatu [6.40 %] – Chiller

35g Vic Secret [17.40 %] – Chiller

70.00 g Kohatu [6.40 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days

70.00 g Vic Secret [17.40 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days

*Dry hop additions were split. Half added to primary, the other half added to keg in weighted muslin bag.

Extras:

1 whirlfloc tablet @10

1 tsp yeast nutrient @10

Yeast:

The Yeast Bay – Amalgamation Brett Super Blend

I generally mash in quite low for IPA’s, usually at 149F. But I have found some brett beers to be a bit thin so I mashed in a little higher this time, 152F. I also knew from my last experience with this strain that it attenuates quite well.

09/01/2016 Mashed in with 14L water (165F) to attain mash temp of 152F for 45 minutes. Added mash out water, 8L (200F) for 15 minutes. Drained mash tun completely then sparged with 3 gallons of 170F water. Pre boil volume 7.2 gallons. 60 minute boil, chilled to 62F and transferred to primary. Shook for about two minutes, pitched yeast and shook for one more minute (I really need to get an oxygen system). Measured OG 1.051 which is why this ended up a pale ale instead of an IPA.

10/01/2016 Vigorous fermentation within 24 hours. Temperature never rose above 70F.

17/01/2016 Added dry hops

22/01/2016 Racked to CO2 purged keg along with keg hop addition in weighted muslin bag

Force carbed at 35 psi for 36 hours. Vented keg and lowered to serving pressure.

Final gravity 1.004

IMG_0315

Appearance: Pours with a medium, white head which fades to a thin ring within about a minute. Straw colored (lighter than it appears in the picture above) with touch a of orange.

Aroma: Mainly over ripe fruit, a little pineapple, with some Brett barnyard rounding things out.

Taste: Similar to the aroma, light pineapple and maybe a little mango and orange. Brett barnyard funk comes through mid taste. Light bitterness that fades quickly, finishing quite dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation, light body, crisp and dry.

Overall: Despite my issue on brew day this turned out fairly well. I’m enjoying having it on tap and it seems to be mostly well received by friends (even the honest ones). Having said that if this was an IPA I would like a little more punch from the hops, but as a pale ale I think it works. If you get a chance to purchase either of these hops I can definitely say I recommend them. I’m excited to try a new strain of Brett and my favorite hop (Nelson) for my next Brett IPA. Coming soon…