Monday, 25 November 2013

BIAB #2 - Black Forest Stout...

Now that I've had a bash at making a single malt, single hop brew with my new BIAB kit, it was time to plan my own beer from scratch. With it coming up to Christmas it made sense to brew something festive, but instead of going for the usual spiced Christmas ales, I decided to go for something that might resemble a black forest gateau; something dark, thick and sweet with chocolatey and berry undertones. Mmmm!

I set about scanning various recipes for stouts and porters for the blend of grain types used. This is where The Complete Homebrew Handbook came in handy as I had actually sampled some of the darker beers mentioned in its very pages and so I had a reference to go by. In the end I went for Maris Otter as my base grain, crystal and chocolate malt, with some flaked oats to give the beer a bit of body. Given the black forest gateau theme, I was obviously going to need some cherries. The original plan was to use fresh cherries, that is until I stumbled across these Black Cherries with Kirsch by Opies. Perfect, the hard work had already been done for me (they were pitted) and I figured the addition of Kirsch will give the beer extra richness.

Whilst I was in the planning stages of this beer, Ruthless, a barrel aged sour cherry chocolate stout, popped up on the board at Red Willow. I decided to tap Toby McKenzie for any tips on brewing with cherries, his advice was 'use more than you think is necessary in the boil'. I originally intended to use one jar of the Opie cherries, but with the expert advice I opted for two. Surely nearly 800 grams of cherry goodness would be enough for a 11 litre batch, right?

Now I just needed to source a hop that would complement the fruity beer without overpowering it. I scoured the web reading dozens of hop descriptions and the one that stood out for me was Willamette. Described as spicy and fruity with earthy tones it sounded ideal to me! With ingredients set, I put an order in at The Malt Miller and commenced the fine tuning of the recipe using Beer Engine.

I wanted this to be a strong beer, so I decided to up the grain content a little from my last brew. The two cotton sacks supplied with the stove top kit were quoted to hold 1.5 Kg and I wanted to go for a 4 Kg mash, an extra 500 grams extra per sack. I also decided to lower the water volume a little from 2.5 litres per Kg of grain to 2.4 litres, just to make the wort a little more concentrated. Beer Engine was telling me the projected ABV would be around 8.1%, just the strength I was looking for.

The weekend had arrived and so had my parcel of ingredients, the #brewday was on! With my recipe planned it was time to input some figures into the Massive Calculator and find out  my target volume and strike temperatures. As the grain had been sat on the back of a truck for most of the day I increased it by a couple of degrees for good measure.

The glorious ingredients.
Then, with the aid of my new electronic scales, I began weighing out the grain, but as I started filling up the first sack it soon became apparent that I was probably going to struggle with that extra kilogram. I made a decision to cut 500 grams of the Maris Otter and as the volume of Chocolate Malt looked a bit much, I also scaled this back by 50 grams too. With the recipe changed, I amended the details in Beer Engine which reported that the ABV would now be around 6.9%, still pretty respectable.

With the grain measured out and ready for action, I filled up the stock pot with the required amount of liquor and submerged the sacks, which again highlighted I was maybe pushing it at even 3.5 Kg as it was a pretty tight squeeze in there! I eventually managed to get both sacks settled and gave the grain a good stir, using a large wooden fork instead of a spoon as I didn't want any dried lumps of grain surprising me later on when I emptied the bags out. I think if I'm going large with the mash for future brews I need to invest in some new cotton sacks that are maybe a bit wider.

With the mash on it was a good time to get the rest of my ingredients prepped. I opened the vacuum sealed pack of Willamette and gave it a good sniff, my eyes lit up — I'd definitely made the right choice. My nose was treated to a subtle spicy aroma with fantastic biscuit and currant notes scented in the background. I could have eaten the damn things raw! I weighed two lots of hops, 20 grams for the full boil and a further 10 grams to add five minutes from the end. Time to sort out my main ingredient, the cherries. I emptied the jars into a sieve over a bowl to separate the cherries from the Kirsch with a plan to boil off some of the alcohol as it was pretty potent! To try and maximise the flavour from the cherries I chopped them using scissors and added them to the hop sack along with the first batch of Willamette.

The hops and cherries.
With the mash done I squeezed as much wort out of the grain sacks as possible into the stock pot and did the same with the sparge water in the FV. Unlike my first effort, instead of merging the two, I poured the sparge water into two additional pans on the stove in a effort to get up to the boil before the new year kicked in. This worked a treat as the wort was bubbling away within 30 minutes. I threw in 100g of dark brown sugar, the boiled Kirsch and the first sack of adjuncts. 

With five minutes left on the boil I added a quarter of a Protofloc tablet with the second sack of hops and submerged the chiller coil ready for the cooling process. As with my previous effort I hooked up the chiller to a hose pipe connected to an outside tap, which cooled the wort down to 24 degrees in around 15-20 minutes. Thankfully this time there wasn't a whole lot of sediment so not much wort was lost on the transfer over to the FV. The gravity was a little lower than I initially predicted (1.05, instead of 1.073), which was a little disappointing, but I suppose if the end product tastes great then that was main objective sorted. With nothing left to do I pitched the yeast, good old Safale US-05, and retired the FV to the corner of the kitchen. 

So, as far as my first proper attempt at brewing, it didn't go according to plan. The increase in grain and the tight squeeze in the pot had a knock on effect to the efficiency and thus I ended up with a much lower gravity than expected. Next time, if I want a stronger brew, I will stick to a 3 Kg limit and lower the liquor volume. However, I was massively more efficient throughout the whole process and managed to cut the brew time down by at least a couple of hours. I expect my next attempt will be even tighter...brew #3 here I come!