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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

AG #1 - Paradise Porter...

During my time as a homebrewer my wife, Jo, has had no choice but to be interested in what I’m doing and not least what we drink. For a while now she’s expressed a desire for us to brew something together, specifically using coconut. So, after some discussion we decided to brew a porter, which history has shown carries such a flavour well. During the early months of the Macc Homebrew Club we got to sample a coconut porter, which although technically sound, highlighted the need to be quite conservative with the old coconut or else you end up with a something akin to Malibu! However, a year later that beer was absolutely spot on. The plan for our beer was to create a subtle toasted coconut flavour bouncing off the roasted grain, the backbone of a robust porter.

As usual, once I get an idea in my head it starts rattling around, gathering up random thoughts. There’s obviously some Caribbean/pirate connotations connected with a coconut beverage, so my thoughts turned to that other popular Caribbean tipple, rum. I wanted to get some rum tones in the beer, without resorting to just pouring in some neat spirit. My initial thought was to age it in an old rum barrel. Unfortunately, on such a small homebrew scale this isn't practical, so the next best thing was to get hold of some chips cut from a barrel that I could just throw into the fermenter. I’d noticed The Malt Miller had some in stock a while back, but alas they were sold out and unsure if they would ever get any more stock in. I could get some plain oak chips and then infuse them with rum myself, but after a bit of research people suggested keeping the additions separate as that way you can control how much flavour each imparts. Also, as mentioned, I didn't really want to use rum directly, so I decided on the next best thing - muscovado sugar. Not only would this give us that desired rummy flavour, but it would also bump up the fermentables, pushing the beer into the imperial ranges.

With the brewshed drawing to completion I started ordering the ingredients in preparation. I managed to find 150g bags of freshly chopped oak chips on eBay selling for just a few of our British pounds. My plan was to slowly toast them in the oven so that they became slightly charred around the edges, hoping it would impart roasty oak flavour. I also picked up a kilogram of coconut, which again, I planned on toasting slightly to eliminate most of the oil which would kill the beer’s head retention. Around this time I had read an interesting thread on Reddit about Maui Brewing Co’s Coconut Porter (regarded as one of the best in the world). The original poster, whilst on a tour of the brewery, asked at what point they throw in the coconut additions. Apparently, they add sacks full of the stuff into the mash, boil and secondary! You can’t really argue with their results, but that seemed a bit of overkill for what I was looking for. Instead, I would add it all in the mash, so that the grain bed could filter out some of the remaining oils, and then use a back-up vodka potion, that I've had infusing for months, to top up the flavour if I found it a little short when bottling.

Not only was this going to be my first forae into true all grain brewing, but it would the first time I get to use my new 100 litre kit in anger. Nothing like starting off simple eh? As I was without an immersion coil large enough to chill anything larger than 20ish litres, I decided I would at least start off with conservative batch.

As the beer was going to be edging into that imperial territory I needed a yeast that could cope with the higher alcohol levels. After some research I decided on White Labs’ Dry English Ale yeast (WPL007), with its high attenuation and flocculation, and judging by some of the comments on the White Labs’ website, was well suited to a big porter. Now all I needed to do was brew the damn thing!

When brewday eventually rolled around, with the strike temp and liquor volume calculated, I excitedly began the task of mashing in. It was only when I was finished I checked the temperature, only to realise I was around 7 degrees out! What I hadn't factored in was the temperature of the stainless steel mash tun! So, I whacked on the burner and dumped some more hot liquor in and with a bit of stirring it brought the temperature up to 64 degrees, which I was happy to stick with for the sake of a successful brew. I threw in the coconut last of all so that it rested on the top of the grain bed as I was worried it would get transferred through to the kettle. I covered the grain with a couple of sheets of tin foil and pierced it with my temperature probe. The insulated mash tun performed admirably and didn't drop a single degree during the 90 minute mash, which I was very pleased with.

With the mash complete I transferred the first runnings to the kettle, which was pretty clear, getting around 20 litres worth, thanks to the extra liquor I added to the mash. With my volumes all out of kilter I just threw in what looked to be an acceptable amount of sparge water and gave it a bit of a stir, which obviously disturbed the grain, making the second runnings a tad cloudy, but nothing a bit of recirculation didn’t solve. In the end I had 34 litres of wort in the kettle, more than I had originally predicted, but it actually turned out to be a stroke of luck. Another thing I hadn't considered was that the increased surface area these bigger vessels would give me an increased boil off. At 60 minutes I had lost 5 litres worth of wort to the sky, which was around double what I would have gotten with my old Brupak boiler. Another thing to bear in mind for next time.

With the boil done it was time to see how my old immersion coil would cope chilling a slightly larger volume. This was the stage I was most concerned about, but I needn't have worried. I was using the copper coil that had come with my old 11 litre stovetop BIAB kit. This had worked a treat when I upgraded to my Brupak boiler, hence why I kept this batch small. The only real issue I had was that the coil was tall and the hot wort was shallow, so I had to lay it on it’s side, making sure to keep the hose connections out of the drink. What surprised me was I managed to cool down 29 litres in around half the time it had taken me to chill 20 litres with the old boiler, which I can only attribute to the steel vessel also dissipating the heat. If that little coil could chill that fast then my new bespoke monster chiller will have no problems!

With the wort down to 20 degrees I started the transfer to the FV using my new mag drive pump, which made light work of the process. The gravity measured 1.063 in the end, which was a little shy of what was predicted, but taking into account of the on-the-fly volume adjustments I had made it was still showing some pretty respectable efficiency. Also as a first run
on new kit it was quite a successful brewday, despite the minor problems. I pitched my yeast starter and tucked up the FV safe and sound in my fermentation fridge, 12 hours later I was seeing some pretty healthy activity.

After about five days it had finished fermenting, eventually reaching 1.014, which makes it around 6.5%. Happy that it wasn’t going to drop any more I threw in the toasted oak chips. After just a week there was a notable change in the flavour, the harsh coffee tones were rounding out and a subtle vanilla flavour was starting to come through with a hint of molasses lurking in the background. Sadly, there was no sign of the coconut (or at least I wasn't getting it). I did briefly considering bottling as it was, but that would have deviated from the original goal so I toasted more coconut and added that in a few days before bottling.

This initially worked a treat; when bottling there was slight coconut on the nose and a hint in the mouth, which is what I was looking for. Instead of the coconut being a dominant flavour, it was playing in the same space as the malt, giving it a nutty character, which I hoped would be more pronounced once carbonated.

Due to the long conditioning phase it took a while to carb up, which worried me a little, but four weeks later it had a light fizz of a US porter. However, disappointingly the coconut tones have mellowed somewhat, but nevertheless it’s still a good solid porter that I shall be entering into Brewdog’s Northern Homebrew competition.

Grain Bill...
2.8 kg Maris Otter (43%)
1.6 kg Vienna (24%)
600 g Roasted Barley (9%)
250 g Chocolate Malt (4%)
125 g Brown Malt (2%)
125 g Munich (2%)
400 g Torrified Wheat (7%)

Hop Bill...
10 g Northern Brewer Leaf (9.6 % Alpha) @ First wort (0.5 g/L)
50 g Sorachi Leaf (11.8% Alpha) @ 10 Minutes (Boil) (2.4 g/L)

Misc Bill...
1 kg Muscovado sugar @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
1 kg Coconut @ (Mash)
100 g Coconut @ (Conditioning)
150 g Toast Oak Chips @ 2 Weeks (Conditioning)

Single step infusion at 64°C for 90 Minutes
Fermented at 20°C with White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast (WPL007)

OG: 1.063
FG: 1.014
ABV: 6.5%