In the historic stables of the old Lemp Brewery in St. Louis—a city spoiled by acclaimed imperial stouts from Perennial, Side Project, and others—Bluewood Brewing is nurturing a small, thoughtful barrel-aging program that has raised eyebrows with a few stouts that reach heights up to 22 percent ABV.
In our October-November 2022 issue, Bluewood brewer and cofounder Cam Lund details their chaptalization-like process for kicking up the strength of a few rare beasts into super-monster territory, and he shares a recipe for one of their five threads that they use for aging and blending.
Here, in an online exclusive for our subscribers, Lund goes into more detail on those five threads, on long boils, and on brewing specifically for blending stock. —Joe Stange
Long Days, Long Boils
Because of the way things are here at Bluewood, we’re almost exclusively [brewing] two days, three days with the stouts. When we mash, we’re looking for a certain profile in terms of the fermentability. Attenuation is always a concern with these big beers, so we mash on the lower side. I used to mash around 156–158°F (69–70°C) for the stouts, but when we’re building beers that are in excess of 1.150, or 35–36°P—which is where most of these guys are starting these days—we’ll mash on the thinner side. We’ll do a very slow sparge; transfer to the kettle usually takes four to five hours with the big stouts, because we are essentially maxing out the mash.
We rinse every bit of sugar we can, and we’ll let it sit overnight at like 180°F (82°C). Then we’ll come in the next morning—I’ll try to get here at 5 a.m.—and we’ll start the boil. We’re talking about a 12-hour boil potentially.
The Five Threads (So Far)
Up front, the idea was to get as much diversity in barrels as we could potentially get, as well as the products themselves going into them. The “SB” series—the stout base—we have One through Five currently. That’ll continue to extend upwards as long as we’re satisfied with the blending—if we feel like we need to add more because of missing components.
SB1: Café Noir
This used to be our Proprietor’s reserve series, but we’ve made it a staple. It’s meant to work with nice roasted notes—not to be overpowering, but to work in parallel with St. Louis coffee roasters’ beans. We've narrowed that one down to Blueprint Coffee. I really like their Cold Brew series because it features a lot of chocolate notes, and it’s a little more delicate—so, fudge, but less fruit-forward, less acidic. Those things matter when you’re talking about the tannins of coffee beans, and that great contribution of the beans to the beer. So they have to work in harmony. It’s definitely a balanced one.
SB2: Leviathan RIS
Our first one we brought from homebrewing to professional was technically SB2—this is where the stout bases all started, with our traditional Russian imperial stout base. We’re having some of the fruitiness—the soft rum-soaked raisin, the vanilla. We use Special B in that guy, which is unique compared to the other recipes. It lends itself well to a Russian imperial stout.
SB3: Milk Stout
This was just one where we started incorporating lactose. It’s going to be a little thicker, with a creamier mouthfeel, but also a little more approachable altogether. It helps round out the bitterness and the roast.
SB4: The Fudge Bomb
My personal favorite. Our brewer Megan [Eplin] and I started with a recipe that was supposed to be a super-chocolaty beer—just a straight fudge bomb right off the bat, before it even saw barrels. Chocolate malt is definitely a huge component of all of our stout mash bills, but we decided to make the majority of that one chocolate wheat, and to go very heavy on it. It’s at least 20 percent, around there. The color’s great—everybody’s chasing that motor oil thing, and it definitely gets that done. But it’s going to do it without a lot of that bitterness that you can extract in high amounts of chocolate [malt] usage.
SB5: The Body Builder
All of these have flaked oats in the recipe. We don’t really worry about head retention, especially with the barrel-aging process. It almost dissipates altogether anyway. But for a creamier mouthfeel—just adding some sort of texture to the drinker’s experience with the beer, SB5 uses a pretty damn good amount of flaked oats—like 15 to 20 percent, which is pretty high for an imperial stout.
Brewing for Aging & Blending
So, all these [threads] are supposed to be used in harmony with each other, as we pursue different profiles or different ideas for the beers. With the predetermined path based on the recipe, and what we know of the barrel themselves, we can follow a certain thought process as far as where it should be at along certain timelines when we should really be paying attention to it.
They take some time. Some of ours, you just cannot drink—it takes time. Even in stainless, we’re about two months before we even think about racking to a barrel. A lot of these recipes were never intended to be consumed fresh. It’s definitely meant for the barrel. Generally, we don't touch a barrel—we don’t sample it or anything—until at least 12 months. That is the absolute minimum. About the 18-month mark is when we start to see those really distinct separations between barrels—when we’re starting to see more of those tannins and complexities working in conjunction with each other.