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Gearhead: Monster Mashes & Tuns of Fun

As brewers pursue ever higher gravities for richer, stronger, thicker stouts, something immediately becomes clear: Most breweries weren’t made for this. Here’s a closer look at how breweries are adjusting for huge grists, long boils, and viscous beers.

John M. Verive Feb 10, 2021 - 14 min read

Gearhead: Monster Mashes & Tuns of Fun Primary Image

Cycle’s mash tun is roughly three times the size of the kettle next to it.

“Stouts are never going to be easy,” says Cory King of Side Project Brewing in St. Louis, often lauded as a master of the sort of modern, high-gravity concoctions that feature big alcohol levels and even bigger volumes of flavor. “Making a beer that big doesn’t make sense on paper.”

Whatever you call them—often pastry or dessert stouts—these new-school takes on imperial stout are all about pushing the limits, and a robust fan base has emerged that’s every bit as obsessed as the hopheads and haze bros. Brewing this super-charged style is a balancing act like any other, but the stakes are higher than with most other styles. The margin for error is slimmer, and with costly ingredients and long production times, it can feel like a high-wire act without a net. Many of the brewers making the paragon examples of the modern imperial stout started on brewhouses that were by no means optimized for such extremes of wort production—as target gravities creep ever closer to 40° Plato (SG 1.179).

However, there are a few different approaches to brewhouse improvements that can make those huge beers easier to brew, from maxing out the mash tun to more focused capital improvements. Like everything else in the brewery game, the proof of what works best is in the pudding (stout).


A stout mash in progress, inside Side Project’s oversized mash tun.

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