At year’s end, there are two beers I always brew. One is an IPA made with the remnants and scraps of all the scattered one-ounce hops purchases I’ve made throughout the year to supplement my usual “bulk” hops. The other I make just before that beer, having combed through the pile of hop-scrap zip-lock bags and selected the piney, balsam-like hops from the bunch to brew up an American Stout. When this tradition started I didn’t bother making much of a distinction between this beer and what we’ve come to call Black IPA, but now that the styles have become at least somewhat distinct I take some care to differentiate this beer from its Cascadian cousin. Both are roasty, hops-forward beers, but my Marlowe Stout is now more focused on its body to clearly differentiate it from your typical Black IPA.
There’s a lot of stouts to be found in the style guidelines, and with good reason: they’re tough to define, but there’s also no question that they feature fine distinctions that are easy to lose track of in the “oh, they’re just really roasty” conventional wisdom. The American Stout, like all stouts, is notably roasty, but much like the American (Robust) Porter it also allows for significant experimentation with hops. What, then, distinguishes it from a Black IPA? First, as already noted, it has a bit more “bulk” whereas the Black IPA usually presents as being a bit more “drinkable.” It also can (and probably should) be more obviously and significantly roast-driven. Hops are making an important contribution to the flavor, but whereas in the Black IPA they’re undoubtedly the star of the show, here they’re more a co-equal partner with the roast.
This is a fairly high-ABV version of American Stout, but I think that’s both justifiable based on the style and a good way to differentiate from the Black IPA recipe I’ve developed. We start with ten pounds of Maris Otter, then add one pound each of British Crystal 45 and 65 – not only will that add body, it makes for a noticeable caramel background flavor, even when we blast the recipe with hops and chocolate malts! Speaking of which, we then add one pound of chocolate malt and half a pound of roasted barley. If, in your finished product, you’re not getting enough roast, try bumping up the weight on the roasted barley to lend it a sharper roast note to “trigger” a perception of higher roast.
Lots of bitterness is a good idea here, even with the significant roast. I aim for 60 IBUs from a 60-minute hops addition, with the rest of the hops going in during the whirlpool. As I mentioned, this is something of a “kitchen sink” beer for me, so there’s a range of hops I use, but I select for the more pine-driven hops on hand rather than the patently “fruity” varieties of new American hops. Chinook and Waimea (a “Down Under” variety) are great choices, but Cascade, Northern Brewer, and even Simcoe are also good options. I shoot for a hops profile that’s obviously American but not overtly citrusy or tropical.
Finally, I like my go-to Wyeast 1007 (German Ale) yeast here. It keeps out of the way, provides a healthy level of attenuation, and adds just a slight bump of fermentation character/ester to the mix. I nearly always have a pitch of it on-hand, and it fits the bill pretty well here!
Another reason this is a good late-season beer for me (I take about a month off from brewing over the holidays) is that it’s pretty much a no-brainer, process-wise. The mash schedule and boil have no hidden tricks (152F, 60-minute boil), and most of my hopping is in the whirlpool. For that step, kill the heat and leave your beer alone for a few minutes to let it start to come down from its boiling temperature. We want to do that because both myrcene and pinene are pretty volatile, and even sub-boiling temperatures can blow them off. After a 2-3-minute wait, I give the wort a stir to get it spinning briskly, and add a total of about 1.5 ounces of whatever I’ve got to add; if bagging your late hops, up that to two ounces. Walk away for 15-20 minutes, and let the beer slow its spin and settle, then chill as usual and ferment at about 63F.
Post-fermentation I usually do about a one-ounce, five-day dry hop of something consistent with the whirlpool hops. I say “usually” because when I’ve skipped this step I still get pretty robust hops aroma, so it’s more in the realm of “if I think of it.” At five days, I cold crash and package, carbonating to a relatively high 2.5 volumes of CO2.
This is a fun and easy beer that will make you look like a really good brewer, even if you’re not! It has a lot of easily-recognizable flavors, can mask minor faults, and is easy to get right. Brew it up just before the holidays, enjoy through the snowy winter months, and share with your homebrew and craft beer skeptic friends!