With autumn on the way, I like to start brewing up my fall “party” beers. Everyone’s brewing (or has just brewed) an Oktoberfest or Vienna, but if you’re planning well ahead you should be thinking about those post-Halloween/pre-Winter beers, which brings us to one of my favorite styles: Irish Extra Stout. Unsurprisingly, it shares a lot of DNA with its lighter cousin, the Dry Stout (or Irish Stout), but this one has an extra bump of alcohol and a deeper coffee and dark chocolate flavor profile that make it a great seasonal beer. There’s more to it than just increasing your original gravity, though, and you don’t want to drift too far into the roasty weeds or you’ll just be making an American or Imperial Stout!
Some people say that the subdivision of stouts is a bit of a time-waster: aren’t they all roasty, black beers? Yes, they are, but that’s ignoring the often-prominent differences between them, despite those common characteristics. In this case, we’re moving to a mid-range ABV (more than Dry, less than Imperial), with more coffee and chocolate flavor than we get from the lighter Irish Stout, but without the sweetness or full-bodied mouthfeel common to the Sweet and Oatmeal Stouts, respectively.
At the same time, we’re relying principally on our roasted and crystal malt flavors and effectively not-at-all on our hops (let’s leave that to the American Stout folks), except for bittering. Digging slightly deeper, we want stronger coffee and chocolate flavors than we’d find in the Dry/Irish Stout, but certainly not prominent or dominant roastiness.
See what I mean? Dark, yes. Roasty, yes. But those baseline similarities are far less important than the practical differences. A horse isn’t a zebra.
Start with a big dose of Maris Otter, about nine pounds, to give yourself a healthy bready background. If you’re more of a “biscuit” fan, I couldn’t see the harm in splitting this 50/50 with Pilsner malt. In either case, you’re then going to add in a half-pound each of some crystal and roasted malts to round out the grist: Crystal 40, Crystal 80, and (of course) Roasted Barley.
If you have access to the British crystal malts, I wholeheartedly recommend them (it will move your Lovibond numbers up to 45 and 85, but darker isn’t any problem here).
Finally, I use 12 ounces of Chocolate Rye, rather than a pale or traditional chocolate malt. First, it sits better on the palate: we want to avoid excessive roast, which the Chocolate Rye seems to avoid thanks to its lack of a husk, and we’re already getting plenty of roasted coffee flavor from the Roasted Barley! Second, it adds some pleasant and interesting spicy notes along with a nice cocoa/dark chocolate flavor that acts as a terrific secondary or tertiary flavor on the palate.
All-in, you should hit an OG of about 1.060 at 72% efficiency.
Hopping is pretty simple: any hops you like, at the top of the boil, for 30 IBUs at first. Start at the low end of the IBU range, and increase in subsequent batches if the beer seems too sweet, but if you start higher there’s a significant chance you’ll get a sharp, bitter beer, which this should most certainly not be. We want soft and refined roast with good balancing bitterness: not something that is teeth-rippingly bitter.
Finally, I use the same Wyeast 1007 German Ale yeast here as I do in my lighter Irish Stout, and for the same reason: good attenuation, light esters in an otherwise clean fermentation, and a good background for the roast flavors. Even more than in the lighter stout, I’m wary of the rounded maltiness that comes from lots of Irish Ale yeasts. As always, though, feel free to go with what works best for you – but be sure you’re preserving that drying coffee and dark chocolate roast!
This beer is about as vanilla (ironically) as it gets in terms of process: I mash at 152F (mash pH can become problematic, but that will depend on your water – you know who you are), boil and chill and aerate as usual, and pitch at a starting fermentation temperature of 65F. Hold there until fermentation is just about wrapped, then increase to 68F or so to allow for some diacetyl and/or precursor cleanup, hold there until activity in the airlock stops, then wait an additional 1-2 days. All told, you should wrap fermentation pretty quickly, though: this beer turns around fast, and I’ve had it in the keg in under ten days.
Cold crash (out of habit, if nothing else – this beer should be nearly jet black) and carbonate to an even two volumes of CO2.
One of the things I love about this beer is its persistence. It’s a remarkably flavor-stable beer, and the roast continues to shine through nicely even after a few months in the keg or bottle (assuming you’ve kept them cold). Some sweetness can build in over time, but if it becomes more “porter” and less “stout” at the five-month mark, we can certainly forgive it – and in any case, by that time we’re deep into winter and might be looking for a sweeter beer in the first place! Brewed today, you can drink it down right along with the mercury and the leaves.
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