Imperial stout has always been big and bold, but in recent years it’s been getting even bigger and bolder. Brewers are pushing the envelope on starting gravities—going higher, going thicker, and winding up with beers that remain extremely full-bodied even after fermentation. Weight and texture have become as important to the style as its complex malt flavors and compatibility with adjuncts and barrel-aging.
Here’s the thing: There’s no reason extract brewers can’t do the same at home. In fact, we may be uniquely well suited for it, as extracts eliminate the need for gigantic mash tuns or double mashes. Consider that many pro brewers are using malt extracts to help them hit those extra-high gravities. There’s no reason for extracts to hold us back from getting that big body and mouthfeel, especially when we steep some well-chosen specialty grains.
Let’s break the style down—a bit of background, some discussion of ingredients, and then some tips on brewing these impressive beasts at home using extracts with specialty grains.