Last week, I shared my experience tasting and then tracking down some Goose Island 2016 Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout so I could brew not a clone, but a tribute it. Now the moment has come to taste and start developing the recipe.
I paused with the opener at the lip of the bottle cap, anticipation warring with pessimistic doubt. A lot was riding on this one bottle. I was worried that it wouldn’t match my expectations, which had grown over the past few months. And there was also the pressure of having one chance to evaluate the beer and then create my tribute recipe. On the other hand, I had faith that this bottle would at least be tasty. I made my move and popped the cap.
The pour was thick and oily, and I immediately smelled the cacao nibs and roasted malt. As I brought it closer, the rest of the aroma kicked in. It was rich and estery, with raisin, date, and plum blended together with vanilla and bourbon. The smoke that sold me on this beer was there, but milder than I remembered. “Big smoke…coffee roasted in a smoker” was how I had described it in November. This bottle was more subdued, but that left more room for the chile.
The sip was heavenly. Sweet, rich, and chewy, it amplified the aroma and wrapped it all up in a warm cocoon. That heat came from a balanced mix of light chile bite and alcohol. Caramel and toffee complemented the mocha coffee flavor. As I predicted, this was a very tasty beer. It didn’t quite live up to my memory or my earlier notes, but there was enough there to provide inspiration. Even though the chile flavor was stronger and the smoke was a bit ashy, I could still see how to build my beer.
Plan of Attack
Before I dive into recipe formulation, let’s talk about intent. My goal is not to reproduce the 2016 Proprietor’s that I sampled last November, much less the bottle I just tasted. Instead, it was the idea of a smoked stout that inspired me. Even though the Proprietor’s chipotle is quite pleasant, I’m more interested in exploring that intersection between a Bamberger Rauchbier and a monster imperial stout.
In this ideal, the foundation is a solid imperial stout, full of malty depth and barrel character. The smoky side will come from German beechwood-smoked malt. In a classic Rauchbier, I’d go with 30+ percent smoked malt, but I’m going to be more conservative for my first attempt at this.
With the smoke covered, I’ll forego the pepper, but I do really like the toffee and chocolaty goodness of the Proprietor’s, so the cacao nibs are a must. I’m on the fence about the maple, but I’m inclined to keep it in, if only to kick up the gravity. The final element is to simulate the barrel aging. In my case, I’ll go with some oak chips soaked in bourbon.
Recipe Outline: Rauchin’ Imperial Stout
Batch size: 5 gallons
Brewhouse efficiency: 77%
Est. OG: 1.120
Est. FG: 1.027
Est. ABV: 12.26%
12 lb (5.4 kg) Pale ale malt (3.5 L)
4 lb (1.8 kg) Bestmalz rauch malt (2.4L)
2 lb (907 g) Munich malt (10L)
1 lb (454 g) Crystal malt (80L)
1 lb (454 g) Flaked oats
0.75 lb (340 g) Chocolate malt (350 SRM)
0.5 lb (227 g) Roasted barley (300 SRM)
6 oz (170 g) Lightly roasted cacao nibs
4 oz (113 g) Fuggles [4.2% AA] at first wort hops
1 lb (454 g) Maple syrup 3 oz (85 g) oak chips (soaked in bourbon)
White Labs WLP013 London Ale or Wyeast 1028 London Ale. These are interchangeable. I will definitely use a yeast starter.
Process and Thoughts
I’ll be brewing this on Sunday, but it will take time before I can tell how close I came to my target. In the meantime, I thought I’d explain my thinking for the above recipe.
The grain bill was designed to hit the right ballpark for flavor, gravity, and color. A warmer mash, 152°F (67°C), should leave me plenty of malt in the finish. I’ve added the cacao nibs to the mash to maximize extraction; I really like the big chocolate of the Proprietor’s. I’ll see what my sparge looks like, but I’d like to collect enough wort that I can have a 90-minute boil, which will help the malt complexity.
I kept things simple for the hops. This is an assertively malty style, and the roast will add some bitterness. I decided to do a single first-wort hopping addition to get some rounder, more subtle hops character.
Yeast management is important with big beers like this. I’ll be oxygenating the wort after cooling, and I’ll pitch a big yeast starter. I’ll aim for primary fermentation at 65°F (18°C). I’ll wait for the secondary to add the maple syrup (dissolved in some water) and the oak chips. While I could add the syrup directly to the boil, a later addition might keep more of the character. Also, I’ll be sure to reserve the soaking bourbon when I add the oak chips. Depending on the flavor after about three or four days, I’ll rack the beer and maybe add some of that bourbon before kegging.
Later this year, I’ll let you know whether I captured the magic I was looking for.
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PHOTO: JESTER GOLDMAN