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Articles in this section
Articles in this section

Brew like a Homebrewer

This is a concept that has been expanded upon by the likes of Jamil Zainasheff in Brewing Classic Styles, page 244 - suffice it to say, it is very easy to get carried away when you've got some 80 types of grain to choose from. Different maltsters, base malts, "specialty malts," even malted oats. Sometimes you really just have to brew like a homebrewer.

Below is a recipe that I recently scored a 40 with at a BJCP-sanctioned competition:

 Coffee chocolate oatmeal stout
1.064-1.066 OG,
1.016ish FG
6.5%abv

  • 9lbs Gambrinus ESB Pale ale malt
  • 1.5lbs Grain Millers, Inc. Flaked oats
  • 1/2 lb Simpson's roasted barley
  • 1/2 lb Simpson's medium crystal
  • 1/2 lb Simpson's dark crystal
  • 1/2 lb Malteries Franco-Belges Kiln Coffee malt
  • 1/2 lb Dingemans Aromatic malt
  • 1/2 lb Thomas Fawcett Pale Chocolate malt
  • 1.1 oz Nugget 11.2%AA pellet hops 60min
  • .5 oz Fuggle 4.6%AA pellet hops 30min
  • .5 oz Styrian Goldings 4.6%AA pellet hops 0min
  • 2 oz ground Anodyne Finca El Salvador light roast coffee added during chilling
  • 2.5 oz 100% cacao bitter chocolate added during chilling
  • 1.5 oz raw cacao nibs added during chilling

Wyeast 1469 - West Yorkshire Ale is another star of this show - marshmallows, round Nutella-esque hazelnuts, perfect ester presence and a full mouthfeel. Pitch at 64, free rise to 68.

When I look at this recipe as a whole, I'm struck by how often I use the school-enforced tendency to keep things in halves. Half of this, half of that, together it makes a whole. The tendency to come up with nice, round numbers. Everything except that tenth of an ounce of Nugget. Largely arbitrary, I think it was a cue from the level of bitterness I've come to expect in American stouts, coming in at about 52 IBUs for the first charge. Losing that hair of an ounce would conceivably change the bitterness enough to notice, so it gets a pass today.

The strange thing about the whole recipe is how balanced it all comes out. Coffee, yes, but with an undercurrent of bitter chocolate. Marshmallows and faint anise sweetness countered by the hint of earthiness from the hops, then interrupted by a slight alcohol sweetness - not ethanol, but a distinct fruity alcohol note, an ethyl- of some sort. Over everything hangs the smooth sweetness from the Gambrinus malt, the creaminess of West Yorkshire and avena sativa. The flakes were supposed to be toasted gently, but I burnt the first batch just a bit too much, so they went in naked, due to impatience.

I can distinctly remember how I got the thought for this beer. It started as a few crystal malts thrown together. Medium crystal, dark crystal, kiln coffee, pale chocolate. Then came a bit of roasted barley, aromatic malt for richness, Gambrinus malt because it was new to me, and oats because I bought a 50lb sack that was taking longer than I expected to eat. I had 2 ounces of black malt initially because I thought it wouldn't be dark enough, and truthfully it should be in this iteration of the recipe, but I absolutely hate the taste of black malt, so I take any chance I can to delete it. I doubt the difference in color will be discernible to the human eye.

The coffee and chocolate came about later, when exploring the kitchen pantry. I had purchased far too many ounces of cacao nibs in a misguided attempt to use them in hearty cookies. They're really not very pleasant as edibles go, but they do pack a wallop of roasty, hearty chocolatey goodness. The amounts and types of coffee and chocolate used here are due to a strong influence by Founder's Breakfast Stout, a real winner of a beer. Thankfully the folks at BYO had done a bit of research for me, and I think the amounts work very well. More coffee and it would be one-note and potentially acrid/harsh. More chocolate could be done, but again, at the risk of losing balance.

The oil derived from the chocolate and coffee in this beer threw me for a loop - it looked like persistent krausen that just wouldn't go away. This same oil stuck around into the bottles, though it didn't affect head retention one bit. The cool part was that it looked identical to the light tan crema so desired in a well-pulled shot of espresso (ristretto, signore).

The next step? Different techniques for flavor extraction - from trying the 0 minute additions crammed in a HopRocket to different roasts/origins of coffees, all sorts of possibilities. Luckily I've got a few packs of 1469 tucked away - really they're just for this beer - if I had to try to replace that magical strain, I'd probably try 1450 or a London strain. The hopping rate I'm pleased with, it provides that assertive bitterness but with the pleasant minty/earthy notes from those fine English ladies.

What were we talking about, again? Oh, right, brewing like a homebrewer. Everyone goes through phases of recipe formulation, from e-mailing pro brewers to doing single-malt experiments. The important thing is owning your recipes. Know what you want to accomplish, try your best to meet that goal, take good notes, and try to learn something every single time. That, to me, is brewing like a homebrewer.

What does it mean to you?