Archives for May 2014

Russian Imperial Stout (V: Wort Production)


This is the fifth article in this series on Russian imperial stouts

Russian imperial stouts are big beers. The BJCP gives the range of original gravities (OGs) as 1.075–1.115. In practice, most commercial examples fall in the lower half of that range. When it comes to wort production, you have several options.

[Read more…]

Tasting Notes: Lost Lambic


Mmmm . . . unexpected lambic.

Back in 2001, 2002, and 2003, I brewed at least a couple batches of lambic each year. In 2004, I blended some one-year-old, two-year-old, and three-year old lambic to make a gueuze (a blended lambic). The beer turned out well. It won Best of Show at the 2004 Austin ZEALOTS Inquisition. And, I had 15 gallons (57 L) of it as each blender was 5 gallons (19 L) in volume. There are better gueuze blending strategies than this, but at the time I did not know them. Even so, this was one of the coolest things I ever did as a homebrewer, and I even wrote about it awhile ago.

With 15 gallons (57 L) of beer into to put into bottles, I had to scrounge around to find every available package I had. Along with a few cases of 22-ounce (650-mL) bottles, I ended up using several 1 L bombers to hold some of the beer. After bottling, I set the 1 L bombers aside . . . and forgot about them.

A couple weeks ago, while scrounging around my brewing equipment, I found them. So, suddenly I had six bombers of gueuze that was 10 years old. I immediately put one of the bottles in my fridge, let it cool overnight, and sampled it the next evening. I sampled a couple other bottles in the past few weeks, too. Here is what I found.

[Read more…]

Russian Imperial Stout (All-Grain Recipe)

Char_T-34This is a recipe for a Russian imperial stout, to go along with my series on Russian imperial stout. There is also an extract-based recipe for this beer.

This is an all-grain brew that will require a long brew day. The large grain bill will be fully sparged, to yield 12 gallons (45 L) of wort, and boiled down to 5 gallons (19 L). This will take over 4 hours. Given that this is a big beer with lots of hops, there is also a settling stage after the boil, in order to increase the yield of clear wort from the kettle. (You can skip this if you have a way to filter your wort, such as a hop jack.)

Optimally, you should have a 15-gallon (~60-L) kettle with a burner capable of evaporating 1.5 gallons (5.7 L) per hour. However, alternate instructions for brewers with a 10-gallon (~40 L) kettle are also given.

One twist in this recipe is that a portion of dark malt is withheld and only stirred into the upper part of the mash near the end. This will make lautering easier. It may also help the mash fall into the proper pH range more easily. If you don’t want to bother with this, you can simply mash all the grains together.

T-34 Stout

Russian Imperial Stout

All-grain; English units



A big (9.6% ABV), roasty, hoppy stout. This ale is very flavorful and full-bodied, but attenuated enough that it is not too sweet.

[Read more…]

When is Sanitation Most Important?

DSCN0716Keeping your brewery clean and sanitized is one of the most important aspects of being a good brewer. Brewing equipment should always be clean, and anything that touches wort or beer should also be sanitized. Contamination can occur at any stage in the brewing process; however, it is more likely at some times than others. In this article, I’ll explain when wort or beer is at its most vulnerable and what you can do about it. The upshot of this article is not that there are times when you can take shortcuts with cleaning and sanitation. Rather, I will argue that there are certain stages where you should take extra precautions.


Factors Affecting Contamination

Wort or beer can become contaminated at any time in the brewing process. However, there are some points at which a contaminant is more likely to be able to take hold. Several variables affect the ability of contaminating wild yeast or bacteria to live or grow. The key variables are temperature, alcohol content, pH, oxygen, nutrient availability, and competition.

[Read more…]

Beer News (May 19–25)


OK, let’s start with a “listicle” (an article that’s basically just a list) that tells us what we want to hear — the health benefits of beer. And here’s a listicle I missed (a missticle?) from April, somebody’s list of the best cities for beer. And dude, I totally agree with you. [Your town] should have made the list. I mean, what were they thinking?

[Read more…]

Russian Imperial Stout (IV: Other Malts)

This is another article in the continuing series on Russian imperial stout.


Munich malt can add malt character to a Russian imperial stout.

With the wide variety of dark grains available to a homebrewer, he or she can manipulate the aroma, flavor, color, and astringency of his or her dark grain blend. In a 5.0-gallon (19-L) batch, the total amount of dark grains may vary between 2 to 5 lbs. (roughly 1–2.5 kg). Although the dark grains play a central role in the grist of a Russian imperial stout, it’s important that the other grains complement them. The dark grain component of a Russian imperial stout could be paired with almost any combination of base malt and specialty malts. There are some combinations that make more sense than others.

[Read more…]

Russian Imperial Stout (III: Dark Grains)


This is the third article in this series on Russian imperial stouts

Russian imperial stouts are big, dark beers. They are among the most intensely flavored beers brewed. When it comes to their grain bill, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) has this to say. “May have a complex grain bill using virtually any variety of malt.” Let’s see if we can narrow that down a bit, starting with the dark grains.


Dark Grains

Russian imperial stouts may be dark brown to black, and the color of their foam may vary from off-white to reddish brown. They frequently have intensely roasted aromas and plenty of roast flavor and bitterness. As such, the dark grains play a central role in the character of this beer. The most common dark grains found in a Russian imperial stout are black malt, roasted barley, and chocolate malt, but there are other choices worth exploring.

[Read more…]

Beer News (May 11-18)



Scary news this week from California — Stone Brewing had to evacuate their brewery in the face of a wildfire. So far, the brewery and its residents are okay, but the wildfires in the region continue. In other California brewery news, Sierra Nevada is opening a nano brewery, a 20-gallon (~80-L) pilot system for experimentation.

The Brewers Association has released a new set of guidelines for craft beer.

[Read more…]

Russian Imperial Stout (II: Strike Water)

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 11.48.29 AM

Water calculators are very helpful, but can give erroneous results in beers with lots of darkly-roasted malts.

Given the large amount of darkly-roasted grains in a Russian imperial stout, the pH is almost guaranteed to be lower than desirable when the strike water has a low level of bicarbonate ions (<50 ppm). (Strike water is the water used to mash your grist.) If you use any of the standard water chemistry calculators, the amount of carbonate ions they suggest for Russian imperial stouts is quite high. And in practice, you usually don’t need that much bicarbonate to approach proper mash pH. This is because darkly-roasted grains are not more acidic than dark crystal malts — the correlation between color and acidity breaks down when you jump to the darkly-roasted grains. Here is one way to deal with mash pH in a Russian imperial stout. There are certainly others, but I like this approach for a couple reasons (that will be clearer when we discuss lautering).

[Read more…]

BWJ Q and A (Aeration)


A common homebrew aeration setup.


Do you have any good links/posts on getting the correct PPM per gallon of wort? Micron size vs. rate vs. volume?


— Robert French


As homebrewer’s, it’s nice that we can measure many of the important variables in our process. We can measure the density of our wort with either a hydrometer or a refractometer. We can measure temperature with a thermometer. We can measure the pH of wort or beer with a pH meter. Unfortunately, there are no inexpensive ways to measure a few key variables. Most homebrewers, for example, do not measure the amount of alcohol in their beer. They estimate the percentage by volume via a calculation. Likewise, the level of carbonation in our beer may be estimated either via a temperature and pressure table for keggers, or by adding the appropriate amount of priming sugar for those who bottle condition their beer. Arguably more important, however, is the amount of oxygen in our worts before we pitch the yeast. For most fermentations, an oxygen level around 8 ppm is desired. However, some strains of yeast may respond better to slightly higher levels of oxygen.

[Read more…]