I wrote an earlier post (https://www.timkwrites.com/blog/brewing-notes) about an experimental batch of Black IPA that I had brewed. I mentioned at the end of the article that I would be brewing a larger batch of that beer. I brewed that in October. You might be wondering why this post is titled as a Stout when my experimental batch was a Black IPA. I’ll explain that.
I had two new things I was going to try out. In the earlier batch I had cold steeped the black grains. This means that instead of putting all my grains together and then heating them up as I would normally do, I put the black grains in a mesh bag and soaked them in water overnight. Since the grains had been roasted previously to make them black, they didn’t need more heating. Then when I was done cold steeping that was added to the rest of the beer when it was time to boil it. I had read about this technique in the book Brewing Better Beer by Gordon Strong. Rereading it later I see that I should have put in this liquid towards the end of the boil and not at the beginning.
I decided that this time I would put the black grains on my stir plate to circulate the water while it was steeping. I had a little metal stand that came with one of my kitchen pots that I was going to use to keep the grains off the bottom of my kettle, so the stir plate would be able to keep the water moving. I put the metal stand in the kettle and then the bag of the black grain. Then I added water to cover the grain. What I didn’t realize until it was too late was that it took much more water to cover the stand and grains than I had used when I did the experimental batch.
For the other grains I was going to use my new brewing kettle that I had purchased. My selections of what I can buy are limited because I brew on my stovetop using a method call BIAB. (That stands for Brew in a Bag; you put all the grains in a bag.) The new kettle was supposed to be five gallons, but it turns out it’s really nineteen quarts. That’s a half-gallon less than the kettle I usually use. Meaning I ended up being able to use less water than planned on that.
In comparison to my experimental brew the mix for this one ended up different in two ways. First the dark roasted grains were over what they had been. Secondly the other grains ended up being less proportionally than the earlier batch.
Enough about the grains and what went wrong with those. To make beer you also need hops and yeast. I did a couple things that went right with those.
If you’ve shopped for craft beers, you may have seen Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA or 90 Minute IPA. Or even their 120 Minute IPA. The times mentioned have to do with when they add hops during the boil. Typically, when you see a beer recipe the hops will be added during the boil at specific times – 60 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. The time refers to how much time is left in the boil when the hops are added. Earlier additions add more bitterness while later additions add more flavor and aroma. What Dogfish Head does is to add the hops continually for the amount of time that is the name of the beer. I had always figured that to be kind of a gimmick. But I was recently reading the book IPA Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele, and there was a section where the founder of Dogfish Head talks about why they do that. Sam Calagione says that he was watching a cooking show and the chef said that he added the pepper the recipe called for a bit at a time instead of all at once, so it would add more nuances to the flavor. That’s why he decided to add hops a bit at a time instead of all at once.
I decided to do a version of this. I took my hop additions that were in the final part of the boil and instead of doing them every five minutes, I spread them out doing one addition every minute for five minutes.
After the boil in order to start the fermentation process you add yeast. There are many choices for the various kinds of yeast to use. Some are designed to work with a variety of beers. Others are specifically for certain styles of beer. There are dry yeasts and there are liquid yeasts. There are various manufacturers of yeast. Some breweries obtain their yeasts from the same manufacturers that homebrewers use. Some breweries have their own proprietary yeast strains. It was that last category that interested me. While you can’t buy these yeasts from the manufacturer, it is possible to get some and grow your own. Many breweries carbonate their beer by using bottle conditioning. In that process as the beer is bottled some extra sugar is added to the beer. This reawakens the yeast which eats the sugar and produces carbon dioxide. Since the bottle is sealed the beer becomes carbonated. When this is done there is yeast in the bottled beer. Some people I mention this to have given me a strange look. But it’s not a problem; if you’ve been drinking beer, you’ve been drinking yeast in many of your beers.
That yeast in the bottle can be captured and grown to the point where there is enough to pitch into homebrew for fermentation. That’s what I did with this beer. I used some yeast captured from Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Part of the process of capturing the yeast involves drinking the beer, so it is enjoyable.
When it was all said and done, I ended up with a very dark beer that had a very roasted flavor. I had a glass of it in mid-November. I could tell it was a very good beer. However, there was a coffee flavor to it and I don’t like coffee. This wasn’t a beer I was going to personally enjoy.
Tasting the beer again later I realized my original taste was of a beer that hadn’t aged fully. The coffee flavor was muted down to just a roasted flavor. So, I didn’t make the beer I had intended to make.
On the other hand, as I said it was a good beer. I saw that a local home brew club, Nordeast Brewers Alliance, was having a home brew competition. I thought I would enter the beer. The style guidelines for a black IPA say, “flavor characteristics of an American IPA, only darker in color – but without strongly roasted or burnt flavors.” This beer definitely didn’t fit that description. Reading the guidelines, I realized that what I had brewed was an American Stout. I entered the beer in that category giving it the name Pitch Black American Stout.
This was the second time I have entered a competition. Last year I had entered an IPA in a local competition. It hadn’t placed or anything, but I got back the judge’s scoring sheets which were good to see for feedback on my beer. In addition, that competition reports their results to the Midwest Homebrewer of the Year. Even though my beer didn’t place I still end up ranked in 447th place of the standings for that; tied with over 900 other people.
The judging sessions finished on Sunday, December 9th. Awards are made for the top three in each category and from the category winners there are awards for first and second place for best of show. That evening I received a text asking me if I would like some news on my beer. I thought this was a good sign, maybe I had placed. I texted back that I would like to hear.
The text back said that my beer had won first place in its category and also it won first place for best of show.
Yay! It’s a cool feeling to win that. I’ve been having fun telling people about it. One of my friends suggested that based on how I brewed it, I should rename it Serendipitous Stout. I like that. In life we all do things that don’t go according to plan. Maybe if we step back and relabel what we were doing we’re award winners. May your life be full of serendipities, because in the end the plan that matters isn’t ours.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.