Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Brewing a Sweet Stout

I don't really know why, but it suddenly occurred to me the other day that I haven't brewed a Stout in a very long time. Looking through my records (yes, I keep homebrewing records), I realized it had been a REALLY long time... the last stout I brewed was a clone recipe of The Portsmouth Brewery's Kate the Great, a Russian Imperial Stout, in November of 2011 (it was actually the first recipe I posted on this blog). I generally don't brew a lot of darker beers; not because I don't really enjoy them, it's just that IPAs, APAs, Ambers, Saisons, etc. are the beers I enjoy the most.

The first Stout style I ever brewed was a Sweet Stout... this was back when I was still brewing with extract and steeping specialty grains. I had just purchased Jamil's "Brewing Classic Styles", and although I had never (to my knowledge) tried a Sweet Stout before, the description in his book really appealed to me. A lot of aspects of the style gel with what your immediate expectation of a Stout would be: flavors and aromas of coffee and chocolate, moderate bitterness in the finish; basically... roasty, with a middle-of-the-road ABV (4-6%). What sets it apart from other Stouts is the presence of a "medium to high sweetness", and a medium-full to full body with a "high residual sweetness".

What makes this style so sweet? It's not a super-high mash temp, or even an extremely high presence of specialty grains... it's usually due to the addition of lactose powder (hence the other known names of this style, "Milk Stout" or "Cream Stout"). Unlike a lot of the other sugars involved in brewing, lactose is completely unfermentable by the yeast we use in homebrewing. So, when you add it during the boil, it bumps up the OG, the sweetness, and the mouthfeel of the beer. Don't get me wrong, it's not an OVERLY sweet beer (lactose has something like 1/6 the sweetness of sucrose); when brewed well, a Sweet Stout can be a really nice beer. As a result of the unfermentable lactose, the FG of a Sweet Stout is generally quite high, ranging from 1.012 to 1.024.

I brewed Jamil's recipe (again, with extract), and was really happy with how it turned out. Since then, I've been able to find a few commercial Sweet Stouts on my travels (the stand-outs were Duck Rabbit Milk Stout and Mikkeller Milk Stout), and I don't think my homebrewed beer was a nice representation. Since it has been over four years since I brewed that beer, I decided to give it another go.

Jamil's recipe has quite a large amount of dark grains... close to 20% of the grist is Black Patent, Crystal 80 L, and Pale Chocolate. At first glance, it may seem like too much, but I can assure you, with the lactose powder addition (pretty high as well: 1 lb), it all evens out in the end. Yes, the beer is roasty and chocolatey, but is nicely balanced by the sweetness. Keep in mind that Pale Chocolate malt is a much milder form compared to your typical Chocolate malt - it's normally about half the SRM, and really adds more chocolate notes to your beer, as opposed to the roasted flavors and aromas of regular Chocolate malt. If you don't have access to Pale Chocolate malt, you can add Chocolate, but go with about half the amount. The mash temp of all this grain isn't too high... aim for about 151 F.

Depending on your water, you may want to add some bicarbonate to make sure your mash pH isn't too low... I encourage you to check out the EZ Water Calculator and enter your water specs, if you know them. My water works fairly well for this style of beer; I added a bit of calcium chloride and gypsum, not to lower the mash pH, but to bump up the calcium levels to an appropriate range.

Normally in my posts, the hop paragraph is the biggest one, but this couldn't be much simpler. Grab an English variety of some sort (Goldings is a popular one), and add enough at 60 minutes to give you about 30 IBUs. I went with WGV, another English variety, since I didn't have Goldings on hand. It doesn't matter, you really don't want any hop character in this beer at all... just keep it to bittering and nothing more.

Jamil's recipe calls for this beer to be fermented with Wyeast 1099 Whitbread Ale. When I first brewed it, I planned ahead and put in a special order from my LHBS. Unfortunately, I didn't have the 3-4 weeks it can take to receive a special-order yeast this time around, so I looked into it a bit more and saw that the 1084 Irish Ale is also recommended for brewing Sweet Stouts (aside: talk about versatile... Wyeast says that 1084 can be used in 16 different beer styles!). The strains definitely have similar characteristics; I think the key is to keep the fermentation temp down in the low 60s if possible, as Wyeast says that higher than 64 F can increase the production of fruity esters. Now that outside temps are finally getting warmer, this may be a bit tricky (especially with temps still getting cool at night), but I'll do my best. My fermentation chamber has been converted into a 4-tap keezer, so for the moment, no more fermentation temperature control for me!

I haven't made a final decision on how to package this beer, yet. While it would be nice to have a Stout like this on tap, I think I'll likely end up bottling it. I seem to recall that the first Sweet Stout I brewed held up quite well with time. Not to mention that I've only got so many kegs, and so many taps! I'm probably going to stick with keeping the hoppy beers in kegs, and the darker, stronger beers in bottles.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.060, FG ~1.019, IBU 29, SRM 38, ABV ~5.4%

4 kg (81.6%) Maris Otter
400 g (8.2%) Black Patent
300 g (6.1%) Crystal 80 L
200 g (4.1%) Pale Chocolate malt

WGV - 35 g (6.7% AA) @ 60 min

454 g Lactose powder @ 15 min 
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale (PD April 11th, with a 1.8 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum and 6 g calcium chloride added to the mash

- Brewed on May 20th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water, mashed in at 152 F, slightly above target temp of 151 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water. Vorlaufed and drained into kettle. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG a bit high at 1.043 (target 1.044... keep in mind this is before the lactose addition). 60-minute boil. Final volume  of slightly under 6 gallons... too high. Propane started to get lower during the last half hour, so the boil wasn't as vigorous as normal. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG on target at 1.060. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched decanted yeast starter. Placed BB in room with ambient temp at 64 F.

- 21/5/14 - In the AM, already bubbling in the airlock pretty rapidly, about every second, temp about 67 F. Ditto in the evening.

- 22/5/14 - In the PM, airlock activity to every 5 seconds, temp holding at 67 F.

- Tasting notes here... really happy how this came out, lots of roasted character and mild sweetness from the lactose; great beer.

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