Monday, March 1, 2021

Brew Day: Field of Immortals 2021 (Imperial Stout)

After brewing imperial stouts in November of 2018 and 2019, my intention was to brew another vintage in November of 2020. For whatever reason I never got around to it. Then, at the end of January I brewed a batch of Rundown Irish Red as part of another project I'll be talking more about shortly. Low in alcohol and hops, the Irish Red was a perfect starter beer to build up plenty of yeast for an imperial stout.

That was the thought anyway. Fermentation on the Irish Red stalled, so I pitched a packet of US-05 dry yeast to help the beer finish fermenting out. The yeast I harvested from the Irish Red was some combination of Hugh Hill, my house Irish culture and US-05. For a one-off or vintage beer, I am not concerned about slight variations from batch-to-batch.

The night before brew day, I used a carbonation cap and a soda bottle to help dissolve the water additions. Chalk in particular isn't the most soluble, and carbonic acid helps it dissolve in water. This is something I have wanted to try for awhile, but I never seemed to have a soda bottle lying around. We typically don't have soda in the house. This was pretty easy to do and worked well. 

This worked really well to get water salts to dissolve

What I did take away from this brew day was the desire to cut down on variations in process from batch-to-batch. Over the past couple of years I have experimented with batch sparging, fly sparging, no sparging, mashing in the Mash & Boil grain pipe, mashing in a cooler, boiling inside on the Mash & Boil, boiling outside on propane, checking pH on every batch, assuming pH calculations are good enough because I'm too lazy to calibrate a pH meter, acidifying sparge water, forgetting to acidify sparge water. On top of that I keep having issues with my mill jamming, adjusting the gap, and getting poor crushes through the mill. 

The result has been that my yields have been all over the place. I brewed a barleywine that the yield was so poor I added two pounds of dry malt extract to compensate. Last summer my batch of Summer Somewhere came out close to 6% because my yield was really high. With this batch I think I have settled on a process that I can repeat.

I purchased two wire shelves for my Mash & Boil and cooler mash tun. The shelving also gives me storage space for my other kettles where they can drip dry after cleaning. From there I have a pump I can use when fly sparging. With this batch I focused on the flow of sparge water into the mash tun. I made sure there wasn't too much water on top of the grain bed, and that level was steady. The key was for the wort to drain at the same rate the sparge water was being sprinkled.

As full as my 8gal cooler can get

While milling, my mill was jamming and my crush was initially poor, I tightened the gap, and milled the grain again. The second pass made a huge difference. The endosperm of the grains were fully crushed, while the grain husks were still intact. If anything the crush may have been too fine, but the vourlauf and runoff on this batch was as easy as any batch I can remember.

Easiest vaurlauf ever

For the recipe I made a couple of changes from my last imperial stout. At the moment I was completely out of Maris Otter Pale Malt. Instead I used a malt we initially developed for distilling at Muntons called Northern Spring. In my experience Northern Spring is the highest yielding and best attenuating malt that we have. This was the malt I used in my 6% Summer Ale that was supposed to be 4.9%.

After sparging, I ran off 10.5 gallons of wort. I wish I timed exactly how long I sparged for; it might have been an hour. When I took a refractometer reading, I was floored:

This is before I boiled off half of my wort

Pre-boil gravity was supposed to be 1.058, and I ended up at 1.068, I managed to overshoot my gravity by ten points! This beer is going to make my 2019 batch of imperial stout look like a dark mild. One option would have been to boil off less and make a bigger batch. If I had a large enough fermenter I may very well have done that. Instead I stuck with the 120 minute boil outside on my propane burner. 

Half of the liquid was sacrificed in the name of high gravity brewing

One other change I made to make this vintage unique was to use my homegrown Willamette and Brewers Gold hops as the flavor and aroma hop additions. Those should give the beer a bit more of a unique touch. 

After 120 minutes of boiling, here is my Starting Gravity:

Literally off the charts

Converting from Brix to gravity, the SG is 1.135. I aerated the wort as much as possible while transferring to a carboy. Then I aerated further with an aquarium pump until the carboy foamed over. From there I dumped the entire yeast cake from the Irish Red. I don't think it is possible to over-pitch an 1.135 wort.

I hit the wort with the aquarium pump again around 12 hours later. Fermentation was fairly active for about a week. The inside of the carboy was covered in caked-on krausen it was hard to tell what was going on. On day 13 after brew day, the gravity was down to 1.064. That's a high starting gravity for most of my batches. The beer had only had 50% attenuation, but was 9.8% ABV already. 

The next day, I racked the beer to a secondary and pitched a vial of WLP099 Super High Gravity yeast that I used in Thomas Brady Ale (2017). Alcohol tolerant over 15%, this stuff will get the beer over the finish line. As I racked the beer, I could see there was still a fairly thick krausen on top. Maybe the original yeast needed a little more time, but at that point I was already committed to racking the beer. 

As I siphoned, I didn't worry too much about racking yeast from the primary to the secondary. Any yeast in suspension should help the beer ferment out in theory. I checked the beer a few hours later, and there was already a krausen ring forming despite the temperature being a little below White Labs specification. 

See you in three months buddy.

This is going to be the booziest beer I have ever brewed. At minimum this is going to be a 14% ABV beer. If the WLP099 attenuates here like it did in the Thomas Brady Ale, we are looking at a 17% beer. I'll believe I made a 17% all-malt beer when I see it, but either way this beer is going to be a sipper. 

I never liked the name of my imperial stouts. The first batch, Employee Orientation was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact I brewed the beer as part of a colleague's training. 4PM Darkness was a reference to finishing the beer in the dark in November when it was dark at 4PM. That was the best I could come up with and always felt kind of meh. The name needed to be more epic.

As a baseball fan the last half of 2020, and first weeks of 2021 was very difficult as too many Hall of Fame inductees and legends of the sport have passed away in too short of a period of time. As these greats have left us, I would always see on social media a photo-shopped image of the recently deceased entering a cornfield, just as the deceased legends in the film Field of Dreams had done. This is a beer to honor them. 

Recipe: Field of Immortals (2021) 
Style: Imperial Stout
TYPE: All Grain

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 10.13 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.63 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal   
Bottling Volume: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.110 SG
Estimated Color: 77.3 SRM
Estimated IBU: 81.9 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 72.0 %
Boil Time: 180 Minutes


13 lbs 8.0 oz    Northern Spring (Muntons) (1.7 SRM) 58.7 %           
3 lbs 4.0 oz     Munich Malt (Muntons) (8.1 SRM) 14.1 %             
2 lbs 4.0 oz     Wheat Malt (Muntons) (2.5 SRM)  9.8 %              
1 lbs            Chocolate Malt (Muntons) (520.3 SRM)  4.3 %              
1 lbs            Crystal 150 (60L) (Muntons) (76.1 SRM) 4.3 %           
1 lbs            Roasted Barley (Muntons) (634.5 SRM) 4.3 %             
8.0 oz           Black Malt (Muntons) (634.5 SRM) 2.2 %           
8.0 oz           Crystal 400 (150L) (Muntons) (203.0 SRM) 2.2 %            
1.00 oz          Nugget [13.50 %] - Boil 60.0 min  43.7 IBUs                
1.00 oz          Sterling [9.00 %] - Boil 30.0 min  22.4 IBUs                 
0.25 tsp         Irish Moss (Boil 15.0 mins)    
1.00 oz          Homegrown Brewer's Gold [7.50 %*] - Boil 15.0 min 10.9 IBUs*  
1.50 oz          Homegrown Willamette [5.50 %*] - Boil 5.0 min  4.8 IBUs* 
*Estimated AA% & IBU contribution from homegrown hops

Slurry            Hugh Hill (House culture) - Primary   
Slurry            Safale American  (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) - Primary
1.0 pkg          Super High Gravity Ale (White Labs #WLP099) - Secondary           

Name              Description                                     Step Temp.  Step Time     
Mash In           Add 27.25 qt of water at 167.7 F        152.0 F       90 min        

Sparge: Fly sparge with until 10.5 gal of wort collected

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