Brewing an Imperial Stout

As you might expect, I have other passions beyond hiking and I occasionally like to inject some variety into these pages.  One of those passions is home brewing.  I got into it about a year ago and have completed 15 bears (2 more in process).  You can see everything I’ve done on Untappd – Hendrick Brewery.  This past weekend, my buddy Gary and I started an Imperial stout based on the Dragon’s Silk beer kit from Northern Brewer.  This kit is a clone of Dragon’s Milk, a bourbon barrel-aged stout from New Holland Brewery.  There’s a lot that goes into it but the kit isn’t overly complicated.  Home brewing can be intimidating but it isn’t all that hard to be honest.  I can’t cook anything beyond box mac and cheese but I’ve yet to brew a bad beer!

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The brew kettle shown above is where the wort (unfermented beer) is born.  For this recipe, we started with some specialty grain (a blend that came with the kit) as a way to add color and some flavor.  Then, through out the hour long boil, we added hops and malt at various intervals.  There’s a ton of malt in this one (makes it Imperial) – 12 pounds of liquid malt extract and 2 pounds of dry malt extract.  You can see all the details in the Norther Brewer recipe.

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Nothing goes to waste – the chickens and ducks love the spent grains!

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Once the boil is complete, you need to cool the wort as quickly as you can.  During the boil, bugs die in the wort.  On the way to the fermenter, it is susceptible to bugs.  At this stage, I’m not worried about it spoiling / making me sick but rather wild yeast or other things that can introduce off flavors into the beer.  I cool mine in the sink as I don’t have a wort chiller.  Side note, home brewing is an endless search for more brewing gear – you’ve been warned.

Once it is cooled to below 100 F, you rack (move from container to container) into the primary fermenter.  The glass vessel pictured above is known as a carboy.  The come in different sizes and materials.  This one is a 6 gallon glass carboy.  I prefer glass to plastic because, while heavier and generally tougher to work with, I feel like you can get them cleaner.  Sanitation is the single most important this in home brew in my opinion.  Else you end up with funny tasting beer.

Once the wort is in the fermenter, it is topped off to 5 gallons, yeast is added, and it is stored in a cool, dark place for fermentation.  In this case, my basement utility room.  On the left is a grapefruit IPA that is in the later stages of fermentation.  The stout is on the right.  You’ll notice that the IPA has an airlock in the carboy opening.  This is a one way valve that lets gas escape (carbon dioxide is produced during fermentation) but doesn’t let anything back in.  For the stout, I used a blow off tube as I expect a vigorous fermentation.  The tube is a wider channel and thus allows for a greater volume of escaping gas.  The bucket contains liquid sanitizer and the end of the tube is submerged, preventing air flowing into the carboy.  The wort will become beer over the next 8-10 weeks.  There are a few more steps (adding bourbon soaked oak cubes!) but it is largely a waiting game at this point.

Many thanks to Gary for his help!

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