Archives for May 2014

Russian Imperial Stout (I: Intro)

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 11.48.29 AM

A water chemistry spreadsheet, calculating the RA required for a dark beer. Water calculators based on this equation can overestimate the amount of bicarbonate ions required in the darkest beers.

Russian imperial stouts are big beers with lots of roast flavor. They are frequently heavily hopped as well. (The BJCP give the OG range as 1.075–1.115, with 50–90 IBU of bitterness.) There’s a lot of variation among commercial examples. The level of roast, the amount and character of the hops, sweetness, the level of carbonation, and the level of yeast-derived esters all vary.

In addition, the character of this beer can change with age. With its high alcohol content and dark malts, it is particularly well-suited to cellaring. In the best examples, aging adds Sherry-like notes to the beer. Of course, some of the hoppier examples are best consumed when they are fresh, before their hop character begins to deteriorate. For beers that are aged, barrel aging and especially bourbon barrel aging are popular options.

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Russian Imperial Stout Recipe (Countertop Partial Mash)


The Russian T-34 tank, one of the best all-around tanks of WWII. I think they are very fun to drive (when playing Medal of Honor on my Playstation).
(Photo from Wikipedia’s T-34 page, used under Creative Commons license.)

This is a partial mash recipe for a Russian imperial stout. The recipe will work with any partial mash method, but the procedures specifically refer to countertop partial mashing.

There are several challenges to brewing a beer this big and hoppy. One of them is that there will be a lot of break material and hop debris at the bottom of the kettle. I employ a settling stage of about two hours to let the kettle debris settle and compact a bit. (If you have a way to filter the wort, this will also work.)

The classic rookie mistake when making a big beer is to pitch an inadequate amount of yeast. For this recipe, I recommend pitching two packets of dried yeast so the fermentation will start quickly and proceed without sticking. Aerating the wort thoroughly and holding the fermentation temperature steady around 68 °F (20 °C) are the other most important factors in brewing this beer.

My procedures call for collecting the wort from the mash and holding this at 150 °F (66 °C). A little less than half of the malt extract will be in the brewpot at this point. The point of this is to let the enzymes from the mash work on the carbohydrates from the malt extract. If you follow this instruction, and pitch the amount of yeast I recommend, you should get between 75 and 80% apparent attenuation. Given the OG, this will still be a full-bodied beer. However, it will not be sweet and will instead be surprisingly quaffable for a beer of it’s size.

This beer requires some aging to come into the proper condition. However, if you pitch enough yeast and run your fermentation well, you don’t need to wait forever for it to get good. Try sampling the first beers roughly two months after your brew day. You can age of your batch for extended amount of times if you’d like. However, don’t forget to drink some of it while it’s fresh and full of hop flavor and aroma. This will decline with aging.

To brew this beer, you will need a 2-gallon (~8-L) beverage cooler with the spigot on the bottom and a steeping bag large enough to line it. You will also need a second steeping bag capable of holding 3.5 lbs. (1.6 kg) of crushed grains. Follow the instructions as closely as possible, and review the general instructions for countertop partial mashing before your brew day.


T-34 Stout

Russian Imperial Stout

Partial mash; 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.

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Beer News (May 4–11)

BWJlogoAlright, let’s start with a couple “listicles” (articles that are really just a list). The website Hiconsumption gave what it felt were the 15 best canned beers. Yahoo Travel listed 5 cities in which to find a perfect pint. And finally, Buzzfeed presented a list of breweries “that you should know about.

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Enzymes for Brewers (VI: Enzyme Activity in the Mash)

This is the final installment of the Enzymes for Brewers series. 


A ribbon model of beta amylase from barley.

Barley seed can sprout at temperatures as low as 34 °F (1.1 °C). The seedlings can survive overwinter at temperatures below freezing, although the plant does not grow at these temperatures. So, the enzymes in barley are active as low as 34 °F (1.1 °C). The amylase enzymes we use in brewing slowly turn the starch in this seed into sugar, which is used as fuel for germination and early growth. Eventually, the first leaf unfurls, and photosynthesis begins supplying the plant with sugar as the starch stores in the seed are depleted.

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Enzymes for Brewers (V: Kinetics II, Temperature)


A graph of the Arrhenius equation (not to be confused with an Arrhenius plot).

This is another installment in the Enzymes for Brewers series. 

The rate of an enzymatic reaction increases with temperature. This is because the molecules in solution are traveling at a higher speed, lowering the average time it takes for them to collide. Back in 1889, the Dutch chemist Svante Arrhenius derived a simple equation that showed the effect of temperature on the rate of any chemical reaction. Basically, his equation predicts that the rate of any chemical reaction will increase exponentially with temperature. Experiments have shown that his equation is remarkably accurate for a wide range of chemical reactions.

In chemistry, a rough rule of thumb is that, for every 10 °C increase in temperature, the rate of a reaction doubles. This is only an approximation, and the exact rate of increase depends on a rate constant specific to each reaction. (A rate constant is just a number that describes how fast the reaction proceeds. It has to be measured for each specific reaction.) However, for a surprisingly wide number of “simple” chemical reactions, this rule of thumb is “close enough” for most practical purposes. If the reaction is actually a net reaction of a series of chemical reactions, or a cascading reaction, this approximation can be way off.

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Enzymes for Brewers (IV: Kinetics I — Substrate Concentration)


This is the fourth installment in the Enzymes for Brewers series. 


Biochemists envision enzyme-catalyzed reactions as occurring in two steps. First there’s the formation of the enzyme-substrate complex. Then there is the subsequent formation of the product.

In most realistic situations — and certainly in brewing — the concentration of the enzyme is small compared to that of the substrate. As the concentration of substrate rises, so does the reaction rate, as the average distance between enzyme and substrate is reduced. Put more simply, in a brewing-relevant example, the more starch there is in the mash, the more likely an amylase enzyme floating in the liquid is to bump into a strand of it. At some point, however, enzyme activity does not increase as all the enzyme is tied up in enzyme-substrate complexes.

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Blending Beers


A gueuze is the only major beer style that must be produced by blending, but there are many other blends you could try.

Very few homebrewers produce blended beers. Unlike winemakers, we are used to formulating the recipe, brewing the batch, and drinking the beer as is. However, there are several opportunities for brewers to make a blend from two beers and have all three beers — the two original beers and the blended beer — fit within established style guidelines. And of course, if you’re willing to throw out the style guidelines, there’s no limit to the types of beers you can create. Here are some of the more conservative blends a homebrewer could try. He or she could brew two 5.0-gallon (19-L) batches and end up with 3.3 gallons (12.5 L) of three different beers.

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Enzymes for Brewers (III: Review and Control)

2xfr_b_amylaseThis is the third installment in my Enzymes for Brewers series. This article contains information for those interested in background material on enzymes, but none of it is specifically relevant to brewing. I will (finally) get into some general issues relevant to enzymes in brewing in my next two articles on enzyme kinetics. (These are already written, and I’ll post them Thursday and Friday.) In my final article in this series, I will review the relevant enzymes in brewing, what is known about them, and what this means to us as brewers. But first, given the complexity of the topic, let’s quickly review what was covered in previous articles.

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Partial Mash Rauchbier


Surtr (from Old Norse mythology) and his flaming sword. (Picture in the public domain.)

Partial mashing is a great method for making beer. The biggest benefit is that you can add the aroma of base malts to your beer. (See my article, “Why Partial Mash?” for all the benefits of partial mashing.)

One beer style that you can’t make with the usual malt-extract-and-steeping-grains method is rauchbier, or smoked beer. (The word “rauch” means smoke in German.) Although some smoked malt extract is made, it is usually hard to find. Smoked malt — also called rauchmalz — on the other hand, is not hard to find. Partial mashing is a great way for a stovetop extract brewer to brew a smoked beer, and get the wonderful flavor and aroma from smoked malt in his or her beer.

Rauchmalz is a base malt and so it must be mashed, not simpley steeped. In this recipe — that is adapted from my all-grain rauchbier recipe — the smoke flavor is fairly mellow.  In my all-grain recipe, I use nearly 100% rauchmalz, and it is intensely smoky — more smoky than most people like it.

You can also ferment this beer with ale yeast to make a smoked altbier (although no such beer exists commercially). And, to change the smoke character, you can also smoke your own malt with the hardwood of your choice.

The lager version requires a fairly large yeast starter. One option is make the starter in your fermenter. Once the starter is done fermenting, pour the starter beer out and rack the fresh wort onto the yeast.

As you might expect, this beer goes great with barbecue.


Surtur’s Sword

Rauchbier (or smoked alt)

by Chris Colby

Countertop partial mash; English units



A smoky lager that goes great with barbecue.

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Beer News (April 29–May 4)

BWJlogoSo, the Kentucky Derby was run this week. But for beer drinkers, perhaps the important most important race was this one — the setting of the new beer mile world record.

For years, craft brewing has shown strong growth. However, it’s not the fastest growing alcoholic beverage, this year, cider is. (And the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Minnesota is getting an influx of new cider brands.) And, some breweries are branching out into more expensive, “luxury” offerings.

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