Russian Imperial Stout (IX: Conditioning and Aging)

This is the ninth article in my series on Russian imperial stouts

RISphotoOnce primary fermentation has finished, it’s time to condition — and possibly age — the beer. For the purposes of this article, I’ll define conditioning as the process of aging the beer so it loses its green character and becomes drinkable. I’ll define aging as storing the beer beyond that point, in the hopes of developing characters that can only be acquired over time. Before I discuss conditioning and aging, however, I want to describe one important test that should be done whenever you make a big ale.

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Russian Imperial Stout (VIII: Fermentation: Aeration, Nutrients, and Temperature)


This is the eighth article in my series on Russian imperial stouts

If your wort has been chilled, and your yeast starter is ready, it’s time to get the fermentation started. The first thing you need to do is aerate the wort. Aeration helps build stronger yeast cell walls and allows the yeast to multiply faster. As with any big beer, the yeast have a tough job ahead of them. Be sure to give them all the help they need with regards to aeration. (See also my article, “Aeration Tips.”) 

Most of the time, you will want to give the wort one shot of oxygen prior to pitching, as with most beers. For the biggest examples of this style (in the 11–12% ABV range), however, you may want to give the wort a second shot of oxygen just prior to high kräusen.

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Russian Imperial Stout (VII: Fermentation: Yeast Strain and Pitching Rates)

RISphotoIn most cases, the thing that separates a good Russian imperial stout from a bad one is a well-run fermentation. In order to conduct a good fermentation, you need to select the right yeast strain, pitch an adequate amount of it, and create a healthy environment for the cells.

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A Second Beer From A Russian Imperial Stout

This is the seventh article in this series on Russian imperial stouts


RISphotoWhenever you brew a big beer, there are several options for wort collection. One of them is to only collect the first wort, or the first wort and a limited amount of sparged wort. That way, you have high-gravity wort that does not need to be boiled for an extended period to hit your target OG and volume. In order to utilize this method of wort production, however, you must add more grain to your mash tun to compensate for the loss in extract efficiency.

Many times, there are enough sugars left over in the grain bed that you can brew a second beer. Brewing a second beer from a Russian imperial stout grist poses two types of challenges – the usual challenges associated with brewing a second beer, and those challenges specific to brewing a second beer from a partially-spent Russian imperial stout grist.

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Russian Imperial Stout (VI: Boiling and Hops)

This is the sixth article in this series on Russian imperial stouts


A graphical method of estimating boil time. Plot wort volume vs. time as the boil progresses. Draw a straight line through your data points and extend it until it crosses the line that corresponds to your target wort volume. Work backwards to schedule your hop additions. (Click on picture to enlarge.)

Once you have produced your sweet wort, it’s time for the boil. Depending on the volume of wort you have collected, you may have a “regular-length” or extended boil ahead of you. There are a couple considerations that will apply when boiling any Russian imperial stout wort.

A Russian imperial stout is a big, hoppy beer. As such, there will be a lot of hop debris mixed in with the trub after the boil. You can lose a lot of high-gravity wort to this hop/trub mixture, so you will want to separate as much usable wort from it as possible.

If you have a hop jack, this is a great beer to use it with. Just move the aroma hops you would have added at knockout to the hop jack and use it to strain the hot wort on the way to your chiller. An in-kettle hop strainer or a funnel with a straining screen can also help filter the wort as it is being moved from the kettle to fermenter.

If you don’t have a hop jack, or other means of straining the wort, you could let the chilled wort settle after the boil for an extended amount of time — up to two hours. This will give the hop debris and trub some time to compact. After it has settled, you can draw the clear wort off the top. Additionally, you can save the remaining wort/trub/hop debris sludge in sanitized Mason jars in your fridge overnight. This will allow for additional settling time and allow you to recover a little extra usable wort.

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Russian Imperial Stout (V: Wort Production)


This is the fifth article in this series on Russian imperial stouts

Russian imperial stouts are big beers. The BJCP gives the range of original gravities (OGs) as 1.075–1.115. In practice, most commercial examples fall in the lower half of that range. When it comes to wort production, you have several options.

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Russian Imperial Stout (All-Grain Recipe)

Char_T-34This is a recipe for a Russian imperial stout, to go along with my series on Russian imperial stout. There is also an extract-based recipe for this beer.

This is an all-grain brew that will require a long brew day. The large grain bill will be fully sparged, to yield 12 gallons (45 L) of wort, and boiled down to 5 gallons (19 L). This will take over 4 hours. Given that this is a big beer with lots of hops, there is also a settling stage after the boil, in order to increase the yield of clear wort from the kettle. (You can skip this if you have a way to filter your wort, such as a hop jack.)

Optimally, you should have a 15-gallon (~60-L) kettle with a burner capable of evaporating 1.5 gallons (5.7 L) per hour. However, alternate instructions for brewers with a 10-gallon (~40 L) kettle are also given.

One twist in this recipe is that a portion of dark malt is withheld and only stirred into the upper part of the mash near the end. This will make lautering easier. It may also help the mash fall into the proper pH range more easily. If you don’t want to bother with this, you can simply mash all the grains together.

T-34 Stout

Russian Imperial Stout

All-grain; 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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Russian Imperial Stout (IV: Other Malts)

This is another article in the continuing series on Russian imperial stout.


Munich malt can add malt character to a Russian imperial stout.

With the wide variety of dark grains available to a homebrewer, he or she can manipulate the aroma, flavor, color, and astringency of his or her dark grain blend. In a 5.0-gallon (19-L) batch, the total amount of dark grains may vary between 2 to 5 lbs. (roughly 1–2.5 kg). Although the dark grains play a central role in the grist of a Russian imperial stout, it’s important that the other grains complement them. The dark grain component of a Russian imperial stout could be paired with almost any combination of base malt and specialty malts. There are some combinations that make more sense than others.

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Russian Imperial Stout (III: Dark Grains)


This is the third article in this series on Russian imperial stouts

Russian imperial stouts are big, dark beers. They are among the most intensely flavored beers brewed. When it comes to their grain bill, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) has this to say. “May have a complex grain bill using virtually any variety of malt.” Let’s see if we can narrow that down a bit, starting with the dark grains.


Dark Grains

Russian imperial stouts may be dark brown to black, and the color of their foam may vary from off-white to reddish brown. They frequently have intensely roasted aromas and plenty of roast flavor and bitterness. As such, the dark grains play a central role in the character of this beer. The most common dark grains found in a Russian imperial stout are black malt, roasted barley, and chocolate malt, but there are other choices worth exploring.

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Russian Imperial Stout (II: Strike Water)

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Water calculators are very helpful, but can give erroneous results in beers with lots of darkly-roasted malts.

Given the large amount of darkly-roasted grains in a Russian imperial stout, the pH is almost guaranteed to be lower than desirable when the strike water has a low level of bicarbonate ions (<50 ppm). (Strike water is the water used to mash your grist.) If you use any of the standard water chemistry calculators, the amount of carbonate ions they suggest for Russian imperial stouts is quite high. And in practice, you usually don’t need that much bicarbonate to approach proper mash pH. This is because darkly-roasted grains are not more acidic than dark crystal malts — the correlation between color and acidity breaks down when you jump to the darkly-roasted grains. Here is one way to deal with mash pH in a Russian imperial stout. There are certainly others, but I like this approach for a couple reasons (that will be clearer when we discuss lautering).

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