Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recipe and Tasting Notes: Belgian Imperial Stout (Updated)

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Imperial Stout
Brewed: 10.06.2011
ABV: 8.4%

Most of my first year of homebrewing was, in retrospect, defined by me just jumping in totally over my head with the recipes I designed. I've pointed this out before, and I certainly don't regret it, but it's kind of funny how many leaps I took with some of these. My first big imperial beer — I brewed this all the way back in October of last year — wasn't just an imperial stout, it was an imperial stout brewed with Belgian yeast, mollasses, and bourbon-soaked vanilla beans. In my defense: doesn't that sound more interesting to make than something you can find a dozen examples of in any beer store?

It certainly made for an interesting brew-day. Even as big as this beer was, I'm shocked how powerfully the fermentation took off. It sounded like some sort of gigantic sea monster belching and farting (check out that video evidence, and be sure to turn your volume all the way up to adequately capture how loud it was in person.) The morning after I brewed, fermentation was threatening to blow the lid right off the bucket. It could have gotten real ugly, but I turned down the temp in the fermentation chamber to the very minimum range of Belgian Ardennes in order to let it ride as slowly as possible. And it all worked out.

While it's not my best batch, this Belgian Vanilla Imperial Stout is definitely one of my most interesting. I expected that the dark, heavy malt base of an imperial stout would hide most of the spicy phenolic character you get from Belgian yeast, but the spiciness is still a part of this beer, alongside the alcohol heat (guess even the cooler fermentation temps didn't manage to keep that down) and, more surprisingly, the molasses. There's very little actual molasses in the recipe (it made up only 1.2% of the fermentable sugars), but it seems to me to provide a backbone for all the rich and dark, raisiny and sweet flavors. It's both interesting and not-my-favorite; obviously, I've had many imperial stouts that I like more, but this is certainly one of the most unique without straying into "too weird for its own good" territory. It's not quite a Belgian stout, it's more than just a phenolic imperial stout, and fortunately none of the flavors really clash. Like I said: interesting. I enjoy it.

While the yeast character managed to power through the dark malts, the bourbon and vanilla didn't fare so well. I get a little vanilla along with the general fruity sweetness, but you'd probably miss it if you didn't know it was there. The bourbon I have difficulty picking out at all. I only added maybe 4 ounces (to 3 gallons of the stout), so the stuff isn't as potent as you might think. 

Mouthfeel and body are decent for an imperial stout; fairly silky, smooth, maybe a bit thin though. Not as much depth as I'd like, and it becomes a touch too sweet as it warms up (a problem it shares with just about every other imperial stout.) The alcohol heat is noticeable, and considering this isn't much over 8%, it probably shouldn't be. Hopefully next time I can hide that.

Follow-Up - One Year Later: Well, it is now about 13 months since I brewed this, and with all the brewing I've done in the last year, it's hard not to look back at this one as indicative of my first era of brewing. In retrospect, it's better than many of the other partial-mash batches I brewed last fall, but noticeably inferior to the beers I've brewed more recently. Specifically, it's got some of that same "extract sweetness" flaw — every single malty beer I made with extract, even as a partial mash, ended up with a very specific, odd sweetness that really bothered me. The dark grains in this added more complexity and enough roast to somewhat hide the extract flavor, but, perhaps in combination with my decision to use a Belgian yeast strain, this developed a very strong raisin/licorice flavor that's not really what I want from my stouts. Aging it simply hasn't helped, because the things I didn't care for about this beer in the first place — the sweetness and those fruit/spice flavors — have become more pronounced as the bitterness fades.

So, in this case, I kind of wish I had drank more of the beer fresh. This was better back in the spring, from what I remember (I didn't drink any of it over the summer. Not really a summer beer). There's no alcohol heat at this point, and hardly any bitterness, so I'm not sure aging it further will do much to it. Still, just for fun, I'll probably save at least a bottle or two for its second anniversary.

5 Gal., Partial Mash
OG: 1.082
FG: 1.022

44.2 % dark LME
22.1 % light DME
18.4 % 2 row pale malt
3.7 % roasted barley
3.7 % chocolate malt
3.7 % black patent malt
2.9 % brown sugar
1.2 % molasses

Hop Schedule-
67 IBU
2 oz Summit @60 minutes
1 oz Summit @5 minutes

Wyeast Belgian Ardennes


  1. This sounds like a good one but i noticed your measurements are in %.What are the actual measurements(Lbs and ounces)

  2. I started posting in percentages because my batch sizes vary a lot, and these days I normally do 3.5 gallon batches, which is a fairly unusual size for homebrewers.

    Here's the grain bill in pounds:

    #6 dark LME
    #3 light DME
    #2.5 two row malt
    #0.5 roasted barley
    #0.5 chocolate malt
    #0.5 black patent malt
    6.4 oz brown sugar
    2.6 oz molasses


Related Posts-