Monday, May 9, 2016

Courage Russian Imperial Stout: Second Attempt

For the last nine Christmases running, while visiting my parents in Massachusetts, I've opened a bottle of Courage Russian Imperial Stout clone stored in the closet off their garage (or bring one back with me to share). My friend James and I brewed it in 2007, and considering we split four gallons, I'm amazed it has lasted this long! Sadly, with two bottles remaining I needed a replacement to maintain the holiday traditional that has now spanned more than a quarter of my life!

I coordinated with my friend Scott to brew and split a 10 gallon batch, but at the last minute he had a family emergency... the result is a whole lot of strong/dark beer for me! Thankfully I had a second set of hands provided by Chris, an NYU grad student who was visiting to work on a profile of me for a class and potential magazine article.

The base beer was only slightly tweaked from that original batch: more brown malt, dropped the white sugar, and a couple convenience adjustments to base malt and hops. With five times as much beer as last time, I also decided to split the batch: half bottled clean, half with Brett prior to bottling.

Not what Brett anomalus dregs should look like.I attempted to grow up the Wyeast Brettanomyces anomalus dregs in the last bottle of 100% Brett beer I brewed with the same pack that went into the original batch. Wyeast discontinued the strain soon after because it was miscategorized (likely B. bruxellensis). Sadly the nine-year-old dregs didn't grow anything suggestive of Brett, just some mold(?) after a couple weeks. The beer itself was nearly as disappointing, oxidation was the primary flavor.

Then I got a Tweet from Ron Pattinson letting me know he'd sent an old bottle of Courage RIS to White Labs to have them attempt to isolate the original Brett! I checked with Kara Taylor, White Labs' Analytical Lab Manager, but sadly all they got (oddly) was Saccharomyces. So, I opted for my final resort: White Labs Brett claussenii, which I enjoyed it in a similar role for my Funky Old Ale... nearly ten years ago!

I'll be following the same process I used for that first batch of Courage: waiting until the beer reaches 1.020, then fining with gelatin, racking, and killing the Brett with potassium metabisulfite (campden tablets). The brewer's yeast stopped at a higher gravity than the first batch's 1.030, spot on the 1.040 Ron reported for Barclay Perkins 1924 IBS Ex in his recipe-dense The Homebrewer's Guide to Vintage Beers. More on why that's relevant, and the history and rebirth of this beer on his blog.

Rather than chemically-Pasteurize the whole batch, I may even leave a gallon with live Brett to see how far it will dry it out. I'll be interested to taste the different between the two (or three) versions as they age for decades to come!

Kegs are great for aging... but don't make for great photos.Courage Russian Imperial Stout #2

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 11.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 45.25
Anticipated OG: 1.106
Anticipated SRM: 58.3
Anticipated IBU: 54.6
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

66.3% - 30.00 lbs. Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter
13.3% - 6.00 lbs. Crisp Amber Malt
6.1% - 2.75 lbs. Crisp Brown Malt
5.5% - 2.50 lbs. Simpsons Black Malt
4.4% - 2.00 lbs. Candi Syrup, Inc D-90
4.4% - 2.00 lbs. Candi Syrup, Inc D-180

4.00 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 10.50% AA) @ 75 min.

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.

WYeast 1028 London Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 40 min @ 158F

2/13/16 Made a 4.5L stir-plate starter with one three-month old pack of WY1028. Crash chilled after three days.

2/20/16 Brewed with Chris. Started with 16 gallons of filtered DC tap water. Mash pH 5.38. Added 4 grams of baking soda. Sparged with 3 gallons filtered DC tap.

Collected 14 gallons of 1.096 runnings, including candi syrup (D-90 and D-180) added to the kettle during run-off.

Chilled to 65F. 60 seconds each of pure O2, followed by pitching the decanted room temperature starter. Left at 58F ambient to begin fermentation.

2/25/16 Raised ambient temperature to 65F, fermentation visibly slowed.

3/23/16 Bottled 5.5 gallons with rehydrated Pasteur Blanc and 95 g of table sugar. FG 1.040 (8.8% ABV, 62% AA). Racked the other half to a keg, waiting on Brett.

5/16/16 Pitched a tube of WLP645 White Labs Brett C and 4 Xoaker Medium Pus Toast French Oak balls (.75 oz) into the keg. Left at 65F to work for a few months.

8/9/16 Bretted version building pressure regularly, down to 1.031.

9/15/16 Down to 1.029

10/22/16 Down to 1.023, Brett and oak really coming out!

11/12/16 Racked to tertiary with 5 campden tablets after 48 hours of crash chilling.

1/9/17 Tasting notes for the clean half.

2/20/17 Bottled the half with Brett, 1 more campden tablet, 2.5 oz of table sugar, and a few grams of rehydrated Pasteur Blanc.

1/11/18 Tasting note for the Brett half.

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Deviant said...

Wow, 1.040 is really high... I just brewed 40Ltrs of the Barclay Perkins blog recipe. Less than two weeks and it's sitting @ 1.022, seems to be still going.. expecting it to hit 1.018 or there abouts in the next day or so.
That was wlp007 Dry English ale yeast with a massive starter (2 vials into 5 liters)..
I'm tossing up bottling half and bretting the other half as you have done. Looking forward to reading your updates :)

Deviant said...

this recipe..

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Interesting! The hotter mash, higher OG, and lower attenuating strain likely explain the higher FG on mine (although you'd think 10% candi sugar would have helped more). Doesn't taste excessively sweet with all of that roast, and no crystal malt.

kurineru said...

Mike--thanks for the reminder. I just went and checked my stockpile and, with a pair of bottles for my wife and I at Christmas, I only have a couple of years of Courage 1914 left (from Ron & Kristen's recipe). I have a couple of other things in my summer brewing pipeline, so maybe I'll schedule this for a nice day in early fall.

curtiss said...

I assume you're using oxygen barrier caps in order to help the bottles keep for so long? Any other recommendations for long long long-term aging?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Always good to start another batch before the previous one runs out.

I've never seen a study on the effectiveness of oxygen barrier (or absorbing) caps compared to the standard ones, but I tend to buy them anyway. Otherwise it is about temperature and limiting dissolved oxygen at packaging. The colder you store a clean beer, the slower it will age (I tried the terrific Owen's Russian Imperial Stout at Selin's Grove that had been aging in the walk-in for ten years at the time). However, with live Brett you might have better results at cellar temperature where the Brett will be active and scavenging oxygen. Metabisulfite is also a powerful antioxidant (part of the reason red wines age so well), might be one reason that first batch has aged so gracefully!

Unknown said...

Hello! Quick question here... How much Brett are you planning to add to the kegged batch? I'm trying to recreate your recipe in BeerSmith to scale it for my equipment. Thanks!

EDIT: I'm also noticing that my calculated ABV is much higher... 11.5%? Do you think that's just do to the differences in our efficiency numbers or were you really surprised by your 8.8% measurement?


Gary said...

Why Columbus hops? I thought for a beer that you wanted to age, it's better to have a higher beta acid hop and a low alpha/beta ratio.

Ron Pattinson said...

I was disappointed when they didn't find any Brettanomyces. But I just needed to be patient - eventually they did manage to culture some. I assume it;s some type of clausenii.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I pitched a "whole" tube of White Labs 645 tonight. It actually appeared to have a lot more slurry than than usually do! Likely BeerSmith is predicting higher attenuation than I witnessed, assuming your original gravity is the same.

The Columbus hops were just for IBUs, I don't think the character of the bittering hops in a beer like this are all that important. Beta acids come into play when the hops are aged prior to adding to the beer, never heard that they were valuable for beers that are aged. Got a source?

Interesting, they mentioned they thought they had a Sacch. If you ever get a sample, I'd love to hear how it does!

Gary said...

There was a nice chapter in Vintage Beers about Alpha/Beta acid ratio. I'm not sure what his sources are, but it makes sense to me. Excerpt here and I'd recommend a purchase to anyone that finds it interesting.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Honestly that doesn't line up with the brewing science I'm aware of. Beta acids are insoluble in wort and do not isomerize into more soluble forms like alpha acids (and thus do not contribute bitterness). They only become important when they oxidize into hulupulones, become soluble and bitter in the process. That is to say they are important when talking about aged hops, but not when talking about aged beer.

On top of that, I can't find any literature connecting alpha or beta acids to trans-2-nonenal. Beer Sensory Science has a post A Review of: “The chemistry of beer aging – a critical review,” which mentions that degradation of iso-alpha-acids can produce precursors for some "staling esters," but not trans-2-nonenol. Didn't have the effort to read through the original paper, but couldn't find anything other than "The exact degradation mechanism for hop acids and the chemical structures of the volatiles formed, have not been completely elucidated."

All of that is to say I don't look at the alpha-to-beta acid ratio when formulating a beer for aging.

hrXXLight said...

He I am planning to brew a similar beer like yours. Is it neccessary to kill the brett with the campden tablets ?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

You can make a fine beer without killing the Brett, but make sure you give it long enough for the gravity to stabilize. However, your beer will likely be pretty dry, which isn't my preference for a big dark beer. I'm getting ready to sulfite the second iteration of this recipe, which has gone from 1.040 to 1.022 with White Labs Brett C over the last 8 months and shows no sign of stopping.

Unknown said...

Hi Mike. I saw that on the previous batch you have killed the brett and then added us-05 for priming, do you think that using a beer gun for bottling will give a beer that is good for aging? Or aging is also a matter of having a living yeast in the beer?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Bottle conditioning lowers the dissolved oxygen in the bottle as the yeast scavenges, which increases the stability of the beer. That said, metabisulfite does the same thing. You could certainly try bottling this recipe without priming and see how it goes, but I haven't aged any bottles filled with my BeerGun or Counter-Pressure filler. You could even try using them to fill the bottles with primed beer as a way to purge the bottles with CO2 and further reduce oxygen exposure.

Lior said...

Hmm I've ordered a BeerGun especially for this beer because from the recipe in the book I have figured I need it to bottle.. But never mind I will find a use to it :) I think I will try what you suggested and use it to fill the primed and yeast-ed beer and use the CO2 to purge the bottles.

Dustin Striplin said...

I'm curious if you have tasting notes for the brett half? This is an interesting one. I've been making a quite a few of your recipes, although I haven't tasted one yet because they aren't old enough. Cheers!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Next post is the tasting, finally. Good, but not great so far. The original 10-year-old batch is still better!

Highvolt said...

The tasting notes date for the brett one is wrong ;) it should be 1/11/18
Keep up the good work. If you ever come to Portugal give me a shout.

Unknown said...

Just curious..under your brewing notes you record your mash at Ph 5.38, but then you add 4 grams of baking soda.
Why we’re you looking for a much higher mash Ph?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I like a higher pH for stouts, when they finish too low and they become acrid. I was especially concerned given the lower FG and resulting lack of sweetness.

Radiohead78 said...

I'm curious as to why you didn't fine with gelatin this time around.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Trying to keep it vegan, and see if it was necessary. Seems pretty stable.

Radiohead78 said...

Have you tasted the version with brett recently? Is the gravity still stable?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Just did a tasting last weekend, hopefully a post going up soon! The first one was completely stable. The second seems stable as well, although it has always been more carbonated and funkier.

Fort Awesome Brewery said...

This beer looks amazing! This has inspired me to spike my normal Christmas beer, a port-wine aged Fig Porter, with Brett. A couple questions regarding grain bill and arresting fermentation.

In your book, you mention not having too much roasted malt in your grain bill for sour/funky beers, does that hold true for this kind of beer? My Fig Porter has 4% of the grain bill with a combo of 'Black Malt' and 'Chocolate Malt', would this lead to acrid/harsh flavors in the final beer?

For arresting fermentation, I'm looking to go directly from secondary with Brett to bottling. By adding campden tablets to arrest Brett fermentation prior to bottling also prevent the bottling yeast to referment in the bottle? How could one ensure arresting Brett fermentation while ensuring the beer will carbonate in the bottle in a short time period. Thanks for all your recipes and input!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The comment in the book is really about letting a beer finish too dry or two sour, if you halt fermentation that shouldn't be an issue. I'd pay extra attention to making sure your mash pH is on the high-end to help as well.

Metabisulfite is also toxic to yeast, although wine yeast is more tolerant. It would be difficult to get the dose right to kill Brett, but not the bottling yeast. It is much safer to use the suggested dose into brite beer in a fermentor, which also allows the free sulfur dioxide to off-gas, before re-yeasting and bottling. Another option would be to make a smaller Brett batch in advance, stabilize it with Capden, and then blend in at bottling to taste.

Best of luck!

Jason L said...

I was intrigued by this and brewed the original version of this in January of this year. It finished primary at 1.031 and after a month in primary I racked to secondary, adding oak and Omega Brett C. Three months later, gravity had not budged a single point. I thought maybe because the Brett I had was old, so got a fresh one manufactured not even a month ago and added that. Almost 2 months later and still no drop in SG. Even with brett, I expected to see something by now...

Not sure what to do now. Any ideas??

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

How does it taste?

Brett is weird... I've gotten significant flavor development without much of a gravity drop as the wild yeast works on "other" flavor compounds. We also had no flavor when we pitched a starter of Wyeast Brett A into two barrels of this recipe at Sapwood. Ended up kegging after a year with no gravity or major flavor change.

Jason L said...

Tastes the same as far as I can tell... Not picking up any funk or brett flavors.

I know what you mean about gravity and flavor, as I have put brett in very dry saisons and still see significant flavor development with hardly any gravity change, but there should be plenty for brett to work on in this beer and with two full pitches should be plenty of cells.

Omega lists alcohol tolerance at 10% (it is currently 9.5), but other manufacturers have it at 12%. Its been sitting in a closet with ambient temp in the upper 60s. I was toying with the idea of adding a little heat (>70) to see if that wakes up the brett... Omega lists the temp range as 70-85, but then Wyeast says 60-75 (seems low) and White labs just says 85.

Anonymous said...

Jason, did you end up adding any heat?