Remembrance of Things Past

BYOB by | Jul 2011 | Issue #54

Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

It’s no secret that I grab inspiration from wherever I can. Oftentimes, inspiration comes from my favorite writers, shows, pieces and pop culture. I’ve had great successes (my Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo Hemp Poppy Spirit Wine) and some failures (my Carlin’s 7). Infusing the brews with a story and meaning is great fun and adds texture to the homebrewing process, but sometimes, the memoriam hits a little too close to home.

If you’re a sensitive sort or the type not amused with pets, stop reading now. In the summer of 1996, I moved from the halls of a hallowed Boston institution to the smog of LA. By fall, I’d established myself and wanted a fuzzy companion. It just so happened that my boss had a bevy of newborn kittens. I picked up the brother and sister, Mark and Rita. (Say it fast.)

Mark eventually grew into a giant, 26-pound silver-blue sweetheart. Sadly, all good things must come to an end and just days prior to this column, my favoritest buddy passed away—from complications of old age, sweetness and being big boned. For me, that means it’s time to brew a beer. In this case, the tipple needs to be something big, fat dark and sweet. So I’m looking at an export-strength Sweet Stout.

Since it’s important to get this memorial right, I’ll start with something that has a good track record. Say, my Bloody Head Stout recipe from a few years back, crossed with a much-tinkered “Belgian Guinness” clone. Side note: If you’ve never had the Belgian Guinness, you should get your hands on it before Guinness somehow neuters it.

The beer starts with a simple base of reliable toasty Maris Otter malt. My preferred maltster is Crisp. A little C60 adds a delicate sweetness to the body. With the flaked adjuncts we get that big, never-fails richness without sugary stickiness. The final kicker is in the trio of roasted grains—a little roasted barley, because hey, it’s a Stout and it feels right, some pale chocolate for those wonderful coffee and chocolate tones, with a kicker of Carafa to goose the color into blackest night.

The boil sees a single addition of Target to balance the sweetness, but not aggressively. Target is my favorite British bittering hop, with just enough character to be interesting. In this beer with only a single hop charge, I want a small amount of something. My favorite bittering hop, Magnum, is far too neutral for this job, for my taste at least.

The other late-boil addition is a weird sugar: lactose. This disaccharide (a combination of galactose and glucose) is a strange beast. The immense sweetness of glucose is undercut by the galactose and in a combination that yields a molecule that is perceived as the least sweet of the common sugars. The result is a bland, vague product usually used as filler and flavor base for dairy products, confectionaries and cocaine. In beer, lactose provides that same “sweetish” flavor without being cloying and provides extra heft (and final gravity) to the beer because yeast just can’t get together with it.

Finally, though the beer isn’t at the packaging stage as I write, I’m toying with the idea of adding cacao and vanilla to make at least one portion a Milk Chocolate Sweet Stout. The rule for cacao nibs is no more than two weeks in the secondary to avoid extract harsh tannic qualities.  The vanilla extract is homemade, from organic vanilla beans (Tahitian and bourbon) and vodka. All in all, I’d rather have my cat with me still, but I’ll have to settle for a pint of a Sweet Stout while I look out at his new apple tree. So long, buddy.

For 5.75 gallons, 1.077 OG, 32 IBU, 33.2 SRM, 8.4% ABV

Malt / Grain / Sugar
11.0 lb. Maris Otter
1.0 lb. Crystal 60L
0.75 lb. flaked barley
0.75 lb. flaked oats
0.75 lb. roasted barley
0.5 lb. pale chocolate
0.25 lb. Carafa II
1.0 lb. lactose sugar (added to the boil)

154°F Infusion Mash 60 minutes

0.75 oz Target (pellets) | 11.0% AA | 60 minutes

WLP022 Essex Ale Yeast

1.0 tbsp calcium chloride (added to the mash)
3.0 oz cacao beans (optional secondary addition)
0.5 tbsp vanilla extract (optional secondary addition)