It was another brewing weekend at the Palm HQ. This weekend I did my first all-grain Russian Imperial Stout. Technically speaking it was my second batch of this style, but the first one was an accident. Two years ago I spent the better part of a Saturday making two batches of beer slated for our annual Assumption Feast at our Latin Mass apostolate.
One was supposed to be a simple pale ale, the other a simple stout. Well, somehow I got mixed up on how much a cup of dry malt extract (DME) weighs, so I ended up adding exactly twice as much DME as the recipes called for. I didn't find out until both beers were in the fermenters and I took a hydrometer reading. So instead of pale ale and stout, I had "barleywine" and "imperial stout".....sort of.
I was concerned that there would not be enough hop bitterness to offset that amount of malt and that the end results would be too sweet. But in fact both batches turned out well. The stout was pretty good and I enjoyed it, although it was not nearly roasty enough. But the Faux Pas Barleywine, as I called it, was actually quite excellent and a big hit at the Assumption Feast of 2006 alongside a cherry wheat and a chocolate stout.
Anyway, this past Saturday I made my first intentional batch of Russian Imperial Stout, a viscous black brew originally created by the British for sale to the Russian Czars. This is an intense brew for a pretty intense people. I used the Old Rasputin Imperial Stout clone recipe from Beer Captured by Mark and Tess Szamatulski. Old Rasputin from North Coast Brewing is my very favorite commercial Russian Imperial Stout. This dude has won a lot of awards and they are well justified. It is powerful in every way--intensely black, roasty, bitter, thick, and complex. As you can see at the Beer Advocate site, this one gets very high marks from just about everybody who tries it.
It is rather on the pricey side, though. So what better than to try to homebrew this thing? I did an overnight mash, which means that about 9 pm on Friday night I dumped the pre-measured, pre-heated water into my ground grains, stirred it up, shut the lid, packed thick bats of insulation around it, and went to bed. What you're shooting for is to prevent the mash from losing so much heat that it goes below 140 deg F, which is where bacteria can start souring your mash. I mashed in at about 151 deg F and the temp was right at 140 deg F twelve hours later. This really helps the brewing on Saturday from intruding too much on other chores.
The long and short of it is that I now have 5 1/2 gallons of imperial stout bubbling away. The wort (unfermented beer) tasted fantastic--intensely roasty and intensely bitter, but very smooth. You can't always tell much about the final beer from the wort, but in this case I was encouraged that the wort tasted so smooth, without any harsh bitterness, astringency, or acrid flavors poking out.
One of the great beauties of homebrewing is that, once you have mastered some basic skills, you can make whatever kind of beer you want, whenever you want it.
A few other commercial Russian Imperial Stouts are Bell's Expedition Stout and Big Bear Black Stout, both of which are really exceptional as well, and Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout which I now refuse to drink because the maker does not have enough respect for their own beers or those who drink them to put it in something besides a clear bottle.
Two that I would love to try are the Founder's Imperial Stout and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. They are highly rated beers from top-notch breweries, but unfortunately unavailable in my area.
On the docket for next Saturday is an 11 gallon batch of American amber ale using all Amarillo hops.