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Bad Beer Gone Sour…In a Good Way

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Bad Beer Gone Sour….in a good way.  The art of blending beer.  

This summer I had my eyes on brewing a huge Russian Imperial Stout that was to be aged in bourbon soaked oak chips. I was exploring a handful of new methods that I previously hadn’t dabbled in: brewing a beer that big (OG 1.102), using a yeast cake from a previous beer, wood chips, and bourbon.

The brew day went very uneventful, hitting all my target numbers on the nose. So where did things go wrong? Problem one: Yeast cake was old, about 1 month. My thought was that there was enough yeast there that the age of it didn’t matter and volume of it would make up for any flaws. I was expecting a massive krausen. Nope, I had little to none. The temp on my beer fermentation was also north of 80 degrees (I used an English yeast, so this was NOT a good thing). To my surprise it actually finished the fermentation were it should have, 1.022. And, for that English style, it was almost 1% over the recommended ABV. The first time I tried it, nothing but fusel alcohol notes. Massive burning. I believe this was a result of the yeast cake and the high fermentation temps. I knew it would age out, but after a long time.

So, I added the oak about 2 months after brew day. There is where I made my second mistake. I added all 4 ounces of oak that I soaked in nearly a fifth of bourbon. I sampled it ten days later and all I could taste was tannins from the oak and a strong alcohol nose. Gross.

I was disappointed in my mistakes, but I learned from them, which is great, but I was still stuck with 4 gallons of Stout that I had no intention of drinking, but I didn’t want to waste it. That’s where I had the idea to blend 2.5 gallons of it with our shop Solera. I think the beer in the Solera sour was about 2-3 years old (!!). Once I blended it, I wanted to keep the mouth feel (the bugs would eat all the rest of the sugars and leave a dry imperial stout). I used some potassium sorbate to kill any activity and retain the mouth feel of my RIS. The results: a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels that tasted like it was made by Jolly Pumpkin. Score

Rob is our newest employee.  He is the president of the Grand Rapids Home Brewers Club and won our home brew competition with his “Unholy Ale” Tripel