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