‘The Darkest Day of the Year’
Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Coconut and Vanilla / 13.9% ABV
A few times a year, I shift my focus away from smaller beers and begin to brew high-gravity ales such as stouts and barleywines — it’s a great way for me to challenge myself, learn, and grow. I optimized my brew system to yield high efficiency for grain bills that would produce ABV’s in the 4-8% range, so it goes without saying, this beer was pushing the limits in terms of capacity (and patience).
I’d say 75% of my brew days consist of producing some variation of pale wort to inoculate with farmhouse yeast and throw into oak barrels from day one. To me, barrel fermentation is somewhat the norm, but not a term you hear thrown around a lot in the world of Stouts. After producing the highest gravity wort I’ve ever seen (33° Plato), I racked all the wort into a freshly dumped Bourbon Barrel for primary fermentation and further conditioning.
Each morning, I find myself ordering a coffee with unsweetened coconut on the way to work, so why not replicate that with this beer? Some valuable things I’ve learned from coffee beers like ‘Constellation’ and ‘This Quiet Earth’ is that you need to build your recipe around the adjuncts, and you better be careful with your roasted malt and coffee bean. The beer may taste really nice singularly, but can easily become an overly roasted mess with the addition of coffee beans. I didn’t originally brew this beer to have coffee, so adding coconut and vanilla to a roasty grain bill would have to be the approach.
Incredibly pleased with this beers end result. My thoughts on barrel fermenting Stout are great – a smooth medley of flavors rather than a more harsh bite you may traditionally get from fresh barrel aged beers. The freshly toasted coconut adds a really nice nuttiness while the vanilla beans round out all the flavors with a bit of sweetness.