Smoke & Wood Imperial Porter

>> Sunday, June 14, 2015

Smoked and wood-aged beers are styles that people tend to love or hate. I think one reason is smoked beers are very phenolic and some people are very sensitive to those compounds, so even the slightest smoke character can be overwhelming on their palate. Another reason is sometimes it can be hard to find good commercial examples.

One smoked beer I really enjoy and that I've mentioned before is Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing. Another is Smoking Wood from The Bruery. Smoking Wood showcases the wonderful flavors that come from combining smoked grain with aging on wood, and it is the inspiration for this recipe. The last time I was at The Bruery, I think they had about six different variations of Smoking Wood on tap.

I formulated this recipe based on Denny Conn's famous Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter. For smoked grains, I'm going with the new Mesquite-smoked malt from Briess, plus Rauch malt from Weyermann. For wood, I'm going to be using a new product for me, Honey Comb Barrel Alternative from Black Swan Barrels (HCBA). I recently ordered the sample pack from Black Swan, so I may try splitting the batch after primary and dosing with different varieties.

Here's the recipe as I'm making it today:

8.0# Muntons Pearl 2-row
2.0# Avangard Munich
1.25# Crisp Brown Malt
1.25# Briess Mesquite-smoked Malt
1.25# Weyermann Rauch Malt
1.25# Crisp Crystal 77L
0.75# Patagonia Chocolate Malt (350L)
28g Magnum (60 min)
14g EKG (10 min)
WLP001 Cali Ale yeast
0.5 Whirlfloc
0.5t Yeast nutrient
1" per gallon HCBA

Mash at 154F for 60 minutes, 90 minute boil, ferment at 60F

I used 9 gallons distilled water using Beersmith's London water profile for this beer. I wasn't quite as concerned about the water profile on this beer other than I wanted to make 100% sure that there wasn't any chlorine that could result in chlorophenol (band-aid) character.

Brewing Notes
The only issue I had was the OG came out higher than anticipated. I adjusted for efficiency, but I think my pre-boil volume was a tad low and my boil-off rate seemed higher than normal. I was shooting for 1.079 and measured 1.099 with a volume of 4.5 gallons. I decided to top off to 5.5 total volume, so that should bring the gravity down to 1.081. Wort tastes great, not too much roast and smoke character is noticeable but not dominating.

Update 6/15/2015
And we have blow-off. Fermentation kicked off strong with about 1.5" of krausen this morning. After work it was at about 3".  Sometime between then and now (10pm) it started pushing up into the airlock. I've hooked up a blow-off hose and I'll keep it there until fermentation slows down.

Update 6/21/2015
I brought this beer in the house last night. Fermentation had slowed substantially so I'll keep it at room temperature to finish things out. This also allows me to dial the temp of the ferm chamber way down so I can start lagering my Czech pilsner.

Update 6/27/2015
Adding the wood today. Gravity finished out at about 11 brix (1.021) which puts me in the neighborhood of 8.3% ABV. This is a full body beer but it's not sweet or cloying. Aroma is not overly roasty, with a bit of smoke and some toasted bread character,. Bitterness is really nice and it has a little more smoke in the taste than in the aroma. Smoke is complimentary, not dominating and not harsh whatsoever. No chlorophenols whatsoever, so that's good. I decided to go with hickory for this beer. From Black Swan's site, the hickory has the following characteristics:
Honey, BBQ, hickory smoked bacon, apple sauce, cocoa coconut
I treated the hickory by steaming it for about 10 minutes to help make sure it's as sanitary as possible. I'll be pulling samples fairly often to make sure I don't extract too much wood character.

Update 7/6/2015
Pulled a sample tonight after realizing I hadn't tried it since adding the wood. This is a really nice beer. Wood character is still on the subtle side. I'd like to get a bit more out of it so I'll probably let it go a couple more days before pulling another sample.

Update 8/9/2015
The Beehive Brew-Off wrapped up today. This beer took gold for 32B Specialty Smoked Beer. I really like the way this beer turned out. This will get made again with some other woods.