NOT Ebony and Ivory and Whiskey Porter… Brown Ale

IMG_0163To start with, I haven’t kept up with my plan for the blog this year so far. I brewed this beer on Saturday, February 7 and Sunday, February 8. I will catch up before my next batch, but I am writing this after brew day. This brew has been unconventional since the start, though so it seems appropriate that the blog is unconventional.

The start of this recipe was in an aborted plan to brew a traditional Irish Red Ale as a companion to Day of the Red. The plan was to use the same grain bill with a more standard hopping rate and no oak. When I went to buy the grains, the British crystal malt from that recipe was sold out. I realized this after already measuring out the Maris Otter and roasted barley.

As I waited for the opportunity to buy the rest of the ingredients, I had second thoughts about the beer. I like Day of the Red a lot, but I don’t think a less hopped version was necessary, with Elkland Amber Ale and Mount Hoodie already in the works. Red ales and amber ales (and lagers) aren’t the same, but they’re similar enough that I don’t need four variations on the theme this close together. What could I do with a whole lot of Maris Otter and a little bit of roasted barley, though?

How about a porter?

But that would require a lot more specialty malts. And I have a self imposed ban on strong beers since I brewed a barley wine, a tripel, a quad and PROOF in fairly quick succession and still have quite a bit of each of them.

How about a double batch of porter?

But I didn’t want ten gallons of the same beer. I needed to come up with an idea to differentiate the two five gallon carboys. With Day of the Red still on my mind, my favorite previous batch of porter, CVP (Cherry Vanilla Porter) also came into the thought process.

How about a bourbon barrel vanilla porter?

Maybe that would be too much, especially with my requirement for a lower gravity beer. Oh well, it sounded like a challenge. Could I make a 6% ABV or lower porter with bourbon, oak and vanilla beans that maintained some balance and drinkability mainly from a complex grain bill?

IMG_0168Turns out, maybe not. Not because the beer is turning out bad, though. Not at all (as far as I can tell so far). Just because this beer turned out much lighter in color than I intended.

It has, based on my sample when I racked it and added the bourbon, oak and vanilla beans, a lot of character and complexity, it just looks much more like a brown ale than a porter. The problem is that I overestimated the color contribution of the roasted barley. I think I forgot to take into account the switch from a five gallon batch to ten.

I normally try to avoid roasted barley in my porter recipes because I think that it is one of the vague distinctions between stout and porter. I have most often used Chocolate malt for the majority of the color. Munich and Crystal malts are my other go to choices to fill out a porter grain bill. I kept them this time, but I knew I’d need more color and I wanted additional depth of character to compliment the bourbon, oak and vanilla.

Brown malt was the direction I decided to go. In my limited experience with the grain, I’ve found it contributes a strong, coffee like aroma with hints of smoke and a dry, biscuity graininess. There is a lot going on and it can be overpowering. I’ve heard that given time, the flavors will blend more with the rest of the malt, though I still found it to be the dominant character in my Old Old Man Old Ale, which aged for several months before bottling.

With the relatively low alcohol content and all of the additional flavors, I needed something to kick back. I also thought the subtle smokiness would work well with the oak and bourbon. So I was liberal with my brown malt.

To add these flavors, I started soaking a medium toast American oak spiral in 8 ounces Old Gran Dad 100 Proof Bonded Whiskey in my extra hydrometer flask a week before brew day. I let it continue to soak until a week after brew day, when I dumped it into a carboy before racking the beer on top of it for secondary. I also sanitized two vanilla beans, chopped them up and added them to the carboy. That was two weeks ago.

I just took another sample and both of these beers are turning out great. The plain batch is about ready to bottle. The bourbon, oak and vanilla version is going to sit for another couple weeks. In my small samples, the regular one really tastes like a standard brown ale. There is lots of coffee aroma without the bitter roasted character in the flavor. The special version shows a ton of vanilla character with some smooth whiskey aroma but no burn and just a subtle hint of oak.

I could not be happier with that version. The other version, I have to be honest, I’m a bit surprised about. I’m excited to try the finished product, but I haven’t been this surprised by a batch in a long time. Had I planned this to be a brown ale, it would be perfect. Considering that my plan was for a porter, it is a little disconcerting. My original plan was to call the oaked version Ebony and Ivory and Whiskey. Since the beer didn’t turn out to be ebony, I had to come up with something else. My new idea is to call the regular version Busybodies and the other version Idle Minds. Here is the recipe.

IMG_0228Ebony and Ivory and Whiskey Busybodies, Idle Minds
Style: Robust Porter Brown Ale
OG: 1.060
Type: FG: 1.015
ABV: 6%
IBU’s: 32
Batch Size: 10 Gal
Boil Time: 60 minutes

Grains & Adjuncts
Amount Percentage Name
14.00 lbs 60.42 % Pale Malt, Maris Otter
5.00 lbs 21.58 % Munich Malt – 20L
3.00 lbs 12.95 % Brown Malt
1.00 lbs 4.32 % Crisp Crystal Dark 77L
0.17 lbs 0.73 % Roasted Barley

Amount IBU’s Name Time AA %
2.00 ozs 28.13 Cascade 60 mins 6.90
1.00 ozs 3.70 Goldings, East Kent 10 mins 5.00

Amount Name Laboratory / ID
1.0 pkg Safale US-05 Fermentis US-05

Additions (to half)
Amount Name Time Stage
4.00 oz Bourbon 3 weeks Secondary
2.00 each Vanilla 3 weeks Secondary
1.00 oz Oak “Beer Stick” 3 weeks Secondary


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