Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Snot Snout Stout, an imperial chocolate stout for the holidays

I have some vacation to burn before the end of the year, so I’ve set myself up to take a few Fridays off in October-December and do some brewing (without having it monopolize my Saturday), the first of which was this past Friday 10/7. I set this brew day up for just six days after my last because I wanted to brew a really strong beer for Christmas 2011 that will be able to age well for a year or two. To properly ferment a beer approaching 10% ABV (OG was 1.081), I knew I’d need a large amount of yeast to work with. This means I’d have to pitch on an existing yeast cake from a prior batch. During last week’s wet hop pale ale brew session, I made sure to select a yeast strain that would be versatile enough to mesh well with a big huge stout. Though aiming to use WLP001, I ended up having to use it’s cousin, WLP051. 51 is a bit fruiter than 01, but flocculates well and can take on some higher gravity brews if need be.

You’re probably wondering about the name… Remember Uncle Eddie’s disgusting dog from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? The dog’s name was Snot, hence the name of this beer.

And, why do an imperial-strength stout? I settled on this style because I thought it would be fun to add chocolate and cherries for the holidays. You’d be hard-pressed to find a chocolate cherry imperial stout out there for purchase, so I’m attracted to the idea of making something unique to give out as Christmas presents. I’m probably going to end up letting this sit on some oak chips in secondary for a few weeks – might soak those in pinot noir first. We’ll see.

Given all the crazy flavors that will be going on with this brew, I’m kinda scared it could turn out horrible. If they all happen to mesh though, I think an pinot noir oak-aged chocolate cherry imperial stout approaching 10% ABV could be pretty freaking awesome. Time will tell.

I dropped in some additions to the boil to ramp up the ABV. Here’s the bill:

Base: 13 lbs. domestic 2-row pale
Specialty: 1 lb. carmel 60L, 1 lb. carmel 40L, 1 lb. chocolate malt
Other fermentables: 8 oz. unsweetened cocoa powder, 8 oz. special dark unsweetened cocoa powder (15″), 1 lb. dark DME (60″), 13 oz. brown sugar (20″)
Hops: 1 oz. magnum (U.S.) pellets (60″), 1 oz. homegrown dried centennial whole hops (50″)
Yeast: White Labs WLP051 California V Ale (pitched on yeast cake from Wet Dog pale ale batch)
Irish moss (15″), yeast nutrient (10″)
OG: 1.081

Right now my plan is to move it to secondary in a few weeks and sit it on about three or four pounds of thawed and pasteurized cherries, then once those sugars are fermented maybe drop in a few pinot noir-soaked oak chips for a week, then bottle hopefully by mid-November so it has five or six weeks to condition before Christmas.

Post-cocoa addition... thought I was brewing a batch of chocolate sauce!

It was pretty hot on brew day (80’s in October, wow) so I had some trouble getting the temperature of the wort down much below 80* prior to pitch. I figured putting it in the basement at 68* would chill the wort done nicely prior to fermentation, but I was wrong. Visible fermentation began (roughly) just three hours after pitching onto the pale ale yeast cake and the temperature hadn’t had a chance to drop yet. I checked on it just before going to bed Friday night and it was at about 79*. Optimum fermentation temperature for this yeast strain is 65-70* so I set the carboy in the sink and dumped a bunch of ice cubes and cold water in there to help cool it down. In an effort to just go to bed, eventually I brought it back downstairs and filled a plastic tub with a few bags of ice we’ve had sitting around forever as well as some cold water. The temperature was down to 57* by 7:00am the next morning, so I took it out of the tub and 24 hrs. after pitch as I write this Saturday afternoon, it’s happily fermenting away at 68*. Whew. I hope I was able to minimize the amount of phenols inadvertently produced by fermenting too warm during those first few hours. I have high hopes for this batch. Don’t want to mess it up.

Wet Dog on the left (overflowing, whoops!) and Snot on the right

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