In times gone by, I was once an enormous fan of dark beers. Regardless of season, my beer of choice when living nearby Nelson’s first Sprig and Fern was their porter. Dark beers have always been a bit of a family thing. My grandfather – a man of moderation – would reverently sip a single Speight’s Old Dark at times of celebration. When he recently passed away, our family’s last hurrah to his life was toasted with a pint of the same.
Given the winter months are here (it’s bloody freezing!), and Sophie has been pleading me to brew a dark beer for months, I finally relented and put down a double batch.
Hoping to produce two different styles of dark beer, I brought out the 50 L fermenter for its first ride. The tri-clamp fittings pictured took me a few months to puzzle out, having to blank the trub-outlet to enable the system to fit inside my fermentation chamber. Once I’d sorted that and built a new stand, we were ready for action.
After some deliberation, I decided to make a milk stout with coconut, cacao, and vanilla, similar to Michael Tonsmeire’s version. I liked the notion of toasting the coconut myself so did so, though instead of adding vanilla directly to the fermenter, I opted to make a cacao and vanilla tincture as detailed by Drew Beechum, author of Experimental Homebrewing. I planned to rack the other half of the brew to secondary, with Zante currants, red-wine soaked oak, and TYB’s Amalgamation II (a multi-strain Brett culture) – I’ll make another post detailing the funky portion.
Having read that significant roasty flavours can end up overpowering a dry Brett beer, I adjusted my malt bill for a smooth, malty/chocolate profile. Starting with a base of Ale Malt (I used Gladfield exclusively for this recipe), I added Dark Crystal for some raisiny/caramel notes, Light Chocolate for the chocolate aspect, and Eclipse Wheat for the colour addition without the astringency or dark espresso notes of roasted barley. Finally, I finished with oats and flaked barley for body, the latter also contributing a grainy flavour.
Having milled the grains and measured my brew salts the night prior, brew day was reasonably painless. Again it took around 4.5 hours from mash-in to the end of clean-up, with runnings looking appropriately dark and tasting very smooth with minimal roast or astringency. My original gravity settled a little low at 1.039, I believe owing the use of a grain bag in my mash tun for the first time. The grains seemed a little restricted by the bag, which I figure didn’t help with conversion.
Following the boil and a single first wort hop addition, I cooled using my new counterflow chiller to just above groundwater temp, and allowed my chamber to do the remainder. Once close to my target temp of 18 °C, I pitched a 2 L vitality starter which I’d made on a stir plate using fresh wort and two packets of Nottingham dry ale yeast.
Impressively, the blowoff tube was already bubbling at < 12 hours post-pitch. Three days later fermentation had slowed, so the chamber was ramped to 21 °C. With the gravity stable eight days in and no off-flavours detectable, I racked 18 L to a keg, and 21 L into a carboy. To the keg I added a sanitised mesh bag containing 500g of coconut, which I’d toasted in a pan then stored between paper towels to remove the head-compromising oils. The carboy received 750 g of Starsan-soaked Zante currants, 250 mL of Amalgamation II slurry, 250 mL of Merlot Cabernet wine, and a single medium toast American oak spiral.
After 5 days on the coconut, the kegged portion had reached my desired level of coconut character. With slight difficulty, I removed the now-swollen bag, and added half of the cacao/vanilla tincture I’d made as per Drew’s instructions linked above. Aiming for a lactose contribution of 5 – 10% of the original gravity, I added 250 g of lactose boiled in 350 mL of water. This worked out at a roughly 6% addition. I then hit the gas at 15 PSI, and waited patiently for the first tasting.
Winter’s Bounty Milk Stout
Batch Size (L): 45
Total Grain (kg): 9.60
Anticipated OG: 1.046
Actual OG: 1.039
Actual FG 1.010
Actual ABV (%): 3.8
Anticipated SRM: 39.5
Anticipated IBU: 21.7
Brewhouse Efficiency (%): 70
Wort Boil Time (mins): 60
78.1% 7.50 kg. Gladfield Ale Malt
6.30% 0.60 kg. Gladfield Eclipse Wheat
5.20% 0.50 kg. Gladfield Light Chocolate Malt
5.20% 0.50 kg. Gladfield Dark Crystal Malt
2.60% 0.25 kg. Quick Oats
2.60% 0.25 kg. Flaked Barley
30.00 g. Magnum (Pellet, 11.80% AA) @ first wort.
Danstar Nottingham Ale Yeast, 2 x packets
Profile: Bru ‘n Water ‘Black Full’
Ca 56 | Mg 8 | Na 6 | SO4 32 | Cl 43
Sacch Rest – 60 min @ 67 °C
5.6.19 – Tincture made with 85 g roasted cacao nibs (12 mins at 150 °C), 180 mL vodka, and 1 vanilla pod.
9/6/19 – Double batch brewed with Sophie.
Single Campden tablet each for strike water and sparge water to dechlorinate.
Wort into the fermenter at 1230 hrs, not aerated. Pitched 2 L vitality starter at 2154 hrs on 9/6/19, temp 22.6 °C (chamber set to 18 °C). CO2 bubbling at 0700 hrs the next day.
12/6/19 – CO2 production slowing, ramped to 21 °C at 1850 hrs
17.6.19 – Gravity stable at 5.3 Brix (1.010) on refractometer, not crash-cooled. 21 L racked to carboy and onto 750 g currants, 1 x medium toast American oak spiral, 250 mL Merlot Cabernet, and 250 mL of Amalgamation II slurry. Kegged portion (18L) given 500 g of toasted coconut in sanitised mesh bag.
22.6.19 – Coconut removed from kegged portion, half of strained tincture added to keg. 150 g lactose boiled in 350 mL water and added to keg once cooled. Headspace purged and set to 15 PSI in kegerator.
Tasting Notes 26/6/19
Black as night when served in a deep glass, though a hazy brown when getting towards the final few mouthfuls. The head is luscious, creamy, and off-white to tan.
Toasted coconut prevails, with a hint of malt, and almost no roast.
Toasted coconut, milk chocolate, and a tiny hint of pleasant roast. Very well balanced. The bitterness is present, though only in a manner that prevents the beer from being cloying.
Surprisingly full for such a low ABV beer. The carbonation helps here unusually – when tasted flat I was concerned the beer would be too thin, though now carbonated it coats the mouth and behaves like a bigger beer.
Drinkability and notes
Although I accidentally ended up brewing a session beer, this milk stout certainly exceeded expectations! The cacao and vanilla do not come through strongly, though I think they enhance the overall toasted coconut profile, giving the sense that you’ve dipped a Krispie biscuit into a pint of stout. A slow-sipper that you can drink a number of, without being overwhelmed by sweetness (or intoxication). Have I found my way back to dark beers? It would certainly seem that way.