Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Belgian Chocolate Stout: tasting

In and effort to diminish the vast quantity of bottles in my aging library, I pulled one of my first brewed beers from the wine rack (yes, this beer was lying on its side for the better part of 2.5 years...more on that later).

The Belgian chocolate stout was brewed before I was taking proper notes, so I'll recall the recipe and particulars from memory, which actually give me a descent understanding of how the beer has revealed itself to me today.

Most importantly, this is when I was buying recipe kits from Midwest. I'll guess that the base kit was either a dry stout or the oatmeal stout kit, knowing my predilections at the time. At this point, I likely boosted the recipe with another 1lb of chocolate malt, as I recall being underwhelmed by the roast character of earlier kit, to which I logically attributed to the specialty grains components of the recipe.

So, just add more, right?
Yes and no.

Certainly adding more chocolate malt would increase the flavor threshold, but, just like many other flavors, the perception of 'chocolatey-ness' certainly relies on more than just this simple addition (though my head was certainly heading in the right direction). I now appreciate that the yeast choice, its health, pitching rate, SG/FG, fermentation temperature, brewing liquor, other components of the grist will also have harmoniously holistic impact on all flavor perceptions, including 'chocolateyness'.

But, back to the other particulars about this batch...I know I re-used yeast from the tripel I had made earlier, which was actually yeast cultured up from a few bottles of Duvel. Not the most expressive yeast I've found, so not one that screams estery, phenolic Belgian, but...again, my head was in the right place. Plus, I really liked the idea of re-using my yeast that I had lovingly nudged out of its trans-Atlantic, very far from its European home hibernation.

Lastly, I used some cacao shells to 'dry hop' the beer after primary. I had snagged a bunch of the bags that Taza was handing out as homebrewing fodder at one of the Beer Advocate fests I attended (maybe it was the first ACBF?). This artisanal chocolate maker in nearby Somerville certainly have their heads in the right place, as it pertains to their product, so I hoped to infuse some of the amazing aromatics from these shells in to my beer.

I had poured a bottle of my corked/caged tripel this past summer, which went nearly completely flat. That singular experience told me that I will not cork and cage bottles that I intend to keep for any real amount of time. Caps are clearly a superior, yet homelier solution that I'll opt for in the future.

This beer, after resting upright in the fridge for a few weeks, exhaled out a satisfying burping pop as the cork was freed. Hmm, only an n of 2, with two different beers, stored in different rooms, but the beer lying on its side kept what I assume was most of its carbonation, and the bottle stored upright was nearly devoid of the stuff.

Poured it down the middle of a small Portsmouth Brewing goblet, and a satisfyingly creamy head formed. Perhaps it was a Midwest oatmeal stout kit? I can see that the beer had conditioned itself clear with time. Nose of ...chocolate, nice proper artisan chocolate, though I have to assume that these aromatics have seen a better day, given its age. It would have been useful to try some non dry cacao shelled beer in a side by side to appreciate the impact, but those experiments will need to be realized at a later time. The beer is dark, though not nearly as dark as some of my other stouts and porters, which lean toward excess in the roasted grain territory. Still, it sits in that glass, fat and dark.
First sip gives a thin but velvety feel, so I'll put a stake in the ground, this was the oatmeal stout kit paired with full attenuation of the LME by the Duvel yeast. No distinguishable yeast character...nothing that says 'hey, this is a Anglo-Americanized beer, fermented with a Belgian yeast.'

Just a very clean ferment, and obviously full attenuation. A very sessionable beer, subtle roasted grain acidity. I could have multiples. Its very nice and satisfying as it warms as well. The chocolate tendencies grow with the warmth. Satisfying drying finish from the kilned malt, cocoa on the breath. Ah, too bad there's only a handful of these left.

Lastly, on to the is it bad to lay down the beer for aging question.

My response today is...maybe. The sediment that developed along the side of the bottle is garishingly disturbing at first, but it truly didn't make its way in to the pour, actually. So, to me, that's only a minor fault, as I'm not serving the bottle to someone. Sets up an interesting sediment erosion-lightning streak appearance, though.
After a few weeks in the fridge, any 'moveable' sediment made its way down the bottom of the bottle, and stayed put during the pour. This beer was very clear, all the way down to the last sip, and no cloudiness at the dark margins when held up to light.
So, there was plenty of CO2 in this beer. Maybe the beer contact with the cork is what kept this beer carbonated, but until I pop a good number of a couple more from the wine rack and the few remaining bottles that from that tripel batch that have spent their lives standing upright, I'll not make a verdict, yet. One thing is for sure, this beer has aged very gracefully, and I am more than happy to turn a blind eye to the sediment. And who doesn't love the sound of a popping cork?


  1. Great Review, was this bottled in a Wine bootle or some Belgium Tappist like Chimey. Also, I was wondering did you use a stir plate to re-animate the Duvel yeast? I want to start re-animating Sierra Nev. and wasnt sure if a Stir plate was the only way to go?

  2. This was bottled in a reused belgian beer bottle, just like you see for Chimay, etc. You need belgian corks vs. champagne or regular wine corks to fit the dimensions of the belgian beer bottle neck.

    You'll see the details about what equipment and technique employed to achieve this on the homebrew level on my prior post here:

    I didn't have a stir plate when I cultured up the duvel yeast, I simply made about 100ml of starter wort, and dumped the dregs of 2 750ml bottles. I didn't see any activity until after almost 3 days, if I remember correctly. I stepped this up a few times, and fermented out a tripel with it. I used some portion of the yeast cake to ferment this beer.

    Culturing up yeast from dregs is definitely a fun experiment. A stir plate isn't absolutely required, but would really increase population and health of the yeast. Don't forget yeast nutrient.

    But, as for the Sierra Nevada yeast strain, I really wouldn't bother with culturing up their yeast, in particular. This is the commonly available Chico yeast (dry: safale US-05, liquid options: White Labs 001, or Wyeast 1056), and you'll start with much healthier and larger culture.


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