Monday, November 15, 2010

Double barley wine, orval'd

During the spike of irrational exuberance that commonly plagues homebrewers with a few solid batches under their belt, about 3 years ago, I decided I wanted to shoot the moon...brew up a ~20%abv double barley wine bomb that could age for years, decades even.

There were a good number of commercial examples that I've read about, sampled a handful. How hard could it be?

Brewing beers before certainly sported loads of enthusiasm. Perhaps lacked a bit of perspective. It had come quite easily. Even the russian imperial stout recipe flagged with the 'expert' connotation in the homebrew magazine seemed to be an easily attained success. Time to up the ante. Way up.

So, I got greedy. I'll google and google and google until my little fingers could google no more, and I'll simply read up on all the brew forums how I could bang out a beer that would push the very limits of yeasty fortitude.

I'll step over the bodies of those that have tried and failed before me (what exactly is a stalled fermentation, anyway? never happened to me before, they must be skipping obvious steps), and ride the apparent attenuation coattails to success.

Should be easy enough.

Trappist high gravity yeast? Yeah, that's the ticket.

40% simple sugars to boost the fermentability of the wort. how extreme! But...why use one, when four different sugars would undoubtedly add a 'depth of flavor'?

Daily aeration? Hmmm, where's that aquarium it!

No way I can mash enough grain for a 5 gallon batch in my little mash tun, so I'll partial mash this beast, make up the different with extract. I'll split off the batch to give the Cali ale yeast a good start at a reasonable OG, and then really concentrate down the rest of the volume, late addition with the sugars with a FOUR HOUR BOIL. (are you rolling your eyes at me yet?)

Can the concentrated wort and do daily'll be better (and easier) than dissolving little baggies of reconstituted cane sugar every day for 2 weeks, I'm sure of it.

All that concentrated wort should bring the combined gravity to ~1.170. Yeah, that's what i said. 1.170., I didn't measure it. I calculated with my whiz-bang Beersmith software.

Right, I can't be sure, as I didn't think to do a 50% dilution of the final concentrated wort, to be within the range of my hydrometer). Whatever.

A well timed addition of high gravity yeast, made in a high gravity starter w/ some of the canned wort (y'know, you have to acclimate the yeast to what its about to face, right?) will drive that attenuation to my target of 1.025.

OK, maybe I'd be happy with 1.030. It'll need that balancing sweetness to handle that huge alcohol, yes?

6 lbs Amber Liquid Extract (12.5 SRM) Extract 23.35 %
8 lbs Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 31.13 %
1 lbs Cara-Pils/Dextrine (2.0 SRM) Grain 3.89 %
12.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (80.0 SRM) Grain 2.92 %
3.2 oz Chocolate Malt (450.0 SRM) Grain 0.78 %
1.00 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [12.20 %] (240 min) Hops 31.0 IBU
1.00 oz Glacier [6.00 %] (240 min) Hops 15.3 IBU
2.00 oz Palisade [6.90 %] (240 min) Hops 35.1 IBU
1.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (15 min) Hops 6.3 IBU
1.00 oz Palisade [6.90 %] (15 min) Hops 7.9 IBU
1.00 oz Palisade [6.90 %] (15 min) Hops 7.9 IBU
1.00 oz Glacier [6.00 %] (15 min) Hops 6.9 IBU
2.00 oz Oak Chips (Secondary 14.0 days) Misc
4 lbs Cane (Beet) Sugar (0.0 SRM) Sugar 15.56 %
2 lbs 12.0 oz Maple Syrup (35.0 SRM) Sugar 10.70 %
2 lbs Honey (1.0 SRM) Sugar 7.78 %
1 lbs Molasses (80.0 SRM) Sugar 3.89 %

6 months later, that hydrometer wasn't budging.

*Hydrometer pictures Oct 2010 (not 1998)

This beer quickly eroded my mounting homebrewing hubris down several notches. But, I couldn't drink it, I couldn't hand over a bottle to a friend (or foe) with a straight face, and couldn't bear to chuck it. Maybe my friend Mike could force carb it, and that would give it the impression of it being dried out with a carb bite to it? Ah, no, tastes like carbonated barley wine cough syrup.

Text that night from mike as he racked it over:

"The gravity is 1.065...want to ferment this a little more first"


So, in this keg, the big beer that couldn't, slumbered for a few years in a basement. He moved to a new house. Hung out down there for a few months, too.

texts, each a loud echo the last, would show up periodically:

"hey, want that barley wine of yours"

Oct. 15, 2010...I took delivery of that embarrassing keg, humbled but hopeful.

The reclamation plan I had already set in motion was eerily similar to the underattenuated quad solution.

Use bugs. Lots of 'em.
Plus a liberal dose of hope.

Start small, though.
Build vigor with time.

Dregs from 2 relatively fresh bottles of Orval.
500 ml 1.040, 1 week, decanted,
1000ml, 1.040 2 weeks, decanted.
2 gallons, 1.038 5 days decanted ~75% (will need some active brett going in, knowing the chances of anything waking up in the super toxic environment, even brett, was slim. Knowing any lacto or pedio in there probably would crash and burn in the cough syrup of a beer, I pinned all my hopes on the fortitude of brett brux var. orval)

Boy, it really hurt racking over from the keg, as the head formation in the 7.9 gallon bucket was downright glorious. Not to mention all the wonderful aromatics hitching a carbonated ride, liberated from the beer.

Yet another learning experience. But, embarassment, shame has given way. I now cherish these 'teachable moments'. I feel thankful for these relatively harmless miscues. There's always next time, the next beer that will be better for it.

I've been slowly, surely accumulating them over the years in my personal bizarro world book of 'how NOT to brew'.

I should have slow bled off pressure over the course of several days, then racked.
Ok, you wild and crazy Belgians...have at this car wreck of a wicked big beer.

Happy to report that after 1.5 months after Orval'ing the wicked big beer, I still have positive pressure on the S-shaped airlock, and a bit of funk emanating from under the plastic. Who knows, maybe I'll realize my dreams of reaching ~1.025 one day, even if it comes a few years later than planned.

Ok, I'd be happy with 1.030.


  1. I dunno if Im just missing it but when did you originally brew this up?

  2. ...see what happens when you don't re-read your own writing before you post? jeesh. I'll update, but this was close to ~3 years ago now.


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