This post is in two parts, that's due to length but also due to problems with Blogger deciding what it does or doesn't want to save, ending in sweary curses and a pledge to switch to Wordpress sometime very soon.
In August last year, two Brooklyn-based friends of ours, Martha and Doug, came over to the UK to do some things, including watching the Ashes and drinking loads of beer. While we'd been corresponding about the trip, we hit on the idea that we should brew a beer together while they were over here staying with us. Even better, we should brew a beer that would take a year or so to mature, which would be ready just in time for their next visit to London for WorldCon in August 2014. So right then we knew we were looking at something high in ABV and complex in flavour which would happily wait until we were ready to drink it.
During our email exchange we discussed different styles of high ABV beers: Imperial Stouts, Barleywines and Old Ales... We settled on an Imperial Stout that drew on a historical British recipe from 1914. Martha and Doug are fans of brewing historical recipes and we wanted to try brewing a high ABV beer with some experienced home brewers, so this choice made perfect sense.
Through the power of the internet (and some clever use of Beersmith), we collaborated on the recipe so that when it came to the actual brew day (the day after our trip to the Great British Beer Festival 2013), all the ingredients had been delivered, the yeast starter made and the water measured out. We decided to do a double mash for this brew as the grain bill for the full mash was too much for our mash tun. While it is a good idea to mash twice when you've got too much grain for your tun, it makes for a long brew day and that was our first mistake - as we had a table booked for dinner on the other side of town.
|Grains...but only half|
Our second mistake, was not checking the manifold inside the mash tun was properly connected to the outlet. However, we didn't realise this at the time and hilarity ensued as we attempted to deal with what we thought was a stuck mash (blowing up the tube; spraying wort in Doug's face), but we were actually making things worse. Eventually, we gave in and transferred all the grain and wort to a spare container. Once we uncovered the manifold we realised what the problem had been. Quickly remedied, we had the grain and wort back in the tun and lauter/sparging resumed. The second mash was fairly painless so we managed to get the brew back on track. Despite the early set back, the rest of the brew day went well and we managed to make our table at Dukes Brew & Que, so we could show Martha and Doug that the British can do great BBQ and brew great beers to go with it.
In the end, the original gravity of the beer was a bit short of what we wanted, so we did some calculations and added some sugar to the fermenting wort in controlled batches. This helped lift the ABV to where we wanted it and now the beer is happily aging away in bottles. We cracked a couple at a bottle share in December; it was still a bit young but definitely on its way to becoming a fantastic brew ready for sharing with selected folks in August.