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Old 11-01-2010, 08:15 PM   #1
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Default What makes an Imperial an Imperial?

I am looking to make some bigger, bolder beers so that I can try out some aging techniques. Oak vs. no oak; bottle aging vs. bulk aging, different temperatures, etc.

I know there are recipes out there for Imperial IPAs, Imperial Stouts ... and I absolutely LOVE Flying Dog's Imperial Porter. But what actually goes into making an Imperial beer an Imperial?

Is it just kicking up the gravity, then kicking up the hops proportionately to balance it? Or is there more involved than that?

The reason that I ask is this. My wife is a major fan of Belgian wits. I'm looking to brew something this big this winter that I can age significantly. My hope is to make a big, slow sipping beer that will be ready for us to enjoy during the cold weather next winter.

I took a quick look over the recipe pages here and didn't see anything that stuck out in the Belgian section. I am hoping for a little direction with this post. I haven't run numbers or anything yet. My thought initially was to take a standard wit recipe and push the malt and wheat bill out so that I achieved a bump of another 3% abv or so. Then I could push the hops up proportionately to keep it balanced. Finally, I would hit it HARD with orange peel and coriander or seeds of paradise so that it would have time to mellow during the aging. If I bulk age it, I might save a portion of the spices for the last part of the bulk age (before bottling).

What I am envisioning is a light SRM but heavy bodied wit, almost a "Winter Wit" or holiday beer if you will.

Anybody out there have something I can use to at least get me started in the right direction?

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Old 11-01-2010, 08:19 PM   #2
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Imperials have more of everything...IMO you can imperialize pretty much any style.


What style of imperial beer are you wishing to brew. I just racked a belgian imperial stout to secondary to age for half a year....pretty cool recipe.

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Old 11-01-2010, 08:27 PM   #3
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Belgian Wit. See above. I am looking for something bold and more of a "sipping" beer than a "quaffer"

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Old 11-01-2010, 08:29 PM   #4
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"Imperializing" a beer is the process of adding a relatively meaningless word before your style name.

I believe Russian Imperial Stouts were a branch off of the normal stout with a higher ABV. If you're interested in the history a google search on the subject should get you some information. At some point "imperial" started to mean a beer that had a higher ABV/IBU content than is normally found within that style. So yeah, basically if you want to make a stronger and/or hoppier version of a style that's pretty much all there is to it.

From what you're describing, it sounds like you might want to try searching for "wheatwine". Think barleywine but with wheat. Founders & Smutty Nose have commercial examples of them (although I think they're pretty gross.)

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Old 11-01-2010, 08:38 PM   #5
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The wording comes from the Russian Imperial Stout, which was a stout exported to the Russian royal court in the 18th century. It had more hops and alcohol so that it would survive the long (and freezing) journey from London to St. Petersburgh. When American brewers (as they do) decided to make bigger and hoppier IPAs (and pilsners, and browns, etc.) they borrowed this nomenclature from the RIS. Hence "Imperial" India Pale Ales that were never served in no Russian court (before the revolution, of course).

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Old 11-01-2010, 08:52 PM   #6
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I know the history of the RIS. At least the history that floats around in brewing circles. Which gave me the thought to make a bigger Wit (call it what you will, imperializing, making bigger, going all out, kicking it up a notch) what have you.

Not wanting to get into a debate as to whether "Imperial" is the appropriate term to use, does anybody have direction to provide for a big/imperial/kicked up/bold/whatever Belgian Wit?

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Old 11-01-2010, 08:57 PM   #7
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You might want to re-title the OP then--you might get more focussed responses.

I've never made an Imperial Wit myself; nor have I drank one, even. There are a few "Double" Belgian Wits on the market, though. I'd peruse them for inspiration.

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Old 11-01-2010, 09:21 PM   #8
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I am not sure about the alcohol tolerance of typical wit yeast. You could basically take and make a hybrid wit/tripel and use oats and spices....with trappist yeast. That would be nice and tasty.

13#pilsen
2# sugar
WLP500 or whatever you like
2# oats flaked
maybe a little wheat?
20-30 IBU of whatever
corriander and orange peel

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Old 11-01-2010, 11:46 PM   #9
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Seems like most have said "Imperalizing" is just spiking a standard style.
Imperial Wit, Wheat Wine, Double Wit all sounds good to me.

I think you answered your own question in your first post I say Experimement away, just up everything in your Standard Wit Recipe by 30-50%
Standard Wit's have an OG of 1.044-1.052 and FG of 1.008-1.012
I say spike up everything in the malt bill, hops and spices by 50% to get a OG of 1.070-1.075 which will likely end in the 1.020 range leaving you in the 6.7-7.2% range.
A healthy orange and coriander addition as well which will mellow with age
Wyeast Wit yeast says it can attenuate to 72-76% and can go up to 11-12% ABV.

Now brew it up and let us know how it goes.

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Old 11-01-2010, 11:57 PM   #10
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In Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher, he has a recipe for Strong Wit (6.5-7.5% ABV), Amber Strong Wit (5.2%-6.2%), and Wit Wine (9-10%). Here's the recipe for the last one:

3 lb. Pilsner
4 lb. Vienna
7 lb. malted wheat
2 lb. jaggery or other partially refined sugar
Some rice hulls

1.5 oz. Styrian goldings (5.5% AA) @ 60 min
2 oz. Saaz (3%) @ 20 min
3 oz. Saaz (3%) @ 5 min
6-10 whole kumquats @ 5 min
2 oz. coriander @ 5 min
0.5 tsp grains of paradise @ 5 min

Mash at 148 F. Use the Belgian ale yeast of your choice.

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