Recipe Type: All Grain
Yeast: Wyeast 1056
Yeast Starter: 2qt starter, from slurry
Batch Size (Gallons): 6.5
Original Gravity: 1.061
Final Gravity: 1.025
Boiling Time (Minutes): 75
Color: so brown it's black
Primary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 7 days
Secondary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 17
Tasting Notes: HUGE hit with everybody who tasted it - especially dark beer haters
I got more compliments on this beer than any I have made, partly because it was so exciting to drink around Christmas time. The vanilla was especially appreciated. I think people liked being able to detect such a familiar flavor.
The recipe will look a little strange because 1) There isn't as much dark malt as you'd think, 2) There's a lot of crystal, and 3) The IBUs are pretty low. All of these were intentional. I felt the coffee would make up for the flavor of the dark malts as well as the IBUs, and it definitely did. As for the crystal, I did intend for this to be more of a dessert beer so I wanted a little extra sweetness. I think vanilla flavor benefits from some sweetness to make it more recognizable. This was not even close to cloyingly sweet, and with a lower carbonation level you could actually drink a few of these.
Note this is a 6.5gal batch in the fermenter, 6gal in the secondary, and slightly less than that went into the bottle.
10.5# Maris Otter
2# Crystal 40
1.5# light Munich
1.25# English chocolate
1# flaked barley
.25# English black patent
Mash at 156 for about an hour.
(I was just using up some hops I had on hand to target 20-25 IBU)
21g Cluster pellets (6.3%) - 75 min
7g Willamette pellets (4.5%) - 75 min
The day before brewday, I got .75# of Columbian coffee from a local roaster, coarsely ground (french press style). I added this to 1.5qts of room temp water, and stirred it about 3-5 times over the course of 24 hours. Then, I strained the coffee using a nylon grain bag, which yielded 1qt of SUPER strong coffee. While brewing I did a little testing with this coffee and Breckenridge's Vanilla Porter, mixing small amounts in a shot glass and tasting the results. I ended up adding the entire 1qt to the primary fermenter at the time of pitching.
The beer fermented for 7 days, at which time I racked to a secondary. I got two Madagascar vanilla beans, split them lengthwise, scraped the goo out, and added the goo and shells to the secondary. I tasted it after 7 more days but felt it could go longer. I ended up bottling after 17 days in the secondary. I recommend a lower carbonation level to emphasize the creamy mouthfeel.
It was very interesting to taste the evolution of this beer from brewday throughout its life. The coffee flavors experienced the most change. If you've ever had french press coffee, you know that it has a lot more body than drip coffee. I mostly attribute this to the suspended coffee particles that coat your mouth as you drink it. Well, when I tasted the beer at pitching time I had a similar experience with the coffee. It had a lot of coffee particles that really punched you in the back of the throat - not unpleasant, but very strange.
When racking to secondary I tasted it again, and was surprised (though I shouldn't have been) to see how much that coffee effect had subsided. The coffee flavor was still distinguishable from the dark malt flavors, but the coffee solids were no longer suspended as much.
At bottling time, the coffee flavor was hard to distinguish from the malt, but I thought the flavors had blended favorably. As I hinted above, the vanilla flavor was pretty powerful. I think I was getting close to too much - maybe a few more days and it would have been a beer that you say, "Needs to age a few months!" The vanilla was strong in the nose, and its overall impression was very cooling. I think it brought out other aromatics as well, such as chocolatey flavors that you expect to complement vanilla.
The IBU/dark malt/sweetness balance was perfect. I admit that in general I like a baaaaaarely sweeter beer than most people, so temper your recipe if you need to. But if you want this beer to be one of those special ones for Christmas, I think it helps to be a little over the top on all counts.
I entered this in competition in the SHV category as a Robust Porter with Vanilla and Coffee. The judges felt that the bitterness and lower carbonation were not appropriate for a Robust Porter. One judge thought the beer was under-attenuated. While not true, he was basically indicating that it was too sweet. The most positive comments were the blending of the "spices" with the malt and the overall flavor balance. I probably shouldn't have specifically declared Robust Porter because I agree that without the vanilla and coffee it would have been a terrible RP. Overall the beer got a 26, which I was a little annoyed with.
I entered the beer into the competition 6 months after brewing it. I did notice a further decline in coffee and vanilla with time, but not much. It was really fun to make, and I would probably make it exactly the same next time.
It might be fun to try it with an English yeast to get some extra maltiness in there. If I did that, I would either tune the crystal down, or sub out some of the base malt for table sugar (maybe 5-10%). I think the richness would work well, but you'd be pushing the envelope even further when it came to sweet/bitter balance.