spices and bourbon question

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Aug 9, 2007
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Hi, I'm a novice homebrewer and got a few books for christmas (extreme brewing and radical brewing), and when I go back to school I planned on making a batch from a recipe with a few friends. We decided on a spiced bourbon stout. The recipe is vague and just tells you the amount of bourbon and vodka, and then the amount of spices to add to it. I was wondering when this would be added to the brew. Would it just sit in the primary fermenter? Also with the bourbon and vodka (about ten ounces total) would that do enough to mess up the yeast due to the alcohol content to the point where we would need some champagne yeast or other method? We planned on making a somewhat strong stout to begin with so we were thinking we might need the stronger yeast anyway.

Thanks for the help
The extra alcohol should be added at bottling.

The extra spices should probably be added at or right before flame out at the end of the boil. What kind of spices?
it says "into 6 oz of vodka and 2 ounces of bourbon add: .5 tsp vanilla extract; .25 tp allspice; .5 tsp cinnamon, .25 crushed coriander, star anise, crushed juniper and black pepper."

what you said makes sense, but the wording of the recipe confused me.
Add the vanilla extract with the vodka and bourbon. I think all the others would be fine to add right at the end of the boil.
scrap the vodka (it won't add much complimentary flavoring) and use jim beam black.

I have a vanilla bourbon stout kegged now and it's outstanding. If you use extract vanilla, DON'T use imitation, buy good, real extract, otherwise it'll taste very artificial and medicinal. Or, better yet, use whole vanilla beans (2 per container) for about 1-2 weeks in seconday. The cinnamon and all-spice you should definitely start with smaller amounts and go from there. It's always easier to add more, but you can't take it out once it's in there.

Based on that spice mix, I would scrap the corriander (this will add an orange-like flavor), Anise (do you really want your stout tasting like vanilla black licorice?), Juniper (pine needles/Gin), black pepper.
I would normally agree with the above statement, as I used to hate anything anise flavored. However, being a sauce maker at the restaurant has opened my eyes to Star Anise and it's wonderful quality. Added in small quantities (I would estimate about 1/2 a star or less for a 5 gallon batch, it contributes little licorice flavor but a nice warming back of the mouth flavor that is kind of unidentifiable. I had never noticed any kind of subltety with it before, but it is there. I say go for it.
I made an oaked bourbon-vanilla winter ale towards the end of 2006 and it turned out great. The only spice was a vanilla bean and some vanilla extract added to the bourbon. What I did was, while the primary fermentation was going on, I sanitized a jar and put 2 cups of Evan Williams 1783 into it. I added 1.5oz of oak chips, a whole (scraped) vanilla bean, and some vanilla extract. I put the lid on and let it steep for the week while fermentation was going on. I dumped all of it into secondary, then racked the beer on top of it. It turned out quite delicious---and even with 2 cups of bourbon, the yeast still bottle-carbonated it just fine.

Others have covered this ground, but I'll weigh in as well:

  1. Don't use vodka. If you really like bourbon, go with 2 cups of that. You can cut back to 1 or 1.5 cups if you want it more subtle.
  2. Get rid of the anise and the coriander and the black pepper. Keep the juniper if you want---I've always found juniper berries to be a welcome addition to darker beers.
  3. You can also save some $$ by just using (real) vanilla extract rather than beans. If I do it again, I'm going with extract---the beans are just too damned expensive, and it's not really worth it.
  4. I highly recommend using oak chips or cubes in this beer.
  5. Be careful with cinnamon!!!
so add the spices at the end of the boil? Also, provided i still add at least a little bit of those spices in would adding bourbon and oak chips be too much of overkill and just ruin the taste, or would it be subtle enough to work?

any thoughts?
When using oak cubes, you have to sanitize them somehow, and most people do it by soaking them in hard liquor. I think most of the above posts, including the instructions that you quoted, are suggesting that you take whatever spices you want to use, and add them to a seperate jar with your whiskey and your oak cubes. Let that jar steep for a while (Like Evan said, I'd give them a week to truly get the flavor) and then pour the mixture into your secondary. Then, rack beer from the primary into the secondary on top of this mixture.

As far as what is "too much", I recommend you select a couple of the ingredients that you care about, use them this time, take good notes on what you do, and then adjust next time based on what characteristics you like about this beer.

For example, this time you could choose juniper, bourbon, and vanilla. Next time, since you already know what that combination tastes like, you could use the same three, and add coriander or star anise or something, and see how the taste changes.

You shouldn't add too much the first time, because then you won't be able to tell which tastes in your brew you "like" or "don't like". In other words, start simple and grow from there.
I feel a little trepidation about saying this (because it's another forum) but you simply MUST check out the Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter over on the Northerbrewer forum. It is HANDS DOWN one of the best beers I've ever made. That recepie is dead on perfect (if you have the willpower to let the beer bottle age to blend flavors. 6 weeks at least). It's also a great read at 40 pages or so last time I checked the thread. Make sure you get the right amount of brown malt into your recepie.