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Homebrew #19: Professor Severus Snape’s “Dragon Cloak” Malevolent Wizard Stout

by Rob Friesel

Since I first started brewing, I wanted to concoct a big chocolatey but also peppery-spicy imperial stout. I chipped away at the recipe for over a year, working on a bunch of different versions of it. When Alan Rickman passed away, that was the inspiration to go for it. I had the recipe, but now I had the name:

Professor Severus Snape’s “Dragon Cloak” Malevolent Wizard Stout — though we’ll just call it “Snape Stout” for the rest of this post:

Prof. Severus Snape's "Dragon Cloak" Malevolent Wizard Stout

With an in-theory-serviceable formulation (more on that later) and an irresistible vanity name, I decided that Snape Stout would be my second brew of 2016, and the first where I purchased my ingredients from the brand new just-down-the-street HBS, 1st Republic.

And while I left the store excited to get this brew started, things went awry almost from the very beginning. (One of Snape’s curses upon me, perhaps?)

The Starter

I mixed up a 1600 milliliter starter for the package of 1028 that I bought. And while the flask didn’t boil over (a first?) — it took about 40 minutes for it to cool down enough to pitch. This was at least twice as long as it usually takes. OK… Let it propagate for a couple of days and then put it into the refrigerator to crash the night before brew day.

So not that bad of a start, and certainly not cause for alarm. But not a good omen, either.

Brew Day

The ill fortune really sets in on brew day. Problems begin right with the mash. First the temperatures are too high when I mash in and I start adding cold water (a cup at a time) until it’s down to 153.5°F — “close enough” to the target 152.1°F, right? And I say to myself we’re looking at a 75 minute mash, but let’s have that go all the way out to 90, OK? As such, I let it go that full hour-and-a-half, no fussing with it. Temperatures are down to 147.8°F when I raise the heat for the mash-out.

Snape Stout: brew day

At this point, the refractometer says 17%Br and while that seems a little on the low side, I’ve also still got 5 lb. of DME to add. It’ll be fine… I reassure myself.

I get the kettle going for a 60 minute boil, add my first 1 lb. of DME, and start with my hop schedule. Galena… Columbus… Then 4 lb. more of DME as a late addition…

Snape Stout: brew day

Then it takes over 17 minutes to get down to 75°F.

Then I can’t get a decent gravity reading off the refractometer because the wort is so… cloudy?

I transfer anyway, pouring the kettle over into the 2 gal. of water already in the carboy. And then I top off to the full 5 gal.

But I’m disappointed by my gravity readings. The refractometer says 16.4%Br; the hydrometer gives me 1.073 — a full 19 points shy of my target. I mean… 1.073 is hardly session but it’s also not the high gravity that I need for putting the “imperial” in “Russian imperial” stout. Well, screw it, I say to myself — sometimes you’ve just got to go to war with the gravity you have.1

Only now I’m thinking that I might be about to (severely?) over-pitch…

And but so I pitch.

And but so I go to stopper the carboy and… the drilled stopper falls in.

Tragedy!

Luckily I have another stopper, so I just sanitize that one, get the airlock set up, and schlep it over to the brew closet. This is just going to have to be our starting conditions.

Fermentation

Within seven hours, I have some activity in the airlock. By fifteen hours, it’s getting vigorous. By +31 hours, the airlock has overflowed, there’s a strong smell of esters in the closet, I’ve got some of the Highest Krausen I’ve ever seen, and… the fermometer has spiked to 76°F.2

Snape Stout: +50 hours from pitching.

Things seem to calm down a bit around +50 hours, but we’re also crashing hard and fast — w/r/t/ airlock activity and temperature. I try to give it some time to finish up before taking a gravity reading. And when I get around to pulling the sample for the refractometer reading, I get 11%Br — which is around 1.029 (by my conversion), which is about a 59% attenuation and just seems like… well, like the yeast have stalled.

What’s a homebrewer to do? Well, this homebrewer pitched a sachet of EC-11183 and about 2½ tsp. of yeast nutrient. Agitate! and leave for another week or so and whip that refractometer back out and…

11%Br again. I guess that’s just where we’ll have to stay.

Conditioning

A bit over three weeks after pitching, and with a gravity that wasn’t budging, it was time to get this beer racked to secondary and free up my carboy for the next brew.

I’d gotten a new auto-siphon that made very short work of the 4½ gallons of beer that came off the 2¼ inch trub layer.

Snape Stout: racked for conditioning

The really bad news here was that the sample I pulled tasted strongly of alcohol. And not in the about-9%-like-it-was-supposed-to-be sort of way but rather more like the the-yeast-went-nutso-and-over-produced-fusel-alcohols sort of way. (Нехорошо!)

Snape’s curse again!4

It’s OK… (I told myself) the fusels will totally age out…

Regardless of the fusels, the recipe always called for some other taste elements to get thrown in. And about two weeks later, I did just that: I added cacao nibs, japonés chilis, vanilla beans, and (because at this point all bets are off…) the 375 ml of vodka that I’d used to pasteurize all of the above.

Snape Stout update: conditioning continues…

Fast-forward another (approximately) eight weeks.

Bottling Day

Tl;dr:

  1. Final gravity reading was 1.023 (by the hydrometer)
  2. Primed with about 3½ oz. of honey
  3. Started the bottling run (22 oz. bombers for this one) and/but/so then the bottling wand was on the fritz and was just leaky as a mo-fo…
  4. But hey, we we filled 24 × 22 oz. bottles!

Regardless: tasting notes from bottling day ran something like:

pepper spice! some cinnamon (funny b/c none was added) — roast + chocolate (latter esp. on aroma) some alcohol (fusels? age out?) curious how honey will affect carb. & final aged product

Finished (?) Product

I let this one age another month in bottles before I tried one. (Almost 19 weeks between brew day and the first taste.) That first Untappd check-in read:

First one since bottled! Chiles seem to be the prominent note, but less harsh now that it’s had a month to bottle condition. Vanilla comes through, but perhaps at the expense of the cacao? And/or the cacao just rides the malt’s coat tails?

Anyway: results were better than I expected/feared?

Criticisms of my own creation here:

  1. I think it’s under-attenuated. I don’t know what I did wrong,5 or what else I could have done differently but… There you have it. An F.G. of 1.023 seems too high.6 And that said, I’m blaming the DME which (from the malt profile perspective) seems to rear its head a bit more than it should.
  2. The chili spice flavor was more pronounced than I’d expected. Which (frankly) is great — especially considering how weak that chili spice was for Flaming Hessian. And oh baby, considering it came ready in summertime — the timing seems almost perfect.
  3. Bitterness could be higher. Maybe the bitterness I have is washed out by the chili spice or the cloying remnants of the DME but… seems like it’s not particularly bitter. Maybe a bigger hit of Galena earlier in the boil next time?
  4. The cacao nibs didn’t give us all that much chocolate. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, every other American stout seems to have chocolate or coffee notes practically by default — and while I don’t necessarily want to boost the chocolate “just because I put it in there” — well, I was expecting more of that.

How did it turn out overall? Not quite what I was hoping for (especially re: ABV and chocolate notes) but better than I’d feared (especially re: fusels).

I’ll brew this one again some day. I’ve got some ideas how to make it work better.

Recipe

The partial mash recipe for Professor Severus Snape’s “Dragon Cloak” Malevolent Wizard Stout is as follows.

Mash Grains

  • 5 lb. 6 oz. Briess 2-row brewer’s malt
  • 2 lb. 12 oz. PQM amber malt
  • 1 lb. Briess black malt

Fermentables

  • 1 lb. Briess dark traditional DME
  • 4 lb. Briess golden light DME (25 min. late addition)

Hop Schedule

  • 1 oz. Galena (90 min.)
  • 1 oz. Galena (60 min.)
  • 1 oz. Columbus (30 min.)

Spices

  • 4 oz. cacao nibs
  • 4 (de-seeded) japonés chilis
  • 4 (de-seeded) vanilla beans

All spice ingredients are added to secondary. Sanitize by soaking in 375 milliliters of vodka for 20 minutes. Add all ingredients to secondary fermentor; optionally also add the vodka.

Yeast

Wyeast 1028 London Ale

Prepare a 1600 milliliter starter 2-3 days before brew day.

Brew Day

  1. Collect 13.53 qt. water and heat to 170.4°F. Mash in; hold at 152.1°F for 75 minutes.
  2. Mash out. Heat to 168° over 7 minutes; hold for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove filter bag from water. Squeeze filter bag to extract as much liquid as possible for wort.
  4. Top off to approx. 2.71 gal.
  5. Add 1 lb. traditional dark DME, and bring to a boil. Boil for 90 minutes, following hop schedule described above. Add 4 lb. golden light DME with 25 minutes remaining in the boil.
  6. Cool to 70°F as rapidly as possible and top off the fermenter to reach 5 gal.
  7. Aerate wort and pitch Wyeast 1028 yeast from starter.

Beyond Brew Day

  1. Allow primary fermentation to complete (approx. 1-2 weeks).
  2. Allow beer to condition for approx. 8-12 weeks.
  3. After approx. 2 weeks of conditioning, add the spices (vide supra) to the carboy.
  4. Use corn sugar to carbonate on bottling day. Rack beer into bottling bucket and bottle.
  5. Allow at least 2 weeks to carbonate. Better to give it 4 weeks.
  6. Enjoy.

Details

Professor Severus Snape’s “Dragon Cloak” Malevolent Wizard Stout, an original Russian Imperial Stout with chilis, vanilla, and cacao nibs, by Tilde Gravitywerks

Original Gravity 1.073 (16.4%Br)
Final Gravity 1.023 (10.1%Br)
ABV 6.6%
Attenuation 67%
IBU 76
SRM 38.2
Links Untappd
Flickr
  1. Another possibility: that there was some stratification going on in the carboy — i.e., that it wasn’t mixed up all that well after the pour-over and top-off but… Probably more likely that I just missed my gravity by 20 points. []
  2. 76°F being at least 4°F higher than 1028’s preferred range. []
  3. A “champagne” yeast in the same vein as Cuvée. []
  4. On the other hand, I had some good news here when I managed to pry that rubber stopper out of the carboy. []
  5. To be honest, I invested several evenings here in trying to make heads-or-tails of my grist, my mash protocol, my water… anything that could explain how I went from a target 1.092 to an actual starting gravity of 1.073. And you know what? I just drew a blank every time. []
  6. Even if that was the BeerSmith-calculated F.G. value. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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