The Adjective Stout 2015 (Dialing It in?)

Every year I brew a stout around the fall with a friend, and every year we do something weird with it by adding a lot of shit that often doesn’t work. Any home brewer just starting out will tell you stories of putting the weirdest shit in their beer. I wouldn’t put it past someone to dip their balls in the boil just to see what flavor compounds come out of the finished beer.

For the past Adjective Stouts we’ve made the flavor combinations in the recipe we kept using (smoked grains, cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, salt, etc.) were almost always too clashing, especially the 2014 version. Making a beer for the sake of being weird is just…well, weird.

I wanted to make a version this time with more complimentary flavors such as chocolate, coffee, lactose, vanilla, maybe fruit, etc. Another version could maybe be with salt, bourbon, whiskey soaked oak chips, smoked gains, etc. The idea behind these is one is more like a desert and the other a meal. I also have been wanting to make two beers with a briny saltiness (no one knows why), one called the Black Sea and the other the Red Sea. The Red Sea has been attempted before. The Black Sea for 2016? For the 2015 version I wanted to keep it more traditional for what one might find in a stout.

I will note ahead of time that my efficiency was way too low on this. This could be due to the amount of dark grains having no (to very little) diastatic power, but I highly doubt it as a lot of people mash in with dark grains from the beginning. I usually always add my dark grains at vorlauf, but this time I opted to play with baking soda like a tool. I do like the idea of controlling pH easier with baking soda, but I do also have a fair amount of bicarbonates naturally (128), which on paper should be a decent starting point using dark grains.

Paper is also very flammable.


Batch Size: 4.5 Gallons
Target OG: 1.082
SRM: 40
Est ABV: 7.3%
IBU: 62
Boil Time: 90

67.2% – 2-Row
13.4% – Flaked Oats
5.3% – Chocolate Malt
4.0% – Red X
3.3% – Roasted Barley
2.7% – Crystal 10L

1.30 oz Challenger (5.7% AA) @ 60 Min
2.00 oz East Kent Goldings (14% AA) @ 15 Min

WLP002 English Ale

Here’s what went down:

Brewed 10/30/15

Added dark grains in the beginning of the mash. Milled the flaked oats because the guy at the home brew shop meddled in my shit and did it before I could stop him, but it’s cool.

Added 3g of calcium chloride to mash and 2g to sparge water. 2g grams of baking soda was added to mash to get it to 5.6 (probably could use 1g at first and add more as needed if the pH is too low). After the first runoff, sparge water was heated to 185F to bring the mash to 170F. Efficiency was in the 60s. Cooled and pitched the whole vile of yeast.

11/10/15: Producing a lot of sulfur. Over-pitching could create suffer, but I did’t over-pitch. If anything I under-pitched.


1 gallon bottled.

1 gallon pulled off for who knows what (added orange later).

2.2 gallons added the following:

1 oz coffee coarse crushed dry beaned in nylon for 24 hours. These floated (could cold brew 1 cups per 2.5 gallons added at secondary as well).

1.5 oz of cocao nibs soaked in vodka in nylon. (could do powder with low butter content. 2 oz mixed with hot water into paste per 2 gallons).

Still smells a bit sulfury.

11/20/15: Took coffee beans off. Added four oak cubes (soaked in bourbon at one point and boiled for 2 minutes) to the 2.2 gallon one.

11/25/15: Transferred the 2.2 gallon one to another carboy purged with CO2. Took off the cocao nibs. It’s tasting really weird. It’s almost papery in the smell, but not taste. It could be oxidized, but doesn’t have the usual oxidized flavor (stale sweet carpet for IPAs). I have no idea. Gonna let it sit for a few weeks and taste it again.

12/31/15: Racked into the keg. Added to the keg 2 oz of powdered cocoa with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a splash of bourbon (made into a paste, heated for a few minutes, then cooled). Set the regulator to 10 psi and shook the keg. Purged slightly right after shaking, then took off the gas. A change would be to set it to 15 psi and shake and not purge if I want it quick, but I didn’t want to over carbonate it initially.

1/2/16: Not carbonated and way too much chocolate, but it was all flocculated chocolate. Seems like the cocoa paste should be added to a secondary first, cold crashed, then transferred to a keg. Hooked up the gas line and set the regulator to 7 psi and the chest freezer to 45F.

1/5/16: Carbonated. Still too much chocolate powder in the beer though. The head retention sucks due to a chunk of cocoa powder goop at the bottom of the keg being sucked up with every pour (but it’s good if serving with the regulator set in the 15 psi range).

1/10/16: Bottled from the keg.

1/11/16: Added to the other 1 gallon one saving for god knows what: Orange zest (.25 oz per 1 gallon) and .55 oz of cocoa powder very thin watery paste with a dash of vanilla extract, heated for about 10 minutes, then cooled.

1/15/16: Added the 1 gallon orange one to the cold chest freezer.

1/17/16: Bottled the 1 gallon orange one. The chocolate level seems about right pre-carbonated.

2/16/16 Tasting notes:

Chocolate and coffee one: Pretty good effort considering the debacle with the cocoa powder. I think the chocolate and coffee levels are right. I also didn’t let this age long enough, so it has a kind of ashy taste to it, but it got better with age for sure. Tastes like what you would expect from an Imperial Stout with chocolate and coffee.

Orange chocolate one: Perfectly carbonated. The orange is a little too light in the smell and taste, yet detectable. I think I rather have raspberry or some such similar fruit over the orange. The sulfur smell is gone.

Regular one: Very ashtray like, but has got better with age. I will age all these longer (and age all big beers longer in the future). I prefer the chocolate and cocoa one a bit better as well.

Changes to the chocolate and coffee one:

The head retention never got better even after bottling. Lessen the amount to 1 oz of cocoa powder per 2 gallons, and in secondary, not the keg. Midnight wheat or carafa if doing chocolate/coffee, or cut the roasted barley down. I’d use less hops as well, probably something in the 45 IBU range. It’s a bit too burnt and bitter (kind of astringent) still for a coffee chocolate stout. It’s very possible I added too much baking soda, and got the pH above 6. That high of a pH combined with a mash above 160F can create unwanted tannins.

Changes in general:

Add the dark grains during vorlauf and use less attenuating yeast (diacetyl rest maybe needed if so, and maybe not an English strain. I got quite a bit of sulfur using US-04 and WLP002 for some weird reason).

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