Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brew day: None More Buzzed Coffee Stout . . .

. . . or, A Middle Finger to the FDA

So I have to be honest: I was planning on brewing our coffee stout before this whole Four Loko nonsense broke. However, the timing couldn't have been better.

For those who are unaware of Four Loko and the ensuing controversy, I'll briefly summarize. People without functioning tastebuds (or the will to ignore said tastebuds) have been mixing Red Bull and vodka for years now. The makers of Four Loko skip the middleman and produce an energy drink/alcopop that not only has caffeine, taurine and guarana but also 12% alcohol by volume. It comes in eight flavors, all of which are quite rancid from what I hear. (Wanna brew your own? Here's a clone recipe!)

Over the past few months several states have banned Four Loko, and the Food and Drug Administration recently declared Four Loko "a public health concern." Why? Because it mixes alcohol with caffeine. Now the reasoning behind this is absolutely ridiculous. Like most public health scares, people start with a truth (too much alcohol and too much caffeine is not good for you) and comically distort it. College students being rushed to the hospital after drinking Four Loko . . . An despondent Iraq War veteran committing suicide after drinking Four Loko . . . As if these things never happened back in the day when people drank regular ol' alcohol. And, in typical American style, our reaction isn't to warn people to act responsibly, it's to ban the stuff altogether.

Now I know what you might be thinking: "But Russ, I don't want to drink that crap so what do I care?" Well, in the wake of this scare, Michigan has banned a California IPA brewed with Yerba Matte. You can read more about craft brewers' concerns about the fallout of Four Loko Madness here. (And, if you're a dork like me you can also read an interesting First Amendment take on the issue over at

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now, but it really is the perfect time to brew a coffee stout--something I haven't done since the inaugural Beerfly Alleyfight back in 2007. My base recipe is our None More Black oatmeal stout (hence the name None More Buzzed), and I decided to tweak my recipe in two substantive ways. First, I upped my oats from 1/2 lb. to a full pound for five gallons. This was mainly because my local homebrew store sells flaked oats in 1-lb. packages and what am I going to do with the remaining half pound? Second, my previous recipe called for 1 lb. of roast barley and 0.3 lb. of black patent malt. Since the coffee contributes plenty of roastiness, I changed that to a half pound each of roast barley and black patent malt.

The brew day was pretty uneventful with a couple exceptions (as usual). I mashed in at noon at 152°F (a couple degrees short of my target) but when I started to sparge at 12:45 I started getting a lot of grain in my hose. Once again, my manifold had come disconnected. Ugh. After dumping three quarters of the mash out into a stock pot, I was able to reconnect the manifold and I recirculated from 12:55-1:10. I collected six gallons of wort from 1:10 to 2:20.

I boiled from 2:20 to 3:20 with hop additions at 60 minutes, 15 minutes and 2 minutes. I chilled down to 68°F and ended up with 4.7 gallons at 1062. Since I was high in gravity but low in volume I added 1/4 gallon bottled water to get to 5 gallons at 1059.

Now we come to my "I'm A Dumbass" moment that seems to happen at least once every brew day. I recently bought an O2 regulator so I can aerate with pure oxygen, but before buying my own a borrowed a buddy's so I could do some experimenting to see if it made a noticeable difference. Well, long story short, I cracked the cap on my buddy's O2 regulator so I told him when I bought mine we could swap so he wouldn't have to deal with the cracked cap. So yesterday I was using the cracked cap for the first time and sure enough, after about three twists the rest of it broke off.

I could still turn the metal knob without the plastic cap, but it barely stuck up so I had to use pliers to grip it. It was slow going, but it should still work, right? Well, I kept twisting and twisting and twisting and nothing was happening. I started to worry that there was something in the cap that acted as a safety such that it wouldn't work without the cap. I kept twisting and twisting and twisting and still nothing.

Then it occurred to me: I'm probably just out of O2. Now, I had just bought my first O2 canister for my last brew, so there's a good reason I dismissed this possibility earlier. But there was no other explanation; there must have been a leak somewhere. Sure enough, I ran to the hardware store and bought a new canister and--voilà!--it worked. So I aerated and pitched a healthy slurry of yeast courtesy of Bryan at Flossmoor Station and I had fermentation four hours later.

The carboy is gurgling away right now. In ten days or so I'll rack to the keg and add 1/2 lb. of whole espresso beans. It may not be Four Loko, but it'll have to do for now.


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