Roots and Branches

Twenty or so years ago, I began homebrewing. The first book I used was the classic “Brewing Quality Beers”, by Byron Burch. It’s still the book I recommend for beginners, with its down-to-earth, practical and simple instructions, descriptions and recipes. No-nonsense advice and clear step-by-step directions are the book’s hallmarks.

I know a lot of homebrewers who swear by a different book – The Joy (or Complete Joy or New Complete Joy) of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian. Charlie has been at the forefront of homebrewing for almost 30 years, as president of the American Homebrewers’ Association, among other things, and this is probably the best known of all brewing books. Problem is, it’s overwhelming to the novice, despite Charlie’s frequent repetition of his mantra “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew…” I think that Charlie is such a good natural brewer that he jumps over the nuts and bolts too quickly, dashing off into esoteric recipes that are all over the map in terms of style… It’s a great read, once you’ve brewed a few batches, but to hand that to someone who has never brewed before is unfair, and may scare off more brewers than it attracts…

That said, “Joy” was the second brewing book I got, and I did indeed brew many of Charlie’s recipes over the years. Since getting involved with the homebrew shops that I have managed, and writing the manuals that I have written, my copy of “Joy” has lain unopened and neglected on the shelf. Until today.

Last week we had a terrific thunderstorm, accompanied by hail and high winds. One result of the storm was the loss of a large cherry tree between the house and barn. A Montmorency Cherry tree, the fruit was about a week shy of fully ripe. Sorta like when life hands you lemons, life handed me cherries. Instead of immediately cutting up and hauling away the tree, we left it there. Sure enough, the cherries did ripen and we managed to pick eight or nine pounds of them. I knew I had to brew with them, more or less right away. Then I remembered one of Papazian’s recipes that I had always meant to try, Cherry Fever Stout. Digging out my copy of “Joy”, I adapted the recipe to be more of an Imperial Stout, and changed the extract-based recipe to an all-grain version, and voilà – Montmorency Falls Stout.

Montmorency Falls Cherry Imperial Stout

5 gallons, all-grain with fruit


  • 10 lbs. 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. Belgian Special B malt
  • 1 lb. cara-amber malt
  • 1/2 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/2 lb. Carafa I malt
  • 1 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (@12.3% aa)
  • 1 oz. Willamette hop pellets (@4.8% aa)
  • 5 lbs. Montmorency cherries (whole)
  • White Labs Essex Ale yeast (WLP022)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)


Crush grains. Heat 16 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold 90 minutes at 152°F. Heat another 16 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 28 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Northern Brewer hops. Boil 60 minutes, add Willamette hops, boil 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and add cherries. Steep covered for 15 minutes, then chill to 80°F, cherries and all. Take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Add yeast, ferment at 68 – 70°F for ten days, leaving the cherries in the fermenting beer. Rack to secondary (removing cherries at this point and adding, if desired, a cherry wine flavoring extract or a bottle of Knudsen’s Black Cherry Juice concentrate), age three weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition for three weeks or more.

OG: 1072

IBU’s: 66.8

Admiration and Emulation

When I try a new beer and really like it, I immediately think about how I would make it myself. I don’t always actually brew a clone, at least not right away, but the new beer frequently influences a brew somewhere along the line. I recently tracked down (and enjoyed very much) Stone Brewing’s Imperial Russian Stout, a big, thick malty bottle of goodness. Looking at the calendar and the weather forecast, it occurred to me that it was time to begin brewing some of the big winter beers I would need to get me through the cold winter months ahead. I had already brewed my Wee Heavy Scotch Ale for November, and an Imperial Stout would be a really good thing to have in December and January.  For this brew, I am pulling out all the stops – it’s an Oaked Hazelnut Imperial Oat Stout. The richness of an Imperial Stout, the smoothness of an Oatmeal Stout, fermented on toasted oak chips and flavored (only a little) with Hazelnut, just to add a little more complexity.

OHIO Stout
5 gallons, all grain


  • 9 lbs. Maris Otter 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. dark Munich malt
  • 1 lb. 165°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/2 lb. black malt
  • 1-1/2 lbs. rolled oats
  • 1 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (5% aa)
  • 1 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (10.6% aa)
  • White Labs Cream Ale yeast blend (WLP080)
  • 1 bottle (2 oz.) organic hazelnut flavoring extract
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains (except oats). Heat 16 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in crushed grains and oats, hold at 152°F for 90 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 25 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add EKG hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Northern Brewer hops, boil 30 minutes. Remove from heat, add 1 oz. (half the bottle) of hazelnut extract and chill to 80°F. Take hydrometer reading. Put a large handful of steamed and toasted oak chips in a sanitized fermenter, then pour the wort in on the oak, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment for ten days or more. Rack to secondary, age cool (55 – 60°F) for a month. Prime with corn sugar and add the other half of the bottle of hazelnut extract, bottle and age a month or more.

OG: 1077
IBU’s: 46.7

Notes on style: Imperial Stouts, or Russian Imperial Stouts, developed as a specialty beer that English brewers made for the court of Catherine the Great in the 1700’s. They are generally richer, higher in alcohol, and have a sweeter flavor than Irish Stouts. Oatmeal stouts are more conventional in body and strength, but the use of oats (up to 30% of the grain, in some cases) makes them smoother, less harsh.

Notes on this brew: Oats absorb a lot of liquid, therefore one needs to use more water in the mash and in the sparge. Oats also really gum up the runoff, so plan on a longer brew day. This took well over 90 minutes to runoff, whereas I usually am boiling within 35 – 40 minutes.
The use of oak is not common for stouts, although I imagine that barrels shipped to Saint Petersburg had an oaky flavor, back in the day. When I add oak to a brew, I steam the chips first (10 minutes in a vegetable steamer) and then toast them (350°F for 10 minutes on a cookie sheet). This not only sanitizes them but also imparts a bit more toasty flavor.
I generally don’t like “flavored” beers, but I couldn’t resist trying to add one more element to this beer. The extract I use is all-natural and organic, and in this big a beer should not add more than a hint of flavor, one more thing to think about while savoring it.
I chose the Cream Ale yeast mostly because that was what I had. I like the idea of a “creamy” texture and finish, hopefully that will work out.

Celebrating with beer…

This past Saturday my daughter graduated from college! No more payments, no more FAFSA and other financial aid forms, and probably no more graduation speeches to listen to! Worth celebrating, definitely! I’m pretty proud of my daughter, too – not only does she have a degree in Baking & Pastry Arts, and a full-time job right away in her field, but she also made reservations for a family luncheon at a brewpub a few minutes’ walk from the site of the graduation ceremony! Her father’s daughter, in many ways…

Eight of us shared a table at the Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, Rhode Island, right under their famous mural of the Last Supper (with John Lennon in the place of Jesus, Kurt Cobain as Judas, etc…). They had six beers on tap, and I got the six-beer sampler tray, not wanting to miss anything…

First up: a Kölsch. My Dad, a Bud drinker, enjoyed the Kölsch enough to have two. It was nice and bready, malty, crisp, Trinity says it is between 3 and 4% abv, with 18 IBU, and hopped with Galena.

Tommy’s Red Ale, a very malty Irish style ale, glowed a deep amber. At 4 to 5% abv and 28 IBUs, all Tettnang, it was yummy.

ESB: didn’t catch the name, nor the abv/IBU counts, but I’d guess it was around 35 – 40 IBU, very English tasting at first (Goldings?) but with an American (Cascade?) finish. Overall impression: hops, but pretty well balanced by malt.

Rhode Island IPA, their flagship, a multiple medal-winner, and the only beer they bottle at the moment (everything on tap is available in growlers at the pub, but the IPA can be found in dozens of retail outlets). 7% abv, 65 IBUs, all Kent Golding, according to the website. Very nice hop bitterness and a crisp balanced flavor. I had another pint.

Decadence Imperial IPA – brewed to celebrate 10 years in business, this is a big (10% abv) bitter (150 IBU’s) “wow” of a beer. Summit, Amarillo, Cascade and Simcoe hops, LOTS of malt…

Russian Imperial Stout – a beautiful opaque black beer, with a thick beige head. They say 8% and 60 IBU’s, hopped with Kent Goldings. Something in the yeast profile reminded us all of licorice or anise, but otherwise a nice rich beer…

The menu was fairly typical pub food, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, steaks and seafood, and the service was quite good. Get there early and be sure to make reservations – the place was hopping!