Coffee Beer Experiment

In January 2007 I did a coffee beer experiment which tried three different methods of infusing coffee into an oatmeal stout. My wishful-thinking goal was to reproduce Bell’s Java Stout, my favorite coffee-flavored beer. The methodology was to make a base oatmeal stout to then add coffee in secondary. The end results were pretty good. Dry-beaning produced the best coffee flavor but I cheaped out on the beans (8 O’Clock) making for an inferior coffee beer.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 8# Briess 2-row
  • 1# flaked oats
  • 0.5# Simpson’s roasted barley
  • 0.5# Simpson’s chocolate malt
  • 0.5# Simpson’s dark crystal
  • 0.85# Chinook, 12% AA
  • Pacman yeast in a 1.6L starter

The OG was 1.043, not sure what it wound up at. Initially I was going to split the batch five ways: 1 gallon as the “control” beer with no coffee and then 4 other gallons each with their own coffee method:

  • Toddy cold-extract
  • French press
  • Espresso
    • I used my cheap-ass Mr. Coffee steam espresso unit which if handled correctly can make an adequate cup of espresso.
  • Coarse-ground beans

After the beer was in secondary for two weeks I was ready to split up the batch and add coffee. With the three types of coffee on hand I pulled off a few cups of beer and began taste testing. Into a half-cup of beer I would add a measured amount of coffee (probably a teaspoon), mix & take a sip. When the sample tasted about “right” I wrote down how much coffee I added to get the desired taste. My goal was to get a good coffee kick, I wasn’t going for any subtleties here. At this point the press coffee was disqualified from the experiment because the volume required to get the correct taste was large enough to where it would have diluted the beer down too far. If I recall correctly it wound up being around 1/3 of the total volume. Because cold extract and espresso are more concentrated they lend more of their coffee essence without the volume. I didn’t do any experimenting with the amount of dry beans to add, the amount added was more of a visual estimation. The final numbers were:

  • 11oz cold extract per gallon
  • 16oz espresso per gallon
  • 2oz coarse-ground beans per gallon (the photo up top is of the grounds & their beer)

The rest of the batch was simply bottled. I’m not sure how long I left the beer in their gallon jugs, probably a week or two. In hindsight one could skip the “jugging” process with the two liquid additions and do those right at bottling time. As mentioned earlier the dry bean method produced the best coffee flavor. Cold extract came in second with the espresso in third. My conclusion is that the more concentrated your coffee addition is the better. The toddy coffee also worked well but I don’t like how this extraction method removes coffee’s acidity, it results in sort of a “flabby” taste. Toddy’s advantage is that it’s easy to measure out and mix with your beer while dry-beaning is more of a crapshoot and requires more work.

Barrel Simulation Experiment

In the summer of 2006 I tried to replicate J.W. Lee’s Barrel-Aged Harvest Ale Series by soaking wood chips in alcohol and then blending with a barley wine. The Harvest Ales are truly wonderful beers and I was hoping to recreate the cohesive set of pure, clean flavors that these beers have (try them for yourself and see what I mean).

I went out and bought 4 different kinds of alcohol and three kinds of wood chips:

  • Old Fitzgerald Bourbon
  • Benjamin Australian Tawny Port
  • Sheffield Cream Sherry
  • Early Times Kentucky Whiskey
  • American Oak
  • French Oak (Medium Toast)
  • Hungarian Oak (House Toast)

As you can see I didn’t drop a lot of coin on the booze. From these I made up 5 jars of wood ‘n alcohol:

  • Bourbon / America
  • Port / French
  • Sherry / America
  • Whiskey / French
  • Bourbon / Hungarian

I made these up about 3 months before the beer was brewed.

The beer was a 5-gallon batch of Harvest Ale clone; 20 pounds of Marris Otter and a bunch of EKG (2oz FWH, 1.5oz @ 90, 1oz @ 15, 2oz @ 5) all on a WLP 002 cake. OG was 1.096 and it finished at 1.023. This was only my 9th batch so I wasn’t as well tuned-in to proper fermentation temperatures as I am now so this thing fermented a bit hot causing the yeast to throw off some green pepper fusels. From my notes it looks like ambient was around 76F! This led to a lesser beer but not enough to wreck the experiment. After 6 weeks in secondary the beer was split five ways – 4, 1 gallon jugs each with their own alcohol blend and the last gallon as a control subject. Unfortunately I didn’t write down how much of the wood & alcohol I put into each jug; it was around 4-5 chunks of wood and a short pour of the “broth”.

I left the jugs to age for a few months before bottling those. By now the peppery alcohol has died down some leaving the too-high finishing gravity to be the big flaw. The wood and alcohol essence turned out very well; not overpowering but also noticeable. I’m sipping on a Bourbon / Hungarian Oak right now and if the base beer had been better this would a contest-worth brew. The other thing I would do differently is to add a dose of fresh yeast at bottling; these things don’t have much carbonation because of the long time (2-3 months) before bottling. As mentioned earlier I used cheap alcohol for this experiment and in hindsight it was the right decision because all the nasty alcohol evaporates away after sitting in the jars for a few months.

Fermentation Heater

During the winter I use a cheap space heater inside my chest freezer for a temperature-controlled fermentation chamber; I keep my house pretty cold (60F), too cold for ale fermentations. I figure I already paid for a big insulated box so I might as well make use of it! To power the space heater I ran an extension cord through the freezer’s drain hole.

The adjustment knob on the heater doesn’t have any numbers, just a “hotness” scale, so I’m labeling the dial with what each position gets me. To record the ambient temp I filled a beer bottle with water and stuck a thermometer inside; the water acts as buffer for rapid temp changes and also better simulates what the temp might be inside the carboy.

Ginger Ale

I’ve been tinkering with a ginger ale recipe on Jack Schmidling’s site. It’s nice having something other than water or beer to drink at home; here’s my current version for 2.25 gallons:

  • 5oz ginger root (2.2oz per gal)
  • 4.25 cups unrefined cane sugar (1.9c per gal)
  • 2.25T vanilla extract (1T per gal)
  • 1/4t champagne yeast, rehydrated

The cane sugar was a nice improvement over plain table sugar as it has a good caramel flavor. My process is:

  • Get water & sugar boiling
  • Peel & chop ginger, boil in a saucepan for 20 minutes to extract gingery goodness
  • Puree ginger stew & add to pot
    • Perhaps I should puree first and then boil for better extraction?
  • Cool to 70F and strain through cheesecloth and pitch yeast

Gummi Brew

Gummi Bears are made of sugar and have flavor, right? Sounds like just barley malt. In March of 2007 I tried making a fermented beverage entirely out of gummi bears. I don’t remember the exact proportions but it had around 6 pounds of bears to 3 gallons of water for an OG of about 1.080. Because gummi bears are mostly sugar their SG is 1.042 PPG. To counteract the anticipated sweetness I boiled them with an ounce of bittering hops (Fuggles perhaps) for about a half hour.

This is what one pound of gummi bears looks like:


To ferment this stuff I think I used a champagne yeast. The “gum” in the bears made for an interesting gooey foam on top of the fermentation; in motion it was creepy in a “killer ooze” sort of way.

If you've ever wondered what fermenting gummi bears look like..
If you’ve ever wondered what fermenting gummi bears look like..

In the end the experiment was a failure. Too much of the sugar fermented out leaving nothing but the artificial fruit flavoring and hop bitterness. Also it was still very viscous making for an unappealing drink. An improved version of this experiment might include some unfermentable sugar, no hops, and perhaps additional spices like fresh ginger root.

Don’t Forget the Rice Hulls

Yesterday we made a Weizenbock whose grain bill was made from 50% wheat malt. The bed compacted so badly that we didn’t even finish the first vorlauf when the trickled to a halt. Because we had no hulls or other clever additive our solution was to reset the mash and re-vorlauf. There’s a window of oppurtunity while the runoff is relatively clear to collect wort; maybe a gallon’s worth. However after that gallon is collected then the grain bed hardens up again. As you can guess we had to reset the mash 6 to 8 times in order to collect the full boil volume – a pain in the ass and a time waster.

The bright side to all this is that we learned that one can always get a beer out a stubbon mash, it just might take some time.

Wardley’s Chlor Out

Picked up a bottle of Wardley’s Chlor Out today from Wally World to try to get rid of the (slight) chlorine taste in our water. Milwaukee now uses chloramines so one can’t simply leave their brewing water out overnight for the chlorine to dissipate. I’m doing a taste test with plain water and the results are very good. The recommended dosage is 1/2 teaspoon per 10 gallons so I’m adding about 0.02mL to a 1.5c glass of water. Even with that very small amount the stuff works very well.  I’ve never thought our water had a bad taste in the first place but I swear that I can taste chlorine in some of my lighter beers – for $2.14 per bottle I can’t go wrong.

After a few minutes the chlorine odor is gone and after a half hour there’s only a slight chlorine/mineral thing in the finish, and overnight I can’t detect any off-tastes.  A “control” sample that had been sitting out for the same amount of time has a much more noticeable taste.

As for the “is it food safe question”? I figure if a product is to be used for sensitive tropical fish it’s OK to drink in such a small dilution. I reckon they say to not use it for food because they wouldn’t FDA approval for a pet product.