Calamity Grain Russian Imperial Stout (Pastry Stout)

About seven months back my buddy Brian came over for a collaboration brewday. We had planned out a double brew, fifteen gallons of lambic and ten of imperial stout. Things started off well and we got through a turbid mash schedule for the lambic and had it boiling nicely before mashing in for the stout. Due to the massive grain bill for the stout and my limited equipment setup I had ingeniously devised a method to squeeze out ten gallons.

We would first mash in two electric kettles using a BIAB setup, then lauter off enough from each kettle into fermenter buckets to create space to top-up the kettles with water, thus, doing an improvised batch sparge. Once the bag was pulled we would add the wort from the buckets back into the kettles and we’d be off to the races.

The lambic was scheduled to boil for a couple hours and in order to free up my electric kettles I had it on my gas range. The stove tops we use here in China really kick out the heat as they are commonly used for cooking with a wok. The first of the disasters struck when a sound like a gun shot rang out in the kitchen. Brian and I stood there dumbstruck until we realized that the glass top of the stove had shattered. The reason was obvious. The two massive kettles had reflected so much heat that the glass couldn’t take it and effectively “blew up”. 

After busting out the vacuum we had “no choice” but to simply continue the boil on the stove and move on with sparging the stout. The second disaster struck! My plan to top up with cold water required us to stir constantly to avoid scorching the bags on the bottom of the kettles. I previously had success doing this but only to bump up a mash a degree or two. The time came to pull the bags and they came out with ease. Too easily in fact, as both bags had holes burned in them and the smell of simmering nylon pervaded the air. We tasted the wort and after declaring that there were “no significant off flavors” proceeded to tie off the holes in the bags and use them to pour and filter the grain from the wort.

At this point the kitchen was a mess of shattered glass, spilled wort, burned bags, and bits of grain flung and stuck everywhere. Around the time we had the stout “lautered” and starting to boil, my electrical breaker box caught on fire! We eventually got that rewired and proceeded to give the stout a several hour boil in order to hit our intended gravity, 1.156. By the end of the day, I had invested about 15 hours into these brews. My wife was gracious enough to help me mop up the kitchen at 10 p.m. 

The stout (Calamity Grain) ended up coming out great and will be enjoyed for a few years to come. Either Brian and I have little tasting ability or the massive grain bill covered up any burnt off-flavors. It weighs in at a whopping 14% abv. Before brewing this, I never would have conceived of making something bigger than 11% abv. 

We ended up adjuncting the hell out of the thing as well. Four different varieties now sit in my basement. One is coffee (kopi luwak). One is coffee, coconut, and vanilla. Another is a S’mores stout with graham crackers, marshmallows (toasted), and cacao nibs. And last but not least is the plain old vanilla. All the “fancy” stuff like kopi luwak and cacao nibs were sourced by Brian from some famous roasters/producers in Oregon. 

The lambic was split into three fermenters and left outside overnight. It was then sealed and left to do its thing in my cellar. Two of the lambics got cultures from some fancy/famous breweries in Belgium (that was Brian’s deal) and one was left to go “all natural”. I’ve smelled the airlocks on these and the all local one had some exciting fruity notes. Looking forward to the one year mark of actually tasting these.

All in all, this ended being a semi-successful and exceedingly hectic brewday.

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