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How I Created …

Stewart Elysium, 11.5%
by Bruce Smith

I was introduced to Stewart Brewing when studying for my MSc in Brewing & Distilling at Heriot-Watt University.

Bruce Smith, StewartFour students per year are chosen to team up and run a cuckoo brewery at Stewart in a programme called Natural Selection Brewing.

I was lucky enough to be picked as head brewer for the project and so spent a year working closely with the Stewart team, eventually releasing a 5.5% rye saison with Galaxy hops.

During the project, I was offered a position to develop a pilot kit and ‘brew-it-yourself’ facility at the brewery after I graduated. I jumped at the opportunity and, once the kit was commissioned, I set to work playing around with the existing beer recipes and developing a range of new innovative beers on a small scale.

As a result, most of our core-range beers have now been tweaked slightly and we have added countless new beers to our portfolio, with some becoming part of the permanent range.

I have been working with barrel-aged beers since the start of my brewing career so, after joining Stewart in 2013, it wasn’t long before I was itching to get something into a barrel.

Classic Stout

My first choice was a classic imperial Russian stout and this was when having the pilot kit came in really handy. I designed a recipe and brewed a 100-litre batch. At this point I was aiming for an ABV of around 9% and really just wanted a base beer that I was happy with and would be worthy of all the months of ageing.

The resulting beer was good but not exactly what I wanted. It was a little one-dimensional, a solid strong stout, but I was looking for real complexity and that velvety viscosity you get in a good imperial stout.

It also wasn’t as dark as I wanted. I wanted the final stout to be so dark that it would absorb light. So the 9% trial was aged on cacao nibs and raspberries and released instead as our 9th Anniversary beer in 750ml bottle.

It was back to the drawing board but that first trial had helped me identify what was needed. Next time around, the ABV was boosted to over 11%.

The variety of malts used was increased from a mere six to a substantial eleven as I aimed to get that jump in base-beer complexity. The more speciality malts, the more complex the flavour profile was the theory.

Maris Otter, wheat and oats made up the base and a blend of three grades of crystal malt including Special B (a dark crystal malt, which I believe adds a lot to this beer) were added for sweetness.

Next came the roasted malts – some aromatic malt to intensify the maltiness of the beer as well as chocolate malt, black malt, roasted barley and Carafa Special 3 – which were added at relatively high proportions to create an opaque black colour and a robust roasted finish.

Colour was a big thing. Some would say ‘black is black’ but brewers know that there is a difference between a standard stout and an imperial in the way it looks. The colour worked out to be over 700 EBC on paper, which I can confirm is very, very black.

I also took extra steps to increase the body of the beer by having the mash temperature at 70°C, which is a lot higher than for any other beer we produce.

Whopping IBUs

For hops, I went with some Northern Brewer and Challenger, ensuring most of the whopping 90 IBUs came from the early addition and just a sprinkling from the late. Despite this, the perceived bitterness was pretty low as the final gravity was in the 1030s, to get the viscosity I was looking for. It was really all to do with balance as I did not want an overly sweet finish.

I split the batch into five 20-litre fermentation vessels and pitched five different yeast strains. The winner – when tasted – was our house ale strain, which offered good attenuation, despite the gravity, and great flocculation. The beer was jet black and the aroma/flavour as clean as a whistle.

With the base recipe finally nailed, it was time to get some barrels. A well-placed friend at the Edrington Group was able to help with our request for various types and sizes.

I am always very particular with the barrels. They need to be disgorged at the most 72 hours before we fill them, so that we have fresh, wet barrels that haven’t had time to dry out or lose the sterilising effect of the whisky.

There were three main types of barrels used – American bourbon, malt whisky hogsheads and sherry butts – selected so we had a nice spread of barrel-aged characters on the beer and that, when it came to final blending, the result would be even more complex.

The planning stage over, it was time to brew the beer in our main brewhouse. We produced around 30hl. I would have made more but one more gram of grain and the mash tun would have overflowed.

Stewart ElysiumOther than the expected slow run-off and long boil/mashing times, the brew went well and so did the fermentation, although it did make a bit of a mess.

We conditioned the beer in tank for several weeks to remove most of the yeast, something that I have learned is important as the yeast will begin to produce off-flavours during the long barrel maturation.

We prepared the barrels by purging them with carbon dioxide. We know they are clean as they have just had a 50% alcohol in them but we had to remove the air to prevent it oxidising the beer.

We then filled the barrels to the brim with stout and sealed them with a silicon bung.

The beer sat in the barrels for what seemed like an eternity, being tasted every month, until finally one day, around nine months after the barrels were filled, I found what I was looking for.

The bourbon-aged stout was rich in vanilla and oak. The whisky barrel had a more subtle wood character but also had a smoky/peaty edge. The sherry was abundant with dried fruits and soft vinous notes.

I enjoyed each interpretation so much individually that the idea of blending the whole lot together went out of the window and we simply released smaller runs of each type – Elysium I, II & III. But a blend of all three does exist and has just been released as Elysium Reserve Edition.

Elysium was our first barrel-aged product brewed on any real scale but its success has opened the doors to doing more. Time for a bigger barrel ageing room…

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