Brew Day: North Shore Brewer’s Barrel Beer #4 (Wee Heavy)

Awhile back my homebrew club The North Shore Brewers acquired two used Utopias barrels from Samuel Adams. The first two barrel beers were two batches of a Kate the Great/Mott the Lessor clone. The club brought a keg to Jamboree last fall, and the beer was excellent. Club member Ryan Veno entered two of his bottles in the National Homebrew Competition. The beer finished first at its table and advanced to the Final Round of judging held at HomebrewCon.

The third batch was a SMaSH barleywine. I brewed a batch with my friend from the club Pat, but by the time it was done the barrel was full. We ended up raking our barleywine into 5 different one gallon growlers where we are aging the beer on different woods and different spirits.

After the barleywine the club had a vote on the club forum about what style of beer to brew next. I suggested either a Strong Scottish Ale (or Wee Heavy) or a clone of Westvleteren 12, one of the most sought-after beers in the world. I made sure to leave the forum open to other suggestions.

In the end the Wee Heavy won out in part because it is less expensive to brew. The Westvleteren 12 clone would have required relatively expensive dark Belgian candi sugar. Paul Gentile from Gentile Brewing helped us out with a grain buy. A grain buy is when a group of brewers get together to buy bulk grains directly from a wholesaler, or when a commercial brewer orders grain for homebrewers. We ordered our hops in bulk directly from a wholesaler, and I brewed a beer to propagate enough yeast for everyone. In all the cost of the batch was less than $30. For a high-gravity beer that uses as much malt as this beer, that’s not bad at all.

I scaled up the recipe for Pyrite Pistol, changed it to all-grain, and then made a
couple of tweaks.

The starting point for the recipe was Pyrite Pistol. When converting the batch from malt extract to all-grain there we decided to use Scottish Golden Promise base malt. One club member suggested using some Munich Malt to punch up the malt flavor so we added a pound to the grist. I replaced the lighter Caramalt from Pyrite Pistol with 150L CaraArmoa malt. The idea is to give the beer the color and flavor it needs without having to employ too long of a boil. A shorter boil will boil off less water, which requires running off less wort from the mash, and will leave more sugars behind to brew another beer with the second runnings.

After my experiment with The Anti-Chris, I felt confident in brewing a batch like this with my mash tun in my kitchen. I mashed in just like I would with any other all-grain batch. I ran off around four gallons of wort expecting to boil it down to 2.5 gallons. Before I brought that to a boil, I filled my mash tun with sparge water, stirred the mash, and sealed the mash tun. When my first boil was over, I cooled my wort, poured it into my fermenter, ran off another four gallons, and boiled the second half of the batch.

This worked fairly well as I ended up with just a shade under five gallons. After pitching my yeast starter I was probably right there. The only downside to this method is the time involved. It takes time to bring the wort to a boil, this batch used a 90 minute boil, then I had to cool it down. Conservatively this added an extra two hours to my brew day. That is without factoring in a second beer I made from the grains.

It is good to know that I can brew a big, all-grain beer in my kitchen. The brew day is just so flipping long I can’t see myself doing it more than a few times a year.

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