Saturday, July 30, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #23 Pliny the Elder, v2.0

I decided to give the Pliny clone another go. The problems I had last time were these:
  • Slightly fruity; maybe even hot alcohol. Possibly high fermentation temp.
  • Bitterness was too harsh. I'm not a huge fan of Columbus for bittering. Something smoother like Warrior or Magnum would be better.
  • Not dry enough. Needed to do something to dry it out: more sugar, less crystal, lower mash temps.
  • Carbonation was too high. Reduce it to 2.2-2.3.
  • Too dark. Not really a problem, per se, but Pliny is very pale and mine was more dark bronze.
I ended up following the MoreBeer pliny clone recipe pretty closely this time, here.

The recipe can be found here, if you search for "Pliny" on the page. Note that this recipe uses dry yeast, while I recommend the WLP001 liquid + starter. The recipe is also for 5 gallons. If you brew 6 gallons to account for a gallon of losses to trub and other stuff, you'll need to scale up.

This version definitely came out better, even if it still doesn't taste like Pliny. Even with my lowered mash temp, lowered Crystal amount and increased sugar, I still ended up with something pretty thick. My version is more like a typical Imperial IPA - more of a sipper. What makes Pliny different is that it is so dry and drinkable that you have chugged 2 pints of it and didn't even notice.

On the bright side, my newest brew has no off flavors or hot alcohols, and is very good regardless. It just isn't Pliny :P

Saturday, July 23, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #22 Janet's Brown Ale, v2.0

AKA, Janet's Light Brown Ale

Janet's Brown is the next of my beer rebrews - beers that I liked, but didn't come out quite as perfect as they could have. Several process changes later and I'm ready to make them even better.

As a reminder, the main process changes involved a lower efficiency, a change in the way I scale recipes to my efficiency, racking to secondary with gelatin, the use of 5.2 pH stabilizer and yeast nutrient and lower carbonation across the board.

What I didn't intend was to use Pale Chocolate malt instead of Chocolate. It must have been a brainfart while I was measuring out ingredients at MoreBeer. I didn't even realize the mistake until I was racking into the fermentor and wondering why in the hell my beer was brown instead of black!

For all of you who are confused, let me make it clear.



You don't sub twice as much pale chocolate for chocolate, or half as much chocolate for pale chocolate. It is about more than color -- the the two malts don't even taste alike.

So once again, no matter what the doofuses at tell you, there are no subs. Use the right one or get out.

Of course, using a different version of chocolate malt won't ruin your beer. It will just be a different beer. Since I've brewed the original, this is a pretty good way to compare the two. The main difference I noticed is that the new version, besides being brown instead of black, has a toasted bread or cracker flavor. It still has a bit of the roasted coffee-like flavor from the regular chocolate malt, but it is much more subtle and hidden in the background. It's actually pretty damn good.

Black IPA

Black IPA, also called Cascadian Dark Ale (esp. in the pacific northwest) is called an 'emerging' west coast or northwest style. It isn't technically a style category any more than American Strong Ale is, but beers made in this 'style' are pretty distinct can't be placed in any other category.

Black IPA is like a highly hopped American Brown. It has the color and roasted dark malt flavors of a Brown and the hop bitterness, flavor and aroma of an American IPA. If you want to brew one of these for competition, your best bet is to enter it into the Specialty Beer or American Brown categories. The gravity and hopping are on or past the edge of the American Brown category, but you can probably get away with it.

The Brewer's Association has this to say about Black IPA (or as they call it, American India Black Ale) in their 2010 Beer Style Guidelines:
American-style India black ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavor.
Original Gravity (oPlato) 1.056-1.075 (14-18.2 oPlato) ●
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (oPlato) 1.012-1.018 (3-4.5 oPlato) ● Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5-6% (6 -7.5%) ● Bitterness (IBU) 50-70 ● Color SRM (EBC) 25+ (50+ EBC)
Some deride the idea of a Black IPA as nothing more than an American IPA with an ounce of black patent malt for color. Some brewers probably are guilty of this and deserve the mockery, but a true Black IPA isn't so easy to categorize.

Another probably with the name "Black IPA" is that the beer style has nothing to do with India and is certainly not a "Pale Ale". I'll leave arguments over nomenclature to someone who gives a damn, though. I'm more interested in drinking the beer than naming it. Still, there is a simplicity to "Black IPA" that'll probably cause it to catch on, no matter how flawed the name is.

Why am I babbling about Black IPAs? I found that I'm recently enjoying this great combination of deep, stout-like roasted malt flavor (one of my favorite styles) and American IPA hopping (another of my favorite styles). Mike McDole has claimed that his Janet's Brown Ale is closer to a Black IPA than it is to an American Brown, despite the name, and I would agree. I recently tried the Discord Dark IPA ($8 growler, including the bottle itself, from Pyramid) and was shocked by how close it was to Janet's Brown. The main differences between the two were level of roastiness and a slight difference in hop flavor. The commercial beer was also cleaner. In comparison to the professionally brewed example, I could taste flaws, particularly phenols, that I hadn't noticed before in my own beer.

I'm currently in the process of brewing Janet's Brown Ale, v2, and have made a nice big starter. Hopefully I can control the fermentation temp a little better and make an even better beer this time!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Recipe Recap: #11 - #15

Today's Recipe Recap will cover brews #11 through #15. This was a dark time in my brewing - of recipes #9 through #15, my only success was #12. It gets better though, and I won't be discouraged!

#11, Harold-is-Weizen Hefeweizen
A disaster in a bottle. I overpitched the yeast from a previous batch. Since the yeast didn't get a chance to grow and produce the characteristic clove & banana flavors, this beer ended up tasting like nothing. Nothing except cooked corn, that is. I forgot to do a 60 minute boil. Since this has a significant amount of Pilsner malt in it, the DMS levels in the final beer were very high. To top it all off, this beer was so overcarbed that half of the bottles I opened were gushers. I eventually gave up and dumped more than half of the batch to make room for new stuff.

#12, Pliny the Elder clone
There were definitely some problems. The massive amount of dry hopping left the beer a muddy brown-green color that took weeks in the fridge to settle out. The carbonation was just a little bit higher than I'd have liked (it gushed while warm but was fine when refrigerated). The body was thicker than the original Pliny, so my next attempt will use less Crystal, more Dextrose and mash at a lower temperature. The dry hop was pretty long, so I ended up with a more 'raw' hop flavor, though it wasn't so bad as to taste vegetal or grassy. I also used Colombus as the main bittering hop, which lent a harsher, oilier bitterness that made it less drinkable.

On the bright side, this was still a tasty beer, and definitely the best I had brewed so far. I'll definitely be iterating on this one, and intend to try a more updated recipe from MoreBeer (as opposed to the 'original' old school recipe I followed). The new recipe uses less Crystal, more Dextrose, more CaraPils, mashes at a lower temperature, bitters with Warrior and has a very slightly different ordering of hop additions. It also dry hops for a shorter time. This should lead to a smoother, drier, more drinkable beer.

#13, Arrogant Bastard clone
On the bright side, this does taste pretty close to the original.

On the other hand...

I accidentally bittered with Simcoe instead of Chinook (shame, since Simcoe costs twice as much). Read the labels on your hops!! My evaporation rate ended up way off, so I finished with around a quart and a half of extra wort and missed by OG by quite a lot. Worst of all, I overcarbonated this one by a ton. There were no gushers, but the flavors came out incredibly harsh due to the level of co2. Letting the beer flatten by swirling it constantly helped the taste. There may have been some astringent qualities to it, but that may have been a sensory side effect of the carbonation.

Not terrible, but not a success either. The ones in glass bottles can't be helped, but I was able to release some of the CO2 in the plastic bottles to improve the beer.

#14, English Apple Ale
Ugh, where do I begin. Lots of problems here. Tons of astringency from the apple juice - I'll probably use filtered apple juice next time in the hopes of getting less astringency from the apple matter. "Earthy" english hop flavor in the Mr. Beer kit didn't go well with the apple (frankly, I didn't expect any hop flavor in the Mr. B kit at all). Over carbonated, just like the last several batches, which combined with the English malt and apple astringency to create a beer that is super harsh and hard to drink.

Next time, I'd use filtered apple juice, American two-row (or some neutral, light extract), a clean bittering hop with no flavor hops and a way lower carb level (2.1 - 2.3). I'm not sure whether I'd use English or American yeast on the next batch. I went too crazy on this one, and should have started with a simple, neutral beer that happened to have apple juice in it.

On the bright side, the apple flavor was noticeable and there was a good residual sweetness in the beer.

#15, Munich Madness Oktoberfest/Marzen
Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Sensing a pattern yet?

First off, I 'innocently' adjusted the recipe with more hops because I had leftovers. I didn't want to leave just a few grams sitting around in the freezer, so I'd have tossed them out. I used 25 gm of bittering hops instead of 20 gm, and 15 gm of flavor hops instead of 7 gm. Yes, I used more in my 3 gallon batch than the original recipe calls for in 6 gallons (14 gm).

Then, I ended up with way too much pre-boil volume because I hadn't yet figured out the impact of grain absorption. I decided to boil longer instead. I ended up with too little wort and instead of topping it off, I thought I'd just have a stronger beer.

Finally, it's slightly overcarbed but not too bad. It doesn't gush, but I'd personally prefer something around 2.4-2.5 instead of 2.8.

Tastewise, the Hallertau character is way too dominant. I'm finding more and more than I'm actually not a big fan of Hallertau, and the fact that I used more than double what the recipe called for in the flavor addition is really obvious. The beer is also too big, with an alcohol warmth due to the high ABV (6.9% instead of 5%!!). It isn't as drinkable or dry as the style calls for, it is hard to detect the 'toasty' flavors that the style is supposed to have, and there is a very strong caramel flavor that reminds me of the recipes in which I used too much Crystal 15. I'm not even sure I can taste the munich malt behind the strong crystal flavor.

This one might still turn out to be okay with some cold conditioning, so I won't call it a failure, but I also won't call it a success.

On the bright side, my beers start getting WAAAAY better at #16 and beyond...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dieting, Oh Noes!

All of this beer drinking has been bad for my waistline. I've put on probably about 15 pounds since I started this hobby and I need to take it off. Never fear though, not only will I still be drinking on the weekends, I plan to continue brewing just as often as before. I just need to find someone to take some of this homebrew off my hands...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hops: Mash Hopping

Mash hopping: the process of adding hops, usually pelletized, directly into the mash. It supposedly contributes very little to bitterness but produces a unique type of flavor and aroma that you can't get with standard late hop additions.

Mash hopping is a confusing thing. By all logic, it shouldn't work. One would expect most of the hops to be left in the grain bed, and any hops that make it into the wort to be isomerized during the long boil that follows.

I'm not sure anyone knows why it works, and many people will tell you it *doesn't* work, but let your own experiments be the judge of that.

The following is according to Paddock Wood Brewing Co, quoted from their blog:
Based on the research of De Clerck and Fix, the theory is that the aromatic oils react in a special way with wort at a higher pH than occurs with wort during the boil (the pH falls during a boil, and reduces the utilization of the hop oils) and at a lower temperature (150F). The complex reaction between hops and the wort results in the formation of more permanent flavour and aroma chemicals remaining in the beer than is the case with traditional hopping methods such as late additions to the brew kettle. It may be important to use pelletized hops in this situation, however, as the release of aromatic oils from whole hop cones is greatly assisted by the action of the boiling wort. The pelletized hops are not transferred to the kettle but remain behind as the mash bed acts as a filter. The hop usage appears to be about 90% less than what you could expect from a start-of-boil addition, but we have not performed any technical data gathering or analysis.
I've tried it once, since it is a standard part of Janet's Brown Ale. Russian River Brewing apparently also uses it in their Pliny the Elder. Until I'm convinced, I won't be mash hopping unless a great recipe calls for it. I haven't done a side by side comparison, but some day I'd like to brew two identical batches - one that has been mash hopped and one that hasn't. I encourage any readers to try it and let me know the results.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #21 Union Jack IPA, v2.0

My original version of this recipe (here) had a lot of problems, but also a ton of potential. I've resolved to solve as many of those problems as possible in my first re-brew!

Recipe Recap: #1 - #10

Recipe Recap is a quick overview of where each of my recipes ended up: how they tasted, mistakes I made, how likely I am to brew it again and anything else that comes to mind.

Let's start with batches #1 through #10!

#1, Mr. Beer Classic American Blonde w/ Booster
My first beer ever. Thin, highly carbonated American-style blonde. Nothing special, but it wasn't completely terrible for a first attempt either. Chlorophenols from using unfiltered tap water and acetaldehyde (green apple flavor, due to using just one can of malt and one pouch of booster) dominated the flavor for a long time, but conditioned out. Not a terrible first try, and encouraging enough for me to continue the hobby.

#2, Mr. Beer Cowboy Honey Wheat
A much bigger, maltier beer than the Blonde, I ultimately didn't care for it. The honey left a flavor, despite what everyone claims, and the combination of high alcohol sweetness, honey flavor and the base flavor of the Cowboy Golden Lager recipe left a cloying kind of flavor that I couldn't get past. A couple months of conditioning made it decent, but further conditioning after that made it worse. I poured out half of the last PET bottle after drinking just a few sips.

#3, Mr. Beer Eye Opener Sumatra Stout
My first premium recipe and my first attempt at steeping grains. I'm not sure the half pound of crystal did anything, and I don't know what the bit of oatmeal I steeped at the last minute did. This came out as a very tart and thick beer with a nonexistent head and none of the creaminess you expect from a stout. It isn't bad, and I still drink it from time to time.

For reference, the 'tart' flavor is very much like the Alaskan Oatmeal Stout, so I don't think there was anything wrong with the recipe or process - it just isn't my style.

#4, Mr. Beer American Devil IPA
My second premium recipe, and the first time that steeping grains made a difference. In retrospect, I should have just steeped CaraPils. I didn't have an appreciation at the time for the flavor impact Crystal malt would have, even just the Crystal 15 variant. This as also my first time adding and boiling DME, and my first time using US-05.

This was my first indication that maybe the dipshits on the forums weren't quite as knowledgeable as their 3 years brewing and their matter-of-fact attitude would have you believe. Half a pound of Crystal is NOT appropriate for steeping in ANY Mr. Beer recipe, as it has a significant flavor contribution. This IPA wasn't bad - it was my favorite beer so far, and I went through it quickly. However, to this day I don't know what American Devil IPA is supposed to taste like due to the Crystal 15 I added.

As for the recipe, it was not hoppy at all, not even to me (I was not a hophead at the time). Bitterness was pretty high, but little to no hop character. A very malty, caramely beer.

#5, Mr. Beer Pilothouse Pilsner
Not a true czech pilsner, so I had no idea what to expect. My first time using CaraPils and my first time using Danstar Nottingham. I'd heard that if you fermented Nottingham cold, you'd get something close to a lager. I fermented too cold, and didn't do a diacetyl rest, and ended up with butterscotch flavored beer. It never went away. There was a slight hop bite, but not much hop flavor. Overall not great, but not terrible either.

#6, Mr. Beer Witty Monk Witbier
Unfortunately this turned out to be more Blue Moon than Hoegaarden, and more orange beer than white beer. The orange flavor was so powerful in the wort that it smelled like cough medicine. On top of that, I used  the Fermentis T-58 ale yeast, on the recommendation that it worked well with witbiers and other belgians. Perhaps that is the case with normal witbiers, but this was a Mr. Beer witbier and nothing like a real one. I can only describe the flavor as orange-y and salty, very phenolic from the yeast which clashes strongly with the sweet orange flavor of the beer. I try to pawn this off on guests but it's still not gone.

#7, Mr. Beer German Hefeweizen
Now THIS was a success. My first time boiling hops, though not exactly ambitious - it was just a quick 15 minute flavor/aroma addition of Hallertau. Also my first time using liquid yeast, and the WLP300 worked great, producing a very nice, dry, banana-flavored hefe. Very refreshing, and pretty close to what a hefe should taste like. It reminded me of Franziskaner hefe, but of course not as good. Still not bad though.

#8, Red Tail Ale Clone (aka Burnt Toast Ale)
My first all grain and half a disaster. My mash efficiency was terrible, my brewhouse efficiency was terrible and I was dumb enough to toast my own 2-row instead of just using Victory. It was also my first time using tap water in a long time, with campden, but I didn't use enough campden and ended up with lots of chlorophenols in this one. The toasted flavor was way too strong, and the ABV was about 2% lower than the real thing.

The worst part was that I used lots of Anchor bottles, and the ones that didn't outright snap at the neck or crack simply didn't seal well. At least 8 bottles of this were wasted because they weren't carbed at all. Don't use Anchor bottles. You've been warned.

On the bright side, after several months of conditioning this went from being a disappointment to being my best beer. The carbonation was medium (unlike my later brews), the head was nice and creamy and the toasted flavor mellowed out and ended up working really well. The first beer I really missed when it was gone. The best part is that the final bottle...turned out to be a dud. Au Revoir.

#9, Mr. Beer Oktoberfest Vienna Lager
Pretty meh, overall. I used 1/4 lb of Crystal 15, which I thought would've been better than 1/2 lb. Nope, shouldn't have done it. I also thought I'd use the rest of my Hallertau (left over from batch #7) as flavor and aroma hops. Nope, shouldn't have done it. At first it tasted a lot like Negra Modelo, but with a lot of chlorophenols in it. As it aged, it definitely got more caramel-y and the Hallertau character came out. It is drinkable, but not great, and I'm just trying to get rid of it at this point.

#10, Biere de L'inde English IPA
The worst yet. I was starting to get pretty discouraged at this point.

My efficiency was still terrible - turns out this was due to MoreBeer's grain mill being set so wide it did virtually nothing. I ended up extracting a buttload of tannins, and I don't know why. I followed the same process as batch #8, which had no tannins. The taste was off and worst of all, I carbonated way too high. I ended up with gushers, bottle bombs and injuries. If allowed to warm up and go flat, this becomes an okay but not great beer. It also had some chlorophenols early on, but not as bad as earlier batches.

This one is still around, but they are gushers as often as not. The liter-sized PETs can be opened to let the CO2 out, but the glass bottles are a lost cause.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All Grain Brewing: Adjusting for Efficiency

talk about my new system (single sparge 74%), color, flavor, specialty grains, union jack rebrew experiment

I recently tried my Union Jack clone for the first time, and it is a great IPA. The problem is that it isn't Union Jack. It's close, but not quite right.

What's wrong with it? Well, not much. I don't taste any phenols or other off flavors. Hop character is good and bitterness level is also good.

First off, I subbed Columbus for Warrior. I didn't think much of it at the time, but after learning a bit more I know that isn't a great idea. Columbus gives a harsh, lingering bitterness. If you have had Green Flash West Coast IPA, you know what I'm talking about. West Coast IPA uses a lot of Columbus and it shows - it is a powerful, bitter, grassy IPA that hits you in the face and lingers long after you stop drinking. Union Jack is the opposite - smooth bitterness and citrus-resin sweetness make it seem way less bitter than its 75 IBUs advertise.

So, I'll be using Warrior next time. Magnum might also be a good sub, but I'll go with Warrior.

Second, mine turned out drier than expected. I mashed at 145-146 and used WLP002, but I got 84% attenuation instead of 80%. I also made a slightly bigger beer with an OG of 1.072 instead of 1.070. Overall, the ABV was 7.9% instead of 7.5%. I may have to mash at a higher temperature than the original recipe calls for, which is probably just some difference with my system (or my thermometer) that I can't explain.

Finally, my version lacks much of the malt sweetness. The hops are bigger and the malt is drier and more subtle. This may partly be due to the WLP002 - it may have attenuated more than expected, thus leaving less sweetness in the final beer. However, there's another big difference between my recipe and the original - efficiency. Specifically, I got an 85% brewhouse efficiency (88% mash efficiency), while the recipe was designed around 70%.

Why does this make a difference? Can't you just scale all of the grains so you end up with the same OG and that's that? Well, that's what I thought, but now that I've been thinking about it I'm not so sure.

Imagine an extreme situation where Jimmy the Noob finds a great recipe, but that recipe assumes 100% efficiency. Alas, Jimmy only get 50% efficiency in his no-sparge BIAB setup. Jimmy really wants to make this beer, though, so he says 'fuck it, I'm going to double all of my grains. What difference will it make, anyway?'.

What difference? Well, just imagine if that recipe uses black barley or black patent malt. British crystal 165. Special B. Have you figured it out yet?

Efficiency is a measure of how much starch is converted to sugar (conversion efficiency) and how much of that sugar is rinsed out of the grain and into your kettle (sparge efficiency?), minus any losses you might get (absorbed by hops, spilled, etc), which leads to your final Brewhouse Efficiency (TM). Having a higher efficiency will lead to more sugars (both fermentable sugars and dextrins) being extracted, my hypothesis is that it does not significantly affect the extraction of secondary characteristics: flavor, color and proteins (body/head retention).

In other words, it is my supposition that doubling your efficiency will double the amount of sugar present in your wort, but will not make your wort twice as dark, have twice the head head retention or have twice as much 'flavor' (whatever that means).

What does this mean in practice? Jimmy will double all of his grains, both base malts and specialty grains. His base malts already don't add much flavor, especially if he uses American 2-row, but now he is using twice as many flavorful caramel and roasted malts. He ends up with a WAY maltier/roasted/caramel/raisin/coffee/whatever flavor. He can barely taste the hops, and it turns out super sweet because of all the crystal malt. It ends up black instead of brown. The chocolate malt becomes overpowering. It is a completely different beer. Jimmy still drinks it, and doesn't care, because Jimmy is a noob.

What if Jimmy left all of his specialty grains the same, but only increased his 2-row? He more than doubles the amount of two-row so that the OG of his new recipe matches the original. His beer comes out a little better, but not quite as flavorful as he expected. He's making progress though; perhaps he isn't such a noob after all.

The problem with the opposite extreme is that your base malt is normally a clean, neutral canvas that you paint with specialty grain. American 2-row is so neutral that it doesn't really contribute much flavor on its own. Imagine if you more than doubled all of your 2-row while leaving everything else the same. Instead of an 80/10/5/5 split, you end up with an something more like a 95/3/1/1 split. Your specialty malts suddenly pale in comparison. You can't even taste the chocolate malt anymore. The small percentage of crystal means you have very little sweetness or mouth-feel. If you are using highly kilned malts like Maris Otter, the problem will be much worse.

The color is probably about right, though.

As you have probably guessed, the real answer is somewhere in between these two extremes. There might be a recipe that will convert the 100% efficiency recipe down to 50% and result in a near perfect clone. The problem is that your perception of flavor and body is inexact and/or subjective. There is no formula that will take one recipe and convert it exactly. Your recipe will be completely different from the original, and you will have to arrive at it by trial and error over perhaps dozens of batches.

The first solution is to always shoot for 65-75% efficiency, as a homebrewer. Getting a really high efficiency can lead to a lower quality of wort (I'll leave that discussion for another day), but it also means there's a large difference between the recipe you use and the one written in the book. You end up making Jimmy's beer and placing last in your local homebrew competition because you ended up making an American Stout instead of an American Brown.

The second thing to do, once you have your efficiency in the 65-75% range, is to leave all of your specialty grains in the same amount as the original recipe (scaled to your batch size, of course). Then you want to increase or decrease only your base malt (2-row, pilsener, whatever) until you match the recipe's OG. If you are within 5-10% of the original efficiency, this shouldn't require much more or less malt and the overall character should match what the recipe designer envisioned.

Let me repeat, however, that this is just a hypothesis. I plan to try this on my next brewing of my Union Jack clone. Ultimately, you have to design recipes to match your own system, even if you are following someone else's recipes, and it will take a lot of experience and trial & error to get exactly what you want.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

All Grain Recipe: #20 Triple-X Sweet Stout

I'll confess that I'm a big fan of Stouts. Maybe it's because they were among the first complex, craft beers I ever had, and maybe it's because I love coffee and chocolate and all those other flavors that define a good Stout. Or maybe it's because back before I appreciated hops, Stouts were just the kind of malt-forward, mild but interesting experience I was looking for.

Now I'm brewing my own beer and I appreciate all styles of craft beer. I love hops and bitter, extreme beers. I made a Mr. Beer Stout recipe and was really disappointed - it didn't have the flavors or drinkability I expected, and I still haven't finished the batch from over 6 months ago. Do I still like Stouts?

Well, there's more to the style than just 'Stout'. There are dry stouts like Guiness Draught, which tastes like water and stale coffee. Add a little more body and you've got Guiness Extra Stout, which I think is pretty good. Beef it up even more and you've got the Foreign Extra Stout, a Stout brewed at higher gravity specifically for import (I haven't had this). Add oatmeal for a thicker, creamier texture and you get an Oatmeal Stout, of which Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout is far and away my favorite.

Then there's the Imperial Stout, a terrifying monstrosity that approaches or even surpasses 10% ABV and actually has late hopping. These things are thick, alcoholic and must be aged months or even years before they reach their prime.

Oatmeal stouts were my favorite. I say 'were' because I recently had a Milk Stout made by a brewery in Alaska (it might be Kenai River Brewing Co., but don't quote me on that). It was my first Sweet Stout, and it was a revelation. It combined my favorite things in the world: beer, espresso/chocolate and milk. Now, it didn't literally contain chocolate, espresso and milk, but I'll be damned if it didn't taste like having an alcoholic espresso!

In fact, the official BJCP guidelines agree:
A very dark, sweet, full-bodied, slightly roasty ale. Often tastes like sweetened espresso.
Damn right.

Sweet Stouts are actually not sweet. They are also called 'Milk Stouts' because of the use of unfermentable lactose (milk sugar). This thickens up the body and gives it a barely perceptible 'milk-like' character, especially in the finish. Lactose isn't sweet. Seriously, try some right out of the bag.

However, a Sweet Stout doesn't have to be made with lactose. It can be sweet or not. It can be astringent and start or smooth and chocolatey. The important thing is that it has a thick body, moderate alcohol, low hop bitterness, no hop flavor, is relatively clean with only a slight fruitiness and is dominated by 'roasty' flavors. Lactose just happens to be the easiest and most traditional way to get the perfect character for this style, and I wouldn't recommend doing it any other way.

If you insist on having a 'sweet' Sweet Stout, try using a yeast with low attenuation like WLP002. I used a more attenuative, less fruity strain, WLP007. If it still isn't sweet enough for you, tough luck - sweet is a relative term when it comes to beer.

Another thing about Milk Stouts: they have a nice creamy head upon pouring, but it disappears almost immediately. This is not a flaw. Bad head retention is a typical trait of commercial examples (rare as they are), no matter how good they are. You'll just have to get over it. Don't go on BeerAdvocate and ding a Milk Stout you just tried because the head was gone in five seconds!

Speaking of commercial examples, the only one I've personally found on store shelves is Young's Double Chocolate Stout. I remember it being quite good, and didn't know it was a Sweet Stout at the time. It isn't to style though, since it is made with chocolate. Some beers I'd like to try are Left Hand Milk Stout, Rogue Double Chocolate Stout (though the high ABV is suspicious) and a couple examples from Terrapin, none of which I have been able to find locally.

The recipe I used came from The Jamil Show episode on Sweet Stout. JZ gives the same recipe in his Brewing Classic Styles, where he calls it Triple-X. The name is an homage to JZ's favorite Sweet Stout, Mackeson's XXX. I can only assume that he modeled his recipe after that beer.

What will jump out at you immediately is the insane amount of Black Patent malt in this recipe. According to JZ, he prefers to use Black malt in sweet stouts and Roasted Barley in his other stouts. I was worried about this at first, especially when I tried a sample at bottling time and found it to be tart and bitter, even astringent, from the large amount of black malt.

Don't worry. Don't change the recipe. It turned out great, the best beer I've ever made. The lactose, thick body and bitter roastiness of the black malt all come together to make something you'd never expect. It is perfect, and I plan to brew this beer over and over again. In fact, this won't just be my house stout: it will be my house beer, period.

Also, the wife loves it.

Anyway, below is my recipe, followed by the 6 gallon original recipe from The Jamil Show and Brewing Classic Styles. The original recipe also includes my notes from the show, which you should definitely read.