Advent 2021 – Russian Imperial Boched’ Braggot

kraussen moving through a blowoff tube
The stout portion was a vigorous fermenter

Every year my homebrew club – the London Homebrewers Guild – runs an advent exchange. My entry this year is a bit of a unique beast, and one which took a year for me to craft. Originally named Adam’s RIBB (RIBB = Russian Imperial Boched’ Braggot), I renamed this beer last minute. Mostly so that I could use some clipart that I found when trying to come up with a label design.

The conceptualization of this braggot is pretty straight forward. Bochet meads have a caramel and roast flavour that is both similar, and distinct, from the roast character typical of imperial stouts. I thought these flavours would complement each other, and I confirmed this by mixing some of my bochet with an imperial stout from Storm Stayed Brewing. Motivated by this test, I designed an imperial stout intended to complement the character of a bochet. I also used this opportunity to test a new method of caramelizing the honey for the bochet…but more on that later.


Recipe: Russian Imperial Stout Portion

This is a bog-standard Russian Imperial Stout. I wanted to avoid anything too flamboyant, as I was worried that too dramatic a beer would hide the mead. My only extra “flair” was adding Brettanomyces claussenii, as I was trying to replicate a more historical version of the beer, and I hoped the traditional “cask” character provided by this yeast would complement the caramel notes of the bochet.

Stats:

  • OG: 1.082
  • FG: 1.012
  • Volume: 16L
  • SRM: 37
  • ABV: 9.4%

Ingredients

IngredientAmount%/IBU
Maris Otter Pale Malt7.25 kg79.7%
Flaked Wheat0.65 kg7.1%
Chocolate Malt0.48 kg5.3%
Crystal 120L0.24 kg2.6%
Crystal 40L0.24 kg2.6%
Roast Barely0.24 kg2.6%
Galena (12.3%)56 g, 120 min boil64 IBU
Challenger (5.3%)28 g, 30 min boil10 IBU
English Ale Yeast1.5 packetsSafale S-04
Brettanomyces claussenii From yeastbankWLP-645

Brewing

  1. Water was adjusted to 60 PPM chloride, 50 ppm sulfate.
  2. Beer was mashed at 67.8 C for 45 min, then sparged to collect 37 L of pre-boil wort. I forgot to adjust for the lower efficiency of my brewing system, so my gravity was ~10 points lower than expected.
  3. Boiled wort, adding hops as indicated.
  4. Chilled and pitched both yeasts simultaneously, fermenting at ~18C.
  5. Transferred to secondary after a month.

Note: I didn’t adjust properly for my systems lower efficiency with higher ABV-beers, so I ended up with a starting gravity of 1.084 instead of the planned 1.095. This beer was brewed on the last day of 2020, and transferred to the secondary on February 4, 2021.


Recipe: Bochet Portion

pouring caramelized honey into a fermenter
Adding the honey that was pressure cooker for 45 minutes

The bochet accounts for 4 L (20%) of the final volume. As such, I kept the recipe simple as I didn’t think the subtle characteristics of fruit or spices would come through in the final braggot. I also tried a different method of caramelizing the honey, using my instapot (pressure cooker) instead of in a pot on the stove. My rational here was that the intense heat at the base of the pot, when caramelizing on the stove, creates some of the harsher burnt characters present in some bochets. While these do age-out, I was worried about how those harsher notes would balance with the harsher character of the large amount of roast barley used in the imperial stout portion of the beer.

By placing the honey in jars, and then placing the jars on a rack in the pressure cooker, you avoid the “burning” effect of direct heat. The high heat of the pressure cooker (115C- 121C, well above the boiling point of water) is more than sufficient to intensely caramelize the honey. For this mead I used 1.3 kg of honey, which I divided evenly between two mason jars. The first I pressure cooked for 30 minutes, the second for 45 minutes, which I hoped would give a more complex caramel character.

Stats:

  • OG: 1.100
  • FG: 1.031
  • Volume: 4 L
  • SRM: 30 (estimated)
  • ABV: 9.4 %

Ingredients

IngredientAmount
Honey, caramelized 30 min650 g
Honey, caramelized 45 min650 g
SafAle S-04 English Ale Yeast0.5 packets
Fermaid O, added 1 day after yeast pitch2 g
Fermaid O, added 2 days after yeast pitch1 g
Fermaid O, added 5 days after yeast pitch0.5 g

Brewing

  1. Water was dechlorinated, but otherwise untreated.
  2. Honey was caramelized in my instapot and cooled.
  3. Honey was added to half the volume of water, mixed thoroughly, then water added until the final volume (4 L) was reached.
  4. Yeast was rehydrated and pitched, with fermentation held at 18C.
  5. Fermaid was added at the indicated intervals.
  6. Fermentation was completed in ~14 days, but the bochet was allowed to ferment for a month to ensure full attenuation and reduction of off-flavours.

Note: While I only tried a small sample of the mead, the pressure cooker approach worked quite well. None of the astringent notes that are common in young bochets were present. Instead, it had nice caramel and toasted marshmallow notes. I am going to have to keep this method in mind for future bochets, where a milder character is desired.


Making & Aging the Braggot

The stout portion had been in the secondary fermenter for about a month before the bochet was ready. Once the bochet was done, I siphoned it into the secondary fermenter. Other than occasionally topping up the airlock, I left the beer alone until early September. At this point I added a single stick of heavy toast American oak. This was left in the beer for a month, at which point the beer was kegged and carbonated. A month later, I bottled directly from the keg.


Tasting Notes:

bottle and glass

Appearance: Jet black with a shortly lived light brown head.

Aroma: Roast and dark caramel, with an almost a wine-like finish.

Flavour: The taste is slightly sweet, with dark caramel boarding on burnt sugar notes adding to the apparent sweetness. Alongside this is a modest oakiness, tasting of wood and vanilla. Balancing these sweeter notes is a surprisingly soft roast character; more chocolate than coffee. The aftertaste is burnt sugar, fading into roast. As the beer warms the complexity increases, with the pineapple-like Brettanomyces character appearing in the background notes, along with a bit of honey.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, with a dry finish and a touch of alcohol heat deep in your chest.

Overall: I’m pretty happy with this beer. Complex enough to be interesting, but easily enjoyable. I am looking forward to see how it aging as time progresses – good thing I put down a few bottles into me cellar!

And Merry Christmas to all my readers!

4 thoughts on “Advent 2021 – Russian Imperial Boched’ Braggot

  • December 30, 2021 at 4:26 am
    Permalink

    What’s the reason for brewing the beer& mead separately rather than adding the caramelised honey to a standard strength stout recipe here, particularly as you’re using the same yeasts in each fermentation?

    Reply
    • January 3, 2022 at 8:11 am
      Permalink

      Two reasons – first, I wanted the brett to have a chance to establish itself in a lower ABV environment before pushing the alcohol level to the extreme end of its tolerance. Secondly, meads (and bochets in particular) need to have their fermentation managed quite carefully if you want them to be ready quickly (e.g. under a year). This level of management – which is largely nutrient-based – isn’t possible in a malt-based wort.

      Reply
  • December 28, 2021 at 6:21 am
    Permalink

    Hi Bryan,

    really seems a great batch!
    I recently made a bretted (clausseni) RIS and was wandering if there is any risk of bretts going on fermenting while it ages, possibly causing bottle bombs or overcarbonation. Do you think this risk is real? Would it be riskier with brettanomyces bruxellensis?

    Thanks,
    Luca

    Reply
    • January 3, 2022 at 8:12 am
      Permalink

      clausseni isn’t a very avid fermenter, so as long as your gravity has been stable for 3 or so weeks, you should be fine. I’ve got 5+ year old bottles of barleywine with clausseni that have been fine since packaging.

      Reply

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