Chocolate milk stout -the holy grail of my home brewing

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Ena SharplesThe last thing on our minds on a hot summer day is a thick, dark stout. On those days you dream of cold pilsner, or hoppy pale ales unless however, you are a brewer. Beers take time to make and to be ready to drink, they take time to research and to plan and then for the recipe to be written and tweaked to be right. For brewers, this means that we are thinking about the stouts and festive beers we need to brew for Christmas in July, about summer beers come Thanksgiving. Even planning that Thanksgiving pumpkin beer in June. So this is why I found myself researching stout recipes for Mr Mo’s chocolate stout in the sunshine of July.

Mr Mo’s chocolate stout is a beer we make as our winter beer and in tribute to our cat who passed at christmas last year. Being a black or very dark beer and Elmo being a black cat it was a perfect complement. You can read more about this on the post about remembering him.

Keeping Mr Mo with us.

What is a stout, milk stout, chocolate milk stout anyway?

Stout is a dark beer, think Guinness. It has a deep, roasted barley or coffee like flavour but stouts are one of those beers which divide beer drinkers. They are heavy and have a lot of roasty flavours which are not to everyone’s taste. Kate is a big coffee fan so she enjoys a good stout. I however hate coffee and so don’t like those flavours in my beer.

Then I discovered milk stout. Now let me tell you about milk stout (or sweet stout), it’s not a new fangled craft beer invention. Far from it. One of the most famous milk stout drinkers was in fact Ena Sharples of Coronation Street fame. It was the beer pregnant women were told to drink because “it does a body good” but the craft beer industry has made milk stout fashionable again meaning there are lots out there to try, not just good old “Sweetheart Stout”.

Milk stout has less of the roasted coffee like flavours and has the addition of lactose sugar to make it sweeter. It can also have hits of vanilla, cream or chocolate coming through.

The big hit for me was the chocolate flavours and purely for research purposes I tested a lot of different milk stouts discovering that the levels of flavours varied greatly. One that I absolutely fell in love with was Lugene from Odell’s brewery in Colorado. It is rich and has hits of vanilla and some of the chocolate elements coming through that I love. Especially after a pale ale, for some sciency reason, the pale ale makes it taste even more chocolatey.

So last year my emphasis was how do I get the chocolate flavours to be bold and really stand out in the beer?

This meant moving away from the coffee flavours that Kate likes, so as a compromise, we split the batch in two. To one I added some of Kate’s favourite coffee to give her a coffee milk stout and to the other batch … well.

A lot of research and pootling on the interweb and I discovered that you could do this using roasted cocoa nibs. You sit the beer on them for a week or two to let the beer absorb all those lovely flavours.  Yup, I went for a chocolate milk stout.

The cocoa nibs definitely helped with the chocolatey taste and smell but it still wasn’t as good as the Lugene beer I’d fallen in love with, there was still too much roastiness for me. So, I emailed Odell, not expecting them to entertain me, but I actually got an email back giving me details of all the malts they use so I couldn’t have asked for a better hint.

Mr Mo's chocolate milk stoutThere was still some of the roast barley in their grain bill that gives the roastie flavours so I decided to try taking that out completely. That meant that this year’s version of the beer is using that grain bill (just about) and I have to say I am really chuffed with the flavour. It doesn’t have any of the roastiness that I don’t like. It’s not quite Lugene, it doesn’t have the depth that their beer has but it’s a definite improvement on my first attempt but I now know that the beer needs some of the roastiness to get that depth of flavour I want. You live and learn.

Next year? Well next years focus is going to be on two elements;

  • the beer’s mouthfeel, and
  • the depth of flavour.

At the minute my beer tastes thin compared to others so I want to focus on getting that silky mouthfeel I get from other milk stouts and I suspect I am going to have to learn a whole new technique for next year.

With the depth of flavour, I am now suspecting that I need a little bit of that roastiness to balance the beer out so next year I will begin experimenting with how much roast barley to use to get just enough of that flavour.

It a lot of work and time to chase a perfect beer recipe – I started planning this beer in July, brewed it in August. It’s now October and I’ve just had my first taste but that’s the fun of being able to brew at home. I get to make beers the way I like them so it makes it all worthwhile.

So watch this space and I’ll report back this time next year.

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