The Editor’s Desk :: Home Brew – Chocolate (Sour) Cherry Stout

by Harvey Gold on October 5, 2015

YBN pal, Taylor McIntosh plays sax and keys for my band, Half Cleveland. An excellent musician and a great guy, Taylor is also a man of science (don’t get him started on Nicola Tesla) and as a logical extension, a fine brewer. For a time, he worked at the award winning Thirsty Dog Brewing in Akron, Ohio, and is now spending more of his time as a mad scientist brewer on his own… when he HAS time.

(NB: When Half Cleveland performed Chris Butler’s “Easy Life” album in it’s entirety at The Kent Stage on May 1,2015, we opted for a trio to do the above clip. There are a couple auto-focus “moments,” and should be listened to on good speakers or earbuds – but some nice work on sax by Taylor and a neat song in general.)

Chase Cutting

Chase Cutting

Recently, Taylor picked a bunch of locally grown sour cherries and went to work making his Chocolate Cherry Stout. It was very small batch, but I got to try one and was knocked out. Black as night with a lovely tan head, definitely containing a healthy ABV, the flavors were all understandably vivid. The chocolate was certainly present from the get-go, but there was a flavor balance leaning more heavily toward the cherries. The good news is that while the fruit was what remained on the tongue, it NOT being sweet was the key for me, more reminiscent of the pleasure I take in something like Founders (sour cherry) Cerise than any lambic I’ve enjoyed. The dryness of this brew made the high fruit profile yield a beer that was only a little novel, far moreso an extremely good stout.

I asked Taylor to talk to me about the process, as home brewers and craft beer afficianados alike would have some interest in this. So, as I always try to do, let’s cut to the chase and give the floor to Taylor:

Having undertaken several homebrews after working two years as a professional brewer, I decided I wanted to attempt a stout–a nice changeup from the gaggles of IPAs currently inundating the market. I had had cherries in mind for brewing for some time, given the surplus of sour cherries from my backyard tree, which originated as a volunteer.

I threw together a stout recipe based on Noble hops for aroma and U.S. hops for flavor, to give it a noticeable-but-low IBU tang. I wanted to keep the grain bill simple, so I just used English 2-Row malted barley and American 2-Row for the base malts, and for the adjuncts I dutifully chose unmalted roasted barley (generally the grain that “makes” a stout a stout), and chocolate malt, to give it a little coffee/chocolate/slightly burnt flavor.

unnamedWhat was tricky was deciding how to use the cherries: do I throw them in at the end of the boil, or do I press them for juice and add that to the primary during kettle-primary transfer at the end of the brewday? I decided it would be best to the let the base beer ferment out as much as possible before adding the cherries, which would also allow for alcohol content to raise in the beer. This, I thought, would be a good way to extract cherry flavor from cherries and offer a little protection from nasty little souring things like airborne bacteria that would take the sour character away from the fruit addition to the secondary.

I thawed the filled freezer bag that were full from the recent harvest and washed them in vodka, also crushing them as I did (wearing latex gloves) prior to adding the entire bag to the clean, sanitized secondary before racking the beer from the primary into it. I let the secondary sit for at least a week and a half (but who’s keeping track? Not me.) and bottled.

Et viola! I have yet to take a gravity reading of the finished beer but it tastes up in the 8.5-9.0% ABV range. When I bottled it, it read 1.020, which was three thousandths higher than when going into the secondary, so some error must’ve been made along the way. 1.077 to 1.020 is only about 7.5% and we certainly know, after tasting, this is definitely not the case.

Nice work, kiddo.

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