Friday Happy Hour: Strait Stout from Port Townsend Brewing Company

Friday Happy Hour: Strait Stout from Port Townsend Brewing Company

The Brewery: Port Townsend Brewing Company – Port Townsend, WA

A guest blog post by Bill Fishburn. You can follow Bill on Twitter @rwfishbu1.

This month I am reviewing Port Townsend Brewing Company’s (Strait) Stout. Port Townsend Brewing is one of approximately 13 microbreweries on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands. From their website’s About page, you’ll find they’ve been around since 1997 and they’ve grown their offering from just two beers to 11. With only a 15 barrel capacity (a barrel is 31 gallons, and its abbreviated “bbl”), they are a relatively small brewery, but don’t let that fool you. They have some very big beers, and while they are self-distributed currently in only the Puget Sound region, they have plans to expand in the coming year and possibly seek distributorship.

The Brewer: Carter Camp

I was fortunate enough to share emails with Carter Camp. Carter is Port Townsend’s Head Brewer, and his generosity of time was amazing. If you decide to try this stout because of this review, please drop him a line and let him know what you think. I had several questions for Carter, from a brewer, a brewing, and a beer perspective. Read on or skip to my review.

Q: What first got you interested in brewing beer?

I discovered ‘good’ beer in college (UW) during my sophomore year. This was 1995, and Red Hook,Pyramid, Hales and Thomas Kemper were kings in the NW. These breweries, and especially my college haunt Big Time, opened up my palate and imagination. From there, I became intrigued by the process, so naturally, I started to home-brew. This was about 1996-7. I believe it was at Hale’s brewery around this time when I became entranced by the smell of the boiling wort and thought to myself, “I want to make beer just so I can be around this smell!”

Q: What is your favorite Port Townsend brewing memory?

Well, one of my favorite brewing memories at PT is probably the first time I tasted the Luciferous Whisky Sour I made a while back. This beer was my first attempt at making a sour beer, so therefore a total experiment. The story of how it was made is too long to tell here, but let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised when I first tasted a sample from the barrel! I still consider it beginner’s luck, but I do believe luck has a lot to do with making a sour beer. They are not called wild yeasts and bacteria for nothing!

Q: What is your favorite style to brew and why? To drink?

My favorite style to brew and drink is probably the imperial IPA, simply because I love strong, hoppy beers.

Q: What is the single-most important variable to you in yourbrewery/process?

This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating: cleanliness and sanitation. Without a doubt, having sound cleaning and sanitation procedures is number one in my book to ensure a quality beer, especially one that may require long lengths of time to mature. I have a saying that ‘anyone can boil something’, but it is the homebrewer who is detail-oriented and, quite frankly, likes to clean, that will succeed and make a great beer everytime.

Q: Do you have any tips (process, OG, FG, special ingredients) for homebrewers wanting to clone Strait Stout?

The Strait Stout is made up of Pale 2 row, Crystal 40, Roasted barley, Dark Chocolate malt, Chocolate malt and flaked barley. I think the key here is the Dark Chocolate, which paired with the roasted barley, forms a hybrid bitter, dark chocolate character. The addition of the flaked barley is akin to using oats, they provide body and mouth feel to round out that smooth character often associated with stouts which is further accentuated on draft as we condition this beer with nitrogen (it is CO2 conditioned for the bottle).

This is a single step mash at 153 with a target OG of 1.068 and TG of 1.016-1.018. Our bittering hops vary due to availability, but the time of addition, 25 min till end of boil, is key here. We are not looking for a ton of hop bitterness in this beer so shorter contact time in the boil is applied here (approx 25 BUs). Our boil is 75 minutes in length. For the finishing hop addition, we use Cascade at the end of boil (steep). We use a house English ale yeast strain, so something along that yeast profile will come close. Ferment at 68-70 degrees F.

Q: Brewer question of the month: What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve ever tried to brew with?

Besides the usual adjuncts like sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, the various spices associated with wits and pumpkin beers, and fruit, the bulk of my experimentation has been infusing single kegs with all kinds of things. I like this approach because the risk factor is low. If I’m not happy with the outcome I’ve only spared a keg. Now, I understand that this is a luxury of a professional brewer making larger batches. So to the homebrewer, I advise exercising caution, and when playing around with ‘new’ ingredients, be conservative. You can always add more in the finished stages to compensate if necessary.

To answer your question though, I recently added dried lavender and dried orange peel to a keg of our Bitter End IPA, along with some dry hops. The combination of the lavender and orange peel resulted in a subtle cinnamon like taste. Who knew!

Q: What was the brewery’s vision for Strait Stout when you began developing the recipe?

This beer was developed well before I arrived, so I cannot authentically answer this question. But… I did tweak it some. This was a beer I felt didn’t need much tampering with, but I wanted to be sure that it wasn’t just a reproduction of our Porter. The two styles sometimes are blurred I feel. Make a stronger Porter and call it a Stout. Well, that’s the easy route. I prefer my Porters to be on the chocolaty side and my Stouts to be on the more bitter roasty side. In other words, go heavier on the lower Lovibond dark malts in a Porter recipe and the opposite in a Stout recipe. I prefer a Stout to have a slightly higher finishing gravity to balance any roasted bitterness. I also like to incorporate some finishing hops because we are in the northwest of the USA and we like hops!

Q: Is there anything you’d like to change about Strait Stout, or has the original vision been achieved?

I am pretty satisfied with the Strait Stout, although Iwouldn’t mind a higher alcohol content (it currently weighs in at 6.5%). Unfortunately, the current malt bill pretty much fills up the entire mash tun, so I would have to sacrifice run-off volume to do so, which we can’t afford because of strong sales. That’s the beauty of homebrewing: business doesn’t get in the way!

Q: Where can readers find your beers in WA, OR, and ID?

Our annual production stands at 2500 bbls, so we are relatively small. Our size only allows us to self distribute our beer to the greater Olympic Peninsula region, Kitsap county and to the greater Seattle/Tacoma markets. We are planning to double our capacityby expansion sometime in early 2012, at which point we will consider distributorship. Even then, I’m not sure we will produce enough beer to expand into other states. We shall see…

The BJCP Style: American Stout

WARNING!! The next few paragraphs are techno-beer-geekjargon. If you don’t get into beer specifications and style guidelines and the disciplined approach to dissecting a beer, the next few paragraphs are not going to spin your plate. Trust me on this and skip straight to The Review. On the other hand, if you’re interested in the finer details of judging beer in a methodical and purposeful way, by all means, don’t stop now!

In the BJCP Guidelines, beers are judged on aroma,appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression. When reading a style description, the components that contribute to these topics are listed in order of their prominence. These vectors determine the category a beer represents, and within a category, there can be several styles.

Stout is Category 13, and there are six styles of stout to choose from. Based on Carter’s description above and this beer’s stats, I’d have to say it most closelyresembles 13E, American Stout.

American Stout differs from the other styles of stout primarily in the areas of original gravity and final gravity—which are measurements of density of the beer before and after fermentation. Density, in turn, is an indicator of the amount of sugars in the beer. They help to determine how much alcohol is in the final product, and provide some indication of one aspect of the “mouthfeel”a beer will present.

American Stouts typically present with roasted notes, coffee notes, and chocolate notes in the aroma; medium to low hop aroma; and esters that can be up to medium intensity. Some light alcohol aromas may be okay.

The guideline goes on to say that this style is generally jet black in color , although some may be very dark brown. A large, persistent head of tan tolight brown is noted, and this style is generally opaque.

The style’s flavors should present as moderate to high roasty malt characteristics, often tasting of coffee, roasted coffee beans, or dark or bitter chocolate. There may be some malt sweetness with rich chocolate or caramel flavors. Hop bitterness should be medium to high, and hop flavor should be low to high, with citrusy or resiny components. Light esters may be present (this generally refers to fruit notes of some kind). They should finish medium to dry, and a light burnt quality is acceptable.

The mouthfeel is described as medium to full body, and somewhat creamy. They can have minor roast-derived astringency and medium-high to high carbonation. They can have a light to moderately strong alcohol warmth, but it should be smooth and not hot.

The Review

I poured Port Townsend’s Strait Stout from the bottle at approximately 45F, and let it warm slightly. It poured with a thick, finely bubbled head that was light tan in color that persisted until the beer was half-gone. This beer pours a very dark brown, with beautiful ruby highlights, but it doesn’t quite make it to opaque. It is very clear, and light filters through in such a mesmerizing way I almost forgot I was supposed to be evaluating aroma next.

I was pleasantly surprised first by esters reminiscent of darker fruit like plums and raisins. Holding a hand over the top of my glass to try to capture some of the potentially subtler notes, I was able to detect some wonderful roasty notes and hints of dark toffee, dark caramel, chocolate, a very subtle coffee, and a sweeter, almost molasses-like note. The complexity of these dark-ish aromas (yes, aromas associated with dark substances can be dark—don’t judge!) allowed just a hint of a mild earthy hop aroma to come through.

The flavors, relative to the aromas, were more characteristic of the style. Definite roasted malt notes presented first with a hint of the same (low) earthy hop contribution detected in the aroma. There was a mild bitterness attributable to the roast malts, and an even milder bitterness present from the hops. At 25 bitterness units (BUs), it might be a little low for this style, but in concert with the combination of malts, the hop bitterness is more than made up for.  Behind the hop bitterness, coffee and dark toffee and chocolate flavors complement a slightly malty sweet finish. I detected just a hint of alcohol flavor in the swallow.

In terms of mouthfeel, this stout has a medium body with a slight starting dryness that is probably attributable to the roasted malts rather than coming from the finishing gravity. The carbonation is very fine, which, combined with the flaked barley, definitely contributes to a smooth/creamy sensation—just like Carter says. I detected a slight warming from the alcohol, but only very slight.

Overall, this is a very good, very drinkable beer. It could be more opaque, sure, but that’s a pretty minor aspect to consider. And that aspect is more than accounted for with the jewel-like ruby highlights streaming through the beer. I reallyenjoyed the aromas present on first pour, and the chocolaty, coffee, malty flavors are equally enjoyable. This beer goes down easy, and at 6.5% ABV, you might want to exercise caution when reaching for a second… or third.

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