Brew Day!… “Cuvée Covid”

Ever since I was forced into it by a failed carbonation, and achieved great results, I have been interested in the idea of “cutting”, or blending, a matured old beer with a young beer. The reason we do this is that the young beer contains enough viable, suspended yeast to complete bottle conditioning and carbonation. 

Since the first occasion, there has been one other instance when I have resorted to livening up an old beer with a young one—the curious incident whereby a flat “My Cherry Amour” evolved to become the fizzy “My Cherry Amour” and the creamy “Black Forest Stout”.

This year, however, I determined to follow this process deliberately.

PoA para break (small)

I harbour an ambition to create an homage to a Flanders Brown Ale at some point, deploying oak and Pediococcus, Lactobacillus and Acetobacter cultures in the keeping beer and ageing it for a year or more. For this experiment I satisfied myself with the simpler and less time-intensive project of creating a Blended Strong Stout.

Nonetheless, if I were going to let a beer sit for three months, I might as well use the time to get some interesting flavours into it.

To that end, I decided to age the beer with oak chips from an old barrel that had been used to mature a Scotch whisky—an Islay whisky, if the smoky aroma was anything to go by. I created a relatively simple Stout recipe, and while it was fermenting I sterilized the oak chips by soaking them for a few days in a bath of mainly cheap whisky, with a dash each of rum and Southern Comfort for fun. 

“Cuvée Covid” Blend, Old Ale (March 2020)

In the mash:

  • 4.0kg of Maris Otter malt
  • 1.0kg of Crystal 100 malt
  • 1.0kg of Brown malt
  • 300g of Chocolate malt
  • 200g of Wheat
  • 400g of Oats
  • 60 minutes of rest
  • Note: Wort volume of 12 litres

In the boil:

  • 45g of Galaxy hops (pellet) for 60 mins
  • 60 minute boil

Fermented with Wyeast Laboratories 1272 “American Ale II” (2nd gen.)

Starting Gravity: 1.076 / 18.4° Plato

Finishing Gravity: 1.020

ABV: 7.4%

Once primary fermentation was complete, I simply racked this beer into my little-used plastic cask, together with the oak chips, and let it sit in my cellar for three months at a temperature of around 18°C.

PoA para break (small)

For the young beer, I tried to create a Stout with a more rounded flavour and a softer, less astringent body, to complement what I imagined would be a highly phenolic aged beer. 

For the rounded flavour, I added Crystal 200 malt, Roasted Barley for a bite of black coffee, and a pinch of Rauchmalt to accentuate the Islay aromatics of the oaks chips. For softness, I cold-steeped the dark and roasted malts rather than mashing them (to limit the herbstoffe polyphenols in the wort) and tossed a small amount of non-fermentable lactose sugar into the boil. 

“Cuvée Covid” Blend, Young Ale (June 2020)    

In the mash:

  • 5.0kg of Maris Otter malt
  • 1.0kg of Brown malt
  • 1.0kg of Chocolate malt
  • 850g of Crystal 200 malt
  • 300g of Roasted Barley
  • 300g of Oats
  • 200g of Wheat
  • 100g of Smoked malt
  • 90 minutes of rest

In the boil:

  • 30g of Ekuanot hops (pellet) for 60 mins
  • 200g of Lactose Sugar for 5 mins
  • 60 minute boil

Fermented with Wyeast Laboratories 1272 “American Ale II” (2nd gen.)

Starting Gravity: 1.090 / 21.6° Plato 

Finishing Gravity: 1.028

ABV: 8.1%

Overall, I ended up with around 30 litres of Blended Strong Stout, 40% old beer and 60% young beer, and an estimated ABV of 7.8%.

Screenshot 2020-08-20 at 11.42.19

Old beer on the left, young beer on the right

Bottled with 125g of dextrose in solution and conditioned for a month, it is only beginning to show its promised character.

PoA para break (small)

It pours with moderate-to-high carbonation, which I think will soften with time. The foam is a thing of beauty: caramel-coloured, thick, tight-bubbled and persistent. The aroma leads with coffee and Islay smoke, and it is coffee that follows through most prominently in the flavour. There is also a hint of orange and a return of the smokiness, bound-up with wood, on the finish.


First taste

The alcohol is pleasingly soft, but at the moment the beer is more dry and astringent than I would like it to be, despite my cold-steeping and the addition of lactose. I think this may be a function of the generous dose of Brown malt in the mash and also my being a little too strenuous in squeezing the goodness from my cold-steeped black grains. 

These are not big problems, however. The beer is eminently drinkable now, and I would hope and expect these rather forward phenolic compounds to age elegantly into vanilla, tobacco and leather flavours over the coming months, with the beer hitting its peak character in perhaps two years’ time. 

PoA para break (small)

I named this beer Cuvée Covid not only to reflect the fact that it was made during the worst days of the global SARS-COV-19 pandemic, but also because both its creation and its maturation require the same kind of patient resolve that we have all had to show when faced with this crisis. Hopefully, when I pop open the final bottle in five years’ time (as is my plan), this disease will be either a fading memory or a seasonal nuisance tamed by medical science. 

Screenshot 2020-08-20 at 11.44.49


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