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The Birth of The Bringer of Nuclear Fire

The lede

The Bringer of Nuclear Fire is a 9.2% abv imperial milk stout with ancho and chipotle peppers. It’s going to be released on Tuesday, December 10 at Sterling Place while the Risk Legacy group plays the 15th and final game in their campaign.

You should make sure your schedule is clear: Risk is fun, our group is great and the beer is delicious.

The idea

In early September Justin messaged the Risk group on Facebook with an idea: we all brew a beer together.

The response was immediate and enthusiastic, with styles and names being thrown out with the frequency and intensity of an automatic baseball pitching machine. My favorite may have been Justin’s “Bet Julia really misses Buffalo now.”

Matt suggested an imperial stout. Alex threw back a few names, including “Divided Factions” and “The Bringer of Nuclear Fire.” It’s worth noting that all of this took place in the time it took me to bike home from work. I chimed in, saying that The Bringer of Nuclear Fire sounded like a pepper beer.

4:38 pm, September 3rd, Alex suggests an imperial chile milk stout. Sometimes inspiration just flows freely.

The planning

The last of The Last of the Oaxacans. No, I don't know why I intentionally backlit the picture.

The last of The Last of the Oaxacans. No, I don’t know why I intentionally backlit the picture.

The initial plan was to homebrew five gallons of whatever we made and split it amongst ourselves. No no no, I said. We brew this on a commercial scale and release it.

We sent an email to Rudy and kinda felt like jerks. I mean, he’s got a tight production schedule and we were butting in and asking for some of his time and fermentation space. Rudy, however, is awesome. He was immediately on board with the idea and we set about planning the recipe.

The concept was loosely based on PJ Dunn’s Last of the Oaxacans, itself based on Cigar City’s Hunahpu. Rudy, Alex and Matt handled most of the recipe formulation: I may own a brewery but I’m a blogger at heart.

The brewing

This was loosely documented in Part Eleven: on October 24th we gathered at CBW HQ. Rudy and I mashed in early: usually a beer will boil for an hour, but the higher gravity of the imperial stout meant that we had to boil for three hours. To avoid being there until 1 or 2 am we got started around 3:30.

I stirred the grains in with water as Rudy told me that I’d be wondering why my abs were sore the next day. Then I went back to staffing our retail counter while we waited for the rest of the crew to get out of work. That’s something that surprises many people: brewing is, by and large, waiting around while large vats of liquid heat up.

As the other came in they were given jobs: Alex stirred the mash a bit to distribute the heat. This step extracts the fermentable sugars from the grains. Essentially, you’re making grain tea. We then drained the liquid — now called wort — into the boil kettle, leaving behind a mash tun full of wet, hot grains. Everyone took turns scooping it out into the containers we send to the Massachusetts Avenue Project: it’s sweaty work, so after a few minutes we’d swap to the next person.

NUCLEAR FIRE

NUCLEAR FIRE

By then we were setting up to play the game: take your turn, scoop some grains. Once the wort had been brought to a boil there wasn’t anything to do but toss in more hops occasionally. The earlier you add hops the more bitterness will be extracted: closer to the end they’ll add more flavor and aroma. Hoppier beers like IPAs have lots of hop additions, but this was an imperial stout.

After the game was done we still had about an hour and a half left in the boil. We finished off the pizza we had ordered and chatted about beer and other assorted topics. By 11 pm we were tired but there was still work to do: the boil was done and we had to chill it down and add oxygen. Yeast does the heavy work in beer making, turning the sugars we extracted into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and like most living things if you drop them into boiling liquid or deprive them of oxygen they die rather than going about their appointed rounds.

After it had been sufficiently chilled, oxygenated and pumped into the fermenter where it would stay for the next few weeks all that was left to do was to clean up. Kettles were scrubbed, floors mopped. We left the brewery at roughly midnight, turning the lights off and whispering good night to our new baby.

The nuclear fire

From here we only had to decide on the best ratio of peppers. You see, we had named the beer after nuclear fire, an atomic explosion that scorched Siberia into a wasteland. Even so, we wanted to avoid doing that to your tongue.

Adding any spices, herbs or fruit to a beer can be difficult. On the one hand you want to be able to taste it, but it can easily become overpowering. It’s very hard to figure out how much is too much beforehand. We are men of science: estimations do not become us. We decided to go the safe route and make an extraction.

2013-11-02 12.09.12Matt took some alcohol (vodka is the easiest to use) and soaked some sliced peppers in it. In one container, chipotle. In another, ancho. After a few weeks he had the essence of the peppers and so he met Rudy at the brewery so they could experiment (I was dropping by before heading to a tasting at Consumer’s, so I participated a bit as well). Rather than add some peppers and hope for the best they took four samples of the fermented but uncarbonated beer. To one they added 2 mL of ancho. To the next, 4 mL. To a third, 2 mL of chipotle. The ancho provided pepper flavor without much heat, the chipotle smoke and heat. We decided on 4 mL of ancho and just a touch of chipotle: there was flavor with just a touch of smoke and a low burning that grew as you sipped. If it’s spicy up front you’ll be overwhelmed by the end of the glass, so this will build nicely as you go.

Then all there was to do was set up the launch event. Judy at Sterling was more than accommodating, and now that we have the date (December 10, in case you’ve forgotten!) we are all set to go.

The final game of Risk. The beer we all brewed together. One hell of a night.

Dramatis personae (Felicia, Alex, Dan, Justin, Matt)