You could say I’m a “high concept” recipe designer. I like to include ingredients that have some fun meaning or reference so that each beer recipe tells a story. Sometimes, though, the concept is way more unique than the recipe itself.
My wife has (and therefore my two kids have) a strong strain of what Americans call “Scotch-Irish” heritage. They’re the people who left Scotland to settle Ireland in the 1600’s when the English started crowding them out, then came to America in the 1700’s after the English followed them to Ireland, only to move out west and build homesteads on the frontier when they found the American colonies populated by – you guessed it – more English.
Scotch-Irish is the heritage of the early American moonshiners who started the Whiskey Rebellion, of Davy Crockett and Texas President (back when it was an independent republic) Sam Houston, and the kind of anti-establishment iconoclasts who’ve defined the American cultural landscape from Mark Twain to Alec Baldwin. They’re tough. They’re rugged. They’re unapologetic individualists who don’t take crap from anyone. They know it, and they make sure you know it.
And they all claim to be related to Davy Crockett. They really, really love Davy Crockett.
For a descendant of Italian immigrants like myself – whose ancestors left the strangling misery of a life of endless toil on farms in Southern Sicily to enjoy the unbounded freedom of endless toil on farms in Southern Louisiana – it’s usually easier to just let the Scotch-Irish have their way, especially when you’re outnumbered 3 to 1. Even when their Protestant Irish self-importance leads them to openly proclaim wild and baseless assertions like “Bushmills Whiskey is better than Jameson!” one learns to just concede the point before some’un reckons it’s time to fetch a musket and settle things the frontier way.
But I love ’em. I love ’em almost as much as they love Davy Crockett, and that’s a lot. So when formulating a recipe for a “Scotch-Irish stout” recently to celebrate the lineage of 75% of my household, I sought to brew something bold. Uncompromising. Full-bodied but smooth and pleasant. Sufficiently Irish, but with that untamable individualism common to the Scots and their frontier American descendants.
I started with my recipe for Anna Livia Irish Stout. My most recent variation on that was:
- 6 lbs 14 oz Irish pale malt (Malting Co. of Ireland Stout Malt)
- 2 oz Acid Malt (for a lactic tart hint; the notorious “Guinness tang”)
- 2 lbs Flaked Barley
- 1 lb Black Roasted Barley
- 10.8 AAU of English hops (East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, etc.) at 60 minutes
- Irish Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP 004)
OG 1.049, 42.2 IBU, SRM 34, ABV 4.9%. Good astringency, a bit of tartness … a little higher gravity and alcohol, but otherwise a fair approximation of an Irish Stout, BJCP 2015 style 15B.
The first thing I did was “Scotch-Irish up” the recipe up by replacing the Irish base malt with British malt. I didn’t have Golden Promise – which would have been my first choice as a Scottish/Northern English barley variety – but Maris Otter was close enough. I also increased the amount of base malt to result in a stronger beer, befitting the burly in-your-facedness of the Scotch-Irish people. I also removed the acid malt to divorce the Scotch-Irish stout from the Guinness/Dublin legacy that inspired my Irish stout, and replaced that with base malt.
I believe every stout should have some flaked grain in it for that creamy, coat-your-palate mouthfeel. But flaked barley is famously used in Guinness for that reason, so I nixed it for being too Irish. Oats are a staple of Scottish cuisine from oatcakes to haggis, so I replaced the 2 pounds of flaked barley with flaked oats, which is always (to me) a big step up in mouthfeel from flaked barley.
So, to balance that silky mouthfeel of the oats, I wanted a little residual malt sweetness. So I cut the black roasted barley by a few ounces to reduce astringency and added a half pound of chocolate malt.
British hops are pretty all-purpose, so I kept those the same. I also kept the Irish Ale yeast. Although I could have Scotch-Irished the recipe up a bit further by replacing the yeast with something like White Labs WLP028 (Edinburgh Ale), I felt I needed something to retain the Irish character before my Scotch-Irish stout became a Scottish stout. After all, if this had been a real beer brewed by Scottish immigrants to Ireland, the method of pairing imported British ingredients with an indigenous Irish yeast would have been a likely way of brewing it.
So in my mind, I had created a recipe that was wholly unique. Something as original and individual as the Scotch-Irish heritage I was celebrating! I patted myself on the back for a job well done, then looked at the BeerSmith window open on my computer and saw the following recipe staring back at me like Davy Crockett down the barrel of a musket.
- 8 lbs Maris Otter
- 2 lbs Flaked Oats
- 13 oz Black Roasted Barley
- 8 oz Chocolate Malt
- 10.8 AAU of East Kent Goldings at 60 minutes
- Irish Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP 004)
OG 1.057, 40 IBU, SRM 37.5, ABV 5.8%, with medium hop bitterness and malty, chocolatey sweetness. (And if you’ve already spotted the problem, shh! Don’t spoil it.)
It seemed that my “wholly unique” and “original” beer recipe had turned out to be a completely in-style Oatmeal Stout, BJCP 2015 style 16B.
The punchline is that I don’t even really like oatmeal stouts. What’s worse, my Scotch-Irish wife (who loves Irish stout) kind of hates them. But in hindsight, it’s hilarious to think that I ever thought I was designing anything other than the perfectly reasonable but ordinary oatmeal stout that I got.
Don’t get me wrong. The beer (christened Belfast Breakfast Oatmeal Stout) turned out to be delicious. It’s sweet and smooth, easy drinking but unavoidably stout without coating your palate like a pint of motor oil. And as you can see, it sure is pretty to look at. My roundabout way of backing into a recipe for an Oatmeal Stout (with a capital O. S. for “Oh, Sh-t”) instead of intentionally trying to design one, actually produced a version that I like a lot more than any commercial oatmeal stout I’ve ever had. So there’s that. But it’s an interesting lesson in being so high-concept, getting so wrapped up in my own cleverness, that I fail to see how what I’m doing is nothing new. How it’s been done before … many, many times.
There’s still something unique about it in the unique combination of ingredients I used to get there – and I will make it again, especially next time I get a hold of some Golden Promise malt; I might even brew an imperial version and age it with oak and some Bushmills.
But as it turned out, the only story my supposedly high-concept Scotch-Irish stout tells is “Once upon a time, Shawn accidentally brewed a surprisingly decent oatmeal stout. The end.” Decent beer, not much of a story. Or is it? In today’s foodie world where we celebrate the pedigree of every ingredient that goes into our food and beverage, from floor-malted barley to heirloom tomatoes, maybe it’s enough to have an interesting story behind the ingredients used to make something familiar.
At least, that’s the story I’m sticking with. And I think Davy Crockett and every Scotch-Irish American would approve of me going against the … uh, grain … with a little blustery self-importance.
The recipe is posted in the Recipes section of the website, along with its more Irish cousin Anna Livia Irish Stout. Try them both and tell me what you think … and until next time, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.