Behind the Beer: Wreck Alley Imperial Stout
It was around this time last year when we were making the final tweaks to a beer that would become Wreck Alley, our Imperial Stout brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans. And as we look forward to releasing our first barrel-aged version of Wreck Alley on March 1st, we thought we’d share the story behind the original beer, or at the very least some of the interesting details that wouldn’t fit on the label.
Finding the right coffee…
In our search for the perfect coffee beans, we were certain about two things; first, we wanted a roast that would complement the dark chocolate flavors of the beer without adding bitterness, and second, we wanted to work with a local roaster. Fortunately, the folks at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters were not only willing to supply us with their award-winning coffee, but even offered to create a special roast for Wreck Alley Imperial Stout. After plenty of sampling, we landed on lightly roasted beans from Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. The flavors were delicate, and when cold-steeped, the coffee had a nutty, roasted, and toffee-like character.
What the heck are cocao nibs, why do I keep hearing about them, and what are they doing in a beer?
Simply put, cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted, de-husked, and crushed into pieces– basically chocolate in its rawest form. In brewing, the addition of cocoa nibs will add to and accentuate the dark chocolate flavors in porters and stouts. The Peruvian cocoa nibs used in Wreck Alley are roasted and prepared by Tcho Chocolate Company on Pier 17 in San Francisco, CA.
Where does the coffee and cocoa come into play in the brewing process?
This step is what all the test batches were for. We use coffee and cocoa nibs in Wreck Alley to lend their individual flavors to the beer, while complementing the flavors of the malts. Because both coffee beans and cocoa nibs can be bitter and acidic, we use a cold-steeping process where both ingredients are added to the conditioning tank after fermentation. This technique allows Wreck Alley to extract the flavors and aromas of the coffee and cocoa without adding bitterness or acidity.
San Francisco Beer Week kicks-off today and we couldn’t be more excited to participate in the Bay Area’s annual craft beer celebration for the first time. When we expanded beer distribution into Northern California last year, we missed San Francisco Beer Week by about six-months. This year however, we have a handful of events planned in San Francisco and San Jose that will feature San Diego favorites like Red Trolley Ale and Tower 10 IPA, as well as harder to find special releases like our 24th Anniversary Flanders-style Red Ale and Barrel-aged Wreck Alley Imperial Stout. So, if you’re interested in dropping by for a pint and chatting up our motley crew of Karl Strauss reps, check out our event schedule below.
When I began my career in the craft beer industry, Karl Strauss Brewing Company had just celebrated 18 years of brewing in San Diego. It was 2007; San Diego was home to a close-knit band of breweries, and you could count the number of craft-savvy beer bars on one hand. San Diego’s beer scene was plenty mature at the time, but the cult-like demand for San Diego beers was still a few years away. And while high-octane hoppy beers were putting SD on the international map, a more experimental and lesser-known brewing practice was developing behind closed brewery doors.
Experimenting with different ingredients and techniques is one of the most exciting parts of brewing, especially when a little spontaneity or a happy accident leads to new discoveries and complex flavors. The most exciting discovery of my first year with KARL was sour beers. In my life before beer, I knew nothing about spontaneous fermentation or wild ales; my only real experience was pouring a Duchesse de Bourgogne down the drain because it tasted like balsamic vinegar. That being said, my education began when I discovered a cache of dusty, cobweb-covered oak barrels in a dark recessed corner of the brewery. Curious, I asked around and learned that these barrels contained sour and spontaneously fermented ales inoculated with lactic acid-producing bacteria and wild yeast. At first, I didn’t know what to make of folks using bacteria and wild organisms to make beer, but after reading up on the styles and doing a little bar stool research, I was hooked. (more…)