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.
Beer-infused Crème Brûlée? Yes, well, it’s more like crem-brew-lay, but you get the gist. What started out as an off-the-wall idea three years ago has since turned into one of our favorite desserts. Brewed with cocoa nibs and locally roasted Ethiopian coffee beans, Wreck Alley adds rich layers of dark chocolate and an espresso-like roast to this classic dessert.
Our Chefs Gunther and Corey, the masterminds behind this recipe, have earned a solid reputation with their drink beer/think food approach to cooking. Continually pushing the craft beer and culinary envelope with their innovative methods, these two were recently selected to share their expertise at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego.
If you’re looking for something to pair with your after dinner Wreck Alley, give this recipe a try. Also, look for this and other great beer-centric recipes in an upcoming craft beer cookbook by Chef’s Press, the publishers behind San Diego’s Top Brewers.
Wreck Alley Crème Brûlée
2 cups Wreck Alley Imperial Stout
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
12 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 shallow, oven-proof ramekins
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place stout in pan, bring to a slow boil and reduce to a ¼ cup. Place cream in a non reactive pan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the cream. The pod can be used as an additional flavor enhancer by adding it to the cream while heating, remove and discard before whisking. Heat cream and vanilla slowly until steaming. When cream starts to steam remove from heat. Do not boil the cream. While the cream heats through, whisk together egg yolks and sugar with wire whisk until pale in color and sugar is dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Pour about ½ cup of the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture whisking quickly to temper the mixture. In a slow stream, add the remaining hot cream to the egg mixture while continuing to mix with the whisk. Add the reduced stout to the brûlée mixture and mix well. Divide the mixture evenly into six ramekins, placed in a deep baking dish. Fill the baking pan with hot water about half way up the sides of the ramekins and place in a pre-heated oven to cook for 40 minutes or until just set. Check for doneness by gently shaking the ramekins; the brûlée is finished baking when the edges are set/firm but the middle still jiggles a little. Place the ramekins in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to cool before serving.
Sprinkle the top of each brûlée with a thin layer of granulated sugar. With a kitchen propane torch (available at most household supply retailers) point the flame onto the sugar and heat until it begins to melt and is deep golden brown color.
Use the broiler setting of your oven to brown the sugar by placing the brûlée about an inch away under the broiler flame/heat source for 20 to 30 seconds. Check frequently to ensure even browning.
For an additional twist on this classic, add your favorite fruit like strawberries, raspberries or banana slices to brûlée. Gently insert fruit pieces by pressing them into the cold brûlée and follow the same finishing instructios above.