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.