How I would reverse engineer Southern Tier’s Crème brûlée Imperial Milk Stout
Research the beer
I actually haven’t tried this beer, but several people asked me for a recipe on Twitter. There isn’t a recipe available in any clone books, but that’s never stopped me before. Last year I cloned Avery’s Samael for my sister with fairly good results. It’s not hard to clone recipes, it just takes some research.
When I cloned Samael, my first stop was to the web site to look at the description of the beer. Usually breweries give details about the beer which help to reverse engineer it. On Avery’s site they listed the ingredients used, the bitterness, and alcohol content. From there it wasn’t too hard to figure out the rest. I thought it was a fluke of good luck, but when I went to Southern Tier’s website I found the same information. Here’s what they said:
10.0% abv • 25º plato • 195º L • 22 oz / 1/6 keg 2-row pale malt / dark caramel malt / vanilla bean / lactose sugar / kettle hops: columbus / aroma hops: horizon
This almost makes it too easy. If the site doesn’t give the exact details, you can still figure out much about the recipe from the description.
Another website to check out is BeerAdvocate. This site won’t have the recipe, but there will be many reviews from other beer lovers. The reviewers might pick out some flavors you might miss. BeerAdvocate also will give you insight into how dry or how sweet the beer is, what flavors other people notice, and other hard to find information about the beer.
The beer style is a sweet stout. This means the beer will use pale ale malt as the base malt. You can find this in the BJCP Style Guidelines if the website doesn’t give it away. You’re not going to find too many pilsner malt stouts.
The alcohol content will tell you how much malt to use. The beer is 10% ABV, so playing with the numbers in your favorite beer recipe program you can estimate the amount to use.
Since this beer has a malty caramel flavor, you’d naturally think crystal malts. If you didn’t, now you know (luckily their website helps us out). The dark colors could come from a variety of malts, but Southern Tier’s website claims they use “dark caramel malt” and no other specialty malt. I picked the darkest crystal malt in my software and added it until the SRM was within the style limits.
This is the trickiest part to figure out, and probably will take some experimenting. The beer has a healthy amount of lactose and vanilla. I’d add a pound of lactose to start with. I’ve seen many reports about how sweet the beer is, so this number may need to rise higher. The high alcohol content with a pound of lactose will put this beer higher than the style guidelines, but it may need to go even higher.
The vanilla shouldn’t be added until after fermentation. You can use two vanilla beans soaked in a cup of vodka. This works well, but I would not add the beans directly to the fermented beer. I’ve added beans in the past, but the results are random and I hate explaining what are the little black dots in the beer. I make an awesome vanilla porter which uses 4 ounces of natural vanilla extract. The 4 ounces of natural vanilla extract produces the best results for me. I think this amount would provide a strong but not overpowering vanilla taste and aroma. Again you might want to experiment with this amount.
Their website claims Columbus bittering hops, and Horizon aroma hops. I probably would have guessed a different hop for this beer, and I certainly wouldn’t have added an aroma hop. The aroma hops really surprise me. I’d be curious to know why they are adding aroma hops to a “dessert beer”.
The website does not list the IBUs for this beer, so we’ll have to do some guesswork. We know the beer is sweet and malt forward from descriptions on Beer Advocate. Many of the reviewers note the beer is sweet, caramel-y, and like a dessert coffee. Some even said it was too sweet to have more than one beer.
The BJCP style guidelines list the milk stout style IBUs between 20-40 IBU. We’ll assume we need to be at the start of this range to make it sweeter. We should target somewhere between 20 and 30 IBU. Plugging this number in to our favorite beer recipe program yields between 0.75 and 1 ounce of Columbus hops (14% AA).
I would not add more than one ounce of the aroma hops for 5 minutes. Southern Tier lists Horizon hops as an aroma hop. I really think you can skip it, but to be safe to match the clone, you can add an ounce at the end of your boil.
The yeast is a total guess. I went with White Labs WLP006 British Bedford or Wyeast 1099 Witbread Ale yeast, because both are a safe bet for sweet stouts. Both will finish with low esters, which will help bring out the sweet maltiness.
The Southern Tier’s Crème brûlée Imperial Milk Stout Clone Recipe
Here’s my guess at the recipe for the Southern Tier Crème brûlée Imperial Milk Stout.
14.75 lbs Pale Ale malt 3.25 lbs Crystal/Caramel malt 120L 1.0 lbs Lactose (milk sugar) 0.75 oz Columbus hops (14% AA - 60 minutes) 1.00 oz Horizon hops (12% AA - 5 minutes) 4.00 oz natural vanilla extract (at bottling or kegging) White Labs WLP006 or Wyeast 1099
S.G. 1.104 F.G. 1.026 IBU 26.5 SRM 31 ABV 10.19% Pre-boil 6 gallons / Batch size 5 gallons
Mash the grains at 160 F for 60 minutes. Carbonate the beer using your favorite method at 2 volumes. This is at the low end for the style, but I think this will help to give more of a creamy mouthfeel.
I probably won’t get a chance to try this recipe until August, but if you get a chance to try it before me let me know how close I got. Either way, this looks like a very tasty recipe I’ll make for my neighborhood’s Oktoberfest!
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I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!