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Dragon Stout Clone 1.0 (Jamaican Me Thirsty)

When I visited Jamaica several years ago, a bartender at our resort introduced me to Dragon Stout, their local beer.  I loved it.  I ended up going shopping and buying a lot of the local beers, but nothing appealed to me as much as Dragon Stout and its higher-alcohol cousin, Dragon Stout Spitfire. Truth be told, I liked Spitfire just a little more. I brought some back with me.

Having re-read a BYO Magazine article about Debittered Black Malt (note: a subscription is required to access the article), I was reminded that they had published a recipe for a Dragon Stout Clone there. As documented below, it's slightly modified from their version and is scaled for use in the Picobrew Zymatic.  I also switched out the corn sugar in their recipe for some Turbinado sugar, which I thought might lend a more brown-sugar flavor to it.


7.25 pounds 6-row Pale Malt
0.50 pounds Crystal 80L Malt
0.50 pounds Debittered Belgian Black Malt
1.00 pounds Turbinado Sugar
0.60 ounces of Magnum hops @ 12.3% AA (70 min.)
1/4 tablet Whirlfloc (10 min.)
1/8 tsp. Yeast Nutrient (10 min.)
1 packet Saflager S-23 Lager Yeast

According to the Picobrew site, the beer should reach the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.085 SG (actual was only 1.063 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.011 SG (actual was too low to measure, 6.1 Brix uncorrected)
  • IBUs: 35
  • SRM: 38
  • Estimated ABV: 9.6% (coming closer to Spitfire) 
  • Actual ABV: 8.3%
  • Starting Water: 3.31 gallons
  • Batch Size: 2.2 gallons
The High Efficiency mash schedule was used, with the mash steps modified to 153F for 36 minutes and 158F for 30 minutes. I hoped this would achieve some unfermentable sugars that would give the beer its characteristic sweetness.

The recipe also called for Sinamar to be added at bottling to achieve the desired color. I'll wait and see if I think that's called for.

A 120-minute boil is called for in the recipe, with no hops additions for the first 60 minutes.  To get the bitterness right, I altered that to 50 minutes without hops and 70 minutes with Magnum.

Brewing and Related Activities

I dissolved the Turbinado in the water when adding it to the keg, to reduce the grain bill in the step filter to 8.25 pounds, which is below the Zymatic's 9-pound limit.  Even at that, there were parts of the grain compartment that did not get wet during the mash.

While the Zymatic worked on the beer, I began getting ready.  This is a huge gain you get from the machine.  It handles most of the brewing tasks, allowing you to spend your time on other things.

I sanitized my fermenter and prepped the temperature control system.  I also prepped my temperature logger, since I wanted to know if the beer stayed in the lager range throughout fermentation or if more robust temperature control will be needed in future lager brewing endeavors.

Since I still had time, I sanitized a case of bottles and bottled my 1-gallon Blonde Ale batch and 1-gallon Malt Liquor batch, rinsed and dried the bottles, then labeled them before dropping them into my "hot box" for carbonation.  Then I cleaned the bottling bucket, the two fermenters, and other items that needed a cleanup. I also rinsed my immersion chiller so it would be ready when the Dragon Stout finished brewing.

Having done pretty much everything I could, I came upstairs and monitored the Zymatic through the boil and waited for it to finish.

Chilling and Fermenting

The colder-than-usual Ohio winter has made a corner of my basement a perfect lagering temperature of about 55F. I set the fermenter up there, wrapping it with a fermwrap heater and my Cool Zone cooling jacket.  The cooling jacket was connected to a large reservoir of "basement temperature" water for cooling purposes.  I also inserted my temperature logger to record the temperatures the fermenter reached during fermentation over the next four weeks to see if it stayed in a safe range for the yeast.  It should be finished fermenting around February 3.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

01/06/2018: The Zymatic definitely seems to have issues when brewing with large grain bills.  The last 2-3 brews I've made have pushed the 9-pound limitation (with this one weighing in at 8.25 pounds if you don't count the sugar - which was added to the mash water).  The device seems to have trouble flooding the grain compartment enough to wet all the grain. After consulting the Picobrew forums, it's suggested that a grain crush of 0.043 to 0.045 is recommended for the device. My mill was set to 1.063, which is quite a bit larger. What may be happening is that the wort is able to flow too easily through the step filter and isn't spending as much time with the grain as it should. I've adjusted the gap so that the crush will be smaller for the next batch. We'll see if it behaves better.

I've also gone through all the connections and tightened them, done a deep clean cycle on the machine, and even put Teflon tape where the wort lines come into the Zymatic to help seal them a little better.  I tightened the keg posts. In the process, I saw that one of the dip tubes was jammed into the bottom of the keg instead of floating freely near the other. I loosened the post, adjusted the tube, and re-tightened it to see if that will help as well.

A forum post suggested pausing the brew during the mash and stirring the grain bed a bit to ensure that it all gets wet. That wouldn't have helped much (I think) in this brew because there was no water in the grain bed to stir around. Everything pretty much flowed through the grain bed and out.

01/07/2018: I'm not seeing any activity from the airlock yet, so it's difficult to say that fermentation is underway. Then again, I've never brewed with a lager yeast before, so they may behave a bit differently from their ale counterparts. We'll see in a couple of days if the gravity has changed.

01/14/2018:  Despite the Ohio winter being unusually cold, keeping this beer within the yeast's tolerance was a bit tricky.  I found that once fermentation really kicked off, it quickly jumped from 54F to 61.9F.  The cooling system seemed to keep it from going over 62F (the upper limit for the yeast I am using) but only barely.  I added ice a couple of times a day to keep the temperature under control.  I won't know for sure until I look at the temperature logger in a week or two. Today, however, the beer is back down to around 58F.

01/16/2018:  A small sample was extracted from the fermenter for taste testing. The sample seemed more dry than I recall the real Dragon Stout being, and a touch chocolatey. However, it wasn't too bitter. I recall the original having a slight smokiness to it that I don't get from this version. I'm hopeful that it will seem a little sweeter when carbonated and chilled properly. If not, I'll probably need to do another batch with a higher mash temperature, maybe some Munich malt, less Turbinado sugar, and a less attenuative yeast strain.

01/21/2018:  The corner of the basement where the fermenter is sitting has remained in the mid-to-upper 50's consistently for weeks now.  The temperature recorder reads the temperature inside the fermenter at about 57F right now, which is good for the yeast strain.  I may move the beer to a secondary fermenter this week and let it continue lagering.

Fermenter temperature stayed below 62F throughout primary fermentation

02/04/2018:  The fermentation has definitely finished and the yeast has dropped out of suspension well.  I bottled the beer today in 27 twelve-ounce bottles using Coopers carbonation drops as priming sugar.  I'm expecting to be able to try the first bottle of the beer some time in the next three weeks. A small sample left in the bottling bucket tasted like I remember the real Dragon Stout tasting. It was a little sweet, not astringent, with no harsh roasted grain notes, but a hint of smokiness.  If it retains these qualities when it's carbonated, I may do a side by side comparison with my remaining bottle of real Jamaican Dragon Stout.  If that comparison is favorable, I'll enter it into competition later in the year. A gravity test using my refractometer yielded a 6.1 Brix gravity for the finished beer. After BeerSmith corrected it based on my refractometer's wort correction factor and the original gravity of the beer (measured with a hydrometer) it came out to 1.000 SG.  Since that's very unlikely, let's just say it fermented very thoroughly.

02/11/2018:  Yesterday, I chilled a bottle of the beer and poured it. It definitely reminded me of the real Dragon Stout we had in Jamaica, though it wasn't quite as sweet and the yeast wasn't as expressive.  I'm guessing a shorter mash at a higher temperature might sweeten it up a little.

04/09/2018:  Three bottles of the beer were left at Barley's Ale House for their annual home brewing competition. I should have the results in a couple of weeks.

04/23/2018:  The results are in from the judges at Barley's.  The beer received total scores of 19, 20, and 23.  The judges' comments and individual scores appear below:
  • Aroma (scores 5, 6, 5, and 5):
    • Faint cocoa, some banana, light cola, needs more maltiness
    • Fruity yeast esters dominate the aroma, followed by some malty sweetness and roast. Slight chocolate. No diacetyl. No DMS. No hop aroma. Acetaldehyde on the nose.
    • Slight yeast aroma followed by roast. Light hop.
    • Fruity and estery. No DMS or diacetyl. Dark fruits. No grain or roast aroma.
  • Appearance (scores 2, 2, 3, and 2)
    • Good color, some haze, short-lived head
    • Deep brown with creamy tan head
    • Dark brown with light brown head, good clarity
    • Deep red, light on head retention
  • Flavor (scores 7, 9, 5, and 10)
    • Inappropriate tanginess, lacking smooth malt roast, over-carbonation comes through as cola, too estery relative to the lack of dark malt sweetness
    • Roast character along with fruity yeast esters, has a sweetness to it. The bitterness is low for the style, both from roast and hops. Not enough dark fruit character. The flavor is balanced toward sweetness. No alcohol heat.
    • Moderate roast with slight sweetness. Yeasty.
    • Light roasty character, pleasant fruity hop character
  • Mouthfeel (scores 1, 2, 2, and 2)
    • Over carbonated, thin bodied, noticeable tang
    • Creamy mouthfeel, slightly overcarbonated, the high carbonation helped balance the sweetness
    • Carbonation is good, body is light
    • Good carbonation, medium bodied, too dry
  • Overall Impression (scores 4, 4, 5, and 6)
    • Over carbonated and too dry, lends to a thin mouthfeel and an off-putting tang
    • The beer has no production flaws. It misses the mark on yeast character and malt flavors. The bitterness was a little light. The ?? and dark fruit character that are represented in this style are missing. I would dial up the hops and select a different yeast strain.
    • Drinkable beer but the aroma is too yeasty and light body.
    • Pleasant to drink. Would like a little more roast character.
If you look at my comments from the taste test on February 11, I mentioned that it wasn't as sweet and the yeast wasn't as expressive.  I would have also added that it missed the dark fruit element as well.  The judges noted that it was overcarbonated, which may be true. I haven't opened a bottle in a while. Judges commented on the yeasty aroma, which I didn't detect in my original tasting.  

Ultimately, my take-away from this is that in the next iteration I will need to do the following:
  • Switch from Crystal 80L down to 60L, and a bit more of that. This may bring up the dark fruit element that is missing from it.
  • Add some oats to the mash to improve the body.
  • Increase the amount of malt used to get to the correct gravity.
  • Add some roasted barley (just a small amount) and/or darker malt to offset some of the sweetness from the 60L.
  • Correct the carbonation sugar amount since it appeared to have been high for this batch.
  • Consider adding a flavor hop addition of some kind, and possibly aroma hops.  
  • Swap out the Turbinado sugar for corn sugar to possibly eliminate the "tang" that the one judge picked up on.
  • Consider a different yeast strain that's less expressive, though this was done with a lager yeast that (when I tasted it two months ago) didn't seem to provide any aroma.


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