Thursday, 5 May 2016

Nelson Sauvin Session IPA

It's been awhile since I've brewed a new entry in my series of one-hop Session IPAs; while I did rebrew the Equinox Session IPA a few months ago, the last new entry was almost a year ago, when I brewed one with Summer hops. While not a bad beer, it was the least enjoyable out of all of them (Mosaic and Equinox were both great, El Dorado was quite good); it was the first and only time I've brewed with Summer, and the hop aroma and flavour was extremely mild compared to the other Session IPAs I've brewed. I always enjoy having a sessionable, hoppy beer on tap, so it was definitely time for me to re-visit this series, and I had a lot of hop varieties I was anxious to try out.

Before choosing a hop, however, I decided to make this a completely different Session IPA from the other four I had brewed. For those, I was happy to have dialled in a grist, mash temp, hop schedule, and yeast that I felt were all where I wanted them to be for a beer like this. The grist was made up of ~70% 2-row, 11% each Munich and Wheat malt, 5.5% Crystal 40 L, and ~2% Acid malt. I mashed high (~155 F) to keep the body up, which is of course always a challenge when you brew beers in the 4-4.5% ABV range (or lower). I fermented all of the Session IPAs with US-05, which I had been using for basically all of my hoppy beers then.

But, I've really been enjoying fermenting hoppy beers with London Ale III; if you follow along with this blog, you can definitely attest to that. My last six hoppy beers have all been fermented with this strain, and I love how it works with the hops I've used, giving a really fruity beer with a fantastic, creamy mouthfeel. I wanted to try using this strain in a Session IPA, of course, but felt that I didn't really need a grist with 30% specialty malt; I was pretty sure a simpler grain bill with the proper mash temp would be sufficient with LAIII.

It was easy for me to decide on a grist after picking out the yeast strain. Even though I've only used it twice now, for a simple, delicious malt bill that pairs great with hops and LAIII, I feel that you can't go wrong with the Row 2, Hill 56 clone: Pilsner and Maris Otter, light Crystal and Carapils, and a bit of Acid malt. I used it recently in an APA with Azacca and Galaxy, and that beer was one of my favourites I've brewed in a while. I scaled down the recipe to an OG of 1.048, and decided to aim for a mash temp of 154 F; while not completely sure, I was pretty confident that it would give enough body in the beer.

There, everything decided! Oh wait, the hops. While I had many varieties on hand that I had never used on their own before, I couldn't help but be drawn back to maybe my favourite variety, Nelson Sauvin. Ah, what a wonderful hop. I know I don't have to tell you that, but I can't help it. It's so delicious. And surprisingly, I had quite a lot of it on hand, so I was really interested in brewing another one-hop beer with it; the first one was a completely different beer, my Prairie 'Merica clone, a SMaSH Saison. I really loved that beer, and it was two and a half years ago that I brewed it, so it was settled - Nelson Sauvin Session IPA it is. I kept the hop schedule for this beer the same as what I had used before: a little bit of a bittering addition at 60 (I used Polaris, and only 4 g, to get ~9 IBUs), then Nelson at 10 minutes (1 oz), at flameout for a 15-min steep (2 oz), and a dry-hop (3 oz). Six ounces total for the batch, definitely nothing crazy, but I've had great results with this method, and Nelson is pretty expressive to say the least.

Aside from fermenting with LAIII, I added some Gypsum and calcium chloride to my mash as I have done for all hoppy beers over the last six months or more. While I may not have everything completely dialled in yet, I feel like I'm getting pretty close, for my tastes anyway. Aiming for a chloride:sulfate ratio of about 1:1, with both numbers in the 100-150 ppm range, seems to work really well. If you haven't tested your water or tracked down a water report, I suggest you do. You don't necessarily have to be a water expert; obviously, the more you know, the easier it is to understand and tweak, but if you're into hoppy beers (and I assume you are if you're reading this), this higher-chloride-than-we-used-to-think-was-a-good-idea approach really does help in brewing some tasty beers.

Well, now that I'm drinking this beer, I definitely have a decision to make about future Session IPAs, because I really like how this turned out. That's easy to say when you're brewing with Nelson, but aside from how well the hop comes through in this beer, I think I may prefer this style with the R2H56 grist and fermenting with LAIII. The beer looks fantastic, pale-gold-coloured and hazy, just like I like it to look; huge tropical aroma (I admit I wouldn't know what a gooseberry smells like, but if this truly is it, then I gotta buy me some gooseberries to string into a necklace so I can wear it all day long); I admit the flavour isn't quite as punchy as I expected from the aroma, but it's still very good. Smooth and creamy, as are so many beers (I've found) when fermenting with LAIII.

I also think that ~6 oz is enough hops for this style of beer; I've had other homebrews that used more hops, and they didn't strike me as hoppier in either aroma or flavour, really. I'm a firm believer now that there is a too-many-hops point for beer; whether this is due to hop-flavour-overload/contrasting, pH changes with increasing dry-hopping, or something else, I don't know, but there it is. If this beer could use any changes at all, the only one I would make would be a longer hop steep, which would likely bump up the flavour intensity a little bit. Otherwise, I'm happy with this, and at the calculated ABV of 4.3%, it's perfectly sessionable, and about right where I want a hoppy beer to be in terms of appearance, aroma and flavour.

It's just too bad that Nelson Sauvin is so damned expensive and hard to get...

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.013, IBU ~35, SRM 4.5, ABV ~4.5%

Grains:
2.3 kg (57.1%) Bohemian Pilsner
1.35 kg (33.5%) Maris Otter
160 g (4%) CaraRed (20 L)
120 g (3%) Carapils
100 g (2.5%) Acid malt

Hops:
Polaris - 4 g (20% AA) @ 60 min
Nelson Sauvin - 28 g (10.5% AA) @ 10 min

Nelson Sauvin - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Nelson Sauvin - 84 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter, ~175 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on March 21st, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water; mash temp a bit low at 153.5 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.038 (target 1.039). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG a bit low at 1.047. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Good airlock activity by the next morning; 24 hours after that, it had slowed significantly; temp never got higher than 68 F.

- 4/4/16 - FG 1.013. Added dry hops into primary.

- 10/4/16 - Racked beer to keg, set in keezer overnight to bring temp down, then force-carbed at 30 PSI for 36 hours before dropping down to 10 PSI.



Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white fluffy head that shows good retention, eventually fading to 1/4-finger or so. Beautiful, light-golden colour for the body, quite hazy.

Aroma: Yeah, that's Nelson alright! Tons of fruit, very berry-like, maybe just a touch of dank. It's basically all hops in the aroma, and I'm ok with that.

Taste: Same; lots of berry fruitiness, very juicy, as expected. Finishes with a medium bitterness, dry and refreshing. Nice supporting malt character, just a light breadiness that works perfectly.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation. Very smooth and creamy.

Overall: I don't use the word crushable, but if I did, I'd certainly use it here. Up there with the Equinox for my favourite Session IPAs I've brewed so far.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Belgian APA with Equinox and Mosaic (inspired by Schilling Racogne)

First off, let me say that I realize the term "Belgian APA" sounds kind of ridiculous. It's tough with a beer like this, though. You know what I'm getting at here, right? A Belgian IPA, basically, but in APA territory for ABV, as in roughly 5-6%. But I can't call it a Belgian Pale Ale, can I? There's already a style for that, and that one isn't considered a hoppy beer. So, while Belgian APA struck me as odd at first, I'm comfortable with it now; if you really think of it, it's no more crazy than saying "Belgian IPA".

What brought me to brewing a beer like this, you may ask? Well, when my wife and I drove to Vermont last June, we went out of our way to stop at Schilling Beer Company in Littleton, NH. I had been looking for a decent place to stop, and this place looked perfect. It was quite literally right on the way to VT, the beers brewed there (and the food) were rated really well, and I loved how what they were serving was a mixture of German, Belgian, and hoppy American styles, and beyond. It looked awesome, and we weren't disappointed.

The Schilling Brewery; photo: John Hession, NH Magazine

We were greatly in need of a beer or two when we arrived there after many hours of driving. Getting one of the last tables on their deck (beautiful little spot, by the way, overlooking the river), we ordered a couple of sampler trays, and I was impressed by most of what I tried. My favourite, however, was their Racogne. A "Belgo Pale Ale" (hey, maybe that's what I should have called this beer!), it's a 5.5% beer that the brewery describes as follows:

Hazy orange in appearance with a medium mouthfeel, Racogne (“Ra-con-ia”) showcases Mosaic and Equinox hops and a Belgian yeast of medium flavor intensity to produce mellow tropical fruit aromas and ‘juicy’ hop flavors.

I can tell you, it smelled and tasted as advertised. Hugely juicy and tropical, the beer took two of my favourite hops and made them work perfectly with whatever Belgian strain they used for fermentation. I could have drank a heck of a lot more than a sampler size, that's for sure. I never thought I'd be disappointed to have to get in the car and continue on to Vermont! Ok, maybe not quite, but close. Ever since, I've been meaning to brew something along the lines of this beer. Maybe not a clone, per se, but something along the same lines. I love Mosaic and Equinox - I've done a single-hop Session IPA with both (Mosaic here, Equinox here), but haven't used them together before. And I've been meaning to do another Belgian-style hoppy beer, so it all seemed like a good excuse to give this a try!

Before diving in, I thought I'd at least TRY emailing Schilling to ask them if they'd be willing to share a bit of info on the beer. I was curious about several things: the grist, whether they used Equinox and Mosaic in equal amounts, and mainly, what type of Belgian yeast are we talking about here? So, I sent out a friendly email, and got a quick reply from their Head Brewer and President, John Lenzini. He was very appreciative, but said that their current policy is not to share recipe info, at least not until they become more established and start distributing to a larger degree.

So, I was on my own. I decided to keep things as simple as possible, and developed the grist based on my previous recipe for a Belgian Session IPA, scaled up to an OG of 1.052. I had enjoyed this grist in the Session IPA, and the colour seemed about right for this beer. It's made up of mostly Pilsner malt, with small amounts of Aromatic, CaraVienne, and Wheat malt, and Acid malt. I find this gives a nice supporting malt character while allowing the hops to dominate; mind you, this was with a Session Belgian IPA, but really, this APA is only 7 gravity points higher than that one, so it should be fine. I still aimed to mash fairly low, at 150 F, to keep the beer pretty dry.

The hop schedule was pretty easy. I went with slightly more Mosaic than Equinox, simply because I had more Mosaic on hand. I decided to once again try dropping a bittering addition, with no hops being added until 10 minutes, where I threw in 2 oz of Mosaic. Three oz total for a hop steep, another couple after the chiller was turned on, and then equal amounts (1.5 oz each) of Mosaic and Equinox for the dry hop, giving a grand total of 10 oz of hops. Not bad; I don't think more than this would be necessary, assuming the hops are fresh.

I was mostly guessing when it came to choosing a yeast strain. As I mentioned in the Belgian Session IPA post, it's trickier pairing yeast with hops when you're working with Belgian strains, compared to American ones. There's a lot of Belgian strains out there, and they all have varying degrees of esters and phenolics, and can clash easily with certain hop varieties. I haven't brewed a lot of Belgian IPAs; the Belgian Session IPA used Wyeast 3787 (the Westmalle strain), and I really liked it. However, this brew day wasn't planned too far in advance, and I'd have to special order that one to get it again. My LHBS did have Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey in stock, which is supposedly the Chimay strain. Oddly enough, I don't think I've brewed with this strain before. Chimay doesn't brew any hoppy beers to my knowledge, but I'm a fan of their regular three-beer lineup, so I thought I'd finally give the strain a try and see how it worked with Equinox and Mosaic.

Well, the brew day brought no surprises, and I was drinking this beer within a few weeks (kegged, of course). While I honestly can't say if this is even close to Racogne, it is one tasty beer! I don't think I've brewed a hoppy, Belgian-style beer that had the hop aromas and flavours blend so well with the Belgian yeast. The aroma is probably 75% hop fruit bomb, with 25% Belgian fruity/spicy phenolics blended in... probably the same in the flavours. The beer is hazy, although NOT as hazy as that picture below would indicate (that was taken shortly after bumping the keg a couple of times when moving my CO2 tank around), with a medium-light body and a smooth, creamy mouthfeel (the feel and look of the beer would make me think it was fermented with London Ale III, if it wasn't for the Belgian characteristics).

So, in short, great beer, would absolutely recommend you give it a try if you're so inclined. Mosaic and Equinox aren't the easiest hops to find, by any means, but if you can, brew it! It'd be interesting to split the batch and ferment it with a couple of different Belgian strains, see how that affects the final beer; I may try this in the future. In the meantime, I'm really sad to see this one go... the keg kicked two nights ago, dang it.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.052, FG ~1.011, IBU ~45, SRM 6, ABV ~5.3%

Grains:
3.9 kg (83.4%) Bohemian Pilsner
225 g (4.8%) Aromatic
225 g (4.8%) CaraVienne
225 g (4.8%) Wheat malt
100 g (2.1%) Acid malt

Hops:
Mosaic - 56 g (10.5% AA) @ 10 min

Mosaic - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Equinox - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)
Equinox - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)

Mosaic - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Equinox - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1214 Belgian Ale (with a starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on February 24th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water; mash temp a on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.25 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.041. 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG on target at 1.052. Chilled to 60 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation was a bit slow to start with this batch; didn't really see a krausen till the evening of the 25th, with vigorous airlock activity by the next morning, temp at 74 F. By the next morning, the krausen had already receded quite a bit, and the airlock was silent... very fast!

- 9/3/16 - Final gravity of 1.012. Added dry hops into primary.

- 15/3/16 - Racked beer to purged keg, set in keezer to bring temp down and then started carbing.


Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white head that shows good retention, eventually fades to a thin film on the beer. Nice lacing on the glass. Body is a light orange color, with a lot of haziness.

Aroma: Wonderful combination of big, tropical, fruity hops and Belgian phenolics; the spiciness follows the hop blast, as I had hoped. The nose is definitely reminiscent of Equinox, with the Mosaic character coming through well.

Taste: Ditto, fruity blast, green pepper slightly (or maybe I just know to look for it with Equinox?), followed by the phenolics. Medium-light bitterness in the finish, fairly dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation. Smooth and creamy.

Overall: Beautiful beer, one of my favourites lately. I'd brew this again and not change a thing, although I am curious as to what a different yeast strain would contribute, or take away.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

India Pale Lager (Cascade, Comet & Vic Secret)

For me, the months of January and February equal Lager Season. Not necessarily drinking, of course, but brewing them. Ever since I purchased a separate freezer and a temperature controller in 2011 (my first major homebrew equipment purchase), I've brewed 2 or 3 lagers each year. Now, with a temperature-controlled freezer, I could technically brew a lager any time of year, but it's just so much easier in the winter, when ground water temps are a lot lower. Lagers aren't my favourite class of beer to brew, but I completely appreciate the talent it takes to brew a really good one. You have to pitch a lot of healthy yeast, you have to aerate properly, you have to pay close attention to fermentation temps and diacetyl rests and lagering periods... it goes on and on. It's not easy to brew a really good Pilsner, and that gets missed a lot by people who don't know a lot about brewing.

Last year was the first time since having the freezer that I didn't brew any lagers. This happened for two reasons: 1) I was kind of on a big hoppy kick and kept brewing APAs, IPAs, etc., and 2) my fermentation chamber had become a keezer; with 3-4 taps flowing at a time, there just wasn't enough room for a carboy, let alone two. This year, however, I figured that I could take the time to brew at least one or two; by cleverly using the back, closed-off room of my garage for fermentation (acting as my beer cellar, it's kept at a perfect 48-50 F thanks to a simple digital thermostat), and the garage itself for lagering (it's typically 2-4 F during January and February), I thought I could make it work.

So, in early January I brewed a Festbier (think paler, more-bitter Oktoberfest) using a private collection strain from Wyeast, Munich Lager II. I've used this strain before in a Vienna Lager and a Schwarzbier, and was quite happy with it... good malt character, decent attenuation, less diacetyl-producing. The Festbier turned out pretty decent, and - as usual for my method to brewing lagers - I kept lots of slurry to re-use for another beer. I had full intentions of brewing a bigger beer, like a Bock or Doppelbock, but as usual, all those hops in the freezer were calling to me...

While India Pale Lager is not a defined "style" of beer (at least, it isn't in the BJCP), that - as usual - doesn't keep plenty of commercial breweries from brewing it. I don't think I have to get too technical here: an IPL is basically an American IPA fermented with a Lager yeast strain. I believe the idea is that since Lager strains generally give a very clean beer (if brewed properly), an IPL should bring the hops (and supporting malt) even more forward than when used in an IPA (even one featuring a generally-neutral yeast strain, such as US-05). I can't really comment on whether this is true; I've never brewed an IPL, and I haven't tried many of them either. The standout for me is one that is definitely impressive to have been brewed well, TrIPL, a 10% monster with CTZ, Chinook and Citra from Jack's Abby, probably one of the best Lager breweries in North America.

Well, I decided to give it a go, if only to see if there was really a difference between a heavily-hopped Lager vs. a heavily-hopped Ale. When putting together the recipe, I didn't want a beer that was too dark, of course, but maybe something that wasn't Light Lager yellow, either. I was originally going to go with all-Pilsner malt for the base, as I would with a lot of pale Lagers, but after a bit of reading online, I decided to add some 2-row in. I made up the rest with some Munich, Wheat malt, and Melanoiden, trying to give the beer a bit of body and provide some breadiness. A bit of Acid malt, as usual, and that was that. I mashed fairly low, at 150 F; I wanted a fairly-dry beer, and with the attenuation of the Munich Lager II not being super-high, I hoped this would give me a good balance of enough-body with not-too-sweet.

I went with three hop varieties, one that I've used plenty of times, one I've used once and really enjoyed, and one that I've never brewed with before:
  • Cascade - We've all used Cascade, and it often gets forgotten in the mad rush of new, hot hops out there... and it's a shame. Sure, it may not be as potent as Galaxy, Azacca, Citra, Mosaic, etc., but its citrus and grapefruit characteristics can be truly wonderful in a hoppy beer, and I've been trying to use it more often lately.
  • Comet - I think this one has been around for awhile, but I hadn't brewed with it since my 2015 Meek Celebration (Christmas giveaway beer), and I really liked it in that beer. Described by the Bear Flavored hop guide as "intense wild American grapefruit/citrus character, extremely dank"; it doesn't disappoint. So obviously, I'm looking for grapefruit in this beer.
  • Vic Secret - A new (~2013) Australian variety, this hop has been doing well - I see it popping up in a lot of beers lately, and I tried a single-hop beer from Fredericton's TrailWay awhile back that was quite good. Described as exhibiting flavours of passionfruit, pineapple and some light herbs and resin, I thought it would work nicely with the Cascade and Comet.
I mixed it up a bit as per the hopping schedule below, with an ounce or slightly more (when using up stock) of all three in a single dry-hop. But that raised the question: what is the best way to dry-hop an IPL? Do you lager the beer first, and then dry-hop? Or is the lagering period also the dry-hop period? Problem is, even light lagers are lagered for longer than your typical dry-hopping time (which is often no longer than 5-7 days, or even shorter). I looked into it some, and turns out that - surprise! - there are a lot of different opinions on the "best" way to dry-hop a lagered beer. So, I chose the following method: brew the beer, ferment cool as expected, raise temp for a short diacetyl rest, bring back down to ~50 F again, then after a couple weeks total, rack to a keg and lager the beer. After several weeks, throw the dry hops in that keg, move the keg inside to a warmer temperature for 5 days, then transfer the beer from that dry-hop keg into the serving keg, chill and carb. Make sense?

The brew day was fine, if a little longer than usual - with a 90-minute boil, a hop steep of 15 minutes, and having to chill to 50 F or lower, it definitely stretched out compared to an Ale brew. Fermentation was going about 24-36 hours after pitching, and in true Lager fashion for me, never got crazy... the airlock bubbling every 2 seconds for several days is what I'm used to for Lagers. After about 5 days the bubbling started slowing down, so I moved the fermentor inside for a 2-day diacetyl rest in the mid-60s F, then moved it back to 50 F ambient. After two weeks total, I racked the beer to my "dry-hop" keg and left it in the garage to lager... not exactly the most regulated way to do so, but my garage was holding at about 40 F or so, consistently, so it would have to do. Two weeks later I threw in the dry-hops, moved the keg inside for 5 days, and then transferred via CO2 to a purged serving keg, and started carbing.

And how did it turn out? I've got to say, I quite enjoy this beer. Really smooth and creamy, it's got a fruity, candy-like sweetness to it that in no way overshadows the citrusy, fruity, slightly-herbal flavours from the hops. The malt also complements the hops well, but be very clear, this is a hop-forward beer. It just seems a little less dry than a lot of hoppy ales I've brewed, but it's still juicy. That's the best way I can think to explain it. I'm sure a different Lager yeast with a bit higher attenuation would result in a drier beer, but I like how this tastes, and I'm a big fan of the mouthfeel.

This is something I'll definitely try again, although now it's probably going to have to wait until next winter. Lots of room for experimentation here - with many Lager yeast strains to play with, not to mention all those wonderful, wonderful hop varieties, this is a style I look forward to revisiting again. In the meantime, I need to track down some more commercial examples...

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.063, FG ~1.014, IBU ~52, SRM 5.7, ABV ~6.4%

Grains:
3 kg (50.6%) Bohemian Pilsner
2 kg (33.8%) Canadian 2-row
300 g (5.1%) Munich
300 g (5.1%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.4%) Melanoiden
125 g (2.1%) Acid malt

Hops:
Polaris - 10 g (19.8% AA) @ 60 min

Cascade - 28 g (6.4% AA) @ 10 min
Comet - 28 g (7% AA) @ 10 min

Comet - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Vic Secret - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Cascade - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)
Comet - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)

Comet - 44 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Cascade - 30 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Vic Secret - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2352 Munich Lager II (slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 8 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on February 10th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.75 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity 1.047 (target 1.048). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG 1.064. Chilled to 48 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 120 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 50 F and set fermentor in back room of garage, ambient temp set for 50 F.

- Airlock showing signs of activity by the next evening, with steady bubbling occurring for the next week. When activity slowed, moved carboy inside for two days for a diacetyl rest at ~64 F. Moved back into 48 F temp for another 10 days or so.

- 1/3/16 - Racked to CO2-purged keg, set in back of garage where temp was approximately 38 F.

- 15/3/16 - FG 1.014. Added dry hops to keg, purged again, brought keg inside to sit at room temp.

- 20/3/16 - Transferred via CO2 to serving keg, began carbing.


Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large size white head that shows good retention, eventually fading to 1/2-finger. Body is a deep-golden colour, with very good clarity.

Aroma: Pleasant bready malt character, with a strong hop presence that is fruity and tropical, for the most part. Clean, no diacetyl, no sulfur.

Taste: Lots of hops, tropical, citrusy, with a bit of an herbal-like quality that two fellow beer geeks picked out. Backed by the malt sufficiently, but definitely a hoppy beer. Finishes crisp and fairly dry, smooth and easy-drinking.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Very smooth and creamy.

Overall: Very enjoyable; I haven't had a lot of IPLs but this is one of the better ones I've had for awhile. Definitely a recipe to play around with; changing hop varieties and yeast strains really opens the possibilities.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Brown IPA with CTZ, Galaxy, & Simcoe, fermented with London Ale III

About a year and a half ago, I brewed my first Brown IPA. This was right around the time that the draft of the 2015 BJCP Guidelines had come out, where it was being suggested that Brown IPA become a new category, or more accurately I guess, a sub-category of "Specialty IPA". I won't bore you with the details on how a Brown IPA differs from an American Brown Ale... you can check out the BJCP Guidelines or click on the link for my first brew. In my original beer, I went with a five-malt grist, hopped fairly aggressively with Citra, CTZ and Nugget. I liked it: with a toffee/caramel sweetness, it had a prominent nose of earthy, spicy hops (Nugget made up the majority of the additions), and finished fairly dry with a moderate-high bitterness.

But this is kind of a tough style to brew, simply because I don't think I've had many Brown IPAs. And really, I don't know if I want to. That sounds bad, but there's something about this style that I just can't get excited about. God knows I love hoppy beers, and I'll happily brew and drink any variety of American IPAs, Session IPAs, APAs, etc. I really enjoy a well-crafted Red IPA or Black IPA... so why is it that I can't get excited about a Brown IPA? Is it because I haven't had many, or because it's one of those styles that seems like it was created as an afterthought? Maybe the whole 114 categories of IPA and counting is starting to wear a bit thin? I don't know, and maybe even suggesting such things is blasphemous. But I know how to really test this out... brew another one!

Sure, why the hell not? I was looking to mix things up anyway, so I decided to revisit this recipe. Here's where I made a mistake: because I made the decision to go this route a bit too-close to brew day, I simply used the same grist as with the first beer (but with a little Acid malt added for the mash pH). I should have re-read my post, because that grist gave a beer that was too dark. The style SRM range is 11-19, and the grist I selected brings it in to 23.That's slightly below Black IPA territory, but that's really not a big deal... I'm certainly not using a lot of dark, roasted malts in this beer. It's mostly 2-row, a couple of caramel-type malts, and some Victory and Chocolate malt as well. I also added some Gypsum and calcium chloride as usual, and aimed for a mash temp of 151 F, trying to keep the body medium-light, with a mostly-dry finish.

I wanted to approach the hops differently for this beer. While the first Brown IPA did have some CTZ and Citra - so, you're getting some fruit character - Nugget, as mentioned, made up the majority. I initially went that route because I thought the combination would work well in this style, and it did. But this time around I wanted to go more in the direction of an APA or American IPA; read: fruity, citrusy. I chose three varieties: CTZ again, because I feel it really does work well in this style of beer, and Galaxy and Simcoe, to hopefully really boost the tropical fruit, and maybe add some pine as well. I followed my general schedule: a bit of Polaris at 60 to ~17 IBUs, then an ounce each of CTZ and Simcoe at 10, followed by some Galaxy and Simcoe for a hop steep, CTZ and Simcoe after starting the chiller, and an ounce each of all three in the dry hop (plus a little more Galaxy to use up the rest of that package).

As I've done many times over the last few months, I fermented this beer with London Ale III. The first beer was fermented with US-05, but I've been using LAIII a lot lately, with good results, and honestly, I really wanted to brew a Brown IPA and ferment it with this strain, if only to see how many people would get angry when I posted a pic of the resultant beer, all cloudy and brown. If some people get upset about a beer that looks like orange juice, imagine their reaction if it literally looks like shit!

Ok, I'm kidding. And actually, while I'm on the side of those who get excited when they see an IPA that looks like pulpy juice, there IS something different about seeing a darker beer with the same haze/cloudiness. Juice is one thing. Mud is another. But it wouldn't bother me to the point of not drinking it, that's for sure, especially if it was delicious!

Where was I? Oh, the beer. So, yeah, that's the recipe. When I brewed it I was under my target gravity by 4 points (my efficiency has definitely been lower lately; maybe an issue with my grain mill?), but as usual, I wasn't too bothered. The FG was also higher than expected, at 1.017, so overall the beer did come in at quite a lower ABV than expected. I dry-hopped the beer in primary for 5 days, then kegged it.

While, again, I don't feel like I have a lot of beers to compare this to, I'm pretty happy with how it came out, and I think I like it a little better than my first Brown IPA. Sure, the grist is the same, but I think the hops selected here do work better - there's a nice piney and slightly dank overtone to it, but it's a little more fruity than the first beer. I definitely don't think the Galaxy comes through like it would in a paler beer, but it works. Still too dark, naturally (actually, being such a dark brown prevents it from looking muddy!), but the high breadiness and very light chocolate comes through in the aroma and flavor as I was hoping. The bitterness comes across as in the medium range, with a fairly dry finish. Overall, though, the beer is quite smooth and creamy.

In the end, though, I don't think I'm a big fan of Brown IPAs. While I've definitely embraced Black, Red, White, and Belgian takes on the IPA style, Brown is definitely at the bottom of the list for me. Could be because I haven't had a really great example of one, could be because it's just not for me. I'll continue to try commercial (and other homebrew) versions as they're available to me, but I won't be rushing out to brew one again any time soon.

And no, it's not because it's a cloudy, brown beer!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.066, FG ~1.013, IBU ~58, SRM 23, ABV ~6.9%

Grains:
5.1 kg (82.7%) Canadian 2-row
325 g (5.3%) Caramunich II (45 SRM)
265 g (4.3%) Chocolate malt
235 g (3.8%) Victory malt
165 g (2.7%) Crystal 60 L
75 g (1.2%) Acid malt

Hops:
Polaris - 7 g (19.8% AA) @ 60 min

CTZ - 28 g (13.4% AA) @ 10 min
Simcoe - 28 g (12% AA) @ 10 min

Galaxy - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Simcoe - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

CTZ - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)
Simcoe - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)

CTZ - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Galaxy - 37 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Simcoe - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter, ~250 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on January 26th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp a bit low at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.75 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity low at 1.050 (target 1.054). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG low at 1.062. Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fermentation was off and pacing by the next morning, going strong over the first few days with the temps staying comfortably in the 67-68 F range. The krausen, as usual for LAIII, was thick and milkshake-like for many days after fermentation signs stopped in the airlock.

- 18/2/16 - Added dry hops into primary, FG 1.017.

- 22/2/16 - Racked into CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to bring temp down and began force carbing the next day.



Appearance - Poured with a medium-sized head that fades after a few minutes to a thin film on top of the beer. Body is a very dark brown colour, and seems virtually opaque when held to the light.

Aroma - Quite balanced, with the toffee-like, chocolatey malt character melding well with the piney, dank, slightly fruity overtones from the hops. Otherwise clean, no flaws.

Taste - Very nice flavour blending here: light chocolate, dark bread, toffee, with similar hop character noted in the aroma. Finishes slightly dry, but balanced well with the sweetness, medium bitterness. Smooth.

Mouthfeel - Medium-bodied, medium carbonation, creamy.

Overall - I enjoy this beer, even if it's far from my favorite IPA style. If I brewed it again, I'd try to drop the color by at least several SRM points, and maybe dial the bitterness back by 5-10 IBUs. I wouldn't mind also switching up the hops again, maybe even dropping the CTZ in favor of another fruity variety, such as Azacca or something similar.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

American Pale Ale with Azacca and Galaxy, fermented with London Ale III

In 2014, I brewed the widely-available clone recipe of Russian River's Row 2, Hill 56, a Simcoe single-hopped American Pale Ale. I had been looking to brew something for my older brother's wedding, and I had heard good things about this beer. Simcoe is a great hop, and despite being used in relatively-small amounts in this recipe (only 4 oz for a batch; compared to a lot of hoppy recipes nowadays - my own included - that's really not that much!), the beer had a great aroma and flavour, and was enjoyed by non-beer-drinkers and beer geeks alike.

Since then, I've always meant to brew that recipe again, except change up the hop(s) used. I know other homebrewers have used that recipe to feature other varieties, continuing the trend of single-hopped beers. But for me, I more just wanted to stick with the grist and go from there. I don't know why the grist seems to work so well, but it does. The combination of Pilsner malt and Maris Otter (instead of just using 2-row, which is pretty common in APAs) works really well at providing enough of a slightly-bready malt character to the beer, topped off with a little bit of light Crystal (~20 L) and Carapils. As usual for my system, Acid malt is also added to bring the mash pH down to the 5.4 region; I've been doing this consistently now, and I've been quite happy with the effect it's having (I fully acknowledge that a blind-tasting has not been done to confirm this!).

So, with the grist already decided, I had a hell of a bunch of hops to pick from. I've made several hop orders since late fall, and along with quite a bit left from last year's crop, there were all sorts of options. I wanted this beer to be REALLY juicy; ever since I was lucky enough to have tried Scaled Up, a DIPA from Trillium Brewing, a month or so ago (have you tried this beer? It's amazing!), I've been craving hops even more than usual. Damn these delicious beers for spoiling me! Luckily, many of the hop varieties I have in my freezer should be more than satisfactory, so, what to pick?

Ultimately, I settled on two varieties, to keep things relatively simple. And I picked two that are becoming two of my favourites as I use them more and more - Azacca and Galaxy. I really don't think you can go wrong with either one, and as I was giving it some thought, I realized that I hadn't actually used them together before. Travesty! But what better beer to showcase how these two blend than a fairly simple APA? And how could these not work together, right? They've definitely got to be two of the more-tropical, fruity, citrusy varieties out there, in a world with one heck of a lot of fruity hop types.

I didn't follow the hopping schedule for R2H56; I went with what I almost always use now for hoppy recipes that I develop on my own: a small bittering charge at 60 minutes (to only 10-15 IBUs; in fact, I'm starting to drop this altogether in some beers), an ounce at 10 minutes, then large WP and post-chilling additions, along with a dry-hop of 3 oz total. I've had good results with this method, and don't usually stray too far. The ratio is skewed slightly towards Galaxy (5.5 oz vs. 3.5 oz of Azacca), but only because I had more Galaxy on hand.

For fermentation, I went once again with London Ale III. I've brewed several different variations on the IPA style with this strain now, and you can count me as yet another believer... it is truly great with hoppy beers. It doesn't attenuate as highly as US-05, usually finishing for me to 1.013-1.014, giving the beer a nice, creamy mouthfeel without tasting under-attenuated. I find the beers I brew with this strain come out very hazy/cloudy in true Hill Farmstead/Trillium fashion, but that's ok with me! I know not everyone is thrilled by a hazy beer, but many of the best hoppy beers I've had have been cloudy, so I kind of expect that, now.

The brew day for this beer was uneventful, everything going smoothly. Fermentation was going strong by the next day - normal for my experience with London Ale III - and after 10 days or so I dry-hopped the beer in primary for about a week, then transferred to a keg and started carbing. I was really looking forward to this beer.

And what a tasty beer this is! I have to say, if Azacca and Galaxy were easier to get, this would be my new house APA. I've made very few beers juicier than this - big blast of tropical fruit and citrus, with maybe just a touch of pine in there. Lately, as the keg is getting down, the beer looks and tastes a lot like OJ, and of course I mean that in a good way. Creamy, smooth body, but it still finishes quite dry with a moderate bitterness. It's definitely been one of the best-received of my homebrews; it's rating on Untappd is the highest of any I've brewed, tied with my Equinox Session IPA.

Ok, so it's no big deal that I've confirmed what we all would have guessed: Azacca and Galaxy work great together, especially when fermented with London Ale III. But hey, I'm still glad I took the time to try it!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.056, FG ~1.013, IBU ~45, SRM 5.2, ABV ~5.6%

Grains:
2.9 kg (57.7%) Bohemian Pilsner
1.65 kg (32.8%) Maris Otter
200 g (4%) CaraRed (20 L)
150 g (3%) CaraPils
125 g (2.5%) Acid malt

Hops:
Polaris - 5 g (19.8% AA) @ 60 min

Galaxy - 28 g (12% AA) @ 10 min

Galaxy - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Galaxy - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)
Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)

Galaxy - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Azacca - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter, ~200 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on January 13th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 151 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water to 166 F. Sparged with ~3.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity 1.044. 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG 1.055. Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Active fermentation by the next day, continued for 2-3 before settling down. Dry-hopped in primary on January 25th; FG 1.013. Kegged on February 1st.


Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head (not normally as large as in that picture) that fades to about 1/2-finger and sticks around. Body is a light-orange colour, and very hazy/cloudy.

Aroma: Big punch of orange juice, along with a tropical fruit character that I unfortunately can't pick apart to actually name which fruit(s). Very little malt character.

Taste: A little more malt presence here - lightly bready, maybe a touch of wheat character? - but still mostly juicy, fruity hops. Bitterness in the finish comes across as medium-light, to me.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, very creamy, moderate carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: A great beer, made great by great hops. Will brew again, and don't think I'd change anything... at least not to a large degree.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

100% Citra-hopped Session Red IPA, fermented with London Ale III

For my last homebrew batch of 2015, I didn't have too much trouble coming up with what to brew. I never have problems with ideas, it's more often a case that I can't decide WHICH one to go with. Here, however, I had just brewed a new Imperial IPA for giving away (well, mostly) as Christmas gifts, and I was looking to have a couple of session beers on tap. I actually rebrewed my Equinox Session IPA, but wanted another. Looking back at some of the hoppy, session beers I've brewed, the "Baby Zoe" - a clone of Maine Beer Co. Zoe, but dialled back to a sub-5% ABV - stuck out as one of my favorites.

So, I planned on brewing another Session Red IPA, so to speak. But I didn't want to do the exact same recipe... quite the contrary. I used the idea to come up with one that was completely different in grist, hops and yeast. I've been having mostly good luck with my series of one-hop Session IPAs, and I liked the idea of trying a single hop in a darker grist. Would the hop come through with similar characteristics as in a pale beer? I didn't know; I don't really recall trying many Session Red IPAs at all, let alone a single-hopped one, so I picked a hop that I loved, and was quite familiar with: Citra. Hey, if you're a homebrewer and like hops, you're familiar with Citra.

But first, as always, the grist. My first intention was to simply copy the grist I had used for the Baby Zoe; I liked it, and had used in a couple of other beers. But I remembered that the grist for another Red IPA clone recipe I brewed once - Blazing World, from Modern Times - was also quite good. I have actually been wanting to do a "Baby" recipe of that beer as well, so it made sense to give it a try in this beer, in case I never got around to doing a smaller Blazing Worlds. It's a simpler recipe than what's involved for Zoe: a large portion of Maris Otter for the base, almost 15% Munich for extra breadiness, and then a bit of Roasted Barley and Carafa II to darken. I also added close to 2% Acid malt for mash pH purposes (and some calcium chloride and Gypsum, of course). Pretty straight-forward, giving a calculated SRM around 11.

I took a slightly different approach to the hopping schedule as well. Yes, it's all Citra, of course, but I dropped the 60-minute addition. I've been keeping the IBUs in a lot of my hoppy beers relatively low, with most of them coming from late or whirlpool additions, but I still usually add a little bit of a high-AA hop at the beginning of the boil. This time around, I made no additions until the 10-minute mark, where I threw in 1 oz. Another ounce at 5 minutes, then a steep of 3 oz, and another 3 oz for the dry-hop. That's half a pound of Citra in a ~4.5% ABV beer, which I assumed would be enough. But would it be the super-tropical, sometimes-cat-pee aroma that I was used to?

As for fermenting the beer, normally I'd use something neutral like US-05. But I've been having a lot of fun with London Ale III for my last bunch of hoppy beers, and I wanted to try using it in this one. If I had been really curious as to how a low-ABV, Red IPA with all-Citra would taste, I wouldn't have changed another variable, let alone the yeast. Oh well!

Once fermentation was complete, I left it alone for a few more days before taking a gravity reading and throwing the dry hops into the primary fermentor. After another five days, I kegged the beer and started carbonating. As usual, I started sampling the beer a bit too early; I can't help it, I always have such a hard time waiting for a beer to be "ready", and it doesn't matter what it is! But with this beer, I find it's been tasting virtually the same since I started drinking it in early January.

In a nutshell, I like this beer. I like that it's low-alcohol, but thankfully doesn't come across as too thin (mind you, more body WOULD be preferable; my target mash temp of 155 F was missed by a couple degrees, since I was tackling too many things that morning and got distracted). I enjoy the malt presence - there's some toffee and caramel in there, but it's not too sweet for a Red IPA. I do think I prefer the Zoe clone grist, however, so will likely stick closer to that in future beers of this style. The Citra does come through quite a bit, but definitely not so much as in a pale beer, as I mostly expected. I actually find that it's more dank than fruity; I know others have noticed this in beers heavy in Citra, and since it's a single-hop beer, I shouldn't be surprised. But I brewed a Kern River Citra DIPA clone in 2012 - that single-hop beer had far more fruitiness to it than this one.

My only real complaint is that the head isn't very dense; it disappears soon after pouring the beer. If I brewed it again I may add some wheat malt, but I haven't really had issues with that before. The beer is also very hazy, but I've been getting that a lot with many of my recent heavily-hopped, London Ale III-fermented beers, and I'm ok with it. If you're looking to try something new with your Citra, give this one a go, especially if you're into sessionable Red IPAs.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.014, IBU ~40, SRM 11, ABV ~4.5%

Grains:
3.5 kg (81.7%) Maris Otter
625 g (14.6%) Munich
75 g (1.8%) Acid malt
45 g (1.1%) Roasted Barley
38 g (0.9%) Carafa II

Hops:
Citra - 28 g (11.1% AA) @ 10 min
Citra - 28 g @ 5 min

Citra - 84 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Citra - 84 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter, ~200 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum and 4 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on December 14th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water; mash temp low at 153 F (was aiming for 155 F, but got distracted). Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5 L of boiling water to 163 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity a bit high at 1.041 (target 1.039). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5-5.75 gallons; OG 1.049. Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fast and efficient fermentation over the next couple of days. FG on Dec. 26th was 1.014; added dry hops on this date in primary. Racked into CO2-purged keg on January 2nd.



Appearance: Pours with a small-moderate-sized off-white head that fades very quickly, leaving only a thin film on the beer. The body is a dark red color, and quite hazy.

Aroma: Pleasant blend of toffee-sweet malt character and a mixture of fruity and dank from the Citra. The sweetness is there, as expected, but luckily it's well-balanced thanks to the hops.

Taste: That malty sweetness (caramel, toffee) comes up first, surrounded immediately by mostly-dank hops. Some fruit, but I find the taste has the dankness dominate. It finishes slightly sweeter than a paler hopper beer, as expected; moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation (bordering on moderate-low).

Overall: Enjoyable. Would like to see more body and a denser head, but I enjoy the easy-drinking nature of the beer and the slightly-altered Citra presence. A worthy experiment, and another sessionable beer I could see myself brewing again.

Friday, 5 February 2016

2015 Homebrewing Year in Review

Well, it's time to write up another Year in Review post... I'm not really sure it's necessary, but it IS a good way for me to look back at the previous year and see if I met all - or really, any - of my homebrewing goals from the year before. So, here we go!

I was able to JUST manage to make 2015 my most-successful brew year yet... in terms of numbers, anyway. With 23 brews, I beat 2014's record of 22. Out of those 23 homebrews in 2015, TWENTY-ONE of them were hoppy ones. I've been brewing more and more hoppy beers for the last couple of years, but that surprised me when I counted them up. That's 91% of total beers brewed, compared to 68% in 2014 (15 of 22 total). I mean, I guess it's good to brew what you like, and to be fair, these weren't all just IPAs and APAs - there were several different "styles" I approached, including a couple I hadn't really seen before. But it IS a bit of wake-up call that maybe it's time to branch out a bit! However, the hop inventory in my freezer never seems to go down, so they will continue to make a hefty presence in the majority of my homebrews!

Looking back at these 23 beers, I would say that I was at least pretty happy with 18 of them. That's a pretty good ratio, I think. That's definitely not saying I LOVED those 18, just that they were at least pretty tasty, and I was happy enough to share them with others and not tuck them away in a corner where they couldn't be seen. The other five, for the most part, weren't terrible, but I certainly wasn't proud of them. So, let's look at a few standouts on either end from 2015:

My favorite homebrews of 2015:

Equinox Session IPA - Session IPAs seem to easily provoke feelings of love or hate in the beer world; personally, I don't get the hate. If I can get plenty of hop aroma and flavor in a beer, without the alcohol... perfect! With this one, the third in my one-hop Session IPA experiments, I finally dialled in a grist I was happy with... but it was really the Equinox hop that brought the love. Living up to its reputation for big aromas and flavors (with plenty of citrus and, yes, a touch of green pepper), it was easy-drinking and big on taste. I enjoyed it so much, I brewed the same recipe later in the year - something I never do.

100% Brett IPA with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc - My first 100% Brettanomyces-fermented IPA, I used Amalgamation - a "Brett Super Blend" made up of six different Brett strains - from The Yeast Bay to ferment the beer, and it came out pretty much where I wanted it to be. It was super-tropical, with enough Brett funk to make it clear that this was NOT your typical American IPA. The blend of Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc worked really well in this beer; it was the first time I had brewed with HB, and I was so impressed with it I made sure to use it again in future brews. My follow-up Brett IPA, brewed with Galaxy and Southern Cross, was almost equally as tasty.

"Baby Zoe" - This one was a Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone scaled down to 4.3% ABV. I'd brewed a regular Zoe clone in 2013, and it had turned out pretty great; I eventually decided I wanted to try brewing a session version of this beer. Not just to keep the alcohol down, but to see if it could be done without sacrificing flavour or body. Well, turns out simply scaling back the grist and upping the mash temp worked really well! The IBUs were decreased, but all flavour and aroma hops were added with the same amounts as in the regular Zoe, resulting in the perfect balance (for me) between the toffee-like malt character, a bit of sweetness, and plenty of citrusy, dank hops.

Baby Zoe

Alpine Nelson clone - On a couple of trips to San Diego, I've had several Alpine beers (which all lived up to the hype), but never Nelson, a "Golden Rye IPA" that always gets big ratings. When I stumbled upon a clone recipe on Reddit supposedly straight from Pat McIlhenney, I had to give it a try. Brewed with 17% Rye malt and hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross, I certainly can't say how close it was to the original, but it was damned tasty. This was a very juicy beer, despite the seemingly-small kettle additions (and NO whirlpool!), although the dry-hop was pretty large. Either way, definitely a recipe worth re-brewing.

Honorable mentions: Meek Celebration (2015), White IPA (with Amarillo and El Dorado), Belgian Red IPA

Homebrew disappointments of 2015:

Maine Beer Co. Dinner clone - Hooboy! Talk about your real stinkers! Where do I even begin with this one? I had been wanting to do something special for my 100th homebrew, and eventually settled on this beer because the commercial version is so delicious and highly coveted, and because I've had such great luck with "cloning" several Maine Beer Co. beers in the past. Hopped with Falconer's Flight, Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic, and dry-hopped twice at 6 lbs per barrel (yes, really), this was a massive undertaking. And expensive, as homebrews go. But I vowed to try it, and a total of 21.5 oz of hops were used for my measly 4.5 gallon batch. Unfortunately, the beer came out not good at all - it smelled and tasted sweet, and kind of like oxidized hops, even though the hops I used were supposed to be fresh. I was really flabbergasted as to what went wrong, then started reading several sources that said when you dry hop over a certain point, the pH of the beer can start to rise and affect the flavor and aroma, and needs to be adjusted with acid. This theory may hold true, as another former disappointment of mine was the hugely-hopped Pliny the Younger clone I brewed in 2013. Will I try this Dinner clone again? Maybe, but doubtful at THOSE hopping rates. If there was one thing this beer was a perfect example of, it was that more does not necessarily mean better.

Hello, my pretties! Prepare to be wasted!

Summer Session IPA - My fourth one-hop Session IPA, I was expecting great things from this beer. I was happy with the general recipe at this point (having loved the Equinox Session IPA mentioned above), I had a half lb of fresh, vacuum-sealed Summer on hand, and had heard overall good things about this hop variety. Unfortunately, the beer came out pretty boring - barely any hop character to speak of, it tasted more like a Blonde Ale than anything else. Several factors could have been the cause, but I feel like this hop, if used on its own, would work better in a SMaSH beer due to the simpler grist.

I also brewed a Witbier that I didn't post about - half was fermented with Wyeast 3944, the other half with 3944 and the Brett Amalgamation. I haven't bottled the Brett half yet (when I do, I'll be sure to write up a post), but the 3944 half was pretty gross... really odd aroma to it that someone described as "noodles". Nice. The 3944 slurry was used in the White IPA I mentioned briefly in the honorable mentions, and that beer came out really nice, so not sure what went wrong with the Witbier. But really, only a couple of real disappointments in 2015, so I'm happy there wasn't more.

Viewership for the blog has continued to climb, for the most part, with the majority of readers still coming from the U.S. (about 9 times as many). Here are the number of page views for the busiest months of the past two years:

Page views for Oct, 2014: 8,670
Page views for Nov, 2015: 11,506

Not exactly a huge jump, and much lower than the really popular homebrew blogs out there, but it at least proves that my parents have really mastered using that Refresh button in their browser. Hopefully things continue upward; last month was the biggest yet (despite only one new post, at the end of the month) with over 16,000 page views. The most popular post of 2015 (so far) is Brewing an American IPA with London Ale III yeast and high chloride water, probably the most boring-titled post in history. Despite that, it's already at #6 in post popularity, and will soon be taking over the #5 spot. Goes to show how London Ale III is growing in popularity in its use in hoppy beers, not to mention that more and more homebrewers are obviously learning that the previous lesson of "use lots of sulfate in hoppy beers" may not always be the best approach.

Ok, now let's see how many of my homebrewing goals for 2015 were actually reached:
  • "You can definitely count on more clone recipes (I've got something hopefully big planned for my 100th batch, which should be coming up in 2-3 months)" - They're definitely there - about 8 in total - but fewer than the year before. Guess I started experimenting more. As for the something big... unfortunately, I did follow through on that promise!
  • "...and I want to do another sour at some point (I'm leaning towards my first Lambic, which will likely involve putting at least some of it on fruit... blueberries?)" - Eh, kind of. The only real sour beer I brewed all year was a Berliner Weisse back in April, which I haven't bottled/posted about yet. I will be racking half on blueberries very soon; last time I checked, though, the pH was only at 3.85, so this one won't be sour enough, unfortunately.
  • "I also plan on playing with some more of the IPA sub-styles (e.g. White IPA), and possibly stretching some of those out a bit further." - Yes, definitely. With the White IPA, Belgian Red IPA, and Brett IPAs mentioned above, along with several Session IPAs, the India Pale Ale was definitely the star of the year.
  • "On top of all this, I'd really like to re-visit 2-3 of my favorite beers over the past couple of years, ranging from outright rebrews to variations on past recipes." - I always say this, and in 2015 I actually did it. As I mentioned above, I rebrewed the Equinox Session IPA (in the same year!), my Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone (with half the batch fermented with the yeast formerly known as Brett Trois), and my Hill Farmstead James clone, among others.
As for 2016, likely more of the same. Lots of hoppy beers, for one. I'll definitely squeeze in a few more clone attempts; look for at least one featuring a delicious Trillium beer sometime soon. And I really do hope to do more sours, for real this time. I'm going to take a couple of cracks at kettle-souring some beers, and adding various fruits, spices, and/or hops to them. I'd love to do another long-term sour, too, since the Oud Bruin I brewed close to two years ago has finally been bottled, and is tasting pretty good. Finally, I really hope to brew at least one experiment-style beer, where I compare 1318 vs US-05, for example, or maybe even changes in water chemistry. We'll see if that actually comes to fruition or not!

Thanks everyone, for following more of my ramblings throughout 2015! Cheers to another year of beer!