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!

Friday, 29 January 2016

Meek Celebration 2015: Imperial IPA with Amarillo, Comet and Hallertau Blanc

Well, it's that time of year again! Oh wait, no it isn't, it's over. Ok, so I didn't get this out in time to post before Christmas, but that doesn't mean I can't keep updating... albeit, slowly.

In November of 2014, I decided to brew a beer to give away to fellow homebrewers/craft beer drinkers as a Christmas gift. Ok, I planned on keeping some for myself, too, but only a few bottles! My whole family was spending Christmas in PEI that year as well, and I wanted to brew something specifically to celebrate that gathering (which hadn't happened in years and probably won't happen again). Of course the beer would center around hops; Red IPAs are one of my favorite styles to brew and drink, so I came up with a recipe for a really hoppy one, with Amarillo, Azacca, and Simcoe. I was really happy with how the beer came out (it was one of my favorites of mine of the year), so I pledged to brew a different "Meek Celebration" beer every year for Christmas.
Last year's beer, a Red IPA
When November rolled around again in 2015, I started planning a recipe. I wanted to focus on a hoppy style again (I'm sure most of these beers will be hoppy, but don't be surprised to see a dark, Belgian-style in the future); I've had not-the-best luck with DIPAs that I've brewed recently, so I decided to take another crack at the style. I love a good DIPA, but I've gotten really picky with them lately. I no longer enjoy the darker, maltier ones that are simply high in alcohol but don't have near as much hop aroma and flavour as I want. Give me a really hoppy Session IPA or APA any day - I love to enjoy hops without feeling drunk after one beer! So, my goal was a DIPA that was light in color, had a dry finish but still a creamy body, and a big hop aroma, with plenty of citrusy, fruity hop character to go with it. Minimal to no sweet caramel character, here.

I've brewed DIPAs before, of course, and have been happy with several grists that I've gone with. This time, though, I wanted to try something a little different. I had remembered reading a post from Derek of Bear-Flavored (and now, Kent Falls Brewing) when he was playing around with perfecting hoppy beers; the recipe was for a DIPA, and I liked how the grist looked: majority of 2-row, with ~7% each of Wheat malt and Carapils, some Flaked Oats, and about 5% table sugar to help dry the beer out. I've done similar ones in the past, but not exactly like this. So, I shamefully lifted it! Just kidding, there really is no copying in brewing. Well, mostly not.

Choosing a hop schedule was a little more difficult, as usual. Not because I can't think of hops I'd like to use... because there's too MANY hops that I would like to brew with! And I still have quite an inventory from 2014 on hand (and have picked up some 2015 varieties as well... gulp), so plenty to work with. As I mentioned, I wanted a beer with a big fruity, tropical profile; but I also wanted some dank, resinous character in there, too. I eventually decided on:
  • Amarillo - a no-brainer; it's been around for awhile now, and it consistently delivers. Such a fantastic hop that gives plenty of tropical fruit character to any beer I've used it in, it's still one of my favorites.
  • Comet - a hop that's been around for quite some time, I've actually brewed with it before. I split a pound on a whim with a friend, and sat on it. Then when I read a bit more about it, and saw it described as "intensely dank" and with an "intense wild American grapefruit" character (according to Bear-Flavored's Hop Guide); sounded great to me!
  • Hallertau Blanc - I've brewed with this hop, a fairly new tropical variety from Germany, once before in my first 100% Brett IPA, and I really liked it. It's not just fruity... it kind of has a lightly floral characteristic to it that works really well. I was looking to brew with it again, and thought it would great in a DIPA.
I went with a pretty-typical hopping schedule for me: 10 min, hop steep, chiller-on, and a big dry-hop, with the overall emphasis just slightly on the Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc. By the time the wort was poured into the Better Bottle, it was smelling pretty fantastic.

Normally for a beer of this style, I'd ferment with US-05. However, I've done a few beers with Wyeast 1318 London Ale III recently, and every time I make a starter I overbuild by 80-100 billion cells. I've really been enjoying the beers I've brewed with this yeast strain lately, and I've never done a DIPA with London Ale III, so I decided to give it a try, here. I build up what I had to ~260 billion cells, pitched at 64 F, aerated well with pure O2, and let 'er rip (temperature control is rarely needed this time of year in my house; if anything, when temps get REALLY cold, I have to make sure to keep the beer warm enough so the yeast don't poop out on me).

After 10 days or so in primary, I threw the dry hops into the BB for 7 days, and then bottled the beer. Of course I'd normally keg a beer like this, but since I'm basically giving more than half the batch away, for ASAP consumption, it's easier just to bottle it now. The only problem here is I wasn't thinking when I calculated how much priming sugar to add - I calculated for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, but with all the hop sludge in this beer, I really only ended up with slightly over 4 gallons of beer. This would unfortunately give a carb level of ~2.9 vol. Oops.

I tried sampling the beer after it had been bottled for 5-6 days, and it was already carbonated more than I'd like for a DIPA. I was able to move all the bottles into my cellar, which is a perfect 48-50 F during the winter. Carbonation did increase after a little while, but luckily it's not TOO bad; high, yes, but it's not a Hefeweizen or anything. The other aspects of the beer, I was quite happy with. The aroma is huge, lots of mango and orange, some pine and dank in there, too. The flavour is a bit more restrained, but still a very enjoyable hop presence similar to the aroma; some bready malt character is there to help balance a little, but as I hoped for, no lingering sweetness. A touch of a carbonic bite in the finish (possibly due to the higher carbonation?). The bitterness is about perfect for a DIPA... for me. I'm not big on huge bitterness anymore, and ~60 IBUs works well in a hoppy beer.

Overall, this beer is extremely smooth. Smoother and easier-drinking that most DIPAs I've brewed, so I'm going to attribute that success to the London Ale III, and the changes in water chemistry to bring my mash pH down to 5.4. I've been doing this more and more with my hoppy beers lately, and most of the time it's worked out great (I'm sure the wheat malt and flaked oats helped as well). Aside from being smoother, the hop profiles seem to be... juicier. I'd love to do a Brulosophy-inspired experiment with the same hoppy beer fermented with London Ale III vs. US-05, and another with water chemistry changes vs. none at all. I'll put that on the list, see if it actually happens!

As much as I enjoy this beer, I think I have to tip the Celebration award to last year's Red IPA. I will say that after a month, this current beer is holding its own really well for a hoppy brew. I don't know why I still have a few bottles left; guess I didn't go out of my way to give as many away! Sharing? Bah, humbug! ;)

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.073, FG ~1.010, IBU ~62, SRM 4.5, ABV ~7.7%

4.85 kg (75%) Canadian 2-row
475 g (7.3%) Wheat malt
475 g (7.3%) CaraPils
240 g (3.7%) Flaked Oats
100 g (1.5%) Acid malt
335 g (5.2%) Table sugar

Hop extract - 5 mL @ 60 min (equivalent to 28 g of a 10% AA hop variety)
Amarillo - 28 g (7.4% AA) @ 10 min
Hallertau Blanc - 28 g (8.4% AA) @ 10 min

Amarillo - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Comet - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

Comet - 28 g @ 0 min (when chilling started)
Hallertau Blanc - 56 g @ 0 min (when chilling started)

Amarillo - 39 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Comet - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Hallertau Blanc - 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, ~260 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 10 g Gypsum and 10 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on November 15th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp was reading all over the place at first, ranging from 150-158 F. Finally settled at 151 F; still holding at this temp at end of rest. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 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 at 1.052 (target 1.054). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG low at 1.070 (after sugar calculation). Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fermentation took off quickly, going strong by the next morning. After a couple of days it started to slow, so I added the sugar in two separate additions over 12 hours, after boiling and cooling in some water.

- 4/12/15 - FG ~1.010. Threw dry hops in fermentor. Bottled 5 days later, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, but wasn't thinking about loss to trub and hop matter, so only got ~4 gallons. Results in a too-high carbonation of ~2.9 vol.

Please excuse the crappiness of this photo

Appearance: Pours with a medium-large, off-white head that sticks around for quite some time before fading to 1/2-finger (probably at least partially due to the high carbonation). Body is quite hazy, with a light-golden colour. Slightly effervescent.

Aroma: Really big citrus and grapefruit bomb, and a tiny bit dank. All hops.

Taste: Plenty of grapefruit, lots of citrus and tropical fruit upfront, with a bit of dank following behind, as in the aroma. Supporting malt character is minimal, but keeps it in check. Finishes with a moderate bitterness, plenty dry.

Mouthfeel: Moderate-high carbonation, medium-light bodied. Slightly oily mouthfeel, I assume from the combination of the London Ale III and all the hop oils.

Overall: I quite like it. Too heavy on the carbonation, my fault for not thinking ahead. While it isn't as good as last year's Christmas beer, this is definitely the best DIPA I've brewed in a while.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Hill Farmstead James clone, attempt #3

I'm a big fan of Black IPAs... when they're brewed right. It can be a pretty difficult style to do extremely well; you've got to hit the perfect balance of chocolate and roastiness in the beer (too much and it's a stout, too little and it's just a dark-coloured IPA), along with a decent amount of bitterness (in the medium-high to high zone), and a good amount of hop aroma and flavour. Now that Black IPA is "official" - meaning that it's in the Specialty IPA category of the 2015 BJCP Guide - there's a little bit more to go on when brewing the style, if you're looking to get in the "technically-correct" range. Basically, you want some dark malt character, but not enough to be intense or so that it's clashing with the hops. Hop aroma and flavour can range from medium to high, for the most part.

This is my third Black IPA, and my third (and last) attempt at improving on my Hill Farmstead James clone. The recipe came from Mitch Steele's IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Hopped entirely with Columbus (CTZ) and Centennial, it's supposed to be a delicious beer. I initially thought I had had it, but realized last year that I had tried Foster, their "Black Wheat IPA". So, while I don't have any idea if my attempts are anywhere close to what James is really like, I continue to try to improve on the beer that I initially brewed over 2 years ago.

The first time I brewed the clone, I had to make some changes to the recipe (mainly in the grist) based on what I had available from my LHBS. When it came to the yeast, everyone knows HF uses an English strain, but which one commercially available is closest? I chose Wyeast 1098 British Ale; I had used it before and liked it. It's actually quite neutral, as English yeasts go, so it seemed like a good choice to start with. I eventually bottled the batch and was really, really happy with how it came out. I thought the roastiness of the beer was right where it should be, and the hops came through very prominently - lots of citrus, bit of earthy dankness... delicious beer overall. Unfortunately, the hop character dropped off very quickly, as it often does in bottled beers.

In my second attempt, I wasn't really looking to change the beer drastically, just maybe slightly improve on it. I was curious what effect a different yeast strain would have on the beer, and I had also started kegging and wanted to package that way; I naturally assumed that the beer would be even hoppier as a result. This time, I fermented with Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale; another clean strain, the description sounded like it had a bit more English character to it. While the beer was still enjoyable, I found that it wasn't quite as hoppy as the first one, even with the dry hop addition going right into the keg. I'm not sure if it was due to the yeast strain, hop freshness, or simply a change in my tastes over the previous year. Whatever was the culprit, I wanted to try one more time.

The recipe is still staying about the same this time, with another small change in the grist: I was completely out of Carafa Special, but I had lots of Midnight Wheat on hand. Both grains lack a husk (meaning you get the dark color and some of the roastiness, but not the acrid character as with other husked, dark grains), so I figured the switch would be negligible in the final product (especially at only 6% of the grist). Otherwise, the grist and hopping schedule were the same as last time. I did change the water chemistry slightly, by increasing the addition of both calcium chloride and gypsum to 10 grams each. This brought the final water profile to ~145 ppm each of chloride and sulfate, an approach with my hoppy beers I've been taking lately (I'm admittedly not completely sold on this target yet, however).

For fermentation this time, I went with Wyeast 1318 London Ale III. I've used this strain several times for hoppy beers (as have a lot of other homebrewers) and I really like how it works in these styles. Aside from being rumoured to be very similar to the English strain used by Hill Farmstead, its claim that it provides a "softly balanced palate" is true; or at least, it seems that way to me. A word of advice when you use this yeast: it usually provides a pretty big krausen that sticks around for quite some time; it's not unusual for it to take 10-14 days to drop out after active fermentation is complete, unless of course you have the ability to cold-crash.

So, I brewed the beer back in November, and as expected fermentation was fast and furious, with the airlock blowing off overnight. No problem, though; a bit of tinfoil over the top of the carboy did the trick till things settled down, and there were no issues with temperature control - the temp of the beer never went above 70 F. After almost two weeks I dry-hopped directly in primary, and then racked to a keg about 5 days later and carbed the beer.

I find the end result here to be more similar to my second attempt than my first, unfortunately. Once again the hop character is lacking slightly, and I'd actually like to see a little more roast character here, too. May not be a bad idea to add a bit of Roasted Barley or Black Patent. The mouthfeel is great, though - medium or even medium-full bodied, creamy... smooth. Nice firm bitterness in the finish. So, the beer is pretty good, but it's definitely not great. I suspect that, again, hop freshness MAY be playing at least a small part, but these weren't OLD hops by any means, and as usual they were stored cold and vacuum-sealed.

Next time I brew a Black IPA, I'll be trying something completely of my own design; different grist, different hops. Time to shake things up a bit for this style, for me. However, I really like how the London Ale III worked with this beer, even if the FG did end up being a bit high (1.018) - the mouthfeel is just where I want it for a Black IPA, and the slight fruity-esters in the aroma and taste are great. This yeast strain will continue to be used in hoppy beers of mine in the future!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.065, FG ~1.016, IBU ~80, SRM 33, ABV ~6.4%

5.1 kg (85.5%) Canadian 2-row
360 g (6%) Midnight Wheat
240 g (4%) CaraPils
120 g (2%) Flaked Oats
94 g (1.6%) Crystal 150 L
50 g (0.8%) Acid malt

CTZ - 10 g (11% AA) FWH

CTZ - 14 g @ 60 min
Centennial - 33 g (7.5% AA) @ 45 min
Centennial - 34 g @ 10 min

Centennial - 43 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
CTZ - 80 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)

Centennial - 38 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 38 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, ~240 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 10 g Gypsum and 10 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on November 4th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 152 F. Mash pH low at 5.3 at 68 F (target 5.4). Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.051 (target 1.053). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG 1.063. Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Furious fermentation by the next morning; the temp was 68 F and the airlock had blown off the carboy. For the rest of the day and into the next, activity was so strong and the krausen so large, I just left tinfoil on top. Some beer was lost; temp didn't get over 68-70 F.

- 17/11/15 - Krausen finally dropped with a little cold-temp help. FG high at 1.018. Dry-hopped in primary. Racked to a keg and set in keezer to bring temp down 5 days later, before starting to carb.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, light-tan, creamy head that shows excellent retention. Sticks around for quite awhile before fading to 1/2-finger. Body is very dark brown if not black, and opaque. Ruby highlights at edges when held to the light.

Aroma: Light aroma of milk chocolate and earthy, dank hops. A touch of fruitiness follows at the end, hard to tell if it’s from the hops, or esters from the yeast.

Flavours of light chocolate and roast, following with some earthy and slightly-fruity hop notes, all finishing on the dry side of balanced, with a moderate-high bitterness. Quite smooth.

Mouthfeel: Very creamy, medium to medium-full bodied beer, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: I like it; I would like to see a bit more roast character, and a bit more hop character as well. Mouthfeel is great. In the end, unfortunately still not up to my first attempt, but I find that this yeast works really well with this recipe.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Brewing a Red IPA (with Cascade, CTZ and Mosaic) - my Big Spruce Home Brew Competition beer

Big Spruce Brewing, based in Nyanza, Cape Breton, is a small craft brewery that has been in operation since 2012. Since their opening, they've been producing some of the better craft beer in Atlantic Canada, with a combination of very solid regular-release beers and plenty of different one-offs, brewed for special events, tap takeovers, beer dinners, etc. Their beers are currently found on tap at select accounts in Nova Scotia, and are available for growler fills at the brewery, as well as the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and private beer stores in Halifax.

Several months ago, they announced the details for their third annual Home Brew Challenge. This year, three different styles would be featured: Czech Dark Lager, Altbier, and Red IPA. Entrants were able to enter all three categories, with gold, silver, and bronze medals given for each category. In addition, the winner of Best of Show would be given the opportunity to brew a full-sized batch on Big Spruce's system for release in January, 2016.

I don't enter many homebrew competitions. I'm certainly not against them, it's just that I've fallen into a routine of brewing what I want to brew, and it seems that whenever I brew something I REALLY like, there aren't really any competitions going on in the area to enter. This time, there was plenty of notice, and Red IPA has always been one of my favourite beer styles, so I decided to brew up something for entry. I had lots of time to come up with a recipe when the competition was announced; my plan was to brew the beer in mid-October, so that I could bottle it and have it ready by mid-November at the latest. The deadline for entry was November 27th, with the judging taking place the next day.

I've brewed a few Red IPAs over the past 2-3 years that I've really enjoyed, including my Modern Times Blazing World clone, Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone, and last year's Christmas giveaway beer, a great one that featured Amarillo, Simcoe, and Azacca. I actually considered brewing any one of these for entry, since I knew that the recipe at least was sound. But I wanted to do something new, and in the end that's the direction I took. Unfortunately, I put it off too long, and suddenly it was the middle of October and I knew I should really get to brewing something.

Picking a grist for the beer was easy. For pretty much all of my recent Red IPAs, I've gone with the grist from either the Blazing World clone, or the Zoe clone. Both have worked well for me, and both are quite different. The Zoe clone has more malt types than I'd normally use in a recipe, but I find it works well, so that's what I ultimately went with: a mix of 2-row and Maris Otter, along with Munich, Victory, Crystal 40 L and 80 L, and a touch of Chocolate malt. This gives you an SRM of about 12, and with a target OG of ~1.056, an ABV approaching 6%. A lot of Red IPAs are higher than that, but I was looking for something a little more sessionable, despite not being a session beer. I also threw in 2% of Acid malt; I do this for basically all of my pale beers now. When I plugged the recipe into EZ Water Calculator, I was really aiming to get the mash pH down to 5.4, and the addition of acid malt brought it in perfect range. Along with 7 grams each of calcium chloride and Gypsum (targeting ~120 ppm each of sulfate and chloride), 5.4 was the calculated pH. I finally got around to purchasing a fairly-cheap-but-hopefully-decent pH meter, so now I could finally test the validity of the calculator.

Now, on to the important part... hops! I knew I wanted to use a hopping schedule fairly similar to the Zoe clone, but with different hop varieties. I thought about using some of the really new varieties I had on hand, such as Azacca and Equinox, but then thought that maybe I should realistically be using hops that were a bit easier to find. I decided to go with a mixture: Cascade and Columbus (CTZ), two tried-and-true hops that have been around for years, and Mosaic, a very flavourful, aromatic variety that is still fairly new. I didn't really overdo it with this batch, either: small additions of CTZ and Cascade at 10 and 5 minutes, Cascade and Mosaic at flameout for a steep and when I started chilling the wort, and all three for a single dry-hop in primary.

Everything went smoothly on brew day. I hit my mash target of 151 F (looking to keep the beer fairly dry), and the room temp mash pH was right on target, 5.38 (thanks, EZ Water Calculator!). Fermentation started within 20 hours after pitching (I went with my Red IPA standby, US-05... although I really think I'll use an English strain next time), and slowed down after a couple of days of vigorous activity. I dry-hopped the beer in primary on day 11, and after another week, racked and bottled. Normally I would keg a beer like this, but I haven't had the best of luck with filling bottles from a keg when they aren't going to be consumed within a couple of days.

I was drinking this beer by November 7th or so; it was pretty much completely carbonated after about a week of bottle conditioning. I liked it, and have been liking it since; the malt character is good for a Red IPA, and I like how the three hops work together - fruity and a bit earthy, is the best way I can describe it. However, I would like to see MORE with the hops, both in the aroma and flavour. The last few beers of this style I've brewed have been HUGE in that regard, and I was hoping for a stronger hop presence overall in this beer. No, 8 oz of hops in a batch isn't a huge amount, but I was expecting more.

To be honest, I think since I was kind of disappointed with the beer, I wouldn't have even bothered entering it. However, a friend (who was in charge of organizing the judging for the competition) was passing through days before and had already taken my entry fee and beers, so it was already a done deal.

I wasn't able to attend the post-judging announcement and party in Dartmouth on the 28th, but believe me that I was completely shocked to hear that the beer had won gold in its category! I really wasn't expecting it to place at all. The winning beer in the Czech Dark Lager category, brewed by Eric Gautier (co-brewer Justin Clarke), won Best of Show (note that they also won in the Altbier category, and the competition last year with their American Wheat!). While I haven't yet received my score sheets, I've since heard some of the scores in the Red IPA category from others (20 entries overall), and they've been very good; obviously we've got some serious, experienced home brewers here in Atlantic Canada!

Jeremy White, owner and brewmaster at Big Spruce, said that he really enjoyed the beer. He seems interested in having me make the trip to the brewery to assist him in brewing a batch for next year's Fredericton Craft Beer Festival (Saturday, March 12th). Not sure if that'll happen, but I'd definitely be game! It may even give us the opportunity to bring the hop level up higher to where I'd like to see it.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.056, FG ~1.011, IBU ~43, SRM 12, ABV ~5.9%

2.1 kg (41.2%) Canadian 2-row
2.1 kg (41.2%) Maris Otter
250 g (4.9%) Munich
250 g (4.9%) Victory
125 g (2.5%) Crystal 40 L
125 g (2.5%) Crystal 80 L
100 g (2%) Acid malt
50 g (1%) Chocolate malt

CTZ - 14 g (11.5% AA) @ 60 min
Cascade - 14 g (7% AA) @ 10 min
CTZ - 14 g @ 10 min
Cascade - 14 g @ 5 min
CTZ - 14 g @ 5 min

Cascade - 21 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
Mosaic - 21 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)

Cascade - 21 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)
Mosaic - 21 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)

Cascade - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Mosaic - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 pack, rehydrated)

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

- Brewed on October 14th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 151 F. Mash pH at 5.38 at 68 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.046. 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG 1.055. Chilled to 66 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 70 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 66 F.

- 25/10/15 - FG 1.013. Added dry hops into primary.

- 2/11/15 - Bottled with 106 g table sugar, aiming for 2.3 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, max temp 72 F reached. Bottled only slightly over 4 gallons; lots of hop matter caught in bottling wand before last 3-4 bottles could be completed.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-large, off-white head that has excellent retention, sticking around for several minutes before starting to fade. Body is a dark-red colour, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Pretty decent balance of slightly sweet, caramel-type malt with fruity and citrusy hops. Clean. Would like the hop aroma to be boosted, however.

Taste: Same; the maltiness (both a bready quality and caramel sweetness) comes through first, followed quickly by a fruity/slightly earthy hop character, finishing fairly dry with a moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: A good Red IPA, but I'd like it to have more hop character, especially in the aroma.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Brewing a 100% Brett IPA (with Galaxy and Southern Cross)

In late July, I posted about my first 100%-Brett IPA, a light-coloured beer with plenty of late-hopping: all Amarillo after knockout, and a big dry-hop of Hallertau Blanc. Fermented with The Yeast Bay's Amalgamation, a "Brett Super Blend" featuring six different Brettanomyces strains, the beer came out really tasty. It had just what I was looking for in a Brett IPA, with lots of tropical, fruity hop aroma and flavour, with just the right balance of Brett funk. Mouthfeel was creamy and very smooth, with - for me - the perfect amount of bitterness (let's say medium-low).

In that post, I threatened to brew the same recipe again and change the hop varieties, and that's exactly what I did in late September. I felt absolutely no need to change the grist for this beer; as mentioned above, the body was perfect. Despite my initial worries that the Brett strains would not produce the glycerol needed to boost mouthfeel, the combination of a good proportion of wheat malt (21%) and higher mash temp (153 F) seemed to do the job nicely. When I initially made the starter for the Amalgamation blend, I built it up enough to have twice as many cells as I needed. Yes, it had been three months since then, and I needed to make another starter, but the slurry looked and smelled healthy enough to me. So, I got the Brett into some more wort and onto my stir plate, aiming for ~300 billion cells (200 for this batch, and another 100 to have on hand for another time). The starter seemed quite active; there was a large krausen that actually overflowed from the flask a little, before settling down as activity slowed.

For this batch, I wanted to stick to two hop varieties again. While I had considered doing a single-hop brew, I had so many I wanted to experiment with Brett that I knew I'd have to pick at least two. Like last time, I was mostly looking at hops that would offer a lot of tropical fruit and/or citrus character, to complement the fruity/pineapple aspects that you often see in 100% Brett IPAs. I finally settled on two Southern Hemisphere varieties: Galaxy and Southern Cross. I've brewed with both before, but never together. Australia's Galaxy is found in plenty of commercial beers, and is well-known for adding plenty of tropical fruit. I had used Southern Cross (New Zealand) in my Alpine Nelson clone, and really liked how it worked with Nelson Sauvin: it's citrusy characteristics paired perfectly with the gooseberry of the Nelson.

Otherwise, I kept everything about this beer exactly the same - grist, mash temps, Gypsum and calcium chloride additions, etc. This time around, my mash efficiency was a little low (compared to a little high the first time), which I can't really explain. Aside from that, the brew day went smoothly. I had cold-crashed the Brett starter several days prior, decanted the large amount of beer off, and then "woke up" the yeast with another 500 mL of wort on the stir plate for a couple of days, before pitching the starter at 66 F into the chilled wort. I then aerated with pure O2 for 75 seconds. This is exactly the same procedure I followed for my first Brett IPA; by the next morning for that beer, fermentation was coming along nicely.

Not this time. When I checked on the carboy the first morning after brew day, there was zero visible activity. The airlock wasn't bubbling, there was no krausen; you could see the trub/yeast cake sitting on the bottom of the Better Bottle. I was confused. The temperature was still 66 F, and there wouldn't have been any drops in temp overnight. When I checked on it again that evening after work, there was no change. By the next morning, I was starting to panic when there was STILL no activity. I knew I had pitched enough yeast and aerated well, but I pitched a little more slurry (approx 40 billion cells) just in case, as a last-ditch effort. My plan was if it wasn't doing anything by that evening (which would be a little over 48 hours since the original pitch), I'd have to add some US-05 and see what happened.

Luckily, when I got home from work, there was finally bubbling in the airlock. Fermentation grew strong and continued nicely, bringing the beer to a final gravity of 1.008 (quite a bit lower than I had achieved with the first Brett IPA). But why did it take 48 hours to get going? Yes, the slurry I had saved from the original starter was about 3 months old, but I took that into consideration when calculating the booster starter size, and should have had plenty of cells pitched into the wort. Not to mention the fact that the starter was extremely active, as noted. Whatever the reason, I was slightly nervous as to how the end result was going to taste.

After about 2 weeks, I dry-hopped the beer in primary for 5 days, and then kegged it. The first time around, I had bottled the beer so I could get a good idea of how it developed over time with the Brett. It still tasted great after four months (when I consumed the last bottle that I had saved), but the hop character, as expected, had faded considerably. And it was when the beer was really hoppy that I enjoyed it the most, so I was looking to keg it for this batch, to keep the hoppy goodness around as long as possible.

This turned out to be a very interesting beer. Despite the fact that the only real change to the recipe was the hops used, it tastes a lot different than the first batch, to me. The first time I poured a sample, before carbonation was really where I wanted it to be, I got a huge blast of pineapple and tropical fruit... and I mean HUGE! I immediately loved it. But since then, I haven't been as crazy about it. Not to say I don't like it, but for the next several pours, I wasn't sure where this beer was headed. I hate to say it, but I swear with the second or third pour I was tasting and smelling... urinal. I wasn't sure if it was how these particular hops were working with the Brett strains, or if it was that the Brett had really taken a turn for the worse somewhere down the line, but I was starting to get worried again.

However, now the beer is tasting fine. I must say I prefer the Amarillo/Hallertau Blanc beer, but the Galaxy/Southern Cross combo really settled into its own after a little time. That pineapple and tropical fruit presence is still there in spades, but the funk backs it up quite well. I find the "funk" different than in the first beer, and I wish I could explain exactly how... but I can't. It's just different. Not unpleasant, but not the same.

I really need more people to try this beer, but only a few others have as of right now. Those that HAVE tried it seem to really enjoy it, but I'd like some more input. I've been drinking it for about a month and haven't noticed it changing too much, yet; the kegging has definitely helped in that regard. My real concern now is, is the small amount of yeast slurry I've saved for the next batch trustworthy? I'm planning on brewing another 100% Brett beer soon, so I guess it won't be long before I find out...

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.057, FG ~1.010, IBU ~52, SRM 4.1, ABV ~6.5%

3.7 kg (71.2%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (21.2%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.8%) Cara-Pils
200 g (3.8%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 5 mL @ 60 min (or 28 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Galaxy - 35 g (12% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Southern Cross - 35 g (13.5% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

Galaxy - 35 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)
Southern Cross - 35 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)

Galaxy - 63 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)
Southern Cross - 63 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Yeast Bay Brett Amalgamation (slurry, ~200 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 3 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on Sept 22nd, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG 1.045 (low, target 1.047). 60-minute boil. Final volume a bit high at 5.75 gallons; OG 1.055. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 66 F.

- After about 48 hours, activity finally became apparent - bubbling in airlock, krausen forming. Continued quite vigorously for 2 days, then began to slow down. Temp got up to 72 F.

- 7/10/15 - FG 1.008. Dry-hopped in primary. Kegged 5 days later and set in keezer to bring temp down before starting to carb the next day.

Appearance: Pours with a small-moderate sized white head, which fades fairly quickly to a thin film on the beer. Body is a light-golden color (that picture isn't the best representation), and very hazy, almost cloudy, even after a month or so of being kegged.

Aroma: Definitely an interesting aroma - while it's quite obvious this is a hoppy beer, with it's strong pineapple, citrusy smell, there's a very strong funkiness that comes through easily as well as the hops. It's not really barnyard; I can't quite put my finger on it.

Taste: A little more well-rounded than the aroma, I'd say the hops win - slightly - here. Lots of powerful fruit flavours coming through, but yes, still a good amount of funk. Medium to medium-low bitterness in the finish, quite dry and a bit tart. More white-wine like than the last Brett IPA.

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

Overall: Very tasty. I'm happy with the mouthfeel and finish of the beer; definitely a bit drier than the last one. I don't think the differences in this beer are completely due to the different hops used, but either way Galaxy and Southern Cross are working really well together, here. Let the experimenting continue!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Brewing a Columbus Pale Ale (inspired by Epic Pale Ale)

With summer over (yeah, it's been a couple of months already, but I'm way behind), the annual brewing-lull has come to an end. Time to get back into it!

Around the beginning of September, I needed to brew. The summer was really busy with the usual combination of work and being away for vacations, so I was looking to brew up something fairly simple that didn't involve a lot of planning, and that I could quickly turn around and have on tap within a few weeks. I have a short list of beers that I would like to rebrew, and after a quick scan I picked out an Epic Pale Ale clone that I brewed years ago, just a few months after starting this blog. Epic is a great brewery in Auckland, New Zealand; I've had several of their beers, back when they were distributing to Maine (I assume they are no longer? I don't recall seeing their beers on recent trips to Portland). Their Pale Ale is brewed with all Cascade hops; the clone recipe I followed was one from the old Can You Brew It? podcast. Featuring plenty of Cascade, it was a great clone recipe, so I thought it would be a nice beer to brew again.

However, before I entered the recipe into BeerSmith again, I did a quick scan of my hop inventory. I had just enough Cascade to brew a smaller batch of this beer, but realized that I had more than twice as much Columbus. Now, I've always planned on brewing a Columbus single-hop beer; it seems like such an underrated hop variety to me. It's used in plenty of beers, but because it's been around for a long time, it often gets overlooked, what with all the fancy new varieties out there (I'm admittedly a victim of this overlooking, myself). I've used it in several beers with one other variety, and I always like what it brings to the table. It seems to offer a combination of dank and resiny tones, with some fruity qualities as well. With extra on hand, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally brew a beer that brought Columbus front and center.

The grist for this recipe is definitely for an "olden-days" APA; that is, it's not just a super-light, lower-ABV IPA (I DO love those types of APAs, by the way). There's a fair amount of Crystal malt in it (over 20% is CaraRed and Carapils, combined), but luckily it's still mashed low at 148 F, to keep it as dry as possible. The rest is made up of equal amounts 2-row and Maris Otter; I of course planned on adding some Acid malt to bring down the mash pH, but when brew day came along, I forgot yet again that I was out of Acid malt. Dammit! Oh well, the first time I brewed this beer I wasn't using Acid malt, so I figured the beer wouldn't suffer too much. I also added some gypsum and calcium chloride to the mash this time around.

This APA, however, is still hopped pretty heavily for the style... 9 oz of hops in total, with most of that being from flameout on. Two separate flameout additions are used, one for a hop steep, the other after chilling begins (the original recipe calls for a 10-min steep, then ANOTHER 10-min steep, so I changed it up a bit this time), and then two separate dry-hop additions after fermentation ends. The beer was fermented with US-05; I should point out that the original Epic Pale Ale recipe calls for Wyeast 1272 American Ale II. I didn't go through the trouble of ordering it when I actually brewed the clone recipe, and I didn't have a chance to here, either. However, if you're looking to actually clone Epic Pale Ale, I recommend you try to track down the 1272, at the recommendation of Epic's brewers.

I was pretty happy with how this beer came out. It's definitely a bit sweeter than most of the APAs I've been brewing lately; I think part of this is due to the grist, and partly due to Columbus. While the beer's aroma and taste are both quite dank and resinous, there's this kind of sweet, candy-like quality in there... reminds me a lot of Rockets. Oddly enough, it all works. The bitterness is about perfect, probably in the moderate category, and the beer finishes just dry enough to make it easy-drinking, but balanced with enough maltiness to make it clear that it's not an IPA. While not my favorite APA I've brewed, it IS tasty, and an interesting experiment to focus on the Columbus hop.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.052, FG ~1.010, IBU ~42, SRM 6.5, ABV ~5.7%

1.7 kg (39.1%) Canadian 2-row
1.7 kg (39.1%) Maris Otter
600 g (13.8%) CaraRed
350 g (8%) CaraPils

CTZ - 14 g (10% AA) @ 60 min
CTZ - 35 g @ 10 min

CTZ - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
CTZ - 42 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)

CTZ - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

CTZ - 63 g dry-hop for 5 more days (DH keg)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 pack, rehydrated)

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

- Brewed on September 9th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 148 F. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity a bit low at 1.040 (target 1.042). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG low at 1.048. Chilled to 66 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 68 F (a bit higher than I like, but the ground water was still quite warm).

- Good fermentation activity over the next few days; the temperature luckily never went higher than 70 F, thanks to keeping the BB in my laundry sink with some water and ice packs.

- 16/9/15 - Added first round of dry-hops into primary. FG 1.010.

- 22/9/15 - Racked beer to DH keg, added second round of dry-hops, purged again with CO2.

- 27/9/15 - Transferred beer to serving keg and began carbing to ~2.3 vol CO2.

Yeah, yeah, don't remind me
Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, slightly off-white head that shows very good retention, before fading to 1/2-finger. Body is dark orange/light amber coloured, with very good clarity despite the two dry-hop additions.

Aroma: Resinous, slight candy-like aroma that is definitely interesting, and something I don't really recall experiencing before. Pleasant malt backbone keeps the beer out of IPA territory, but still does a nice job of allowing the hops to express themselves.

Taste: The hop characteristics in the aroma pretty much come through the same in the taste, with a resiny/dank overtone that is quickly followed by that candy-sweetness. It finishes more on the dry side, with a moderate bitterness that kind of sticks around a bit.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: Enjoyable. Don't think I'll probably go out of my way to brew it again, but I wouldn't mind doing one of my one-hop Session IPAs with Columbus, to really let the hop express itself more. Would probably work really well in a SMaSH beer, too.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Brewing a Hoppy Saison (based on my Prairie 'Merica clone)

After brewing my Maine Beer Co. Peeper clone in late June, my stretch of frantic brewing (for me... 6 batches in 6 weeks!) was over. Enter the summer months... temperatures are a lot higher, making it more difficult to control fermentation adequately (my fermentation chamber became my keezer over a year ago), and I'm often away on weekends off. During the months of July and August, I only brewed one time... and I wanted to make it count; I really had to think hard about what exactly to brew.

It actually turned out to be an easy decision; weeks before, I had ordered one of my favorite Saison yeast strains from my LHBS; because they don't regularly keep it in stock, it can easily take 4 weeks or longer, so I ordered back in early June. Wyeast 3711 French Saison has always given me good results - I like the combination of fruity and pepper flavors that it gives, and I like that it isn't finicky... it's never once crapped out on me and left me wondering if the beer was ever going to finish. With this yeast, I was armed to do a re-brew of one of my all-time favorite homebrews of mine: the Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merica clone, originally brewed almost two years ago.

That beer - a SMaSH Saison brewed with Pilsner malt and hopped heavily with Nelson Sauvin, and dosed with Brettanomyces at bottling - was a real winner. Juicy and tropical, dry, and a touch of funk from the Brett (I actually split the batch, dosing half with Brett and leaving the other half without), it was definitely one of my homebrew highlights of 2013, and likely in the top 10 of all-time. I put the recipe together based on some info I found online (mostly through the brewery's website); after I posted the recipe, they tweeted back to me a couple of recommended minor adjustments to the hop schedule. Since then, I've been wanting to rebrew it, which is what I finally planned to do for my solo summer brew day.

I was initially going to do the exact same recipe, but with everything scaled down to a lower-ABV beer. My 'Merica clone had an OG target of 1.056; the non-Brett portion finished at 1.006, for an ABV of 6.7%. This time, I aimed for 1.048. No particular reason, I just didn't really need a higher-ABV beer. Otherwise, I planned on following Prairie's recommendations... but I changed my mind very close to brew day, and made several alterations:

1) I decided to back off the Nelson a little bit, and add two more varieties, Citra and Centennial. Not that I have anything against Nelson; quite the contrary! However, it IS an extremely expensive and hard to obtain hop, and I really wanted to play with a combination of the three. These three varieties were used in my Societe Brewing The Pupil clone I brewed last year, and worked great together. I wanted to see what this combination would be like with a Saison yeast. Note from the recipe below that Nelson is still the most-used hop.

2) I went with a hopping schedule more similar to my first beer then Prairie's recommendations. Not because I think mine would work better, but because I know my original one worked well on my system the first time. The minor changes include a very small hop addition at 60 minutes (I used Nelson because the package was open; at only 7 grams, I figured it wasn't a big deal to use it), and I took out the 5-minute addition.

3) I added a dry-hop addition; the first (Nelson and Centennial) would be in primary, and the second (Nelson and Citra) a keg-hop before transferring to the serving keg. Not that the first beer didn't have tons of hop flavour and aroma; I just wanted to really try to maximize the hop presence, and see if a keg-hop addition would boost it even more.

So, this beer ended up being more "inspired by" my original clone than a simple rebrew. The mash temp was kept the same as before (151 F). When I went to weigh out the grains (and mill them) the night before brewing, I realized I was almost completely out of Acid malt. Now, I didn't use any Acid malt when I brewed the 'Merica clone, but I use it for almost all my beers now to adjust mash pH. I had planned on using close to 2.5% of the grist as Acid malt, but I only had a mere 22 g on hand... that's about 0.5%. Even with the bump up of salt additions to the mash this time around, my mash pH was still calculated to be higher than I would like (I usually try to target 5.4 or so). But at this point, there was no changing it, so I just had to accept it.

Otherwise, the day went well. My OG came in a bit high (1.051), but I was ok with that. I pitched the yeast at about 64 F and decided to just let it go on its own; being a Saison yeast (Wyeast 3711 French Saison, my typical go-to Saison yeast), I wasn't worried about it getting over 70 F. A couple days after pitching, it got up to 76 F, and started dropping slowly the next day as active fermentation petered out. After close to two weeks, the first round of dry-hops were added to primary, then the beer was racked to the designated dry-hop keg, where the second addition was thrown in. Transferred to the serving keg after another 4-5 days, and carbed.

I have to say that, despite being a very tasty beer, I prefer the original 'Merica clone. This beer DOES have plenty of tropical fruit and citrus in both the aroma and taste, and the Nelson is quite apparent (being so dominant as usual), but it was just SO in your face when used completely on its own... in a wonderful, wonderful way. I also find this beer to have a slight carbonic bite in the finish; the bitterness isn't too high, but there's just something that was a tad bit off.

In the end, though, still a really good beer, I think. We had no problem polishing this keg off a few weeks ago (I really have to start posting more), and I think lovers of hoppy Saisons would be impressed with the hop presence in this beer. If you can get your hands on some Nelson and Citra, give it a try!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.004, IBU ~45, SRM 3.5, ABV ~6%

4.25 kg (99.5%) Pilsner
22 g (0.5%) Acid malt

Nelson Sauvin - 7 g (11.6% AA) @ 60 min
Nelson Sauvin - 28 g @ 10 min

Citra - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Nelson Sauvin - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Centennial - 40 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Nelson Sauvin - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Citra - 28 g dry-hop for 5 more days (keg)
Nelson Sauvin - 42 g dry-hop for 5 more days (keg)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3711 French Saison (with a starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on July 29th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 151 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG 1.038 (target 1.036). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG high at 1.051. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast starter at 64 F.

- Great fermentation over the first few days, temp hovering around 70 F for the first day, eventually rising to as high as 76 F by the second day. Began to slow after day 3, temp dropping only slightly ever day. FG finally reached as low as 1.003.

- Added first round of dry hops to primary on August 11th; five days later, racked to CO2-purged dry-hop keg and added second dry hops. Cold-crashed five days later and transferred to serving keg and began carbing with CO2.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized head that quickly fades to 1/2-finger... too fast for the style. Body is a light yellow color, and quite hazy/murky (I assume from all the dry-hopping). Not the prettiest beer.

Aroma: Nice smack of tropical hop goodness, with a fair amount of citrus in there, too. There is definitely a background of Belgian phenolic spiciness from the yeast, but various fruit wins out by far.

Taste: Ditto; very tropical and citrusy. Nelson sticks out more than anything else with its characteristic gooseberry flavour, but this beer has more citrus than the first iteration, with a little spicy phenolics backing it all up. Moderate bitterness in the finish; bit of a carbonic bite. Quite dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with carbonation that borders somewhere between medium and medium-low... could definitely be higher for the style.

Overall: Very enjoyable, but in the end I'd have to say I prefer my straight 'Merica clone, i.e. all Nelson Sauvin.