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.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Brewing a Maine Beer Co. Peeper clone (No. 7 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

After my attempt to brew a clone of Maine Beer Company's highly-coveted DIPA, Dinner, I didn't want to wait too long to try brewing another one of their beers. Why? Because that clone attempt came out pretty crappy. Probably one of my worst homebrew attempts of all time. If I hadn't had so many people that wanted to still try it, it probably would have turned out to be my first drainpour batch. It didn't, in the end... but it wasn't too far off. More on that failure in the link above.

Anyway, time to move on, right? I've had several successes since then, and have learned from the experience; this is what homebrewing is all about. I know now that a pound of hops for a 5 gallon batch dry-hop is probably a WEE bit too much. And I've had some good results with some other Maine Beer Co. recipes, with one I'd been sitting on for awhile that I've always been wanting to try - a clone recipe of their very first beer, Peeper.

When Maine Beer Co. came on the scene in Portland six years ago, they initially only had one beer available. Spring Peeper was an "American Ale", basically a really hop-forward APA that was dry, refreshing, and immensely hoppy. I remember my very first trip to Portland's Novare Res Bier Cafe in the fall of 2009; one of the bartenders there insisted that I had to try this beer (even though "the brewery name is kinda crappy"...!). They didn't have it on tap, but they did have the 500 mL bottles available (which were being delivered, I believe, to bars and beer stores in the area by owners/brewers Dan and David Kleban, who still had their day jobs at the time as well). The hype was real - this beer was delicious. And it was, of course, eventually followed by many other amazing beers over the years.

The name was eventually changed to Peeper (I assume so people wouldn't be confused and think it was only a seasonal release?), but the beer stayed the same. Peeper is like Coors Light in Portland - it's hard to go into a beer bar, restaurant, etc. and NOT find it... which speaks volumes as to the awesomeness of Portland. Several years ago, I came across a post on Home Brew Talk where someone included a clone recipe of Peeper that they had received from Dan Kleban. I've had great luck and lots of help from Dan on other clone recipes of his beers, but this was even more... it was quite detailed. I assume that he was simply less busy back then, and had a little more time to answer pesky homebrewer's emails! I held on to this recipe for quite awhile before I finally decided to brew it. Here it is in its entirety:

I use American 2-row base malt (88%), then red wheat (3.5%), Vienna (3.5%), and C-10 (5%). U.S. Magnum as bittering charge, then equal amounts Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo at beginning of whirlpool. Dry-hop equal amounts Centennial and Amarillo only (4.5 oz/5 gal). House yeast is a variant of Wyeast 1056. Mash at 150 F and sparge with 180 degree hot liquor to raise runoff to 172ish. 60 minute boil. 

OG: 1.053
FG: 1.011
IBU: approx 45
SRM: no idea

My secret: extreme late hopping (up to 50% of IBUs come from whirlpool hops)

Pretty helpful! I imagine that most of their hoppy beers follow the same approach, where a good hunk of the bitterness comes from whirlpool additions. All of their beers are so smooth and easy-drinking, with tons of hop aroma and flavour; this is the approach I've used with all my Maine Beer Co. clones (not to mention a lot of other recipes).

So, obviously the grist was extremely easy to put together. I threw in 100 g of Acid malt, as per usual for my pale beers, for mash pH purposes. I also didn't have any Crystal 10L; I first thought of just using Carapils, but I have a lot of CaraRed, which is about 20 L. So, I used that one, but decreased the amount to ~3% to hopefully-account for the slightly-darker color. For the hops, I went with 1.5 oz each of Amarillo, Cascade, and Centennial at flameout, for a 15-minute steep (I basically just went with a quantity that would yield about half of the 45 IBUs I was aiming for). I probably should have steeped longer, since there were no other flavor/aroma additions until this point, but I was on a tight schedule and have had good results with 15-minute steeps in the past. For the dry-hop, I followed the instructions exactly... and assumed that it was 4.5 oz TOTAL, not 4.5 oz of each hop.

That's about all the work I had to do with this one. The brew day went smoothly; while taking place in June, the temperatures really weren't that high, so the groundwater was still manageably cool, and the fermentation never got out of control.

I was quite happy with how this one came out. While I've had Peeper plenty of times - like I said, it's everywhere - the last time I had it was in March. And of course I don't have access to it here, and unfortunately I haven't been to Maine in months... so, no side-by-side tasting, which would have been great. I can say that the beer is very tasty - while there's a pretty good background note of bready malt, the hops are quite prevalent. But this isn't your typical BANG hops in your face hoppy beer... I find them somewhere between subtle and prevalent. That sounds contradictory, but it's hard to explain. Fruity and kind of tropical, not quite in the background, not quite overpowering. Maybe just really nicely balanced?

Either way, it's good. I think the beer, despite cutting back on the CaraRed, is a touch too dark for a Peeper clone. It seems darker than the calculated 4.5 SRM, to me. Now that I look at the website, I see that Carapils is listed as an ingredient for Peeper, not C-10. And I feel like Peeper finishes drier, which wouldn't surprise me since Maine Beer Co. normally has extremely high attenuation in their beers (the OG and FG provided in the recipe must have been adjusted for homebrew purposes (they list the beer as 1.047 on their site, which means for 5.5% ABV it would be finishing at about 1.005).

So, if you're a fan of Peeper, or just of hoppy, tasty Pale Ales, give this recipe a try. I suggest subbing in Carapils for C-10 or CaraRed or whatever. Cheers!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.053, FG ~1.010, IBU ~45, SRM 4.5, ABV ~5.6%

4.25 kg (87.8%) Canadian 2-row
170 g (3.5%) Vienna
170 g (3.5%) Wheat malt
150 g (3.1%) CaraRed (20 SRM)
100 g (2.1%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 2.5 mL @ 60 min (or 14 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Amarillo - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Cascade - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Centennial - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Amarillo - 63 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)
Centennial - 63 g dry-hop for 5-7 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; 3 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 16th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 150 F. Sparged with ~5.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Forgot to take a gravity reading pre-boil. 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG on target at 1.053. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Good fermentation over the next couple of days, slowed down quickly by the third day. Temp never higher than 70 F. FG close to target, 1.011.

- Added dry-hops in primary about 12 days after pitching, kegged beer 5 days later and started carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, white head; retention isn't bad, but the slightly-low carbonation has it fading a bit faster than I'd like. Body is a burnished-gold color, with very good clarity.

Aroma: I get fruity, citrusy hops in the aroma, but with a firm background of bready malt. A bit of sweetness in there, too. Otherwise, clean.

Taste: Again, nice presence of malt character in this beer. The hops win (tropical and fruity), but as mentioned above, it's not an overpowering presence, but they're firmly there and linger perfectly. Medium-low bitterness in the finish, which is somewhere between dry and sweet, with the tilt towards dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium-low carbonation.

Overall: Quite enjoyable. Somewhere between one of your classic APAs where the malt comes through more (think the original Stone Pale Ale) and one of the way-more-hoppy APAs you see more often today.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Brewing a White IPA (with Amarillo and El Dorado)

I've brewed a lot of hoppy beers; specifically, a lot of different types of IPAs. From your standard American IPA, to English and Imperial, and then onto a lot of the newer sub-styles like Brown, Red, Session, and of course the increasingly-popular 100% Brett IPA. I've also tried to experiment a little, such as with a Belgian Session IPA, a Belgian Red IPA, and a Session Red IPA. With IPAs, you're not limited by much!

However, despite being brewed by more commercial breweries these days, there's one IPA sub-style that I personally haven't brewed before: White IPA. Sharing the characteristics of a Belgian Witbier (light, spicy and fruity - from Witbier yeast and/or additions of orange peel and coriander) and an American IPA (lots of hop aromas and flavors, and a high bitterness in the finish), it's one of those styles that can come across as really tasty, or a bit of a mess. For me, timing was the main incentive here; I brewed a Witbier in early June and figured: why not save some slurry and knock off a White IPA while I'm at it? Witbiers are great for summer-drinking, and White IPAs aren't any different... when they're brewed well, of course.

I've had some White IPAs that I thought were really tasty, where they managed to include the spiciness of the coriander and yeast characteristics, and plenty of citrusy, fruity hop flavors... and have them work well together. Others have been fair to poor, where the beer came across as simply a Witbier, or just a lighter-colored IPA. And some are just plain-old mislabelled, where the bottle/menu basically indicates that the beer is an American IPA that has wheat in the grist.

For my recipe, I took the grist for the Witbier I brewed beforehand (I haven't posted on that beer yet, mainly because I split the batch and pitched Brett Amalgamation from Yeast Bay, along with the Witbier yeast, in half of the wort, which I'll be hopefully bottling soon) and scaled it up to a higher OG (1.061). It's nothing unusual for a Witbier grist: 50% Pilsner and 40% Flaked Wheat make up the majority, with some Flaked Oats and a bit of Acid malt (to lower mash pH) topping it off. I aimed for a mash of 153 F, hoping to get a medium-bodied mouthfeel. Yes, you want the beer to be refreshing, but a too-thin White IPA can really distract from any other positives, in my experience.

When selecting the hops, I immediately decided to limit myself to two varieties. I was already leaning strongly towards using some newer varieties that I had only begun to experiment with, and I was worried that if I threw in too many types, I'd be increasing the chance that they would ultimately clash with the Witbier yeast. Belgian yeasts generally are so expressive, with plenty of phenols, esters, etc. that it puts their beers at a higher likelihood of not melding well with certain hops/hop combos. I had some El Dorado left over from a previous one-hop Session IPA I had brewed; I really liked the idea of using that one, because I get a lot of orange-candy from that hop that I thought would work well in a White IPA. For the second variety, I ALMOST went with Azacca; I've really liked this hop in the few beers I've used it in. At the last minute, however, I changed over to Amarillo. Not really sure why; I think I started worrying that the Azacca would overpower the El Dorado... and who doesn't love Amarillo, really? It's so versatile, and works with so many other varieties. So, I ultimately decided on a flavor addition of Amarillo at 10 minutes, a steep/hop stand of Amarillo and El Dorado, and a fairly-hefty dry-hop addition of El Dorado alone, to try to bring out the orange character. I didn't hop this as strongly as I typically would an IPA - while the beer is meant to be hoppy, you don't want the hops overpowering the Witbier characteristics. It's important to find a balance, and with this being my first attempt, I wanted to err on the side of caution (hopefully).

For the other additions, I used some freshly-ground coriander seed (14 g) at flameout. The later in the boil you add spices, of course, the more of the aroma characteristics you'll keep in the beer. Now, with a 10-minute steep, that's probably equivalent to actually adding the coriander back at the 5-10 minute mark, which some may consider a bit too early. In hindsight, perhaps I would have been better off adding it sometime during the steep, but I wasn't too worried. I didn't end up adding any citrus peel at flameout, for two reasons: 1) I forgot to buy fruit, and I didn't have any of the dried orange peel on hand, and 2) I figured with the hops being added, there'd be sufficient fruitiness in the beer, anyway. Especially considering how orangey El Dorado is (really, you've got to try it).

When I was deciding on the yeast strain for my Witbier, I decided to try one that was new to me: Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier. I've used the Forbidden Fruit strain before, and enjoyed it, but I was curious to go with something different, see if there was a big difference. Belgian Witbier is described as being heavier on spicy phenolics as opposed to fruity esters. Now, knowing this, I'm not really sure why I ultimately chose this strain, because I prefer a more-fruity Witbier, as opposed to spicy... or at least, one that is balanced. Anyway, I ordered it on a whim, so there you go.

This beer was already brewed and fermenting when I had finally kegged and started drinking my Witbier. I was worried; the Witbier was not great at all. I had missed my OG by several points, and the FG came in higher as well, so the Witbier was only at 3.5% ABV. But of course that wasn't really the problem... there was something... "off" about it. I can't quite put my finger on it; it didn't taste infected, it just had this weird flavor to it. One fellow beer geek referred to it as "Asian noodles". I dunno about that, but he may be closer in describing it than anyone else! Hopefully the Brett half of that beer turns out better.

With the White IPA, at least the brew day seemed to go well. I did a better job of hitting my OG (right on target), and there weren't any problems that I could see. The hops smelled great out of the bag, even though they're definitely a bit past their prime, age-wise. Fermentation temps got a bit higher over the next couple of days than I would have liked, but never seemed to go above 72 F. I DID have a very active fermentation, however - the airlock blew off about 24-30 hours after pitching, and I wasn't able to put it back in until a day or so later. Dry hops were added a week and a half after brew day, and the beer was kegged 5 days after that.

The beer was ready by early July, which was perfect timing for summer drinking. Luckily, it turned out much better than the Witbier had; I never would have guessed that both beers had the same grist and yeast strain. As a White IPA, it hits most of the major points I would want to see for the style: lots of fruitiness from the hops, some spicy phenols from the yeast (but luckily, not too many at all), and the coriander comes through just enough to let you know it's there. The one area where it falls short is the bitterness; for this type of beer, it should definitely be higher. I'd say it's at medium, when it should be high, if you're following the BJCP guidelines. That's really due to an error on my part; I had changed from Azacca to Amarillo at the last minute, and forgot that the AA% for my Amarillo hops was much lower than the Azacca. Instead of the IBUs coming in at around 50 as planned, it's probably closer to 35-40. Style comparison aside, I'm not really upset that the bitterness came in a bit low.

So, yeah. Came out pretty well, especially for a first attempt. The hops really worked well in this beer, especially the El Dorado dry hop. I didn't find I was missing the lack of a orange peel addition at all; the beer is plenty "orange-y" thanks to the El Dorado. It's also held up really nicely; we're into September now, and the keg is about empty, but there's still lots of juicy hop character in the beer. Amarillo and El Dorado aren't the easiest varieties to find, but if you can, I encourage you to give this one a try!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 68% efficiency) OG 1.061, FG ~1.015, IBU ~37, SRM 4, ABV ~6%

3.1 kg (49.4%) Pilsner
2.5 kg (39.8%) Flaked Wheat
350 g (5.6%) Flaked Oats
200 g (3.2%) Acid malt
125 g (2%) Rice hulls

Hop extract - 2.5 mL @ 60 min (or 14 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Amarillo - 28 g (7.8% AA) @ 10 min

Amarillo - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
El Dorado - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)

El Dorado - 84 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min, 14 g Coriander seed (freshly ground) at 0 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier (slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 2 g Gypsum and 6 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 16th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in slightly above target at 154 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.25 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG a bit high at 1.048 (target 1.046). 90-minute boil. Final volume high at ~5.75 gallons; OG on target at 1.061. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fast and very active fermentation by the next morning. By that evening, the airlock had blown off, so I replaced with sanitized foil for 24 hours or so, before I was able to replace the airlock. After a couple more days, activity had slowed down to a trickle. Max temp of 72 F reached.

- 25/6/15 - FG 1.015. Dry hops added to primary.

- 1/7/15 - Racked to CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to cool overnight, started carbing the next day.

Appearance: Pours with a white, thick head; very nice retention, eventually fades to 1/2-finger and stays there. Body is a pale golden color, with the expected cloudiness.

Aroma: Quite fruity; it's hard to tell how much is from the hops, and how much from the yeast. I suspect it's a combination of the two. Some background spiciness as well, but the esters/hops win out. I get a bit of coriander in there, but not a lot.

Taste: Nice wheat-based malt backbone, followed by plenty of fruitiness. Definitely a good amount of hop flavor in there, probably more so than fruity esters from the yeast strain. Some spicy phenolics (clove, mainly) come through afterwards. Medium-low bitterness in the finish, should be higher.

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

Overall: I enjoy this beer; I like the Witbier characteristics, and I really like how El Dorado and Amarillo work together. I think it could use a bit more Witbier bump (read: slightly more phenolics and coriander), but otherwise it's about what I was aiming for. More bitterness would up it a notch, however.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Brewing a Summer One-Hop Session IPA

Several months ago, when I was putting together my next bunch of brew days for my six week build-up towards summer inventory, adding a new one-hop Session IPA to the list was basically a no-brainer. I had really enjoyed all three of my former attempts (featuring Mosaic, El Dorado, and Equinox varieties), with the most-recent batch featuring Equinox being the definite winner of the bunch. With this beer, I wasn't simply extremely impressed by Equinox (which I definitely was!), I also felt like I had dialled in an overall recipe I was happy with for a hoppy and sessionable IPA.

But with my fourth Session IPA scheduled, which hop should be featured this time? I still had quite a few varieties on hand, and after a bit of thought, I decided to focus on yet another one that I hadn't used before. While hop characteristics definitely change when they're blended with other varieties, I always enjoy these one-hop experiments; I feel they really help give me a basic understanding of what one variety is all about. And if you can use this "research" to get a better idea on how to use the hop in future beers, with other varieties, even better!

One of the few varieties I had on hand that I hadn't used yet was Summer. A dual-purpose, low alpha-acid Australian hop, it appears to have been around since the late 1990s, although I get the impression that it's really only started seeing higher usage in North America over the last few years. I bought half a pound on a whim a few months ago and wasn't really sure what to do with it. While the descriptions you see online sound appealing - citrus, melon, apricot - it seemed upon further reading that this was more of a "mellow" variety. Nothing wrong with that in the right circumstances, but after brewing so many hoppy beers with prominent hops such as Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra, Galaxy, Mosaic, etc., I didn't want to combine it in a beer with other varieties that could simply over-power it. With the summer season fitfully approaching, at the time it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try the hop out: in a single-hop Session IPA that would - hopefully - let its characteristics become prevalent.

The recipe was extremely easy, since I took basically the exact same recipe for my most-recent Session IPA - Equinox - and simply scaled it up to 5.5 gallons and substituted in Summer. As mentioned above, I've been happy with the grist for this recipe. Keeping in a good majority of specialty malts, while not overdoing it with Crystal, keeps the body from being too thin, while at the same time avoiding too much sweetness. I increased the mash temp a little more this time to 156 F to boost the body even more; I had aimed to do this with my last Session IPA, but still only managed to hit 153 F, then.

Although the AA% is much lower for Summer than Equinox, I didn't change the quantities at all in this go-around; the bittering addition is with hop extract, and I was ok with the rest of the bitterness coming in a bit lower. While it's not exactly a hop monster, 6 oz in a 1.048 beer is a pretty healthy amount, in my opinion. I've had excellent results with these quantities, so I assumed that since these hops were fresh, 6 oz would be more than enough to provide a hoppy beer.

The brew day went fine; the mash temp came in on target, and the OG just slightly higher than what I had aimed for, at 1.049. I aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched some rehydrated US-05, and let fermentation go at room temperature, since it still wasn't very hot out (what a crappy June). Once fermentation was complete, I waited a few more days and then tossed the dry hops into the primary fermentor. Five days or so later, I racked the beer to a keg and started carbing.

Well. The first pull from the tap was quite disappointing. And subsequent pulls. This isn't a bad beer, per se, but I don't consider it to be a great Session IPA, by any means. The problem? It's really not that hoppy. I get a little citrus in the aroma, and maybe even less than that in the taste. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was a Blonde Ale that had been hopped slightly more than usual for the style.

I knew going into this that Summer was supposed to be subtle, but I think I was still expecting more. I don't mean to bad mouth it, I just wanted it to... come out a little more. Unless I got a bad batch from a bad crop, I feel like if you used this hop with something stronger, that it would just be steamrolled over and there wouldn't have even been a point in using it. That being said, I know lots of commercial breweries feature Summer in some really great beers; I'm thinking specifically of Whirlpool from Night Shift Brewing. This is one excellent APA (one of the best I've ever had), and apparently it is hopped with Mosaic and Summer. I'm not sure if that's equal amounts of each, but obviously these guys are putting it to good use. So, maybe it's me? Maybe this particular recipe doesn't work well with Summer... perhaps less specialty malts? If I used it again, I think I'd try it in an APA or even a lower-ABV IPA. Bump up the gravity, cut back on the Munich and Crystal, lower the mash temp a few degrees. I likely won't be rushing out to buy it again, though; I've already got a lot of other varieties that I love brewing with. Another thing about Summer - it ain't cheap.

In the meantime, I have an easy-drinking beer for the rest of the season, that is just a bit underhopped for the style. If you've had similar - or completely different - results with Summer, please post in the comments! I'm really interested to hear if this is an isolated incident.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.013, IBU ~35, SRM 6.3, ABV ~4.6%

2.9 kg (70.8%) Canadian 2-row
450 g (11%) Munich
450 g (11%) Wheat malt
225 g (5.5%) Crystal 40 L
70 g (1.7%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 2.5 mL @ 60 min (or 14 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Summer - 28 g (5.5% AA) @ 10 min
Summer - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Summer - 84 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

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

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 9th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 12 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 156 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 4.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG high at 1.042 (target 1.039). 60-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit high at 1.049. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Good fermentation over the next few days, airlock bubbling strong by the first morning. Temp reached as high as 70 F.

- 15/6/15 - Added dry hops into primary fermentor.

- 21/6/15 - Racked to CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to chill down. Started carbing the next morning.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white fluffy head that shows surprisingly good retention. Body is a burnished gold color, with very good clarity.

Aroma: Biscuity, bready malt, about evenly-balanced with a mild, citrusy hop presence. I suppose the apricot I read about is there... but I don't think I would have picked up on it if I wasn't already looking for it.

Taste: Ditto for the taste of this beer; the malt character is quite pleasant, but the hop flavors are far too low, in my opinion. Medium-low bitterness in the fairly dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: A tasty beer, but not what I would consider a strong Session IPA; more of a slightly-hoppy Blonde Ale. Maybe I should have used more hops here, but I really don't think that would have changed much. If brewed again, I'd change the recipe's grist a little, make it a bit drier, but I've found this grist works very well for other varieties.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Brewing a 100%-Brett IPA (with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc)

Despite my severe lack of posting lately, I was actually brewing quite a bit before summer began. Starting with my recently-posted Alpine Nelson clone, I brewed six times in six weeks. This may not seem like quite a feat for some of you out there (you know who you are), but for me to pull this off with the everyday-busyness of work, family, etc., I was impressed! I had planned this a few months ago, but wasn't too hopeful that I could make it work, let alone keep to my schedule, but somehow, I did. The choice to brew so much wasn't due to any particular reason, other than that I don't usually brew during July and August, other than once or twice - I'm often away when not working, and with much-warmer temperatures (and my fermentation chamber now acting as a keezer), it's more practical to brew during the rest of the year.

So, it was time to build up some inventory while I had the chance. As always, I had lots of ideas of beers to brew, but there was one "style" in particular that I had been wanting to tackle for awhile, but hadn't: Brett IPA. Not officially a style, per se, this type of beer is exactly what you would expect, an American IPA that is fermented completely with the "wild" yeast, Brettanomyces. Brett continues to increase in popularity in the brewing world, both in commercial breweries and among home brewers. I've had a few commercial versions of Brett IPA over the past year or two, but I've been doing more reading than drinking on the subject, when it comes right down to it. There's an entire chapter of Mike Tonsmeire's American Sour Beer dedicated to 100% Brett fermentations; the whole book is a great read, but this chapter in particular is very informative.

Something interesting about 100% Brett fermentations - despite what you'd first think, there's less funky character in a beer fermented completely with Brett, compared to when it's used alongside Saccharomyces strains. Because the Brett has access to all of the simple sugars available (no competition with other yeast strains), it doesn't ferment as many of the long-chain carbohydrates. Combine that with a large, healthy pitch of Brett, and there you have it: less of the esters and phenols you expect from a Brett beer.

On the bright side, the beer should be ready to package after several weeks, as opposed to the usual period of months that you see when Brett is used with other yeast. And when it comes specifically to IPAs and other hoppy beers, Brett is a good candidate for a 100%-fermentation, thanks to its well-known oxygen-scavenging abilities - technically, the hop character of the beer should last longer, since oxidation is minimized. And Brett IPAs can be damn tasty - the well-brewed ones have a wonderful blend of tropical fruit (especially pineapple), citrus, and barnyard funk. And while it's repeated quite often lately, I still feel the urge to make clear that Brett beers generally are NOT sour... Lactobacillus and Pediococcus (both bacteria) are responsible for souring in most beers.

So, recently I had to make an online order for some homebrew equipment, and when browsing through their inventory to see if I could get my order high enough for free shipping, I noticed that there were some new yeast strains available, including several Brett strains from The Yeast Bay. The one that interested me the most was their Amalgamation, a "Brett Super Blend" featuring no less than SIX different strains of Brettanomyces, which combine to create a "dry beer with a bright and complex fruit-forward flavor and aroma, accompanied by some funk on the palate". It sounded perfect to me for a Brett IPA, so I quickly ordered a vial.

When it arrived in the mail, it was time to begin making a starter to build up the cell count. As stated on their website, Yeast Bay's Brett vials contain only about 2 billion cells each; recommendations for how many cells to use in a 100%-Brett beer vary from normal ale pitching rates, to hybrid rates, to lager rates. I weighed the opinions and decided to go with ale pitching rates, which for a 1.057 beer is about 200 billion cells; so, I obviously had my work cut out for me! I also decided to overbuild and double the count to 400 billion cells, so that I could save some clean slurry for future batches.

Luckily for me, I recently obtained a stir plate... finally. No, I don't know why it took me so long; I'm usually pretty strict when it comes to yeast health, wort aeration, sanitation, etc. but for some reason all of my yeast starters over the past several years consisted of intermittent shaking. But this was a great time to finally step things up. According to Tonsmeire, a Brett starter should begin with a low volume of wort, so I pitched the vial into 500 mL and let it go on the stir plate for a week. This is a lot longer than your typical 1-2 days for Saccharomyces starters, and I'm not 100% sure that it's necessary, but Tonsmeire mentions that maximum cell density should be reached "in about a week", so I deferred to him. After the first week, I added another 2.25 L of wort, waited another week, then chilled and decanted.

With a healthy number of cells built up, it was now time to hammer out a simple recipe. A friend had recently brewed the recipe for Tonsmeire's 100% Brett Trois IPA, and I liked the simplicity of the grain bill for that beer, so I followed it almost exactly. It consists of a majority of 2-row, along with a healthy amount of Wheat malt (~20%); lots of IPA recipes contain a bit of Wheat malt in the grist, but this is higher than normal. The reasoning makes sense: unlike Saccharomyces, most (all?) Brettanomyces strains do not produce glycerol, a compound which increases the body and mouthfeel of a beer. Therefore, the idea is that adding Wheat malt, flaked wheat, and/or flaked oats to the grist will help boost the mouthfeel so that the resulting beer doesn't come across as too thin or watery. In this recipe, a bit of Carapils for more mouthfeel, and some Acid malt to lower mash pH round off the grist. I aimed for an OG of 1.057 - definitely not very high for an IPA, but with the possible high attenuation of Brettanomyces, I wanted to make sure the ABV didn't come out TOO high. The grains were mashed at 153 F; with the likely absence of glycerol, this higher-than-normal mash temp for an IPA (for me, anyway) was another attempt to help boost the body of the beer.

When it came to the hopping, I had - as usual - plenty of options to work with. I wanted to keep it fairly simple, with 2-3 varieties, tops. Looking at my inventory, I realized I still had some Amarillo to use up from an older harvest; luckily, I had used it fairly recently and knew that it was still smelling and tasting great. So, I decided to bitter the beer with a little hop extract at the beginning of the boil, and then throw in 2.5 oz of Amarillo for a hop steep at flameout, and another 2.5 oz after turning on the chiller. For the dry-hop, I was originally going to use Equinox (I've only used Equinox once, in a one-hop Session IPA, and I loved it), but at the last minute I changed to Hallertau Blanc. I bought a pound of this variety on a whim a couple of months ago; described as having aromas of passionfruit, grapefruit, pineapple, and lemongrass, it's a new German variety that shows they're starting to experiment with hop varieties that mimic the extremely fruity American varieties that are so popular today. Sounded like it would work great in a Brett IPA - and with Amarillo - so I threw in 4 oz for the dry-hop addition.

I brewed the beer in mid-May; everything went fine on brew day, and I aerated the wort with 75 seconds of pure O2. I was aware that higher oxygenation could also limit Brett character in a beer, but I was looking for a fast turnaround to preserve the hop flavor, so I was willing to take that risk. The wort was fermented in the low 70s F. As you would expect, warmer temps will result in more of the classic Brett characteristics you expect to see, but then you also run the risk of the beer having more off-flavors. I erred on the side of caution, pitching the yeast in the mid-60s and letting the temp rise to 70-72 F.

Fermentation was fast and healthy; I took a couple of gravity readings a few days apart after 2 weeks, and it seemed to have stabilized at 1.014. This was higher than expected based on the 85%+ attenuation for the Amalgamation that is stated on the Yeast Bay website; however, it appeared to be in the normal range when I compared to other homebrewed and commercially brewed Brett IPAs, so I was happy with that number. I then added the dry-hops into primary, and bottled the beer 5 days later. This is normally a beer I would keg, but I was curious as to how the aromas and flavors would change over a few months (assuming the Brett character would increase as the hops faded), and bottling was the best option for me, what with limited keezer space and all. A note about bottling 100% Brett beers: basically, use the same sugar calculations that you would for non-Brett beers, and just keep in mind that it may take a little longer than normal for full carbonation to be reached. Yes, I was slightly concerned about bottle bombs in a Brett beer with a final gravity of only 1.014, but I aimed for 2.2 vol CO2, and have been drinking it for 6 weeks now, and all seems good.

Speaking of drinking... this beer came out almost exactly as I was hoping it would, which is rare. As mentioned, I've never brewed with Hallertau Blanc before, and maybe I got lucky pairing it with Amarillo, but the fruitiness to this beer - especially in the first few weeks - was fantastic. Very tropical, backed up by a mild funk/barnyard that has been slowly becoming more prominent, as expected, as the beer ages. I find the beer very hoppy, while some people who have tried it don't find it very hoppy at all; they still enjoy it, but they've said that it's the funk that comes through most. And at least one beer friend thought that the beer could use a little more bitterness, but personally I'm happy with it right where it is. More detail in the tasting notes below, but I would easily brew this beer again, and I'm looking forward to trying the same recipe with different hop varieties in the not-too-distant future.

Not much more to say here; I fully recommend this Brett blend if you can get your hands on it, and it seems that Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc are a fantastic combination! Watch for future posts featuring this blend in the near future; I plan to do some experimenting with both 100%-Brett beers, and combinations.
Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.057, FG ~1.010, IBU ~45, 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)

Amarillo - 70 g (7.8% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Amarillo - 70 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)

Hallertau Blanc - 112 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Yeast Bay Brett Amalgamation (500 mL starter, then 2.25 L starter, decanted)

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

- Brewed on May 19th, 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 1.049. 60-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit high at 1.058. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched half of yeast starter (~200 billion cells) at 66 F.

- Fermentation going strong by about 24 hours after pitching, kept up for several days before starting to slow. Temperature never got above 70 F.

- 2/6/15 - Added dry hops into primary.

- 9/6/15 - FG of 1.014. Bottled with table sugar to 2.2 vol CO2.

Appearance: Pours with a stark-white, medium-sized head that shows pretty good retention; fades eventually to 1/2-finger. Body is a light-golden color (lighter than the picture appears), with a permanent haziness.

Aroma: Huge wallop on the nose, lots of pineapple, tropical fruit, citrus, with a fair amount of barnyard funk. It all pairs together really well, IMO.

Taste: Again, huge; this is not a mild beer, but it works! As in the aroma, plenty of tropical flavors and funk, with a medium-light bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: No worries about the likely lack of glycerol... this is a medium-bodied beer, quite creamy, with moderate carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: I really love this beer; it's almost exactly what I was hoping it would be when I put the recipe together. I'll likely brew it again with different hops, but I wouldn't be surprised if I come back to this exact recipe at some point again.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Brewing an Alpine Nelson clone

Alpine Beer Company's Nelson - a "Golden Rye IPA" featuring that amazing and delicious New Zealand hop variety, Nelson Sauvin - has always been on my wishlist of beers to try. I've had a few Alpine beers, and they were all excellent (especially Duet, an IPA which I've attempted to clone not once, but twice), and I've always heard rave reviews on Nelson, so of course I'd want to experience drinking an IPA featuring my favorite hop, from a highly-respected brewery. This is looking more likely now that Green Flash has purchased Alpine; during my two recent trips to Alpine, before the buy-out, I didn't happen upon Nelson anywhere. Now, I notice that Alpine beers are starting to pop up on tap at a lot of beer bars outside of California, such as many in Vermont; hopefully it's only a matter of time before we start seeing them in Maine.

In the meantime (and hey, it's not like I live in Maine anyway), there's only one way for me to try to experience Nelson... clone it! Or do what I always do, try to brew a close approximation of it. I was pretty lucky with my Duet clone; while Alpine's founder, Pat McIlhenney, didn't give me a recipe for Duet, he was nice enough to give me some tips as to the grain bill (the hop schedule was kind of easy, since it's well-known to be equal amounts of Amarillo and Simcoe). Soon after, I got the impression that I was really lucky to get any information at all; apparently Pat has a reputation for being quite secretive when it comes to specific details on his beers. I've been interested in brewing a clone of Nelson ever since then, but I didn't bother contacting Pat again... I didn't really want to push my luck!

Well, about four months ago I happened to stumble upon a Reddit post, "Who Needs Alpine When You Can Brew Nelson Yourself?", which included an extremely detailed recipe for, supposedly, a Nelson clone. I was skeptical... this recipe had exact amounts for the malts, and amounts and times for the hop additions. The author claimed that years ago, the recipe had been "coaxed out of Pat by some [Alpine] locals", and that it was supposed to be a very reliable recipe, when compared side-by-side to the real thing. Hey, that was good enough for me! Even if it wasn't Nelson (and I'd never know, anyway), I wanted to try this recipe. I really liked the look of it, and the large addition of Acid malt sure seemed to match up with what Pat mentioned in his Duet recipe (they use the Acid malt for, of course, mash pH adjustment purposes).

Looking over the recipe further, I admit I was quite shocked by how minimal the hop additions seemed. Nelson is hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross (another NZ variety), but this recipe wasn't calling for a hell of a whole lot. Sure, the dry-hop addition is pretty hefty, but from the beginning of the boil till the dry-hop, there's only about 2.25 oz added. That's not a lot, especially compared to a lot of other recipes I've brewed. But, as I've pondered before on this blog, maybe more isn't necessarily better, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and trust the recipe, as-is.

The grist isn't quite as simple as a lot of IPAs out there. It's made up of a majority of 2-row, but there's also some Maris Otter in there. A healthy proportion of Rye malt is featured (it IS a "Golden Rye IPA", after all), plus some Cara-pils and Acid malt (depending on your water profile, you may want to decrease the amount of Acid malt included in the grist). I also threw in a small amount of rice hulls, just as a precaution against a stuck sparge. As expected, the mash temperature is fairly low, at 150 F; the Alpine hoppy beers I had were perfectly dry and let the hops do their thing, just as they should.

As I mentioned for the hopping, it's pretty low, at least in terms of kettle additions. A FWH addition of Southern Cross, a bit of Nelson at 30 minutes (I haven't done a 30-min addition in a while), a bit more Southern Cross at 15, and then 1.25 oz between the two at 5 minutes. No flameout-additions, so no hop stands/whirlpools. As you can imagine, the IBUs for this beer are pretty low - 45 - for an IPA of 7.5% ABV. But that's on a homebrew system; that's with 5 gallons of wort that takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes to chill down to pitching temps. I assume on a commercial system, the hops are actually in contact with hot wort for longer, and therefore the IBUs would be higher? Either way, I resisted temptation to add more hops, and just went with the original recipe. But it wasn't easy! The beer then has a single dry-hop of both varieties; maybe not the biggest I've seen, but at over 4 oz, it's definitely enough to pack a wallop (especially considering one of the varieties is Nelson, which is one hell of an expressive hop).

A few words on Southern Cross - like I mentioned, it's a New Zealand variety; I've never brewed with it before now, but I've heard/read good things. According to Bear-Flavored's Hop Cheet Sheet, its characteristics are listed as "lemon, lime, pine"; other sources state the same, and it appears to be a variety that has been around for awhile (since 1994). I was lucky enough to grab a pound of it online, solely for the purpose of brewing this beer.

Ferment in the high 60s F with California Ale yeast (or in my case, my usual substitution of US-05), and there you have it. The directions note to transfer to secondary before dry-hopping, and "rouse twice in 2 weeks", but I'm sticking to my usual dry-hopping method of 5-7 days. I also didn't bother racking from the fermentor to my dry-hop keg, since I planned on dry-hopping early, and with one addition, I have good results just throwing the pellets into primary. The only real difference with my recipe is the small addition of some CaCl2 and Gypsum, as usual, to boost the calcium levels. Together with the fairly-large addition of Acid malt, my projected mash pH came in at 5.3.

The brew day went off without a hitch; I followed the instructions in the recipe for a 90-minute boil, even though for a beer like this, I'd normally stick with my usual 60 minutes. Fermentation was fairly quick, visible activity not really lasting any longer than my typical 4-5 days when using US-05. After 10 days or so, I threw the dry-hop addition into primary, and after 5 days racked the beer into a keg and started carbing.

Well, turns out there was no need to be skeptical about this recipe... the beer came out delicious! It's definitely got low bitterness for an IPA, but that never really bothers me. There's enough to balance the malt character nicely; speaking of which, I love how this beer is just bready enough to show it's not ALL hops, and the rye gives a bit of a nudge to your tastebuds, too. The aroma is quite nice; I really like how the Nelson and Southern Cross work together. Nelson is usually so distinct with its tropical berry, white wine character, but the Southern Cross does an excellent job of rounding out the fruitiness, while adding its own lemon-lime character to the beer. Overall, this is an easy-drinking IPA (I've been drinking this beer for weeks now; in fact, the keg is about to kick, and it's held on amazingly well).

I just came back from a trip to Vermont, and while I drank copious amounts of Hill Farmstead and Lawson's, among others, I didn't see any Alpine in my travels. However, a friend who HAS had Nelson tried this clone, and while admitting that the bitterness was lower, thought that it tasted and smelled quite similar, from what he could remember. Either way, the recipe made a really tasty IPA, so if you can get your hands on both hop varieties, I'd recommend giving this one a try!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.069, FG ~1.013, IBU ~45, SRM 5.8, ABV ~7.3%

4.2 kg (60.4%) Canadian 2-row
1.2 kg (17.3%) Rye malt
800 g (11.5%) Maris Otter
400 g (5.8%) Cara-Pils
250 g (3.6%) Acid malt
100 g (1.4%) Rice hulls

Southern Cross - 10 g (14.1% AA) FWH

Nelson Sauvin - 7 g (12% AA) @ 30 min
Southern Cross - 10 g @ 15 min
Nelson Sauvin - 21 g @ 5 min
Southern Cross - 14 g @ 5 min

Nelson Sauvin - 72 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Southern Cross - 58 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 & 1/2 packs, rehydrated)

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

- Brewed on May 6th, 2015, by myself. 60-minute mash with 19 L of strike water, mashed in at 150.5 F (target 150 F). Sparged with ~5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG 1.054. 90-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit low at 1.067. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation going strong by about 24 hours after pitching, kept up for several days before starting to slow. Temperature never got above 70 F.

- 20/5/15 - FG 1.011; added dry hops into primary.

- 26/5/15 - Racked beer to CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to bring temp down before starting to carb the next day.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head that has pretty good retention. Body is light-golden coloured with great clarity.

Aroma: Big fruity blast on the nose; lots of tropical aromas in there, with a bit of rye in the background. No flaws that I can find.

Taste: Ditto, ton of tropical fruit, bit of rye spice in there, all finishing quite dry with a moderate bitterness in the finish that lingers slightly. In a word: juicy.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: Great beer; nothing to compare it to, unfortunately, but I'm loving the juicy, fruity flavours and aroma in this one.