Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Tasting : Saizacca (Oxbow Grizacca clone)

I'm writing this post while the pain is still fresh in my heart.

Let me say that I really loved how this beer, my clone attempt of Grizacca from Oxbow in Maine, came out. That's correct, I'm using the word "love" in the past tense, even though the beer has only been kegged and carbonated for a few weeks at the most. When I started drinking it, I was quite impressed with what Azacca brought to the beer. Sure, I threw in a bit of Simcoe, too, but I could tell this was something I hadn't had before. I wish I was better at describing different fruity characteristics... but I'm not. It just had a very over-ripe fruit aroma to it (but not in a bad way), that followed in the flavor; a friend insisted it reminded him strongly of clementines. Combined with the Saison yeast fruity/spicy flavors and aromas, it was a really interesting combination.

I even took a trip to Portland last weekend, and went to Oxbow's new "Blending and Bottling tasting room". Very cool spot; something like 6-7 of their beers on tap, lots of swag for sale, a couple of bottles, growlers, etc. Very large warehouse-like area that had the tasting room on one side (picnic benches and a bar, basically), and a whole lot of barrels on the other. There was also some brewing equipment over there as well...? Not sure what they have planned for the future. We were able to try several new Oxbow beers (to me) on tap, and I of course had Grizacca again. I thought it tasted quite similar to my clone, but theirs was definitely smoother and more-refined, I'd say. I had bottled some of my clone before the trip to drop off for owner/brewer Tim Adams, at his request. I'll be interested to see what he has to say about it. (UPDATE ALREADY: He said he and some other employees really enjoyed it...)

SO. When I got home, I checked on my keezer and hooked up the beer line for my Brown IPA that I had brewed and started carbonating. I tested it out, and that was that. The next afternoon, I decided to go down and pour myself a Saizacca. The towel on the floor, beneath the taps (a temporary drip-tray, I guess) was sopping wet. It was not like this the night before. When I opened the keezer, there was a good inch of beer on the bottom. Crap. Crap. CRAP. I don't know how I knew, but I pulled the Saizacca tap, and only CO2 came out (with a bit of beer left in the line).

Some slight cursing may have followed.

You know what's REALLY frustrating about all this? It's not just that there was still more than half the batch left (I had only poured/sampled it seven times myself), it's not only that I really liked this beer (more than the other 2-3 beers on tap at the time), it's that I still have no idea exactly what happened. I tested the keg for leaks, it's fine. I filled it with hot water and ran it through the same line, the same tap, the same QD, everything shortly after... and there was no leak. And I hadn't opened that tap before the leak began, either. One homebrewer suggested that when I hooked up the beer QD to the Brown IPA, maybe something jostled against the Saizacca beer QD, and it started a slow leak? I dunno, maybe; that's as good an explanation as any, other than there's an evil beer fairy who hates me.

Therefore, please excuse the lack of a photo of the beer in this post (the first time I've done that). Instead, I'm including a couple of not-fantastic-quality pics from our visit to the Oxbow tasting room in Portland. Luckily, I DO have my tasting notes on the beer. And also-luckily, I picked up a pound of 2014 Azacca hops on the trip, that I had ordered a few weeks ago. Maybe this is a sign?

Oh, and don't ever let anyone tell you that kegging is always better than bottling.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, white fluffy head that shows some good retention. The body is a pale yellow color, and quite hazy.

Aroma: Huge ripe (over-ripe?) fruit aroma... really nice. Very up-front. A few more sniffs shows a bit of Belgian phenolic character coming through; very familiar to me after using this yeast many times.

Taste: Again with the ripe fruit. There's a lot going on here, I'm just not eloquent enough to say exactly what it all is; but there's lots of citrus and tropical fruit. Kind of reminds me of Nelson Sauvin, but it becomes clear after many sips that it's set apart from Nelson. Finishes with a moderate bitterness; perhaps a bit too much, and definitely more than the commercial beer has.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: It was a very nice beer. If I brewed it again, I'd cut back on the IBUs for sure. Definitely gives me a very good idea of what Azacca brings to the table; I'd like to use it in a beer with a more-neutral yeast, maybe an APA or IPA. I think it would pair nicely with other hops, as well.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Tasting : Galaxy DIPA

When I originally posted about this beer, a DIPA brewed entirely with Galaxy hops, I mentioned that Galaxy was "well known for making an almost-overwhelmingly fruity beer". By "well known", I was referring to tasting notes from other homebrewers who had experimented with the hop, not to mention the many descriptions noting just that from hop suppliers online. I hadn't brewed with Galaxy before, so I was really looking forward to an immensely-hoppy, fruity beer.

Unfortunately, I'm a little disappointed in how this beer came out. I don't find that I'm slapped in the face with fruity hoppy goodness. Maybe my hopes were too high, but like I said, I've read so much about how great the Galaxy hop is, and I know I've had some great commercial beers featuring Galaxy. I'm a bit confused how this happened. The hops I had were from the 2013 (the most recently-available at the time) harvest - no, not new, but not that old, and they had been vacuum-sealed and stored in the freezer the whole time. I used a 1/2-lb for a 4 gallon batch (that's the equivalent of ~3/4 lb for a 6-gallon batch of homebrew, the usual batch size, roughly), and all of those hops were added from flameout on (the single bittering addition at the beginning of the boil was hop extract).

So, what gives? Oxidation? I don't really think so - I used the same dry-hop method I've relied on for awhile, now (two additions: one in primary, and one in a weighted-down mesh bag in the keg), and the CO2 environment of the keg would cut down on oxygen issues, not to mention that the beer doesn't have that oxidized-hop aroma/flavor. I'm starting to think that it's just me - am I expecting too much with my beers lately? My wife and friends - fellow beer geeks, naturally - who have tried the beer seem to really like it. One friend in particular seemed to really enjoy it, and he's a BJCP-certified judge, so I trust his opinion and honest criticism.

Did I therefore just waste your time in a confused mini-rant about this beer? Sorry about that. If I could send out samples to everyone who wanted them, I would. It's really not a bad beer; I should have stressed from the beginning that the hops ARE there... I just wanted more from them. I'll admit that after typing this all up, I tried another pint of the beer, and liked it more... maybe I just needed to vent? In the meantime, I've ordered more Galaxy; I'm not scared to try it again. Maybe I'll even pair it with Nelson Sauvin in a beer (similar to the dry-hop of Stone Enjoy By), and/or try it in a Red IPA or something different.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, white, fluffy and sticky head that had very good retention, leaving thick lacing on the glass as the beer lowers. Body is a light golden color, with decent clarity and a bit of haziness.

Aroma: Fruity and citrusy, but not immensely so, as I was expecting. There’s a malt sweetness balancing it out; if anything, I would like to see more hops, and a bit less malt. Just a touch of alcohol in there as well.

Taste: As in the aroma - a good hop presence that’s mostly citrus, with a background of bready malt character. A firm (medium-high) bitterness in the finish, and a bit of warmth from the alcohol level.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: I'm just not crazy about this beer; I like it, but was expecting more from the Galaxy. It's still really decent, though, and mostly quite easy-drinking for a higher-ABV beer.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Brewing a "Kitchen Sink" American IPA

It's inevitable when it comes to homebrewers who love hoppy beers - you will almost always have more hops than you need. I know, at first glance the idea seems completely crazy. But when you start buying one pound at a time of all these new, hot varieties (e.g. Azacca, Galaxy, Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, Falconer's Flight, Belma), while at the same time buying up those tried-and-true varieties that you always want to have on hand (Columbus, Centennial, Citra, Amarillo, Simcoe, etc.)... well, they accumulate quickly.

And now the 2014 harvest is coming out! Trust me, you start to panic a bit, worrying you're going to miss out on Citra, or Mosaic, or whatever. You love these hops, and while you may not have a beer planned in the near future that involves them... what if you DO, eventually? And a lot of those varieties sell-out quickly, and then what are you going to do? Go a whole year without brewing with Nelson Sauvin? Uh-uh, I don't think so.

So, what happens? You start buying less food to store in your freezer, because space is being taken up by hops. However, while proper packaging and storage of hops can definitely extend how long they're good for, aroma and flavor components (not to mention bittering potential) are going to eventually fade over time. I brew a lot of hoppy beers (12 out of this year's first 16 batches had a good amount of hops, the majority of them significantly so), but I can't quite keep up with what's in my freezer. So, I decided to brew a new IPA, trying to make use of leftovers from - I'm ashamed to say - the 2012 harvest.

Before people start firebombing this blog, let me rush to say that these hops have indeed been vacuum-sealed and stored in my freezer, and I've made sure that all of them still look good and smell good. In fact, they smell pretty damned good; I'd never brew with spoiled hops just for the sake of using them up! Right now, brewing a beer like this came at a good time; I actually didn't have a long list of other beers to brew, at least not with yeast I have on hand (I have a couple of Belgian yeasts on special order, but they won't be here for awhile yet), so why not experiment a little?

I guess I should start with the grist. Nothing off the wall, here, I just put something together that would suit - hopefully - what I was looking for... a beer with a complementing malt character, but not a lot of specialty malts, letting the hops stay upfront. Mostly 2-row, some Maris Otter to give a bit more character, some Carapils and Caramunich II, and a portion of Acid malt. Mash at around 150 F to keep the fermentable sugars fairly high. Easy.

Now, the good stuff. Looking through my inventory, I had several varieties of hops from the 2012 harvest (meaning I bought most of them in early 2013, probably). I didn't want to just throw in everything that I had; more hops does not necessarily mean a better beer, and more hop VARIETIES doesn't mean better, either. I've had hops clash in homebrews before, and I've had commercial IPAs that have had so many hop varieties in it that the whole beer came out as a mess. Of course, there are many commercial IPAs available with plenty of different types of hops used in the brew, and they come out great. I guess the important thing is to experiment and try to learn from your mistakes.

So, I settled on four different hop varieties, all used at different parts of the brew for the most part. Just enough Centennial in a first wort hop (FWH) addition to give about 25 IBUs. A large amount of Centennial at 5 minutes and at flameout, for a hop stand; then, some Amarillo after the chiller was turned on and the wort temp dipped below 180 F. Two dry hop additions: one with just Belma, then Belma and Falconer's Flight for the keg-hop. All of this comes to the equivalent of just over a pound of hops for a 5.5-6 gallon batch (I scaled down to 4.5 gallons)... that's quite a lot.

The beer will be fermented with the mostly-neutral US-05, hopefully getting down to the low teens for a final gravity, keeping the beer quite dry. As mentioned, the beer will be kegged; extra-important here, I feel, because in my experience hoppy beers drop off much quicker when bottled. In a beer where the hops are older, I figure this will happen even faster than usual.

All of this is not something I'd jump to recommend. A tasty, hoppy IPA shouldn't really need over a pound of hops for a standard homebrew batch, at least not if the hops are fresh. The APA I brewed with only 4 oz of Simcoe hops (the Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 clone) came out very delicious and very hoppy; a lot of that was probably due to the freshness of the Simcoe. I'm brewing this beer mostly to use up these hops, and as a little experiment to the combination of these varieties. Hopefully the high amounts will help bring out some of their character, but it's possible that even with proper storage that this isn't going to happen. But I currently have a fairly good supply of beer on hand, so I don't mind using a brew day to test this out. These hops are only going to get staler, after all.

Recipe Targets: (4.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.064, FG ~1.012, IBU ~50, SRM 6.5, ABV ~6.9%

3.3 kg (68.3%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (22.8%) Maris Otter
200 g (4.1%) Carapils
150 g (3.1%) Caramunich II 45 L
80 g (1.7%) Acid malt

Centennial - 14 g (8% AA) FWH
Centennial - 60 g @ 5 min

Centennial - 99 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)

Amarillo - 70 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Belma - 56 g dry-hop for 4 days (in primary)

Belma - 50 g dry-hop for 5 days (keg-hop)
Falconer's Flight - 35 g dry-hop for 5 days (keg-hop)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, 1 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 2 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on October 8th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~2.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.049 (target 1.051). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller; second dry hops added shortly after when wort temp dropped below 180 F. Final volume ~4.5 gallons; OG low at 1.061. Chilled to 65 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast.

- Good fermentation activity over the next few days; beer temp got a bit warm, up to 72-74 F. Started slowing after 3-4 days, krausen dropping.

 - 18/10/14 - First dry-hop addition, into primary directly. FG a bit high, 1.015.

- 22/10/14 - Racked into CO2-purged keg (the "dry-hop keg"), added second dry-hops directly into the keg.

- 26/10/14 - Transferred beer to the serving keg after cold-crashing for a day, set in keezer and began carbing.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Brewing an Oxbow Grizacca clone (No. 5 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

It occurred to me a while ago that I hadn't brewed any Maine beer clones lately; my last one was the delicious APA, MO, from Maine Beer Company, back in early January. So, naturally that got the idea in my head to brew another... and I'm telling you, there's a lot of good options. It never ceases to amaze me how many awesome breweries that Maine has. Some obvious beers that would be great to "clone" came to me: Maine Beer Co. Lunch, lots of beers from Allagash, and one of the most highly-sought-after beers in the state, The Substance, a fantastic American IPA from one of Portland's newest breweries, Bissell Brothers.

BUT. I was in Portland for one of my beer trips in June, and I had a lot of fantastic beers there, as always. Maybe my favorite was one from the farmhouse brewery, Oxbow, in Newcastle. The beers coming out of this little brewery are pretty awesome; I attempted a clone of one of their Freestyle series beers, No. 5 (a "Black Wheat Saison"), almost two years ago (my recipe here, along with more info on Oxbow). That was actually my first beer in the Maine Beer Clone series, and I had a lot of help from Oxbow co-founder and head brewer Tim Adams.

Oops, I'm digressing. Anyway, this awesome beer I had from Oxbow was Grizacca. I didn't know anything about the beer at the time, other than it was a ~5% ABV Saison-type beer. It was really delicious, and smelled fantastic. Light and easy-drinking, it was a very pale-colored beer, pretty cloudy. Strong on both Saison yeast character, and hops. Very "ripe" and fruity, I swore to myself that it must be heavily-hopped with Nelson Sauvin. Obviously, I was paying absolutely no attention to the actual NAME of the beer. Now that I know more, I can elaborate. Grizacca is a Grisette, heavily-hopped with Azacca.

First, some info on what a Grisette is/was. Thought to originate in the Hainaut province of Belgium in the late 1800s, Grisette was brewed for miners with the intention of being a dry, refreshing, and sessionable beer, similar to Saisons being brewed for farmers. Indeed, Grisette is very similar to the Saison style... at least, how Saison originally was: a low-alcohol, light-bodied golden ale. With a grist usually made up of a healthy portion of wheat, the beer was only lightly-hopped. According to "Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition", by Phil Markowski, only a single brewery in Belgium markets the name grisette: Brasserie Friart, better known now as Brasserie St. Feuillien

So, Oxbow took a mostly-diminished beer style (although, to be honest, it seems to me that a lot of today's low-alcohol Saisons could be considered Grisettes as well), and made it their own... by hopping the hell out if it with one of the newest, hottest hop varieties out there right now - Azacca. An American variety, I believe the 2013 crop was the first time Azacca was released commercially under that name (previously, it was known as ADHA 483; not quite as catchy). Like a lot of hops, it has many descriptors, including tropical fruit, citrus, pineapple, grapefruit, orchard fruit, and pine, among others. Already, there have been a lot of experiments with single-hopped beers with Azacca (especially among homebrewers; check out those by Derek at Bear-Flavored and Chris at Lewy Brewing).

Due to the generous information I was given for my last Oxbow clone, I decided to try emailing Tim Adams again to see if he'd be willing to help out a bit with a clone for Grizacca. Luckily for me, he was once again quite forthcoming. Here's his email response...

Use some good pils. 1/2 the grist should be a blend of malted wheat and and spelt.  Again, use the good stuff! Shoot for 4.5-5% abv. Blast your whirlpool with Azacca but save some for dry hop!  You might wanna dry hop twice, and you might wanna thow in one more hop varietal ;) Saison yeast of your choice, just make sure it does a good job!  We shoot for about 1.002 final gravity. You want that shit dry!

He was even nice enough to apologize later for being "cryptic" about the second hop variety; totally unnecessary, but still great of him! I felt this was plenty of information to go on, and could at the very least set me on the right track. 

I started by, of course, putting the recipe's grist together. Spelt is an ancient type of wheat that is high in protein (~17%) that is starting to see more use in brewing. I knew right away that I wouldn't be able to find any spelt from my LHBS. However, a friend here in Fredericton is the owner/brewer of a fairly-new Belgian-style brewery (Grimross Brewing), and he normally uses spelt in one of his flagship beers. Unfortunately, it had been hard to come by lately, so he was fresh out. Tim had actually told me that if finding spelt was an issue, to substitute in flaked wheat, which is what I ended up having to do. Otherwise, the rest of the grist was easy... I added a bit of Acid malt for pH reasons, and some rice hulls to help prevent a stuck sparge. I aimed for an OG of about 1.042 to get to ~4.7% ABV... I thought getting down to 1.002 for a final gravity may be pushing it a bit on my system at this time of year (summer would have been another story), so I figured 1.005-1.006 would be more realistic.

Coming up with a hopping schedule was, for the most part, pretty easy. I added a bit of Azacca at the beginning of the boil to provide a few IBUs (feel free to use any bittering hop; I used Azacca simply because I didn't feel the need to open a vacuum-sealed bag of another variety for just a few grams), and then added a whole whack of it near the end of the boil, at 5 minutes, flameout for a hop stand/steep, and even more when the wort temp dropped below 180 F (an approach I've been using a lot lately for hoppy beers). The question was... what should I add for the other hop variety, which I assumed would be in the dry-hop additions?

I really wish I had one of those amazing senses of smell, or a fantastic palate like some do... but I don't. I'm not going to pretend I can pick out a certain hop variety in a multi-hopped beer, especially when it's in the background compared to a highly-flavorful hop like Azacca. First, I considered Nelson Sauvin based on my initial thoughts on Grizacca, but somehow I can't see Oxbow using that in a beer with Azacca. I was going to go with Centennial, but at the last minute I changed my mind... and I don't know why. But I did, and threw in some Simcoe for both dry-hop additions. Even if it's not what Oxbow uses, I figure it'll still be tasty!

For my yeast, I went with the always-dependable (for me, anyway) Wyeast 3711 French Saison. I've used this strain several times in the past (such as in my very tasty Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merican clone); I really like what it brings to a beer, and how well it attenuates without a lot of fuss (I'm looking at you, 3724). It's also a great yeast to use this time of year; it's not exactly hot out anymore, and Wyeast lists the fermentation range from 65-77 F, which is perfectly doable any time of year, really, indoors.

And that's about it. As usual, here's hoping for a tasty beer, if not a clone of the real thing! It's all about the adventure, right? Well, the end product has to play SOME part in all this.

Recipe targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.041, FG ~1.005, IBU ~40, SRM 3, ABV ~4.6%

1.3 kg (49.1%) Pilsner
650 g (24.5%) Wheat malt
650 g (24.5%) Flaked Wheat
50 g (1.9%) Acid malt
125 g Rice hulls

Azacca - 5 g (14% AA) @ 60 min
Azacca - 30 g @ 5 min

Azacca - 30 g @ 0 min (with a 15-minute steep)

Azacca - 60 g after started chilling, when wort temp below 180 F

Azacca - 40 g dry-hop for 4 days (in primary)
Simcoe - 20 g dry-hop for 4 days (in primary)

Azacca - 40 g dry-hop for 4 more days (keg-hop)
Simcoe - 20 g dry-hop for 4 more days (keg-hop)

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3711 French Saison (production date Aug 19th)

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

- Brewed on September 28th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 8 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.028 (target 1.029). 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller; wort temp was almost immediately below 180 F, where I added the second amount of flameout hops. Final volume ~4 gallons. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG slightly high at 1.042. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast.

- Good activity over the first several days, temp getting up to 74 F. Visible fermentation ended quickly.

- 10/10/14 - FG 1.005. Added 1st dry hops directly into primary.

- 14/10/14 - Racked beer to CO2-purged keg; added 2nd dry hops in a weighted-down mesh bag; left at room temp.

- 18/10/14 - Removed dry-hops, set keg in keezer to bring temp down before starting to carb.

- Tasting notes here... the beer came out great, I'm really happy with it. However...

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Tasting : Fiery Planet (Modern Times Blazing World clone)

I've brewed 17 beers so far this year, and I'm happy to say that I've been lucky enough to have been pretty pleased with how most of them have come out. They haven't been perfect, of course, but a lot of them have been quite tasty, and there hasn't been any major screw-ups yet (knock wood). But this beer - my clone attempt of Modern Times Blazing World, a hoppy Amber - is the first beer where my first smell and pour from the tap made me think: YES.

This was one of those brews where I knew before packaging that it was going to be good; heck, I could tell before dry-hopping it. When I took a gravity sample, I had a small taste as I always do... and it was pretty darn fantastic. I figured adding the hefty dry-hop of Mosaic, Nelson and Simcoe certainly wasn't going to hurt it. And as suspected, of course it only made it better!

As you'd expect from these hop varieties, the beer has a huge tropical nose to it, with a nice amount of dank hop character as well. And the flavor is pretty fantastic... once the beer warms up a bit, you get this great combination of caramel malt sweetness, tropical and citrus fruit, dankness... it's pretty awesome. Moderate bitterness in the finish, the beer doesn't have a harshness to it at all, which I was worried about considering the high calculated IBUs from the recipe.

I mentioned in the brew post that I've actually had the commercial version of this beer. I really liked it, but not as much as this homebrew clone. I'm certainly not saying I'm a better brewer than anyone at Modern Times; I just think this recipe works really well on a homebrew level. When you compare it to the one linked to from the Modern Times website, this one has noticeably more hops in the flameout and dry-hop addition, so that makes sense. If you're at home thinking of brewing this beer, I encourage you to use the one developed by the Mad Fermentationist.

That's two for two with Modern Times recipes for me (the Fortunate Islands clone, a hoppy Wheat, was another favorite homebrew of mine). I'm not sure if I'll attempt their other two flagships, but it's possible... their Black House, an Oatmeal Coffee Stout, is pretty fantastic. Either way, I'm really happy with this Amber recipe, and encourage anyone who can get their hands on these hops to give it a try. Now.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, creamy, off-white head that lasts for a while before fading to 1/2-finger. Body is a dark-red color, almost brown, and very hazy - I’m pretty sure that’s my fault, as I'm starting to think I forgot to add the Irish Moss tablet during the boil.

Aroma: Beautiful aroma: huge on tropical fruit, with a complimenting malt character. Not roasty, but caramel sweetness without being overpowering. Some nice dankness in the hops as well.

Taste: The malt sweetness (caramel character) is there at first, but the strong tropical fruit from the hops comes through immediately after, with a bit of pine and dank hop character as well. Finishes nicely balanced between sweet and dry, with a moderate hop bitterness.

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

Overall: Fantastic beer. Up there with my Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone for hoppy Ambers that I’ve brewed. Delicious.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Brewing a Galaxy One-Hop Imperial IPA

Judging from the title of this post, it may appear that I'm overdoing it with concentrating on one-hop beers lately (two of my more recent brews were an El Dorado Session IPA, and a Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine clone, a DIPA brewed with all Citra hops). I swear it's a coincidence; this isn't the sole direction my homebrewing "career" is taking. I think two things helped me make the decision on what to brew next: 1) the Double Sunshine clone had kicked, so I was ready for another DIPA, and 2) I've been sitting on a 1/2 lb of Galaxy hops for months, and have never brewed with this hop, so I was anxious to try them out before they got too old.

First, a few words on the Galaxy hop variety. A high alpha-acid, Australian variety, it's another one of those hard-to-get hops that have become really popular over the past few years. Used for its very strong hop flavor and aroma (citrus and passionfruit are two of the main descriptors you'll see), it appears to make an almost-overwhelmingly fruity beer. I like fruity hops; hell, who doesn't? But there's a lot of fruity hop varieties out there, so I'm curious to see how Galaxy compares to a lot of others that I've brewed with in the past.

A beer where Galaxy hops are front and center certainly isn't something new, especially in the world of commercial beer. If you do a quick search online, you'll find many APAs, IPAs, DIPAs and more that are brewed solely with Galaxy. Always reassuring, especially considering that Galaxy hasn't been around that long. I wouldn't say that any of these beers in particular pushed me towards brewing my own, but I HAVE always had Hill Farmstead's Double Galaxy on my wish list (mind you, I have a lot of beers from HF on that list). What I'm brewing is in no way a clone attempt of Double Galaxy - I didn't contact Shaun Hill for any info and I've never tried the beer. My Galaxy DIPA is being brewed for research and enjoyment purposes only!

When putting together the recipe, I didn't really do any particular research. I know what I like in a DIPA - I don't want much in the way of specialty malts (I'm looking at you, Crystal), and I want the beer to finish dry. I'm looking for some firm bitterness in the finish, but I mostly want the beer to be about hop flavor and aroma. This isn't anything new, as I think a lot of hoppy-beer drinkers look for their DIPAs to be this way.

So, on to the grist. As you can see, I kept it very simple, with the high majority being 2-row, a touch of Carapils and Crystal 40 L, and some table sugar to help dry the beer out a bit more. And as I've been doing with most of my pale beers lately, a very small amount of Acid malt to bring the mash pH down. The sugar is added directly into primary (boiled with water and cooled) once fermentation slows; it's certainly fine to add it in the boil, I just prefer to do it the other way to take a bit of strain off the yeast. If you follow my approach, make sure you adjust your OG target accordingly when taking a reading after the boil.

For the hop schedule, I went with something very similar to that used in my Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone; that is, no actual hops added until flameout, but then you add a LOT after that point. A bit of hop extract for bittering at the beginning of the boil, and then lots of Galaxy at flameout for a hop stand/steep, some more when the chiller is turned on and the wort temp drops below 180 F, and then lots more Galaxy again in two separate dry-hop additions. I've had success with this approach before, so as long as these hops are fairly fresh (they should be; they're the 2013 harvest, but have been sealed, nitrogen-flushed, and stored properly the whole time) I'm expecting good things with this beer... minus the always-possible infection, stuck fermentation, etc.

Fermented as usual with US-05, I'm hoping to be drinking this beer by mid-October at the absolute latest. I'm continuing my approach to brewing smaller batches for hoppy beers; it's working out well, to prevent them from aging too much, without making me feel like I have to plow through high-ABV beers on a daily basis. Now that I'll likely be back to brewing every couple of weeks, it also helps keep the turnaround on the taps at a more-reasonable pace.

Recipe targets: (4 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.077, FG ~1.012, IBU ~80, SRM 6, ABV ~9%

Grains & Sugars:
4.5 kg (86%) Canadian 2-row
188 g (4.8%) Carapils
100 g (1.9%) Crystal 40 L
80 g (1.5%) Acid malt
300 g (5.8%) Table sugar (added in primary when fermentation slows)

Hop extract - 6.25 mL (equivalent to 35 g of 10% AA hop) @ 60 min

Galaxy - 50 g (14.1% AA) @ 0 min (with a 25-minute steep)

Galaxy - 50 g after started chilling, when wort temp below 180 F

Galaxy - 63 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Galaxy - 63 g dry-hop for 5 more days (keg-hop)

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g of Gypsum and 3 g CaCl added to the mash

- Brewed on September 10th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~2 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.052 (target 1.053). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 25-minute steep before turning on the chiller; wort temp was almost immediately below 180 F, where I added the second amount of flameout hops. Final volume ~4.25 gallons, a bit high. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG high at 1.073 (when including future sugar addition). Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast. Placed BB in laundry sink with some cold water to try to keep temp down. 

- Fast fermentation over the next couple of days, temp getting as high as 74 F, higher than I'd like. Luckily I pitched low, so hopefully the alcohols don't get too hot. By the third day, fermentation was already showing signs of slowing down, so I added the sugar in two additions over 24 hours, 150 g each that had been boiled and cooled in about 1/2 cup of water.

- 19/9/14 - FG 1.012. Added 1st dry hop addition directly into primary.

- 24/9/14 - Beer racked to CO2-purged keg, second dry hops added in a weighted-down mesh bag. 

- 30/9/14 - Dry hops removed, keg put in keezer to drop temp down.    

- 10/11/14 - I'm admittedly a little disappointed, but it still came out pretty good... I was just expecting more fruit in the aroma and flavor.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Tasting : El Dorado Session IPA

Now that I've brewed several one-hop beers (including two Session IPAs and an American Pale Ale), I've confirmed that it is a worthy experiment, especially when we're talking about a new-to-you hop that you really want to get to know. I also feel that when doing this, it's important to strongly consider not brewing a full 5-6 gallon batch... I love hops as much as the next beer geek, but all hop varieties are NOT considered equal, so it pays to play on the safe side of things (especially with a beer style that can fade fairly quickly with time).

Drinking this El Dorado Session IPA over the past several weeks has confirmed this for me. Comparing it to the Mosaic Session IPA I brewed last November, I feel that the change made to the mash temperature (increasing it from 149 F to 153 F) was a smart one - this beer definitely has more body than the Mosaic beer did. However, while I enjoy the hop character in this beer, I don't think that El Dorado can hold a candle to Mosaic, at least not when used in a single-hop setting. While offering a pleasant, fruity character to the beer (I get a lot of orange, myself, as opposed to the regularly-reported Jolly Rancher candy), it's definitely a more-mellow hop than Mosaic.

Keep in mind, I DID fiddle with the hop schedule for this beer, making a single 5-minute addition (instead of at 10 minutes), and a shorter hop steep (10 minutes vs. 15 minutes). This likely explains why I find the beer heavier in hop aroma than flavor. But I think it still stands that El Dorado, while making this a perfectly enjoyable, easy-drinking beer, isn't as strong on its own as some other hop varieties. I think it would work really well when combined with some other hops; maybe some Simcoe and Columbus? Something I'd like to try in the future. In the meantime, I'm still really enjoying hoppy beers under 5% ABV, so look for more one-hop Session IPAs from me soon.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-large, white, creamy head with very good retention. Body is light gold, with very good clarity.

Aroma: Very fruity and citrusy, with orange coming through greatest, for me. Nice supporting malt character in the background. This sample is obviously a bit too old, but it’s held up pretty well.

Taste: Pleasant orangey-hop character, with a bit of bready malt character supporting it. I’d like to see the hops more upfront, I just think this variety is mild-mannered. Still, this is quite nice, and would be a great intro-hop beer for non-hopheads. Medium to medium-light bitterness in the finish. No flaws.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, medium-light carbonation.

Overall: Very nice, but I don’t think I’ll use El Dorado on its own again in the future. I’d like to try it with another hop variety or two in the future. Still happy with how this came out as a highly sessionable IPA.