Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Brewing an Equinox One-Hop Session IPA

It's been awhile since my last one-hop Session IPA, and I've really enjoyed how the two I've brewed have turned out. The first attempt, Mosaic Session IPA, was my first time brewing with Mosaic; I loved what that hop brought to the beer - the aromas and flavors were amazing. The beer did come out a bit thin, however, so for my second attempt, El Dorado Session IPA, I increased the mash temperature from 149 F to 153 F, while using the same grist. While El Dorado wasn't quite as "powerful" a hop as Mosaic, it still contributed a really tasty orange-candy characteristic to the beer, and the higher mash temp definitely improved the mouthfeel.

Well, I'm ready for another try, yet again with another new, hot hop: Equinox. This hop really is quite new; I believe it's only been available commercially under the name Equinox for a year or so. I actually stumbled upon it in the fall when I was browsing new hop varieties online, and one of the flavor descriptors jumped out at me: green pepper. Other words used were quite familiar - floral, lemon, lime, tropical - but green pepper? Seriously? I was immediately curious if this was something I would pick up in a beer hopped entirely with Equinox. Granted, I didn't buy a pound of an expensive new hop JUST for this reason; I had read other good things about it, and some commercial beers have already included it both on its own, and combined with other varieties.

For the grist, I've left it exactly the same as the last two Session IPAs: about 70% 2-row, with some Munich, malted Wheat, and Crystal 40 L making up the difference (and some Acid malt for mash pH purposes only). The high percentage of specialty malts is to help give this light-ABV beer some extra body; in fact, this time around I decided to bump the mash temp up even higher, to 156 F. Yes, this seems high for an IPA, but other homebrewers have brewed Session IPAs with even higher mash temps and reported good results, so I thought I'd give it a try. The only other changes I made to the mash involve water chemistry: based on the success from my recent APA and IPA, I added 3 grams of Gypsum and 9 grams of calcium chloride to the mash, giving a final water profile of 153 ppm calcium, 187 chloride, and 74 sulfate. I really liked the creamy body and smoother bitterness in those two beers with these numbers; this is the type of mouthfeel I'm really aiming for in a Session IPA.

As for the hopping, I've settled on the following schedule for this style of beer: a touch of bittering at the beginning of the boil with hop extract (or any high-AA hop variety) to about 20 IBUs, then 20 g of the featured hop at 10 min, 40 g at flameout for a 15-minute steep, and a 60 g dry-hop for 5-7 days. I had moved things around for the El Dorado Session IPA, where the 10-min addition became 5-min, and the steep was shorter; I found this definitely affected the beer slightly - the aroma was great, but the taste was diminished.

Again, this beer was fermented with US-05, in the high 60s F; I'd love to try it with the Wyeast 1318 London Ale III that I'd been using, but alas the slurry from my last batch was gone. I highly recommend trying some other yeasts, though, if you have the chance.

The brew day went off pretty well. I was rushing in the morning, getting my daughter ready for daycare (don't judge; when I brew, I do it in the AM on a day where I don't work until 3 pm... less family time wasted!), and I missed my mash temp by 3 degrees. So, a mash temp of 153 F, just like before... oh well! Everything else went fine. The Equinox hops smelled amazing fresh out of the package, so I had high hopes for how the beer turned out.

And... it turned out pretty damned tasty, if I say so myself. I'm normally quite critical of my beers (I think), but I really enjoy this one. I think the recipe is right where it needs to be, in terms of malt background, hop presence, and mouthfeel (I still think a higher mash temp would make it even better). The Equinox is showcased front and center in this beer, and really lives up to its hype, in my opinion. It is definitely very citrusy and tropical; several beer geeks who have tried it have described it as "green"-tasting, which makes sense when you try it yourself. And yes, there IS a bit of green pepper in the aroma and flavor; would I have picked that out if I didn't know to look for it? Probably not. But I notice it now, and it actually works!

So, is Equinox worth tracking down? Like any new, talked-about hop, it's not easy to find, and it ain't cheap. But I recommend seeking it out; don't be afraid of the green pepper descriptions if you're not into that. I didn't think it would necessarily work, either, but it does, and it's certainly not a dominant flavor/aroma. I had purchased a pound, and split half, so I'm already down to little under 4 oz... but I'm quite curious to use Equinox with another hop variety or two. But...... which one?

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.010, IBU ~50, SRM 6, ABV ~4.6%

2.1 kg (70.6%) Canadian 2-row
330 g (11.1%) Munich
330 g (11.1%) Wheat malt
165 g (5.5%) Crystal 40 L
50 g (1.7%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 2 mL @ 60 min (or 11 g of a 10% AA hop)
Equinox - 20 g (14.5% AA) @ 10 min
Equinox - 40 g @ 0 min (with a 15-min hop steep)
Equinox - 60 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (about 1/2-3/4 pack, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 9 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on Feb 10th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 9 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F (target 156 F). Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 3.25 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.25 gallons.

- SG low at 1.036 (target 1.037). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at ~4.15 gallons; OG a little low at 1.046. 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 activity by the following afternoon; quite vigorous by the next day, reaching 72 F on the fermometer. Slowed down quickly after that. FG reading of 1.011.

- Dry-hopped directly in primary for 7 days, then racked into CO2-purged keg, set in keezer overnight to bring temp down. Set PSI at 30 for 24 hours, then 10.

When will this season end...
Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, white, fluffy head; great retention, several minutes later it had barely receded at all. Sticky lacing left on the sides of the glass as it finally diminishes. Body is a burnished-gold color, with very good clarity.

Aroma: Beautiful and distinct aroma; includes citrus, tropical fruit, a touch of floral/spicy character, and a little green pepper. I want to say “green” overall, and others have described it as exactly that.

Taste: Everything translates over to the flavors, and it all blends together perfectly. The grist does a great job of backing up the hops and providing some body, without getting in the way of the Equinox. Finishes with a moderate, smooth bitterness. Very easy-drinking.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, medium carbonation. Again, very smooth.

Overall: Great beer, probably my favorite of the Session IPAs I've brewed so far. I think the recipe is where I want to be, both grist-wise and hop-schedule-wise. Equinox is a very nice hop; interested to see how it will pair with other varieties.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Brewing an American IPA with London Ale III yeast and high chloride water

Not exactly the catchiest of titles, is it?

With my recent stretch of Belgian-inspired beers, it's time for another American IPA! Looking back at every American IPA I've brewed, it hit me that I've used either US-05 or Wyeast 1056 American Ale for fermentation every time. I have absolutely nothing against using a neutral American yeast for any hop-forward beer, but I thought it was time to try something different. Seeing that other homebrewers have had success with fermenting their IPAs "outside the box" - that is, with English yeast - I wanted to try the same. There's also quite a few other excellent commercial breweries that have an English yeast as their house strain: Hill Farmstead, Stone, and Firestone Walker, to name just a few.

Ok, let's work backwards and start with the yeast, then. There's a lot of English strains out there; I've used a few, some in English beers, and some in American hoppy beers (but not IPAs). Wyeast 1968 London ESB Ale is often used in homebrew recipes, including several clones; I can't quite put my finger on why I'm not a huge fan of this yeast, but I'm just not. Any beer I've brewed with it, American or English, has had a certain flavor that I'm not big on. I fully admit this could be due to something else in the recipe, or some mess-up on my part, but I've consistently been disappointed with it in my homebrew history. I've had better luck with Wyeast 1098 British Ale, especially in American beers. Definitely a more neutral strain in the English yeast family, 1098 is often thought to be as close to the Stone house yeast that you can buy commercially; I've heard some sources say 1968 is closer, but I'd definitely go with 1098 if you ever brew a Stone clone.

More homebrewers have been using Wyeast 1318 London Ale III in their hoppy beers lately. Thought to be the Boddington's strain (check out the Wyeast chart from, I think what's led more and more people to this yeast is the rumor that it's also the same strain that Hill Farmstead uses; and if there's a shortlist somewhere with the top breweries that homebrewers want to emulate, Hill Farmstead is definitely on there. It's been a few years since I've had a HF beer; while I can't remember if Edward was the perfect hoppy beer, I definitely recall this it was extremely delicious. What I remember most, along with the beautiful hoppiness of the beer, is that it was somehow still very creamy and smooth. I don't know if this is due to the yeast strain they use, their water source/treatment, or a combination of both. I imagine it's both, along with proper transfer technique and whatnot (i.e. keep oxygen out of the picture as much as possible). When I read Derek's post (of about his experience with 1318, his description of the results having a "saturated, soft mouthfeel" immediately brought to mind my experience with Edward. So, time to finally give this yeast a try.

On to water chemistry. I won't try to get into the intricacies of this subject, here. Many others have written much more than I ever could, and much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do myself. In a nutshell, Shaun Hill has been saying for a few years now that chloride may be more important in water profiles for hoppy beers than most people realize. Certainly, the general consensus for years now has been to bump up your calcium and sulfate in your IPA's water, with no mention at all of chloride. More sulfate usually results in a drier, crisper beer, which is normally synonymous with IPAs; more chloride than sulfate is thought to give a "maltier" beer. But maybe in IPAs, "maltier" really means "smoother", as long as the beer is hopped appropriately (that is, lots of flavor and aroma additions)? I've been adding both calcium chloride and gypsum (calcium sulfate) to my hoppy beers lately; more to help decrease the mash pH than as a flavoring addition, but I was happy to try a different approach. So, with this IPA, I added a large amount of calcium chloride and a bit of gypsum, targeting a chloride level of close to 200, and sulfate at around 70 (based on levels Derek has aimed for).

Something else I've changed in my hoppy beers lately is the way I've dry-hopped and transferred them... sort of. Months ago, I read an excellent write-up (again, from Derek... homebrewer extraordinaire!) on a great method to dry-hop IPAs with no oxygen pickup or clogged kegs (now, that guy knows how to title a blog post!). Check out his post; basically, it involves the use of a "dry-hop keg" featuring two separate stainless steel filters (a small, narrow one that goes over the bottom ~4 inches of the dip tube, and another larger one, also encompassing the entire dip tube), and then transferring the beer afterwards to the "serving keg" by the use of two liquid QDs and some tubing. Pretty simple process once you purchase the equipment needed, and it makes sense that it should definitely minimize oxygen contact with your beer. I've followed this approach the past several batches; since I ferment in a Better Bottle, I still have to use an auto-siphon to transfer the beer to the dry-hop keg, but I'm working on other methods to further decrease oxygen exposure.

Before I continue with the recipe for this IPA, I'll mention briefly that I brewed an American Pale Ale recently that followed all three methods: high-chloride water, London Ale III yeast, and closed transfer when dry-hopping. I didn't post about it because it's a clone recipe (of sorts) that I vowed never to share, but I can say that I was very happy with the results. I had brewed the same beer last year with no water adjustments and with a different English yeast; this more-recent attempt came out much better - the hops popped more, and the bitterness was much smoother in the finish than before.

For the grist, I actually replicated the one used in my Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 clone (an all-Simcoe American Pale Ale). I really enjoyed that beer, and found that the combination of Pilsner malt and Maris Otter gave a nice, bready malt complexity while still allowing the hops to shine through. The only change I made was subbing CaraRed malt (~20 L) for Crystal 15 L, based on what I had on hand. I increased the amounts of each malt to give an OG of 1.062, but otherwise kept the percentages about the same as before.

I decided on three different hop varieties for this IPA; all hops that I've brewed with before, but never specifically used together. Two of them are of the newer, more-popular, and more-expensive varieties: Galaxy (an Australian variety), and Nelson Sauvin (from New Zealand). Nelson remains one of my favorite hops; I love how fruity it is, and at the same time... kind of dank. I've only brewed with Galaxy once, in an all-Galaxy DIPA; that beer kind of disappointed me, but I suspect it wasn't because of the hop variety. It's supposed to be an intensely tropical and fruity hop, and I know from drinking other Galaxy-hopped beers that it lives up to its hype. Stone Enjoy By is hopped with many varieties, but the heavy dry-hop is supposed to be with both Galaxy and Nelson; the few times I've had that beer, I've loved it, so I'm hoping both of these together in this IPA will work well. I also threw in a bit of Columbus at each addition, because... well... I like Columbus, too, and find that it can be a great supporting hop in lots of combinations.

Other than a small bittering addition at the beginning of the boil, with hop extract, I took the route of adding all hops from flame-out on: a 25-minute hop steep, and two dry-hop additions (one in primary, and one in the keg, as described above). I haven't completely given up on 5 or 10-min additions, but I HAVE been experimenting with the approach I've taken here, and can understand why some homebrewers (and professionals) prefer this method. I estimate the IBUs to come in around 70; a 25-min steep with three high-AA varieties comes in at a much higher number in Beersmith, but I suspect that whatever formula is in there is overcompensating?

Overall, the brew day went well... except, I had calculated for a 60-minute boil, and didn't realize until weeks later that I should have boiled for 90 minutes (well, I always do, anyway, when the grist contains pilsner malt). OG was a touch low, likely due to my volume being a bit higher than target, but fermentation took off well and was finished in several days. After 10 days total of dry-hopping, I carbed the beer and was drinking it near the end of February.

I have to admit, that while this beer is quite tasty, I'm slightly disappointed. I think I got my hopes up too much due to: a) the hop varieties I used, and the large amounts, and b) based on how much I enjoyed the APA I had brewed with the same yeast and water adjustment. To be fair, I find this beer has a good bitterness for the style, and remains quite smooth and easy-drinking; the higher chloride seems to provide a different mouthfeel - very creamy - than I'm used to with my IPAs. The Nelson Sauvin, however, appears to be overshadowed; there's nothing wrong with the hop aroma or flavor at all - it's very fruity, citrusy, and a bit dank - but the white wine/gooseberry/whatever-it-is-exactly that Nelson always contributes just isn't there. Not sure if this is because Galaxy is the more dominant hop of the two (not to mention the CTZ in there as well), or because the Galaxy hops I had were the freshest of the three in the recipe. Maybe it's both.

Whatever it is, the beer still came out very nice (other than the appearance... I have no idea why it's so dark and murky!), and I'll continue to make similar water adjustments in most of my hoppy beers. And I'll definitely be using the London Ale III yeast again; I think it's one of the best yeasts I've used in beers that showcase hops. If anyone else has any experience with this English yeast in IPAs, feel free to comment.

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.062, FG ~1.013, IBU ~70, SRM 6, ABV ~6.4%

2.05 kg (59.1%) Pilsner
1.3 kg (32%) Maris Otter
160 g (3.9%) CaraRed
120 g (3%) Carapils
80 g (2%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 2 mL @ 60 min (or 11 g of 10% AA hop variety)

Galaxy - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 25 minute hop steep)
Nelson Sauvin - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 25 minute hop steep)
CTZ - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 25 minute hop steep)

Nelson Sauvin - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Galaxy - 14 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 14 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Nelson Sauvin - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
Galaxy - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
CTZ - 14 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (~3/4 cup slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 10 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on January 28th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 11 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 149. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.25 gallons.

- SG low at 1.042 (target 1.044). 60-minute boil (NOTE: recipe should have been calculated for 90-minutes, my typical approach with pilsner malt in the grist). Flameout hops had a 25-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at 4.25 gallons; OG a little low at 1.060. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fermentation took off strongly by the next morning, with the airlock activity pretty much finished within three days. Temp reached as high as 72 F.

- 5/2/15 - FG reading of 1.011. Added 1st dry hops to primary.

- 10/2/15 - Racked beer to CO2-purged keg, added second dry-hops, purged again and set at room temp. Left for another 5 days, then set in keezer overnight to bring temp down and crash out hops.

- 16/2/15 - Transferred beer to serving keg via closed system. Set in keezer to and hooked up CO2.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, off-white head that has pretty good retention. Body is a murky, orangey-brown color, and very hazy. Not a pretty beer.

Aroma: Hop-forward - very fruity (kind of a mix of citrus and tropical) with a bit of dank mixed in. Not a lot of malt character there.

Taste: Again, lots of hops, with a mixture of tropical and citrus notes. The malt comes through more here in the flavor, with a pleasant supporting background without honing in on hop territory. Finished with a firm, moderate-high bitterness, but it’s all quite dry, smooth, and goes down easy.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: Pretty good beer; I think the Galaxy is the dominant hop here, but being that it’s the freshest of the three, I’m not surprised. I don’t know why the beer is so dark and murky though...? Solid recipe, solid beer, but doesn’t quite impress me as much as I thought it would.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Brewing a Belgian Red IPA

After the success of my Belgian Session IPA experiment, I wanted to take the Belgian IPA in another direction. Coming up with a few ideas wasn't too difficult; if you start combining several beer styles, and even look at throwing in different yeasts such as Brett, you'll have a list in no time of new things to brew. But I almost immediately centred on one of my favorite "styles", Red IPA. What if you took a Red IPA and fermented it with a Belgian yeast strain? Would the hops and grain bill simply plow over the yeast, or was it possible for all three to co-exist? More importantly, co-exist without clashing terribly?

I don't think these questions can necessarily be answered by one brew attempt, but I DID want to give it a go. I haven't tried a "Belgian Red IPA" before, and couldn't remember seeing one commercially, either. Once I started looking into it, however, of course several other breweries have already tried this, such as Odyssey Beer Werks in Colorado, and Four Peaks Brewing in Arizona (who actually have a "Belgian Red Rye IPA" listed as one of their beers).

Putting together a recipe for this type of beer strikes me as a bit risky, even more so than the Belgian Session IPA. Like I said, I see a lot of potential for bad, or even terrible flavor combinations. At least in a pale beer, you really only have to worry about the combination of flavors from the yeast and hop varieties. But with a red-colored beer, you're bringing in two or more malt types that exhibit possibly strong flavors on their own. Tread carefully!

I actually started with the yeast. Rather than order a new strain through my LHBS, I decided to re-use the slurry from my recent Belgian Pale Ale. Wyeast 3655 Belgian Schelde is normally used in maltier Belgian beers. I've only used it twice, and both times were in Belgian Pale Ales; I like the combination of spicy and fruity it brings to these beers, without being too much of either. I wasn't sure if it was the best pick for a Belgian Red IPA, however... because it's not overly prominent, would the malt bill and hops hide the Belgian character, making this just another Red IPA? Quite possibly. However, I also didn't want to swing the other way, where too MUCH Belgian character may ruin the beer completely. So, 3655 for this first attempt was my final choice.

I've brewed several Red IPAs in the past couple of years that I've really enjoyed, so I had a few different malt bills in mind. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that maybe the recent Belgian Pale Ale malt bill would be a good choice. I know this one works well with 3655; I figured that with a touch of Midnight Wheat to darken the beer slightly (but not add roasty or acrid character), it would be about what I was looking for. Consisting of mostly Pilsner malt, plus some CaraMunich II and Victory, it's pretty straight-forward... and it works, at least, for a Belgian Pale Ale, it does. I also liked that it gives a nice caramel-quality to the beer, without coming across as too busy, for lack of a better word. There's room for yeast to show off, and hopefully room for hops, too.

So, yes, the hops. I continued to tweak this beer based on some others I've brewed recently. My Meek Celebration 2014, a Red IPA I brewed to give away at Christmas, came out pretty fantastic. That beer featured lots of Amarillo, Azacca, and Simcoe hops, which gave fantastic flavors and aromas, with lots of tropical fruit, citrus, and a bit of pine. I was definitely leading to a similar hop profile for this beer - more American-hopped than Belgian-hopped (noble varieties), say. I settled on Azacca and Simcoe, and threw in some Mosaic - another fantastic variety I've been wanting to brew with again. With a small Simcoe addition at 10 minutes, I would then whirlpool with Azacca and Mosaic, with more of all three being added when the immersion chiller was turned on. Add a single dry-hop of all three, and you've got a beer with close to 3/4 lb of hops for a 5-gallon batch (I brewed 4 gallons, which is my normal batch-size for hoppy beers, now).

The beer fermented in the high 60s, and reached up to about 70 F at one point. Warmer would have no-doubt brought out more yeast character, but I was happy with these temperatures for this style. Everything went off without a hitch, for the most part; after a couple of weeks, I racked the beer to the dry-hop keg and threw in an ounce each of Azacca, Mosaic and Simcoe. After 5 days, I moved the beer to the serving keg via a closed system (the exact procedure that Derek from uses; detailed explanation here). My keezer was lacking a few taps around this point, so I tried using the shake-to-carbonate method... but on a very toned-down scale (it just doesn't feel right to be doing it, for some reason!). I was drinking the beer within a week or so, I'd say.

Tasting notes are written at the bottom of this post, but all-in-all I've been quite happy with this beer. The first few sips, it tastes pretty much like a regular Red IPA... the Belgian character hardly comes through at all. Not to say it's not a good beer; the hop combination works extremely well - very fruity, big on citrus, mangoes, berries, and a touch of pine. And the malt character is great; maybe not as "deep" with toffee and caramel as the Meek Celebration, but there's still enough to complement the hops.

As the beer starts to warm a bit, however, the Belgian yeast character becomes more assertive. As expected from the strain, it's not a wave of really intense Belgian character (namely, strong phenolics/spiciness), but more of a mild fruity/spicy tang that is different from the fruitiness from the hops. It's definitely interesting, and sometimes I drink it and feel that the combination doesn't quite work; but, most times, I feel that it does.

I know, not exactly a ringing endorsement, but in the end I do like this beer. I had originally planned on splitting the wort into two batches, and fermenting one half with 3655, and the other with US-05. That definitely would have been useful to really determine how much the 3655 lends to a beer of this style, but unfortunately I got a little lazy. Still, if you're looking for to brew up something a little different, give this recipe a try. Or better yet, play around with some different hop/yeast combinations! As in all things homebrewing, you're really only limited by imagination.

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.070, FG ~1.015, IBU ~60, SRM 16, ABV ~7.1%

4.1 kg (85.9%) Pilsner
350 g (7.3%) CaraMunich II (45 L)
275 g (5.8%) Victory malt
50 g (1%) Midnight Wheat

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

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

Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)
Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)

Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Simcoe - 14 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Azacca - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Mosaic - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Simcoe - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3655 Belgian Schelde (about 1/2-3/4 cup slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed on January 13th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.048 (target 1.049). 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume 4 gallons; OG a little low 1.069. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fast and furious fermentation from the 14th - 15th, but it slowed down quickly after that. I was a bit worried maybe it had stalled, but when I checked the gravity about a week later, it was down to 1.015, where I had hoped.

- 26/1/15 - Racked to dry-hop keg (purged with CO2), added dry-hops and purged again. Set at room temp.

- 31/1/15 - In AM, set keg in keezer to cold-crash.

- 1/2/15 - In afternoon, transferred beer to sanitized and CO2-purged serving keg. Carbed by shaking keg at 30 PSI for 3 minutes, then set at 14 PSI.

Excuse the poor picture quality, my regular camera was broken
Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head that has quite good retention; eventually fades to 1/4-finger. Body is a brilliantly-clear, dark ruby-red color. This is a very pretty beer.

Aroma: Strong hop aroma (melon, stone fruit, bit of pine) backed up by a pleasantly-strong malt presence - caramel and toffee. As the beer warms, a touch of spiciness comes through, presumably from the Belgian yeast.

Taste: Extremely spot-on with the aroma - big hop character, and a healthy amount of caramel and toffee malt sweetness to back it all up. Again, the Belgian character becomes more prevalent as the beer warms. Medium bitterness in the finish, nicely balanced between sweet and dry.

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

Overall: Quite nice; a little unsure about it at first, but I've decided I really like this beer. I'm tempted to do the exact same recipe again, but with a different yeast strain; I'm thinking maybe a Trappist strain, such as Chimay.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Brewing a Belgian Pale Ale, and some notes on Night Shift Brewing Trifecta

Shortly before brewing a Belgian Tripel in early December (my first Tripel in four and a half years), I noticed on the Wyeast website that one of their three private collection yeasts currently available was the 3655 Belgian Schelde strain. This one pops up every once in a while. Described by Wyeast as producing "complex, classic Belgian aromas and flavors that meld well with premium quality pale and crystal malts", they describe the beers it produces as having "well rounded and smooth textures... with a full bodied malty profile and mouthfeel". This is a yeast intended for several types of Belgian ales, but from the description, it would appear to work best for maltier ones, such as Dubbels and Belgian Pale Ales (BPAs). I brewed a BPA once, way back at the beginning of my homebrewing career, when I was still doing mostly-extract beers, and 3655 was the yeast I used. Acting on a sudden whim to try the style again (I thought it was time to have another easy-drinking, easily-accessible-to-everyone beer on hand) I ordered the yeast through my LHBS.

A malt-forward, mid-ABV (~5%), amber-to-copper colored beer, the best BPAs will exhibit a biscuity, toasty malt flavor. Yes, like a lot of Belgian beers, there should be a fruity and spicy character in the background (from the yeast), but it's not an overly-citrusy, fruity, or highly phenolic style like you may see with Tripels, Saisons, etc. As the BJCP states, "balance is the key" with this style. Because of this, and because it's definitely not considered a hoppy style either, BPAs aren't necessarily simple to brew. Sure, the recipes are normally pretty straight-forward, but there's not a lot to hide behind. Healthy yeast and proper fermentation control are very important.

Belgian Pale Ale is one of the harder-to-find Belgian styles; at least, outside of Belgium. One brand that you'll often see is the one that is often credited with starting the style, De Koninck. The De Koninck brewery, located in Antwerp, has existed for almost 200 years; while they brew several beers now, De Koninck - their BPA - was their first beer and is their best seller. According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, the brewery was sold to Duvel Moortgat in 2010, after declining sales for several years.

When deciding on a recipe, I settled on something very similar to the one I used for my first attempt in 2010. That one was taken from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles, and consists mostly of Pilsner malt (DME at the time, since I wasn't into all-grain brewing yet), with some CaraMunich and Victory to provide the biscuity malt character. I was initially pretty pleased with how the beer turned out... but things started to turn sour. Ok, not sour, but the phenolics in the beer got stronger and stronger as time went on. I never had any gushers, and the beer wasn't bad enough to pour down the drain, but there was definitely something going on. My best bet is an infection from some sort of wild yeast, but I guess I'll never know for sure. However, it's always bugged me a little, so I thought that using the same recipe (albeit all-grain) and yeast would be a good idea to see if I could do better.

So, I had my recipe (I subbed the hops in the beer from East Kent Goldings to WGV, based on what I had on hand), and I already knew which yeast strain I was using. However, I ALMOST took this beer in a different direction - I was initially going to base it on Trifecta, a beer brewed by Night Shift Brewing. A nanobrewery in Everett, MA, these guys are brewing some interesting beers (I strongly encourage you to check out their link and read about their beers and brewing background). I wish I could say I've had some of them, but I haven't. However, I've talked to several beer geeks who HAVE had their beers, and they're all saying great things!

One friend in particular had recently tried their Trifecta, and was raving about it. Listed by the brewery as a "Belgian-style Pale Ale", it's fermented with three different Trappist yeast strains ("one earthy, one fruity, one spicy"), and has vanilla beans added after fermentation. You have to admit this is pretty original; nice to see a brewery experimenting with a style that's been around for a while, but could probably use some tweaking! I decided to reach out to Night Shift, and they got back to me very quickly. I had let them know my plans for the grist and hopping schedule of the beer, and they made some suggestions on approaching a beer along the lines of Trifecta. While I didn't end up going this route - mainly due to procrastination over the holidays - below is the email response, in case any readers are interested in taking this step:

Your grist sounds cool, very unique and should add a really nice breadiness to the beer. Because of that we'd recommend moving towards calcium sulfate and away from calcium chloride. Unless you're looking for that maltiness, but in our opinion the breadiness is going to be there already.

We shoot for around 30 ibus, with roughly 1/3 FWH. From there you should be able to split up your additions accordingly. "Hoppier" would require more back additions, while a more malt forward version (which ours is) would require fewer toward flameout. We stay away from the crazier hops in regards to the hop flavor. Mostly your classic hops (Hallertau, Saaz, Kent Goldings, etc). Ours shoots for the balance between the hops, malt, yeast and vanilla, rather than one being overpowering.

We suggest experimenting with the amount of vanilla you use. Again, ours is seeking the balance between the four, so we probably use less than what one could imagine. As well, our beer ends up being very clean, resulting in the vanilla coming through more, allowing us to need less. Depending on your % of specialty malts and your palate, you may need more or less. As far as extraction, our vanilla sits for 24 hours after splitting the beans down the middle. We found at the amount we use this gives us the extraction we're looking for without any of the botanicals that could be extracted from the whole bean.

It was great of them to get back to me with some suggestions, and I felt bad about not following them more! I had even thought about brewing the beer, bottling half the batch, then adding vanilla bean to the second half... but I failed. However, in the end I decided to keg this beer, so I'm still strongly considering adding the vanilla bean directly into the keg for a few days, and tasting periodically until it reaches a level I'm happy with. We'll see!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.051, FG ~1.012, IBU ~23, SRM 8, ABV ~5.1%

Grains & Sugars:
4 kg (87%) Pilsner malt
350 g (7.6%) Caramunich II
250 g (5.4%) Victory malt

WGV - 21 g (6.5% AA) @ 60 min
WGV - 14 g @ 10 min

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3655 Belgian Schelde (with a 1 L starter)

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

- Brewed on December 17th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F, slightly above target of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7 gallons, a bit low.

- SG high at 1.042 (target 1.039). 90-minute boil. Final volume 5.5 gallons; OG 1.051. Chilled to 65 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 66 F.

- Several days of good activity in the fermentor, with the temp never going higher than 70 F, pretty much what I was hoping for. I took a gravity reading of 1.013 on Jan. 8th.

- 12/1/15 - Racked beer into CO2-purged keg, purged again and set in keezer to bring temp down. The next day, set PSI to 30 for 18 hours, then purged headspace and set PSI to 14.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Brewing a Belgian Tripel

My second Belgian beer brewed within about a month; it's been a long time since that's happened. I love Belgian beers, and used to brew them more frequently during my first couple of years homebrewing, but they started getting a bit ignored when I became more and more obsessed with trying to perfect brewing hoppy beers. Since my last Belgian beer, a Belgian Session IPA, is still really a hoppy beer at heart (or is it a hoppy beer that is Belgian at heart? <brain explodes>), this Belgian Tripel is my first Belgian style brewed since a Flanders Brown I did early in 2014, and my first non-sour Belgian beer since a Dubbel in November of 2013.

Too long. But, as all homebrewers know, so many beers, so little time. Belgian Tripel has always been one of my favorite Belgian styles. Aside from how delicious a well-brewed Tripel can be, I think I'm a bit biased. On a trip to Belgium in the winter of 2009, my wife and I arrived in Bruges, where we would spend our first few nights. I wasn't into beer at the time, but knew - of course - that Belgium was well-known for its excellent beer, so I was more than happy to try some out. We first stopped at one of the country's most famous beers bars, 't Brugs Beertje; we were exhausted after a long travel night/day, and this place was perfect. Great atmosphere and buzz, lots of beers available (most Belgian beer bars fit that requirement), I can still remember it almost-perfectly to this day. And the first beer we both ordered was a Tripel: Tripel Karmeliet, from Brouwerij Bosteels. Even though the whole experience (combined with the beer being served in its beautiful signature glass) most-definitely affected my interpretation of the beer, it really is a tasty one (little did I know at the time that Tripel Karmeliet is available in plenty of places across North America). Tripel Karmeliet was the beginning of my love affair with beer, which soon led to my obsession with homebrewing. Every homebrewer has a story similar to this one, but I'm not going to let that take away from my experience!

't Brugs Beertje - Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

Wow, that was a longer-than-necessary soliloquy. Sorry about that. Long story short: I really like Tripels, and wanted to brew one again. My first Tripel was brewed in 2010, and was my first all-grain batch. I used one of Wyeast's Private Collection strains, their 3864 Canadian/Belgian, which is supposed to be the Unibroue strain. I really liked that homebrew, and that yeast strain; since Tripels are high-ABV beers, I didn't exactly plow through all the bottles, so I was drinking the beer for a couple of years after I brewed it, and it held up really well. If you're not familiar with what Tripels are all about, they're light-colored beers that have significant fruity esters and spicy phenolics, usually provided from the yeast. Medium-light to medium-bodied, they should be highly carbonated. Belgian Tripel is one of the more-bitter Belgian beers, and combined with a very dry finish, should be quite drinkable despite the high-ABV.

Don't let the high-ABV of Tripels scare you off from brewing them, as they're certainly not the most-difficult style to brew. You can keep the recipe quite simple; while some brewers do add several specialty malts, and often some spices (I'm not normally a proponent of spicing beer unless necessary, but it should be mentioned that Tripel Karmeliet is actually one of those Tripels), I find that simplicity can work very well with this style. Let's start with the grist. I kept this fairly close to my original recipe years ago, which came from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. Lots of good Pilsner malt, a bit of Aromatic malt... that's it. However, when I went to mill the grains for the beer, I realized that I didn't have as much Aromatic as I thought, so I added some Wheat malt to the grist. Keep in mind with this style: you don't want a lot of specialty grains, but you REALLY don't want Crystal malts in there. I suppose you could add a little Carapils to boost head retention, but something like Wheat malt may be a better option.

For the mash, aim for a low temperature... like I said, you want this beer to finish DRY. I wouldn't go any higher than 149 F, and you can certainly even go a bit lower. In addition, a large sugar addition to this beer, either during the boil or in primary when fermentation shows signs of slowing down, is a must. This is another way to dry out the beer even more, while at the same time bumping up the OG and, ultimately, the ABV.

The hop schedule is even simpler. For a classic Tripel, you're not looking for a lot of hop character. As I mentioned, you DO want the bitterness in the higher region, at least for a Belgian beer, so aim for somewhere between 30-40 IBUs. My original recipe called for a small addition of Tettnang at 10 minutes as well; you're not looking for major hop flavor here... just a little bit.

Like a lot of Belgian beer styles, yeast selection for a Tripel is a very important decision, and should involve some thought on exactly what you're looking for in the final product. When selecting which yeast to use to ferment the Belgian Session IPA, I was also choosing based on what strain I would like to harvest to re-use for a Tripel. I had used the Wyeast 1214 for my Dubbel, which is the Chimay strain, and while I do really enjoy Chimay's Tripel, I wanted to try something new. So, I settled on Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity, the Westmalle strain (and therefore also Achel and Westvleteren, two other Trappist breweries). I've always loved Westmalle Tripel, and I really enjoyed how the yeast worked in my Belgian Session IPA - seemingly well-balanced between fruitiness and spiciness. While that beer was definitely a different style than a Tripel (obviously the heavy hopping would have had an affect on the perceived fruitiness), I think I'm going to like how it works with this beer.

Note: As mentioned, I reused some yeast slurry from my Belgian Session IPA; I wasn't exactly sure how much to use, since I hadn't taken the time to thoroughly wash the yeast, so I added about 1 cup, maybe a bit more. Now, Wyeast goes out of their way to say "additional headspace is recommended"; using a blow-off tube is another option. I stupid did neither... and had quite a large explosion on my hands the next morning, despite pitching cool and the fermentation temp only reaching 70 F. So... be smart if you go with this strain!

I'll be bottling this beer... as cool as it might be to have on tap, I don't think I need a 9% ABV Tripel taking up a line right now. Plus, since this is a style that should be highly carbonated, it's easier to bottle condition and hit high CO2 numbers without having to worry about overcarbing a keg, or affecting other beers hooked up to the CO2 tank. Finally, with beers that benefit from some aging, I like the freedom of having a good quantity of bottles to sit on and try over a period of time, without taking up valuable keg space. I'll likely be giving this beer a bit of time after it's carbed, anyway, before taking some tasting notes on it; expect to see those sometime in the next month or two.

NOTE: If you go with the same yeast I did (3787), pay close attention to Wyeast's warning to allow lots of headspace (or at least, use a blow-off tube) during fermentation; I stupidly ignored this, and even though I pitched cool (64-65 F), I had a bit of an explosion! Fair amount of beer on the walls and ceiling; luckily the temperature wasn't out of control, as it was still in the 60s at this point. Lesson learned!


Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.076, FG ~1.009, IBU ~30, SRM 5, ABV ~9%

Grains & Sugars:
4.8 kg (77.8%) Pilsner
250 g (4.1%) Wheat malt
50 g (0.8%) Aromatic malt
1000 g (16.3%) Table sugar (added in primary when fermentation slows)

Tettnang - 80 g (3% AA) @ 60 min
Tettnang - 14 g @ 10 min

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity, cultured 2 weeks ago; about 1 cup slurry

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

- Brewed on December 1st, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at 149 F, slightly above target of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 9 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG high at 1.046 (target 1.044 - keep in mind this is BEFORE the sugar addition). 90-minute boil. Final volume 5.5 gallons; OG high at 1.061 (1.058 target before sugar). Chilled to 65 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry.

- By the morning after pitching, activity was vigorous in the airlock, temp was still manageable at 66 F. By the afternoon, the airlock had blown off, and there was beer on the walls and ceiling. Over the next couple of days, I had tinfoil over the opening; once the krausen started settling back, I replaced the airlock and began adding the table sugar, 333 g at a time, every 12 hours or so. Temperature of the beer never got above 68-70 F.

- 1/1/15 - Bottled, aiming for 3 vol CO2.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

2014 Homebrewing Year in Review

Another year of brewing come and gone, just like that! That means that it's time to take a look back, and review what I liked most about my 5th full year of homebrewing, what I liked least, and what I have planned for 2015. This was also the third full year of this blog; I've done my best to keep up, but I could do better. I'm already a few batches behind in posting my brew notes, but I've been working a little harder to get caught up! I've slowed down a bit over the last couple of years, mainly because I actually write another beer blog (the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog) with a friend, so sometimes the homebrewing writing gets a little... neglected.

I brewed more beer in 2014 than in any year previous: 22 batches, quite a large improvement over the 15 batches brewed in 2013. But... has the BEER improved? I'd actually have to say, yes, it has. At least, I didn't have as many disappointments this year, compared to the year before... and the disappointments I DID have were nothing too significant. That is, I didn't have any rampant infections or drain pours. Here are my favorite five beers that I brewed in 2014 (keeping in mind that two beers brewed, a Belgian Tripel and Belgian Pale Ale, have yet to be tasted), in chronological order:

My favorite homebrews of 2014:

Munich Helles - Given my obvious love for hoppy beers, this probably wouldn't be the first beer in this list that you would expect to see. Hell, I didn't expect it to make the list, either. But this Munich Helles, the first lager I brewed in 2014, came out really great. A smooth, easy-drinking style, it's one of the perfect "light" beers, exhibiting enough malt character to keep it miles ahead of the BMC products available everywhere. Fermentation worked out perfectly, thanks in part to a healthy yeast pitch, and proper aeration of the wort.

Societe Brewing The Pupil clone - I fell in love with this American IPA on a trip to San Diego in 2013, and one of Societe's brewers, Doug Constantiner, was really helpful putting together a clone recipe. Featuring three fantastic hop varieties - Centennial, Citra, and Nelson Sauvin - the aroma and taste of the beer were both fantastic. I'll definitely be brewing it again in the future, with a minor change to the recipe to help dry the beer out a bit more, which I think will bring it into "excellent" territory.

Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 clone - I brewed this all-Simcoe hopped American Pale Ale for my older brother's wedding in the summer; I was looking for a beer that would be well-appreciated by regular craft beer drinkers, and those who weren't necessarily into beer. I couldn't have picked a better recipe. Despite its seemingly low hopping rate (4 oz in a 6-gallon batch; really quite low compared to so many recipes you see... including my own), both the hop aroma and flavor were perfect, and the lower bitterness and ABV made it a very easy-drinking beer. My only complaint was that I didn't get to have many, since the wedding guests took care of most of the bottles!

Modern Times Blazing World clone - Hoppy Ambers (aka Red IPAs) are up there as one of my favorite beer styles, and I've brewed a few over the years that I've really enjoyed, and this was one of the best. Hopped heavily with Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic and Simcoe, the beer had lots of tropical fruit, citrus and pine in both the aroma and flavor, with an excellent malty, toffee-like character supporting all those hops. It came out even better than I remembered the commercial beer being, and I was sure I had brewed a Red IPA that I wouldn't top...

My "Christmas" Red IPA, Meek Celebration (2014) - ... and then, a couple of months later, I brewed this beer. Only Christmasey in the sense that I brewed it with the intention of giving most of it away for the holidays, it came out better than I could have hoped. With the same grist as the Blazing World clone, I tried a new hopping schedule, going big on Amarillo and Azacca, with some Simcoe to back the two up. The results were pretty darned tasty, and the beer went over really well with the 20+ people who received bottles. I'll be brewing a hoppy beer for every Christmas now, changing the style and recipe each year.

Honorable mentions: Societe The Pupil clone, Oxbow Grizacca clone, The Charlie Brownest (Brown IPA)

Homebrew disappointments of 2014:

Hill Farmstead James clone 2.0 - It pains me to include this beer here, especially since my first attempt made the 2013 "Best" list. And it's not that 2014's beer was "bad"... but it WAS disappointing since the hop character wasn't as prominent as in the previous beer. What made it extra disappointing was that this version was kegged, so naturally I assumed the hops would be even more in-your-face, especially since the recipe was barely changed at all (I used a different English yeast, but everything else was about the same). Alas, that wasn't the case. I'm going to blame hop age on this, but I don't think I can say with 100% surety what the problem was. Still a tasty Black IPA that I'd be happy to try brewing for a third time.

Hop Swamp, my "Kitchen Sink" IPA - This was never a beer destined for greatness. A recipe I came up with mainly to use up some hops from the fall 2012 harvest, it featured Centennial, Amarillo, Belma and Falconer's Flight. It was still a very decent American IPA, but the lesson was learned: hop freshness and proper storage are extremely important for brewing high-quality IPAs (and other hoppy styles).

Looking back, if those two beers are my biggest disappointments of 2014, I'm not upset. Both beers were still tasty; they just let me down a little, each in their own way. But definitely an improvement over last year and homebrewing years before that.

In terms of blog viewership, those numbers increased mostly-steadily over the past year (and are still heavily-weighted towards readers in the U.S... probably about 9-to-1 over Canada). I'm still far below what the really-well-written beer blogs get, but I never expected to really have anyone reading this other than me, back when I started it in November, 2011. Here are the stats for the most popular month for each year...

Page views for Nov, 2013: 5,246
Page views for Oct, 2014: 8,670

So, trending upwards, I guess. The post with the most views that was written in 2014, so far, is the one where I brewed a Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine clone, an all-Citra DIPA that came out really nice. Not a recipe I can really exhibit any pride in, however, as it came right out of Brew Your Own. Still, it's a very popular and hard-to-find beer, so I'm not really surprised that other homebrewers are interested in how this recipe has worked for others.

In the year-review post for 2013, I listed some homebrewing goals I would like to accomplish in 2014. While not overly ambitious, I was able to reach most of them...
  • "I'll definitely be continuing my trend of attempting to clone some hoppy, commercial beers... I'll be brewing another Maine Beer Co. beer to start the new year - their delicious American Pale Ale, MO - followed eventually by a shot at The Pupil from the amazing San Diego brewery, Societe Brewing." - Yes and yes; the MO clone was very good, but not as delicious as the commercial beer, while The Pupil clone came out really nice, and as seen above, was one of my favorites of the year.
  • "I'll also soon be taking another crack at Alpine Duet..." - Yep, did this one early in the year. Enjoyed it a lot, but it still seemed to be lacking slightly in the hops department, especially compared to the overly-delicious commercial beer. 
  • "Throw in a lager or two (I'm thinking a Classic American Pilsner and a Traditional Bock)..." - Did the Classic American Pilsner, but started off with the Munich Helles and skipped the Bock.
  • "...a sour beer (I mean it this time... maybe a Flanders Brown Ale)..." - I was happy to get a sour beer under my belt, and I did decide on a Flanders Brown. However, I wish I had brewed more than just the one. The Flanders Brown is still sitting in secondary, putting it at over 9 months since it was brewed. Should hopefully be time to bottle that one, soon.
  • "and, of course, more clones (TBD)." - Indeed! Including the ones mentioned so far, 9 of the 22 batches brewed in 2014 were clones, which strikes me as a pretty good balance between coming up with my own recipes and trying to "clone" others.
  • "Hopefully 2014 will also finally bring me into the world of kegging; I think it's necessary with all the hoppy beers I have planned." - A milestone I reached that was long-coming. Kegging, for me, has definitely had its share of downs, from issues with carbing properly, unidentified slow leaks, and an almost-entire keg of Oxbow Grizacca clone somehow leaking into my keezer, it hasn't been all fun. But I'm still working on it, despite a lot of really crappy luck.
What about 2015? You can definitely count on more clone recipes (I've got something hopefully big planned for my 100th batch, which should be coming up in 2-3 months), and I want to do another sour at some point (I'm leaning towards my first Lambic, which will likely involve putting at least some of it on fruit... blueberries?). I also plan on playing with some more of the IPA sub-styles (e.g. White IPA), and possibly stretching some of those out a bit further. On top of all this, I'd really like to re-visit 2-3 of my favorite beers over the past couple of years, ranging from outright rebrews to variations on past recipes. 

Thanks, once again, to everyone who has read this blog. Looking forward to brewing in 2015!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Brewing a Red IPA, à la Sierra Nevada Celebration

DISCLAIMER: This is not a clone recipe of, or an attempt at cloning, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

Not that I have anything against Celebration... on the contrary, I've always really enjoyed it. Hard to believe that a beer like this - they call it an American-style IPA, but look at it... it's a Red IPA, or hoppy American Amber, right? - has been around for over 30 years. There would have been a lot of years at the beginning there where you'd be hard-pressed to find another beer like this from anyone. For the two of you reading this post who haven't tried this beer, it's a seasonal release that comes out in the late fall, in time for Christmas. No, it's not spiced or mulled or anything like that, so I guess you can't call it a "Christmas beer", but what does that really even mean? It's just a tasty amber-colored, hoppy beer that is brewed with Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops.

All this being said, I decided this year to brew a "Christmas beer"; not a beer that is dark, strong, and heavily spiced, but simply a beer that I could give away for the holidays. I considered a lot of styles, most of them hoppy (of course), and, inspired by the type of beer Sierra Nevada Celebration is, I decided to go with a hoppy Amber Ale, aka West Coast Amber, aka India Red Ale, aka - and according to the new BJCP guidelines, the "definitive name" - Red IPA.

But I wanted this beer to be more than Celebration... that is, I wanted it to be hoppier. Every year there are some people who inevitably complain that Celebration isn't as hoppy as it was last year. I have no idea if this is true; I suspect that it's more likely that people have changed. I know for a fact that beers I found hoppy a few years ago would no longer taste as hoppy to me now; when you've had some great hoppy beers, you can get spoiled quickly (otherwise known as the lupulin threshold shift). Now that I HAVE had a lot of hoppy beers, I can confirm that Celebration isn't a supremely-hoppy beer... it's got a great malt character, and the hops ARE there, but I want more in my Red IPAs. I want beers along the lines of the last couple of hoppy Ambers I've brewed, namely the Modern Times Blazing World clone and Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone.

So that's exactly what I aimed for with this beer. I enjoyed the Blazing World clone so much that I went with the exact same malt bill; it makes a deep-red colored beer, with a really great malty sweetness that works fantastically at supporting a very hoppy beer. Lots of Maris Otter, almost 15% Munich malt, and then a little bit of Roasted Barley and Carafa II... in my opinion, it all works perfectly for this style of beer.

I had a LOT of ideas about which hops to use in this beer. I've brewed a lot of hoppy beers in 2014, and I still had quite a few varieties from the 2013 harvest. Three varieties, max, were what I wanted to use in this beer. But... which ones? After a lot of thought, I decided that I absolutely wanted to use Amarillo and Simcoe, mainly because I'm a big fan of Alpine Duet, an IPA that uses equal amounts of both; I've tried to clone that beer twice (here and here), and these hops really do work well together. But I had never used them together in an Amber, so I thought this was a great chance to try them in a darker beer.

Picking out the third hop was harder. I wanted to go with something great, one of the popular, new/newish varieties that I've brewed with, and therefore had a bit of experience with. I strongly considered both Nelson and Mosaic, but as much as I loved both, I had used them in the Blazing World clone. Galaxy crossed my mind as well, but in the end I settled on Azacca. I loved what it brought to my Oxbow Grizacca clone, and after the debacle with that beer (a leak of some sort drained most of the keg in the keezer, shortly after I had started drinking it), I wanted to try it again, and soon. The aromas of ripe stone fruit, the touch of pine... I figured it would work really well with Amarillo and Simcoe.

So, the hopping schedule below is what I came up with. I didn't base it on anything other than feel; if I had written the recipe down, and then erased my memory and wrote it again an hour later, the proportions would probably be different. An addition of Amarillo at 15 minutes, then heavy flameout additions (one for a hop steep, the other after turning on the wort chiller), and one dry-hop addition in primary... it all came to roughly 45% Amarillo, and 27.5% each Simcoe and Azacca. I really liked how the hopping in this recipe looked; it somehow worked in a way on paper that just HAD to translate to the final product. Or, so I hoped. Fermented with US-05, typical for my hoppy beers, the goal was a really hoppy (emphasis on tropical fruit and pine) ale, balanced with the malty sweetness of an Amber ale, finishing on the dry/bitter side.

I would normally keg a beer like this, but since my plans were to give the majority of the batch away, it just made sense to bottle it and distribute it ASAP, so that everyone would be able to drink the beer as fresh as possible. I timed the brew day to be in mid-November; that would give it a couple of weeks in primary, followed by the dry-hop (also in primary), and then a good two week period to carbonate, more than enough if the bottles were kept at room temperature.

And in a complete twist in my blogging routine, I'm posting the tasting notes at the same time as the recipe. I don't think I've ever managed to do that for a beer that I brewed recently! I'm quite behind in my posts lately, and I really wanted to have this one out before Christmas... looks like I'm just making it. BARELY. I can say that the beer came out really great, just what I was aiming for in terms of hop presence (huge), flavors/aromas (tropical, piney, citrusy), and malt presence (balanced almost perfectly). If I could change anything, I'd back off on the bitterness, but only slightly. Maybe knock it down to 60-65 IBUs? I've had several friends check-in to this beer on Untappd - Meek Celebration (2014) - and they've all loved it, for the most part.

If you're looking for a new hoppy Amber, Red IPA, whatever, to brew, I suggest you give this recipe a try... if you can get your hands on the hops, of course. Here's hoping everyone has a great Christmas, filled with good cheer, friends and family, and - of course - fantastic beer!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.068, FG ~1.012, IBU ~75, SRM 14, ABV ~7.2%

5.2 kg (83.3%) Maris Otter
930 g (14.9%) Munich malt
70 g (1.1%) Roasted Barley
45 g (0.7%) Carafa II

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

Amarillo - 40 g (8.1% AA) @ 15 min

Amarillo - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)
Azacca - 40 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)
Simcoe - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)

Amarillo - 20 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Simcoe - 40 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Amarillo - 54 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Azacca - 40 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Simcoe - 20 g dry-hop for 5-7 days

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, 1 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed on November 18th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 8.75 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG a high at 1.057 (target 1.055). 60-minute boil. First flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller, then added the second flameout hops. Final volume a little over 5.5 gallons; OG on target at 1.068. Chilled to 65 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast.

- Good fermentation activity over the next four days, started slowing down quickly after that. Temp got as high as 70 F.

- 28/11/14 - FG a bit high at 1.016. Added dry-hops directly into primary.

- 3/12/14 - Bottled with 104 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2. 

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, slightly off-white head that is thick and pretty creamy, with really good retention... fades to 1/2-finger or so. Body is a deep, dark ruby-red color, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Absolutely huge hop aroma. Lots of tropical fruit, citrus, pine... there's a lot going on. The malty sweetness is there behind the hops, and it provides a nice backing to the aroma. No alcohol, no flaws that I can detect.

Flavor: Some of that bready, maltiness that is a little sweet, but the hops win out again. Great, sticky tropical and citrusy flavors in here. The beer is nicely balanced, with the finish leaning towards the dry side. Moderate-high bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium (almost medium-high) carbonation.

Overall: I really like this beer; it's up there with the Blazing World clone for my favorite hoppy Ambers that I've brewed. I'd dial back the IBUs a little, but otherwise I'd keep the recipe as-is.