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.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Tasting : Belgian Session IPA

This beer, a Belgian IPA that I had brewed with the intention of having it come out with an ABV of less than 5%, was one that I knew had a lot of potential to be problematic. Aside from the usual problems you can encounter with a Session IPA - watery, thin body, harshness from the high hopping, vegetal or grassy notes from the hops - you also throw in the possibility of the hop aromas and flavors clashing with the aromas and flavors provided by the Belgian yeast. I'm happy to say that this beer, a Belgian Session IPA, avoided most of these problems. Most.

I was a bit nervous taking my first smell and taste of this beer. However, the aroma was fantastic. Big, citrusy, fruity, with just a bit of spiciness... the Citra, Amarillo and Westmalle yeast worked really well together. I didn't find that anything clashed, and I wasn't getting any strong, medicinal phenolics, either.

Now, on to tasting it. The good news is that the aroma translates well into the flavor, with a big hop presence that is complemented nicely by the Westmalle yeast. It all gels together about as well as I could have hoped, with a moderate bitterness in the dry finish. The bad news... the body is slightly too thin. Perhaps if I took the time to increase the carbonation for this keg only - without affecting the other three kegs on tap - it would help. In hindsight, I should have used a higher mash temp than 153 F. I chose this because for my last Session IPA I used 153 F and was happy with the results. But I forgot to consider that the Belgian yeast has a higher average attenuation than US-05, bringing the FG down a few points lower than the other Session beers. Luckily, it's not watery... just a bit more body and it would be a great beer.

Otherwise, I have no complaints about this beer, and would highly recommend the recipe to anyone who was looking to have a similar style on hand. I'm very happy with how Amarillo and Citra work with Westmalle yeast; the combo would work great for a full-strength, Belgian IPA. My only suggestion for this Session type would be to increase the mash temp to 156 F or so; it seems a bit high when you look at it on paper, but I think with these highly-attenuative Belgian yeasts, it's a good idea.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head; retention is so-so; faded to a thin film after a few minutes. Body is a dark golden color, very good clarity.

Aroma: Wonderful aroma, lots of citrus and tropical fruit, and a touch of dankness. Backing spiciness from what I assume is the Belgian yeast.

Taste: Big fruity flavor, but with a slight phenolic spiciness that works surprisingly well. Finishes with a firm, medium bitterness (almost medium-high), and nicely balanced, leaning towards dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: A really tasty beer... took a bit of time to come together, but I'm loving how the flavors of the hops and Belgian yeast are working together.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Brewing a Belgian Session IPA

After looking through the draft of the 2014 BJCP Guidelines when I was reading up on Brown IPAs (a style I brewed recently), I continued reading about the other types of "Specialty IPAs". My eye caught the detailed description of Belgian IPA, and it occurred to me that I've never brewed this style before. I've tried, and enjoyed, many commercial Belgian IPAs (notably Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel, Allagash Hugh Malone, and Dieu du Ciel! Dernière Volonté)... I guess I just never got around to brewing my own.

A fairly new style that's become more popular over the last few years, Belgian IPA is pretty much what you would expect from the name: a beer brewed to be quite hoppy and bitter, and fermented with a Belgian yeast. This results in a strong beer (up to and above 9% ABV) that has a moderate to high hop flavor and aroma, with additional fruitiness and spiciness from the Belgian yeast. Try a Belgian IPA brewed in Belgium, and you'll probably notice a strong presence of noble hops (e.g. Saaz); try one brewed in North America, and you're more likely to pick out the popular American hops (e.g. Citra, Centennial, Cascade... on and on and on). The Guidelines sum the style up perfectly: "A cross between an American IPA/Imperial IPA with a Belgian Golden Strong Ale or Tripel. This style may be spicier, stronger, drier and more fruity than an American IPA".

So, there's basically two ways to brew a Belgian IPA: brew a Tripel or Belgian Golden Strong and hop it to be more bitter and more flavorful/aromatic (e.g. Duvel Tripel Hop), or ferment an American IPA with a Belgian Yeast (e.g. Stone Cali-Belgique IPA). But what I started thinking was, what if you brewed the same style of beer, without the high ABV? As in, a Belgian Session IPA? I thought I was a genius when I came up with that idea, but it looks like others have - not surprisingly, really - thought of it before me! At least, some things popped up on Google when I punched it in, and I notice there's at least a couple of beers listed as a BSI on Untappd, but I don't think the "style" has exactly swept the beer world yet.

I should take this opportunity to say, yes, it has occurred to me that a Belgian Session IPA really isn't that different from a low-ABV, hoppy Saison (such as my recent Oxbow Grizacca clone). I would say the difference is that a BSI would likely be considered to be more bitter, and probably hoppier than most of the hoppy Saisons you find. Of course, that's going to vary from beer to beer... it's getting really difficult to classify beers nowadays!

I didn't have a lot to go on in terms of putting a recipe together, other than the style descriptors from the BJCP Guidelines. I was looking for the grist to be fairly simplistic, but not TOO simplistic; that is, I didn't want it to be just Pilsner malt. I figure that with a Belgian Session IPA, like your regular Session IPA, you need to have a good proportion of specialty malts to prevent the body from being too thin. This IS a sub-5% ABV beer, after all. So, I added several malts that I've used in Belgian-style beers before: Aromatic, CaraVienne, and Wheat malt (along with a bit of Acid malt, strictly for mash pH purposes). At about 15% of the grist, I'm hoping this will bump up the body, but not take away from a dry finish, and allow the hops and yeast to be the big players. I also didn't want to mash too low, so I aimed for 153 F (similar to my last Session IPA).

Choosing a hopping schedule and yeast strain for this beer was quite difficult; more so than normal. I have been re-reading some of the great Brew Like a Monk (BLAM), by Stan Hieronymus; he discusses Belgian IPAs, and makes a point of noting that "the choice of yeast strain and hop varieties is critical since many choices will horribly clash". Makes sense to me... normally when you brew an IPA, you're using a fairly neutral yeast strain. Belgian yeast strains, in contrast, or usually so chock-full of flavors and aromas (fruit, spices, phenolics, etc.), that you really do have to choose the accompanying hop variety(ies) carefully.

I've been planning to brew a Belgian Tripel soon, so I chose my yeast strain based on what I wanted to use for that beer as well (i.e. culture the slurry from the BSI). I've always meant to try the Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity, which is apparently the Westmalle strain. Actually, Westmalle provides the yeast for two other Belgian Trappist breweries, Achel and Westvleteren; I've had and thoroughly enjoyed beers from all three breweries, so figured this would be a good yeast to go with. According to BLAM, this yeast produces clove, alcohol, and pineapple at fermentation temperatures of 65-75 F; higher temps add bubblegum, fruity, and light solvent, but I'd be surprised if my fermentation goes higher than this at this time of year. Brewing during the colder temps of the year definitely has its perks, and its downsides, especially with yeasts (like this strain) that are a bit particular... BLAM states that this strain is well known to stop working - and "cannot be roused" - once it is cooled down when active.

Yeast health, pitching rate, aeration... they're always touchy factors when it comes to how you want your beer to be, but even more so when you're talking about BELGIAN yeast, which are generally so expressive. A higher OG beer fermented with a Belgian strain will produce more esters compared to a similar, lower OG beer; higher attenuation does the same. This is because yeast will usually throw off more fruity esters when they're made to work harder... so, a lower pitching rate and less aeration will also result in more esters in the beer. The trick is finding a balance - sure, you can pitch less yeast for more flavor, but of course you're putting your beer at risk of what happens when you underpitch, or under-aerate for that matter: more solventy flavors, incomplete attenuation, or even the dreaded stuck fermentation. It's tough. As I've recommended in the past, unless you have a good history of brewing Belgian beers and are comfortable with YOUR balance, err on the side of caution, and pitch a good amount of healthy yeast and aerate properly. I'd rather have a completely-attenuated, slightly-less fruity beer than a sweet, solventy mess.

After finally deciding on the yeast, it was time to pick some hops that I thought would complement the strain. I figured a beer like this would be better off with a fruity variety or two; noble hops would work great, I'm sure, but I was leaning towards the American side of things. When looking through my inventory, I noticed I had a good amount of Amarillo and Citra on hand, and I've had great results with these two varieties working together in the past (namely my Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone). Both varieties pack a lot of juicy, tropical, and citrus notes, which is just what I was hoping for. Combined with the "balance of complex fruity esters and phenolics" of the 3787 strain, here's hoping for something tasty, and not a clash!

I'm going to keg this beer, because I want to keep the hops as fresh and oxygen-free as possible, but I haven't been having the best of luck with getting the carbonation where I want it. Yes, it's supposed to be easier with kegging, but for some reason... Anyway, I likely won't have this carbed to where I'd really like to see it (maybe between 2.5-3 vol CO2), but hopefully it'll still be ok. Look for the tasting notes on this beer to be up very soon.

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.045, FG ~1.011, IBU ~40, SRM 5.6, ABV ~4.5%

2.45 kg (83%) Pilsner
150 g (5.1%) Aromatic
150 g (5.1%) CaraVienne
150 g (5.1%) Wheat malt
50 g (1.7%) Acid malt

Amarillo - 10 g (8% AA) @ 60 min

Amarillo - 20 g @ 10 min

Amarillo - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)
Citra - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)

Amarillo - 40 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (keg-hop)
Citra - 40 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (keg-hop)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity (PD Oct 29/14, with a 1 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed on November 4th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 8 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 3.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG quite high at 1.038 (target 1.032). 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a little over 4 gallons; OG curiously on target at 1.045. Chilled to 65 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched decanted yeast starter.

- Good fermentation over the next few days, but it settled down quickly. Temp never got higher than 72 F.

- 19/11/14 - FG 1.009. Racked beer to dry-hop keg, added dry hops and left at room temp.

- 23/11/14 - Placed keg in keezer to cold-crash.

- 25/11/14 - Transferred beer to serving keg and placed in keezer to start carbing.

- 22/12/14 - Tasting notes are up; very tasty and aromatic. Body is a bit thinner than I'd like, but otherwise it came out really tasty.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Tasting : The Charlie Brownest (Brown IPA)

In what may be my fastest turn-around post ever, here are the tasting notes for my recent attempt at brewing a Brown IPA (aka hoppy American Brown Ale). I've probably picked a poor time to try to get caught up with my posts, since December is the craziest month of the year for everyone, but I'm going to at least give it a shot. When I posted about my brew day for this beer, I think I was actually already drinking it, or at least, just about to. At this point I've already brewed three beers that I haven't yet posted about, so I really have to get crackin'.

So, in a nutshell, I think I'm pretty happy with how this beer came out. Once again, I would like it to be hoppier, but I'm not TOO surprised that it comes across as a bit mellow, considering that the Nugget hops (the highest-quantity variety) were from the 2012 harvest. Not to mention that they're not the most aromatic/flavorful hop variety, at least not compared to a lot of others out there. But they DO come through, and I like the spicy, slightly-herbal qualities that they impart. When you add some additional dankness and fruitiness from the Citra and Columbus, it comes out quite nice. I like how these three varieties work together in these amounts, and in a darker beer like this.

Speaking of dark, this beer (as I worried in my original post) IS a bit too dark. In fact, you could easily mistake it for a Black IPA, I think. At 23.5 SRM, it's above the range listed in the new BJCP Guidelines for a Brown IPA (11-19), and actually is only 2.5 SRM lighter than the Black IPA I brewed earlier this year, my second Hill Farmstead James clone. Not that it makes a big deal - the beer isn't roasty or burnt-tasting at all; it's chocolately and toffee-like, which is what I was going for. But if you're concerned about keeping it lighter, I'd try cutting back on the Chocolate malt a bit till it falls into range.

Otherwise, an enjoyable Brown IPA. The next time I brew this style, I'll probably go for a lighter brown color, and use more hop varieties that will give more of a citrus/fruity aroma and flavor. I won't change the name of the beer, though; I think this is one of my better ones.

Appearance: Pours with a light tan, moderate-large sized head... very creamy and thick. Great retention. Body is dark brown, appears black at first glance. Almost fairly opaque until held to the light; some haziness from the dry-hopping.

Aroma: The dominant aroma is an earthy spiciness from what I assume to be the Nugget... a touch of fruit behind it, but firmly backed up by a caramel-sweet, toffee-like smell. All in all, balanced... the hops should probably be more forward.

Taste: Again, a caramel-like, toffee sweetness, followed by a spicy hop flavor. The fruitiness doesn't come through too much, here. Finishes moderately bitter, close to moderate-high; leans toward the sweet side.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Creamy. Smooth.

Overall: A good Brown IPA...but could use more hops. Or maybe, fresher hops?