Sunday, 28 April 2013

Brewing a Hill Farmstead James clone

What can I say about Shaun Hill and Hill Farmstead Brewery that hasn't already been said? I could talk about Hill's experience at The Shed Brewery in Stowe, Vermont before he decided to open his own brewery on his family's farm in Greensboro, VT. Maybe get into explaining how, since then, he's brewed some of the most delicious, highly-rated beers on a small scale, causing people from all over the United States (and a lot farther) to travel to Greensboro to get a taste of them. Ranging from extremely hoppy APAs and IPAs to exotic Belgian-influenced ales, it seems that a sub-par beer from Hill Farmstead doesn't even exist. I could go on to say that Hill Farmstead has recently been selected as the #1 brewery IN THE WORLD on, despite the fact that brewery production (after expansion) will be maxed out at 3000 bbl/year (compared to almost 1,000,000 barrels from Sierra Nevada, one of the largest craft breweries) and that the beers are rarely found outside of Vermont.

Whoops. See how easy it is to ramble when discussing great beer? Anyway, there are a lot of brewers who are driving themselves crazy trying to figure it out: what is Shaun's secret? There's a lot of speculation... is it the well-water on the farm? Something specific with technique, especially minimized oxygen pick-up during beer transfer to really let the hops shine? Does he worship/provide sacrifices to some sort of beer god, and if so, where can we find said god?

Realistically, it's probably a combination of factors (except maybe that last one). However you cut it, he knows what he's doing, he's not known to give out TOO much information regarding his practices/recipes when asked, and no, he's not planning on becoming the next Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head, production-wise, damnit! The man wants to continue to make great beer while enjoying his family's heritage on land that has passed through generations. Can you blame him?

Despite living in Fredericton, NB, I've been lucky enough to have several Hill Farmstead beers, fresh on tap, from a "ski" trip (ok, a 3-day beer trip with one day of skiing) I took to Vermont a little over two years ago. Spending three days in Montpelier, I was introduced to Hill Farmstead beer at The Three Penny Taproom (still hands-down probably my favorite beer bar in the U.S.) with Edward, a fantastic American Pale Ale. A lot of HF's beers are named after past Hill family members; the next "Ancestral series" beer I had on that trip was James, a Black IPA named after Hill's uncle. Dark, creamy, slightly roasty (but not burnt) and extremely hoppy, this beer was the best Black IPA I had ever had... and may still be to this day, if it was a little more familiar in my mind.

Enough rambling. When I read Mitch Steele's IPA book a few months ago, I was happy to see that one of the recipes included was for a clone of James. Now, I'm not 100% sure where Steele got these recipes from, but I get the impression that at least SOME of the information, if not most/all of it, is straight from the brewers themselves. So, I'm going to assume that Shaun Hill had input into this recipe. Now that I'm finally getting around to brewing it, there were several changes I made, based on ingredients I lacked, or on discrepancies I found in the recipe:

1) The OG - the recipe in Steele's book calls for a target OG of 1.072, and a FG of 1.020, which would give an alcohol level of ~6.8%. On the Hill Farmstead website, however, the gravity is specifically listed as 16 P, or 1.065, and the ABV as 6.6%. Therefore, I decided to aim for an OG of 1.065 and FG of 1.015.

2) The hops - after a small Columbus addition as a FWH, the first bittering charge is listed as Simcoe at 60 minutes. I had two issues with this... the first being that a 60-minute addition really shouldn't add too much to the beer in terms of flavor, and Simcoe is just so hard to find! Being Hill Farmstead, I would be happy to follow their lead; secondly, however, the Hill Farmstead website lists the hops for James as being only Columbus and Centennial. After much deliberation, I decided to sub the 60-minute addition with Columbus, aiming for the same bitterness as the Simcoe would have provided.

3) CO2 extract - I didn't have any, or even ordering access to it anytime soon, so I omitted it. The 60, 45 and 10-minute additions in the book call for the hop used and then "plus CO2 extract". This extract provides bitterness without adding to the hop sludge in the kettle. Sounds great, but not having any, I had no choice but to go with just hop pellets, again adding enough to hit the target IBUs for the beer.

4) The Crystal malts - The book calls for 4% CaraHell (I subbed with Carapils, as close to the 10 L of Carahell as I could get) and 1.5% CaraAroma (subbed with Crystal 150 L). Probably pretty good replacements on my part, or at least, again, as close as I could get.

5) The dark ingredients - 5% Carafa Special III is required... I had almost enough Carafa Special II, and a bit more Carafa Special I (both are just a bit less dark than the III). The recipe also included a small amount (1.1%) of Sinamar extract (adds dark color without burnt flavors), which I can't get, so I simply increased the amount of Carafa Special to compensate.

More changes then I like to make with a clone recipe, but hopefully the resulting beer will be minimally affected. What I DO find odd is that with my recipe, the calculated color of the beer is about 27 SRM. In the book, James is listed as 87 SRM... that's a huge difference! I understand the Carafa Special III is darker, and the Sinamar extract may add to that, but with a combined grist amount of only 6%, I wouldn't think a difference of 60 points would be the result! I didn't change anything as a result, but 27 SRM is really more of a dark brown than black.

Unlike many recipes in Steele's book, there is no mention of water treatment, which is really unfortunate since Hill Farmstead's possible water composition is discussed online more than anything else regarding their beers. Mike Tonsmeire (of The Mad Fermentationist) has said that Shaun Hill suggested that chloride is an important addition for his hoppy beers, in addition to sulfate. Knowing very little, I didn't want to just start throwing in salt additions for the sake of it, so I just went with a small amount of both calcium chloride and calcium sulfate, to bump up the calcium, chloride, and sulfate slightly (since levels are low in my brewing water anyway).

Now, what about the yeast? The book says to use an English Ale yeast... of course, there's quite a few of those available. The hoppy beers I've had from Hill Farmstead don't appear to exhibit a lot of the typical yeast character you expect to see from certain English yeasts, such as the Fuller's strain from Wyeast (1968), so I chose the Wyeast 1098 British Ale strain. I've always liked this strain when used in American-style beers - the attenuation is quite good, and, like the website says, it allows the malt and hop character to dominate.

For the first time in 60 batches of homebrew, I plan to make less than a 5.5 gallon batch. Part of me really hates to do this... you're basically doing almost the same amount of work for a smaller batch, but you end up with less beer. However, I have quite a lot on hand now (yeah, poor me), and I plan on brewing a lot of hoppy beers over the next few months. Since these beers are really all best fresh, I don't want to end up with a stockpile of hoppy beers that are 3, 6, 9 months old. So, I've scaled down this recipe to a 4 gallon batch.

For more info regarding Shaun Hill and his brewery, check out this interview from Embrace the Funk.

Recipe targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.065, FG 1.015, IBU 120, SRM 27, ABV 6.5%

3.76 kg (86.5%) Canadian 2-row
239 g (5.4%) Carafa Special II  
177 g (4%) Carapils
86 g (2%) Flaked Oats
68 g (1.5%) Crystal 150 L
29 g (0.6%) Carafa Special I

Columbus - 7 g (14.5% AA) FWH
Columbus - 27 g @ 60 min
Centennial - 24 g (9.9% AA) @ 45 min
Centennial - 24 g @ 10 min
Columbus - 57 g @ 0 min
Centennial - 31 g @ 0 min
Columbus & Centennial - 28 g each dry-hop for 7 days

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1098 British Ale (production date March 13/13; with a 1.75 L starter)

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

- Brewed over two days on April 18th and 19th, 2013, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 152 F. Mashed out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water, resulting temp 168 F. Sparged with ~2.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.25 gallons in the kettle (a bit higher than target of 4.9 gallons).

- SG low at 1.048 (target 1.053). 60-minute boil. Chilled to 62 F in about 20 minutes with immersion chiller. Poured/filtered into Better Bottle. OG low at 1.062. Pitched yeast starter, aerated by shaking well for several minutes before and after pitching. Set in laundry room sink, ambient temp about 65 F.

20/4/13 - In AM, temp low at 64 F, but airlock is already bubbling q 1-2 seconds, big krausen. By the afternoon, the temp had crept up to 68 F and airlock activity was very vigorous.

22/4/13 - I returned from being away two days, and the krausen had already settled completely, and no activity was visible in the airlock. Gravity at 1.019. Hopefully it'll drop another few points in the coming weeks.

5/5/13 - Dry-hopped in primary (no secondary fermenters available at the time).

12/5/13 - FG 1.016. Bottled with 67 g table sugar, aiming for 2.2 vol CO2 for 3.5 gallons, with a max temp of 68 F reached.

22/5/13 - Wow, came out really great. The hops are citrusy and dank, with a bit of roasted character coming through - just enough. Tasting notes here.


  1. Good write-up, this should be a nice beer. I have the utmost respect for the man, but Hill is almost hilarious cagey about giving specifics regarding his brewing process. He did an AMA on Reddit recently where he pretty much avoided every single question about brewing specifics, to the point where it seemed... sort of awkward that he was doing it at all.

    Interesting that there are obvious differences between the recipe Steele gave and what's listed by HF. I never noticed that. Makes me wonder too where he got all the recipes.

    Also an interesting tidbit about the chloride in his water profile; I don't remember reading that before. I figure he has to do something a little different from everyone else.

    1. Thanks, Derek! Yeah, I read a lot of those reddit "answers", and felt the same way. I can see him wanting to be secretive, to a degree, but he could give out his exact recipes and water profile and people still wouldn't likely be able to brew beer like he does!

  2. Great details man. I just took a beer trip to Vermont last week and got to the Farmstead, did some tastings, bought a cool growler, and got to meet some of the staff. Along with some Heady I got on the trip, it was one of the major highlights. Looking forward to trying to make some Hill Farmstead beers of my own. Cheers!

    1. Sounds like a sweet trip! I'm kicking myself for not going to HF when I had the chance.

      Good luck with your own clone attempt(s). Let me know how they turn out!

  3. Hello! Great blog!

    I'm brewing something very similar soon...can you tell me if you mashed the carafa? I have read some people prefer to add the roast grains for a black IPA during the sparge instead...also, can you give specifics of your water treatment (amounts of Gypsum and CaCl)?

    Thanks again!

    1. I DID mash the carafa, mainly because since it was dehusked I knew that it wouldn't add too much in the way of roastiness. The beer didn't come out too roasty at all, so I think you're ok with mashing it as well, although adding it later (or doing a cold steep separately) is fine as well.

      The Gypsum and CaCl amounts were 3 grams each (noted in the "Water" section).

      Good luck!