Saturday, 24 August 2013

Brewing a Russian River Pliny the Younger clone

When I brewed the Russian River Blind Pig clone last month, I already had the next couple of beers planned out. While I've actually had Blind Pig several times, I decided to brew another Russian River clone - this time, one of the biggest white-whale beers out there, Pliny the Younger. Now, Pliny the Elder is the brewery's regular-release Double IPA (DIPA); it's not exactly wide-release, by any means, at least in terms of distribution, but if you're somewhere in the West Coast U.S., chances are you'll find Elder on tap or in bottles, somewhere. And it's a fantastic beer, pretty much deserving all the accolades it has received over the years (and there's been a lot of them). I actually brewed the widely-available clone recipe (straight from Vinnie Cilurzo, owner/brewer at Russian River) a couple of years ago, and it came out pretty fantastic.

Pliny the Younger, however, is a DIPA that the brewery releases once every year, on the first Friday in February. It's not available in bottles, and you can't get growler fills of it - it's only available on tap, and usually only at the brewery (a keg or two will pop up at some choice beer bars in the country, but that's it). People line up on the release day at extremely early hours to try the beer, where it's available for two weeks only.

Unfortunately, I'm not lucky enough to have been able to make a trip out to California just for a beer release. Maybe some day, but that just ain't gonna happen for awhile. All I can do is read about the beer; it's supposed to be pretty fantastic, of course - high theoretical bitterness, high alcohol (10.5% ABV) yet alarmingly drinkable, with a huge hop presence. Basically, Pliny the Elder times two... or more. Younger has actually been called a "Triple IPA" by some (including those at the brewery), but let's not even start trying to divide DIPAs into Triple and higher categories... Double or Imperial IPA is fine by me.

So, there's a lot of clone recipe attempts floating around the internet, put together by speculation, tastings, and interviews with Vinnie where he's mentioned this or that about what they do at the brewery. The best I've seen is from a homebrewing blog called Bertus Brewery, run by a guy from Arizona named Scott. Scott does a lot of IPA/DIPA clones, and seems to have a lot of success with them (the blog is really well-written, too; I suggest you check it out if you haven't already). Scott put a lot of work into his Younger clone, and claims to have come quite close on his second attempt. This is the recipe I used, and other than a few changes noted below, I followed it pretty much exactly. So, any luck I have with this will be mostly attributed to Scott's work... ditto for any failure! <shakes fist in general direction of Arizona>

That's a lotta grain...
Ok, so let's get to the recipe. First, the grist. Similar to the Pliny the Elder clone recipes that are available, it's pretty simple: a large amount of 2-row, and some Crystal 40 L and Carapils - not a lot, though, which is typical for Vinnie's opinions on Crystal malts in DIPAs. He feels that the best DIPAs are the ones that aren't overly sweet and underattenuated... and I agree. I prefer my DIPAs quite dry; when they get sweet, they're starting to border American Barleywines. There's also a good amount of table sugar in the recipe. In Scott's recipe, he went with 1 lb, but later thought that a bit more to increase the attenuation would be a better idea; so, I went with the higher end of his recommendation, 1.5 lbs. As I normally do with sugar additions, I boiled the sugar in some water to make a syrup, and added it to the fermentor when fermentation began to slow down. I like to do this to make sure the yeast chew threw the maltose and maltotriose, before they get their "dessert", the more-easily-fermented sucrose. It also means that your starting gravity is lower, so you don't have to pitch as much yeast.

For the mash, Scott did a 75-minute rest at a very-low 145 F, to really increase the amount of sugars that would be easily-fermentable by the yeast; he then followed-up with a 10-minute rest at 155 F. I went with this approach (albeit at a slightly-less 145 F, for 60 minutes), but if you wanted to skip the 10 minutes at 155 F, you'd probably be fine.

Of course, what you really want to read about with a recipe like this is the hopping schedule. It's pretty darned crazy, really. Overall, you're looking at almost a full pound of hops, PLUS 40 mL total of hop extract, the equivalent of 8 oz of a 10% AA hop, giving you a theoretical or calculated IBU of somewhere above 250. Quite bitter, let's just leave it at that. Full details are listed below, but here's the amount of each actual hop variety used, between kettle-hopping, flameout, and dry-hopping:
  • Simcoe - 6 oz
  • Centennial - 2.5 oz
  • CTZ - 2 oz
  • Amarillo - 2 oz
  • Chinook - 1 oz
And, that's a lotta hops!
Now, I didn't go with Scott's recipe EXACTLY. Based on his thoughts after drinking his clone, he made a couple of recommendations for changes, which I applied. He had also added 10 g of CTZ at 45 min, which I ignored since I didn't think it would be missed. He also had a couple of small additions of Warrior in the dry-hopping, based on a change to the recipe he had heard Vinnie has done recently. I didn't have access to Warrior, so I subbed in CTZ for one dry-hop, and dropped the Warrior in another (it was only 1/4 oz, anyway).

So, there's a huge flameout addition (5.5 oz) of four different hops; I did a 10-minute steep with these before beginning the chilling. As for the dry-hopping, there are FOUR dry-hop additions. I haven't done that many since my Kern River Citra DIPA clone, and it was tough to decide how to do it. Ideally, I would have a kegging system, so that I could just add and remove each dry-hop directly in the keg, purging the headspace with CO2 each time to prevent oxidation of the beer and the hops. However, I don't keg, so I had these options:

1) Dry-hop in primary - I've done this before, with usually good results. Pro: it's easy, and some argue that this method may help prevent oxidation, since CO2 may still be released from residual fermentation of the beer. Con: the yeast in suspension may strip away some of the hop aroma and flavor. Even with four additions? Not sure.

2) Transfer to secondary, then dry-hop - I've also done this before, and also have had good results. Pro: you get the beer off most of the yeast, so there should be less stripping of the hop flavors (if that happens, of course). Con: you're increasing the risk of infection and oxidation.

I thought about doing half the dry-hop in primary, and then half in secondary, but that seemed counter-productive, and just as much work as doing it all in secondary. I also considered dropping the temp of the beer while in primary to floc out the yeast, and THEN add the dry hops, but I wasn't sure if that would be better. In the end, I decided to rack to secondary and add all the dry hops there. I came to this decision based on the excellent results I had with the Citra DIPA clone; this was the approach I used with that beer, so hopefully it'll work out as well, here.

When brewing Younger, Russian River apparently does each dry-hop for 1 week. On a homebrewing schedule, not only does that require a lot of time, but it REALLY increases the likelihood for oxidation of the beer and hops, especially for someone like me who doesn't have the luxury of purging with CO2 over and over. So, I'm going to go with a 4-day dry hop of each addition, for 16 days total.

For the yeast, as expected, you can use the California Ale yeast of your choice: WLP001, Wyeast 1056, or US-05 dry yeast. I had originally planned on using yeast slurry from my recent Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone, but based on some past results with reusing yeast, I chickened out and went with 2 packets of US-05, rehydrated. Now, Vinnie has always recommended that you do a slight UNDER-pitch of yeast for hoppy beers; he feels that too much yeast will strip away some of the hop flavors/aromas. I believe 100% that the man knows what he's talking about, but for a beer this big (and expensive), I just didn't want to take that risk. I'd rather lose a bit of hop flavor than have a big DIPA stall out at 1.035.

As for the water, I didn't add much in terms of minerals. I followed the same approach I've used with my last few hoppy beers, adding a couple of salts in moderate amounts to increase the calcium, chloride, and sulfate. In this case, just 5 grams each of Gypsum and calcium chloride, directly into the mash.

My goal here is to have a really drinkable, REALLY hoppy DIPA. Even if I had had Younger before, I wouldn't necessarily expect this clone to come out exactly similar. While Scott says that his version came out almost identical, I know my limits with my system - the inability to purge with CO2 will undoubtedly hurt this beer. Hopefully, oxidation will be minimal at the worst... nothing worse than oxidized hops, especially in a recipe as expensive as this one! I'll likely be drinking this beer around the beginning of September... tasting notes will be posted soon after.

Recipe targets: (6 gallons, 70% efficiency) OG 1.088, FG ~1.010, IBU 266 (!), SRM 6.6, ABV ~10.3%

7.73 kg (86.5%) Canadian 2-row
341 g (3.9%) Carapils
182 g (2%) Crystal 40 L
681 g (7.6%) Table sugar (boiled in water and added in two portions during fermentation)

Hop extract - 35 mL @ 90 min
Hop extract - 5 mL @ 45 min
Simcoe- 14 g (12.9% AA) @ 30 min

Simcoe - 70 g @ 0 min 
Centennial - 42 g (10.9% AA) @ 0 min
Amarillo - 28 g (8.9% AA) @ 0 min          *All flameout hops steeped for 10 minutes
Chinook - 14 g (11.4% AA) @ 0 min

Dry-hop 1: 14 g CTZ, 14 g Simcoe, 14 g Amarillo for 4 days, then...
Dry-hop 2: 28 g CTZ, 28 g Centennial for 4 more days, then...
Dry-hop 3: 14 g Chinook, 14 g Simcoe for 4 more days, then...
Dry-hop 4: 14 g CTZ, 14 g Amarillo, 28 g Simcoe for 4 more days

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

Yeast: 2 packages Fermentis US-05 dry yeast, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum, 5 g CaCl in the mash

- Brewed on July 27th, 2013, by myself. 60-minute mash with 21 L of strike water, mashed in slightly above target temp, at 146 F. Added 4.75 L of boiling water to bring temp up to 155 F for another 10 minutes. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~8.1 gallons in the kettle.

- SG at 1.056, slightly under target of 1.057. 90-minute boil. Flameout hops steeped for 10 minutes, then turned on immersion chiller. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured/filtered ~5 gallons into Better Bottle. OG low at 1.083. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2 and placed in fermentation chamber with temp set at 64 F.

- 28/7/13 - In AM, bubbling about q 2 seconds. Raised temp to 65 F and aerated with 30 more seconds of pure O2 (about 18-19 hours after pitching).

- 29/7 to 1/8 - Lots of activity in the airlock over the next couple of days. Added the first dose of table sugar (341 g in boiled water) when activity started to slow slightly on the 30th, then the other 341 g on the 31st.

- 2/8/13 - Bubbling starting to slow, gradually raised temp to 68 F over a couple of days.

- 8/8/13 - Gravity 1.011. Racked beer to secondary and added first dry-hop addition. Added dry hops every 4 days afterwards, as in recipe.

- 24/8/13 - FG at target of 1.010. Bottled with 120 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, max temp of 72 reached. Also added ~1/8 pack rehydrated Nottingham yeast.

- 2/11/13 - Late, but here's the tasting notes... ultimately, disappointing in the hop department.


  1. Where are the tasting notes?

    1. They're coming, I promise! I never meant to leave it this long; it's not 100% laziness, really. The beer was quite the disappointment at first, but came around after a few weeks. I have everything almost ready to go for the post.

      Thanks for the boot in the butt, though... I'll try to get the notes out over the next day or two.

  2. Where are the tasting notes?

    1. End of the post has the link, put them up in early November of 2013.