Friday, 29 November 2013

Brewing a Mosaic One-Hop Session IPA

With Christmas fast approaching, and along with it, the pile of things to do (family to visit, gifts to buy, beer to drink), you've got to take any opportunity to brew that you can. And last week, one of those opportunities came up, so I jumped on it. I'm a little worried that this will be my last brew day for 2013 - bringing my numbers for this year to an all-time personal low - but hopefully I can sneak in one more before the New Year.

Anyway, once again I only had some dry yeast on hand (US-05), but that's ok because I was in the mood to brew another American IPA. Now is the time of year where the 2013 hop harvest is starting to trickle in to homebrew shops and other online hop suppliers, and I just recently received a couple of new varieties (to me) from Yakima Valley Hops. I've still got quite a lot of some 2012 varieties that I really should be trying to use up (luckily, they're vacuum-sealed and stored in the freezer, so are still smelling and tasting good), but I wanted to try brewing a hoppy beer with as-fresh-as-possible hops. It didn't take me long to decide which hop to showcase: Mosaic.

This picture says a lot, actually...
A fairly new hop variety (it just became commercially available with last year's harvest), Mosaic is a daughter of the Simcoe hop, crossed with a "Nugget-derived male", according to Stan Hieronymus's book, For the Love of Hops. A high alpha-acid hop, it still provides a lot in terms of flavor and aroma. While Mosaic is often known as a very fruity hop, giving notes of "mango, lemon, [and] citrus", the quality that often makes it stand out is blueberry. Mosaic quickly gained in popularity for both homebrewers and commercial brewers, so it shouldn't be too difficult for anyone in a good-beer area to find a product that features it. I was lucky enough to try a homebrewed version of an American IPA brewed solely with Mosaic (from Derek of Bear-Flavored), and it was excellent - I wouldn't say the blueberry jumped out and slapped me, but I could definitely pick it up. Either way, I really liked what the hop added to that beer, and it's been on my must-buy hop list ever since. When I saw that Yakima Valley Hops had the 2013 crop available, I immediately bought a pound. I decided to brew this IPA with all-Mosaic, since it's my first time using it.

I also decided to take a new stab at the American IPA category, shooting for the unofficial (to the BJCP, at least) "sessionable IPA" category. Session IPAs - basically, lower-ABV IPAs that still pack a good hop punch - are becoming more and more popular these days, with lots of commercial breweries selling their own take on the "style", such as the delicious All-Day IPA from Founders. So, isn't a Session IPA, or India Session Ale, as some are calling it, simply an American Pale Ale, you ask? Well, I'd have to say no, because most of the Session IPAs out there are coming in at <5% ABV (with a lot of them following the true "session beer" term and going even lower, less than 4% ABV), which is still lower than your typical APA. Not to mention that these beers are HOPPIER than APAs, for the most part, but that, too, is blurry now, because a lot of APAs out there now are really hoppy. You could also argue that APAs generally have more of a caramel malt-presence than American IPAs.

But, I digress. So, in a nutshell, I decided to brew a Session IPA featuring Mosaic. I threw together a recipe quickly, because this brew day came up quick and I didn't have a lot of time to put more thought into brewing this style of beer... which is unfortunate, because now that I've looked into it a bit (AFTER brewing the beer), there's some changes I would make. I'll explain what approach I took, and what I would change.

For the grist, I wanted to keep it relatively simple, but still add a couple of specialty malts for a bit of character. Along with a large percentage of 2-row, I added some Crystal 40 L, Wheat malt, and Carapils. All should help add some body to the beer, without making it too sweet. I mashed low, at 149 F, to ensure I had a good amount of fermentable sugars. I added some gypsum to the mash to help decrease the pH a bit, and bump up the calcium and sulfate as well.

Now, the hopping. How DO you hop a Session IPA, anyway? Like your standard American IPA? I wanted it to have an assertive bitterness, but not be overbearing. I aimed for roughly 1.0 on the IBU/OG ratio, which is pretty bitter. I still had quite a few of the CO2 hop extract left from my previous order, so I used 5 mL at 60 minutes to provide some IBUs. I then went with an increasing amount of Mosaic near the end of the boil: 1 oz at 10 minutes, 2 oz at flameout (for a 15-minute steep), and 3 oz for the dry-hop. Nothing too crazy, but Mosaic seems to be (from what I've read from others' experiences) a pretty potent hop, so these numbers seemed reasonable, to me.

So, what I would change...
  1. I don't know what I was thinking, but obviously with a session beer that has an OG in the high 1.030s, you probably want to mash higher than 149 F, to give the beer more body. Whoops. I just went with what I usually do for American IPAs, because I like them to finish dry. I also don't like a lot of Crystal malt in this style of beer; another approach would have been to add more specialty malt than usual, to also bump up the body.
  2. I could probably get away with decreasing the late-addition hops. Apparently, with session IPAs you have to be more cautious of adding too many hops. I read something by Mitch Steele that suggested that you're more likely to get grassy flavors with large hop additions. 
I haven't given up hope yet, though. The grist DOES have some Crystal 40 L, Carapils and Wheat malt to provide some body, and 149 F definitely isn't the lowest mash temp I've seen. Unfortunately, my OG came in several points below target, but we'll see where it finishes at. Here's hoping that the beer doesn't come across as too thin; I plan on carbing a bit lower than usual for an IPA to make up for the likely-lower body.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.010, IBU ~50, SRM 6.2, ABV ~4.9%

Grains & Other:
2.95 kg (72.2%) Canadian 2-row

454 g (11.1%) Munich malt
454 g (11.1%) Wheat malt
227 g (5.6%) Crystal 40 L

Hop extract - 5 mL @ 60 min (equivalent to 28 g 10% AA hop)

Mosaic - 28 g (12.7%) @ 10 min
Mosaic - 56 g (12.7%) @ 0 min (with a 15-minute steep)
Mosaic - 84 g dry-hop for 5 days

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

Yeast: US-05 Safale, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 6 grams gypsum in the mash

- Brewed on November 18th, 2013, by myself. 60-minute mash with 12.6 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 149 F. Sparged with 5.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG low at 1.035 (target 1.039). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons. Steeped flameout hops for 15 minutes, then started chilling. Chilled down to 62 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. OG low at 1.044; volume also seems a bit low in BB, maybe only 4.5 gallons or so. Aerated with 45 seconds of pure O2 and pitched one pack of rehydrated yeast. Placed BB in laundry room, ambient temp ~66 F.

- 19/11/13 - In early afternoon, temp 66 F, airlock bubbling q 2 seconds.

- 20/11/13 - In AM, big krausen, temp 68 F, bubbling almost every second.

- 21/11/13 - In AM, temp up to 70 F, but bubbling slowing to q 3 seconds. Moved BB into the water-heater room to keep the temp up to 70 F or so.

- 28/11/13 - Gravity reading of 1.010.

- 3/12/13 - Added dry-hops directly to primary.

- 8/12/13 - Bottled with 95 g table sugar, aiming for 2.3 vol CO2 for 4.5 gallons, with a max temp of 70 F reached.

- 6/1/13 - Posted the tasting notes... definitely should have mashed higher, as the body is too thin, but it still made a great-smelling and tasting beer!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Tasting : Schnee Tag! 2.0 (Schwarzbier)

The second of the two lagers brewed this year, this beer is my second shot at the Schwarzbier style. My first attempt turned out pretty great; I was really happy with the malt character, mixed in with some coffee flavors and aromas, without the burnt qualities you get in other dark beers like Stouts.

I brewed this beer shortly after the Vienna Lager; I washed the yeast (Wyeast Munich Lager II) from that beer and pitched the slurry into this one. This is a great way to a) get more than one batch out of one pack of yeast, b) avoid having to build up another big starter for a lager, and c) ferment and lager two beers at virtually the same time, maximizing the use and space of your fermentation chamber (for more on my approach to brewing lagers, check here).

I didn't make many changes this time around from the first Schwarzbier recipe... a bit with the grist, hopping, and I messed with the water chemistry some, but that's it. I wish I had held on to one bottle from that batch; it's been a few years, but I still would have liked to compare it to the new one. Either way, I'm happy with it... once again, enough coffee and chocolate character to be tasty, but none of the burnt, really roasted flavors you get from beers with lots of roasted malt. Definitely an excellent beer to get non-dark-beer-drinkers into drinking darker beers!

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-large, light tan head, creamy and long-lasting. Fades very slowly to a full-finger. Body is black and opaque at first-glance, but shows excellent clarity with ruby highlights when held to the light.

Aroma: Sweet malt aromas (Munich-like), and milk chocolate. Not really getting any roast.

Taste: A touch of roast character in the flavor, but the Munich malt sweetness, bit of caramel, and milk chocolate win out. Perhaps some very slight noble hop character. Medium-light bitterness in the finish. Clean. No flaws, no diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: Pretty tasty, easy-drinking... could probably benefit from a bit more roast character. Otherwise, very close to what I was going for.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tasting : The Sound of Zombies (Vienna Lager)

Ok, continuing on with the tasting notes. I brewed a lot of hoppy beers in 2013, and naturally, these are the beers I got to first when it came to posting my thoughts on the results. Not that I got to most of them quickly enough, but I got there. There's still a bunch of beers I've brewed over the last year (or more) that I HAVEN'T posted on yet, but these are beers that aren't in danger of fading as quickly as the APAs and IPAs that were big on hops.

First off is my first attempt at a Vienna Lager, one of the two lagers I brewed earlier this year using one of Wyeast's private collection yeasts, the 2352 Munich Lager II. I brewed the beer in March, began lagering it in early May, and bottled it in July. I've been drinking it since the summer, with more emphasis in the fall thanks to the style's close similarity to an Oktoberfest.

I think the beer came out pretty well. Vienna Lager is one of those styles that isn't going to jump out and smack you in the face, like a really good IPA, DIPA, or sour beer. But if you pay attention to what you're drinking, you can easily appreciate a well-brewed one, with its malt complexity and balancing bitterness.

The Vienna and Munich malts are definitely present, here... the beer is quite malty, but it doesn't finish really sweet - I'd say it's fairly balanced, maybe tilting a bit towards the sweet side, but luckily it's not cloying at all. For some reason the carbonation is a bit higher than I had aimed for, but it's not a big problem. All-in-all it's a decent Vienna Lager recipe, and the yeast seemed to work well for the style, too... but I think if you wanted to brew it now, using another one of the Lager yeast strains would give you just as good of an end-result.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, white head that shows great retention, finally fading to a full-finger. The body is dark amber, leaning into red-colored, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Strong bready malt, a touch of sweetness of the caramel variety. No hop aroma. Pretty clean.

Taste: Again, mostly a bready-malt flavor. Maybe just a touch of spiciness from the later hop addition, but it's pretty minimal. Finishes with a moderate-low bitterness, and enough dryness to make the beer feel pretty balanced.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with medium-high carbonation.

Overall: Pretty decent. I like the character from the Munich and Vienna; I think for what the style is supposed to be, that this came out well enough. I'd like to decrease the carbonation and bump up the body a bit.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tasting : Belmade Pale Ale (APA with Belma and Cascade)

I have a lot of homebrew tasting notes to get caught up on, so you'll have to excuse a potential flurry of posts; actually, this isn't really a bad thing since I've been pretty terrible at posting in general, lately.

This beer is the American Pale Ale I brewed in September, which I hopped with equal amounts of Cascade and Belma hop pellets. Except for a very small bittering addition, most of the hops were added at flameout (3 oz each) and in the dry-hop (1.25 oz each). I wasn't completely sure what to expect, but was ultimately aiming for a medium-strength, medium-bodied APA with a good amount of fruity hop presence in the aroma and flavor.

For the most part, I think I hit that goal. More details below, but the beer is definitely fruity and citrusy. What the beer definitely could use more of is bitterness; in hindsight, I should have either let the hops steep longer than I did, or maybe thrown in a 10-minute addition to up the IBUs a bit. You CAN get IBUs from flameout additions, but you have to add a lot of hops, and I guess make sure to let them steep long enough. How long, exactly? Well, I still haven't found anything concrete that says "x" amount of minutes with "y" amount of hops gives you "z" amount of IBUs. Maybe a good blog post for the future...

Still, it's definitely a tasty APA, and at 5% ABV (along with a low-perceived bitterness) makes for some easy-drinking.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, slightly off-white head that shows pretty good retention. Fades to 1/4-finger. Body is golden with really good clarity.

Aroma: Definitely getting some of that now-expected Belma character... strawberries, and some citrus fruit from the Cascade. A touch of malt sweetness, but the hops dominate.

Taste: Similar to the aroma, big hop flavor of strawberries and citrus. The beer finishes nicely balanced, tilting towards the dry side. Medium-low bitterness, needs to be higher. No flaws detected.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, medium carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: Nice APA; I'd consider brewing it again if I had a lot of Belma on hand sometime, but as mentioned, I'd either steep the flameout hops longer, or more likely add maybe 0.5-1 oz of Belma and Cascade at 10 or 5 minutes.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Brewing a Belgian Dubbel

After several months and five very-hoppy homebrews, I figure it's time to brew a beer that DOESN'T showcase hops. Don't get me wrong, if inventory and desire ruled, I'd be quite happy brewing up another five really hoppy beers, and probably more, but I have to admit I DO have a hankering for a darker, maltier beer as the days get colder. Looking back through my brew notes, it occurred to me recently that I've been ignoring one of my favorite beer styles: Belgian Dubbel.

Definitely not a hoppy beer, Belgian Dubbel is in the Belgian Strong Ale category of the BJCP. The good ones have a complex, malty sweetness in both the aroma and flavor, along with fruity esters, spicy phenols, and maybe some subtle alcohol notes. Basically a semi-dark beer that really gets to showcase malt character and Belgian yeast. It's been about three years since I last brewed this style of beer, so once I started thinking about it again, I was pretty anxious to get going.

There's a lot of different Dubbel recipes out there. The grain bill is what makes the recipe, of course, and they can range from simplistic to much more-complicated, with six, seven, or even more specialty malts being used. My original recipe from last time came from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles; this recipe is somewhere in the middle in terms of malt bill complexity, with five different malt types. I had intended on trying this recipe again with a few tweaks of my own, but came across a different one altogether in Stan Hieronymus's excellent book, Brew Like a Monk. The recipe was provided by Tomme Arthur, brewer at The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing in California. While the malt bill was slightly more complicated (eight malts instead of five), I really liked the look of it. The specialty malts include Caramunich, Aromatic and Special B; the only change I made was upping the Munich malt slightly, and dropping the Belgian Biscuit (since I didn't have any).

While lots of malt varieties can build Dubbel character, another very important ingredient that you see in most Dubbel recipes is Dark Belgian Candi Syrup. Usually agreed by brewers to provide more character than the solid sugar form, there are several different types of candi syrup that you can buy, varying in color, flavor and aroma. I had a little under a pound of the D2 Syrup from Dark Candi, Inc; at 80 SRM, it provides a mixture of "burnt sugar, figs, ripe fruit, toffee, and dark chocolate". I've used it before, and have been very happy with what it adds to a beer. All syrups are simply added to the boil... doesn't matter when, just do it sometime before the end of the boil to make sure it is sterilized. And make sure to stir well when you add it, to prevent scorching on the bottom of your kettle. For those of you so inclined, there's lots of recipes/techniques to make your own dark candi syrup online.

As for the hops, well... pretty simple, as expected. Tomme's recipe called for two additions, at 90 and 60 minutes, but I just made a single addition at 60 minutes. I went with a noble hop, Tettnang, and just enough to bring the IBUs up to about 20... you're really not looking for very much, or any, hop character for this style of beer. Just a bit of bitterness to offset some of the sweetness from the specialty malts and candi syrup.

When it comes to what yeast to use, there's a lot of options out there. Even if you're limited to liquid yeast from Wyeast (which I am, at least through my LHBS), there's still more than ten regular-release Belgian yeast strains available. With my first Dubbel, I actually used the Wyeast 3864, which was a special-release strain based on what Unibroue uses in their beers. For this brew, I decided on Wyeast's popular 1214 Belgian Abbey, from the Trappist brewery Chimay. No real reason, other than I knew other homebrewers who have used it and liked it, and because I really enjoy Chimay Premiere (better known as Chimay Red), an excellent Belgian Dubbel. I made a big starter days in advance, and plan on fermenting the beer in the low 60s to start, bringing it up to about 70 F or so over the first few days.

And that's about it. No need to add any spices to this style of beer; yes, the beer should be slightly spicy, but you want that to come from the yeast. I've seen some homebrewers successfully add fruit (such as plums) to this style of beer, but I think I'm going to keep things relatively simple, here. Just brew, ferment, and bottle... hopefully having a malty, fruity, spicy, and smooth Dubbel on hand in time for the holidays.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.068, FG ~1.014, IBU 21, SRM 19.7, ABV ~7%

Grains & Other:
3.59 kg (59.9%) Bohemian Pilsner
500 g (8.4%) Wheat malt
454 g (7.6%) Munich malt
409 g (6.8%) Aromatic malt
204 g (3.4%) Caramunich II
204 g (3.4%) Honey malt
204 g (3.4%) Special B
427 g (7.1%) Dark Belgian Candi Syrup (80 SRM) (added to the boil)

Tettnang - 42 g (4.6% AA) @ 60 min

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

Yeast: Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey (dated Sept 18th; with a 2.7 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 grams calcium chloride in the mash

- Brewed on November 4th, 2013, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water. Sparged with 4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.75 gallons in the kettle.

- SG at 1.046, at target. 90-minute boil. Final volume a bit over, at 5.75 gallons. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG a touch low at 1.067. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2 and pitched yeast starter. Placed BB in laundry room, ambient temp about 66 F. 

- 5/11/13 - Lots of airlock activity in the AM, bubbling about every second, temp 66 F. By the evening, temp had increased to 68 F.

- 6/11/13 - Bubbling more than every second in the AM, temp now up to 70 F. By the evening, the temp was still 70 F, but bubbling had slowed to every 5 seconds or so. Moved the BB into the water-heater room to try to keep the temp up to 68-70 F.

- 20/11/13 - FG a bit high at 1.017. Bottled with 140 g table sugar, aiming for 2.75 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, max temp of 70 F reached.

- 2/2/14 - A little over two months later, the beer is really starting to taste nice... great malt complexity, nice chocolate background. Tasting notes here.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Tasting : Russian River Pliny the Younger clone

Well, I'm finally posting a review of my clone attempt of one of the most highly-rated, sought-after beers on the planet. And I approach the keyboard with my tail tucked between my legs... it's a disappointment. One of my most-disappointing attempts at homebrewing I've made in a long while.

Sure, we're all our own worst critics. But this isn't a case of false modesty, here. No, I've never had the real Pliny the Younger, and I probably never will. But I know that a DIPA with that many hops isn't supposed to taste like this! I read the detailed tasting notes over at Bertus Brewery, where I got the recipe from (only a few very minor changes were made on my end). Scott describes his clone as having a huge hop aroma and flavor, and I didn't get that with my beer. Not to say the beer isn't hoppy; it is. But with THAT many hops, even with a beer as high as 9.7% ABV, I would expect the hops to come through more.

So, what went wrong? I'm pretty much flabbergasted. The brew day went well. I pitched two rehydrated packs of US-05, more than necessary for this beer. I aerated with pure oxygen, for 90 seconds... and then aerated AGAIN 18 hours later (at the recommendation of several sources when brewing bigger beers). The beer fermented out well, getting down to my target FG of 1.010. And it fermented under controlled temperatures, starting at 64 F in my fermentation chamber, with gradual increases over the week to 68 F.

As for the hopping... well, I transferred to secondary and made four dry-hop additions every 4 days. As mentioned in the original post, this would be more ideal if I had a way of purging the secondary headspace with CO2, which I wasn't able to do. However, I used this same approach (albeit every 3 days) for my Kern River Citra DIPA clone, and it turned out great.

So, in a nutshell... the beer isn't hoppy enough at all, considering the amount of hops added to it. Luckily, it doesn't really TASTE like hot alcohol; the 9.7% is actually hidden pretty well in the flavor. I don't want to discourage anyone from brewing the recipe, however... I think it should really turn out great. If you keg, and can thus dry-hop in the keg and purge with CO2, I think you should have a real winner of a DIPA on your hands.


Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, off-white head that's fairly thick and fluffy... eventually fades to 1/2-finger. Body is dark golden in color, with surprisingly very good clarity.

Aroma: Citrusy and piney hops. Maybe not as strong as I would have thought, but a bit of time has helped them come through. There's a bit of alcohol in there, too, but the hops dominate.

Taste: The hops come through, flavor-wise, both citrusy and piney, but again, maybe not as much as I expected. A bit of sweetness, surprisingly, but ultimately the beer finishes quite dry and strongly bitter. 

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation. Some alcohol warmth, but it's not hot or solvent-like.

Overall: In the end, not nearly as hoppy as I was expecting. The hops are there, and it's a nice beer, but I wanted more from it. Sneakily drinkable at 9.7% ABV... but I'm disappointed.

Side-note: Just thought I should also include that several people (beer geeks) have tried this beer and really enjoyed it... re-reading the post, I come across as a little harsh. It IS a good DIPA, but like I said before, when you add that many hops, I just feel like they should have come across more than they are.