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?