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.


  1. Hey, Quick Question on this one. You've got your hopshot at 5ml? when Mike's recipe was 10ml with no other hop additions, why is this?

    1. Sorry, I'm a bit confused... who's Mike?

      This recipe isn't a clone of any type, it's just an Red IPA that I came up with on my own - the hopping schedule, at least.

    2. sorry, Mike, the mad fermentationist. His opening bittering addition was 10ml ratherthan 5ml as your states.
      Heres a link:
      Great blog BTW.

    3. Thanks, glad you enjoy it!

      I kind of figured you meant Mike Tonsmeire, but wasn't sure. Like I said, though, this recipe isn't a clone of anyone's, it was just my own, hence the different hopping.

    4. Fair enough, I'm just wondering as the Hop Extract here is clearly not as potent.
      Feel free to check mine out. If I ever get around to brewing any of your recipes I'll be sure to link back to you.

    5. I guess I couldn't confirm exactly why the difference in the IBUs between recipes. I read from several sources that the hop extract can be compared to a hop addition by assuming that 5 mL hop extract = 1 oz of a 10% AA hop variety, as I mentioned in the recipe. So, in BeerSmith, that's how I put it in the recipe.

      Now, Mike's recipe DOES have a higher-calculated IBU than mine; his is also from 2.5 years ago, and I'm not 100% sure which software he uses. I THINK it's also BeerSmith. From my experience, the older version of BS (which he was probably using in 2012?) never accounted for any IBUs from a flameout/hop steep addition, so maybe Mike got his 115 IBUs from the 10 mL of hop extract and 1 oz of Simcoe at 20 min.

      All this is assumption, of course.

  2. I made this for my 30th Bday on the 11th. Dry hops went in on Saturday. Then going to get off the dry hops and into cold crash tomorrow. 1.070 to 1.014. LHBS was out of almost all the hops... Bittered with Magnum, then Citra at 5, Apollo/Citra for 10 min hop stand and whirlpool. Dry hop with Apollo/Citra for 5 day. Thanks for the inspiration on this one. Will report back with my thoughts.

    1. Nice, sounds tasty! Glad to see you've taken something and made it into your own thing... and yes, definitely let me know how it turns out!