Friday, 6 March 2015

Brewing a Belgian Red IPA

After the success of my Belgian Session IPA experiment, I wanted to take the Belgian IPA in another direction. Coming up with a few ideas wasn't too difficult; if you start combining several beer styles, and even look at throwing in different yeasts such as Brett, you'll have a list in no time of new things to brew. But I almost immediately centred on one of my favorite "styles", Red IPA. What if you took a Red IPA and fermented it with a Belgian yeast strain? Would the hops and grain bill simply plow over the yeast, or was it possible for all three to co-exist? More importantly, co-exist without clashing terribly?

I don't think these questions can necessarily be answered by one brew attempt, but I DID want to give it a go. I haven't tried a "Belgian Red IPA" before, and couldn't remember seeing one commercially, either. Once I started looking into it, however, of course several other breweries have already tried this, such as Odyssey Beer Werks in Colorado, and Four Peaks Brewing in Arizona (who actually have a "Belgian Red Rye IPA" listed as one of their beers).

Putting together a recipe for this type of beer strikes me as a bit risky, even more so than the Belgian Session IPA. Like I said, I see a lot of potential for bad, or even terrible flavor combinations. At least in a pale beer, you really only have to worry about the combination of flavors from the yeast and hop varieties. But with a red-colored beer, you're bringing in two or more malt types that exhibit possibly strong flavors on their own. Tread carefully!

I actually started with the yeast. Rather than order a new strain through my LHBS, I decided to re-use the slurry from my recent Belgian Pale Ale. Wyeast 3655 Belgian Schelde is normally used in maltier Belgian beers. I've only used it twice, and both times were in Belgian Pale Ales; I like the combination of spicy and fruity it brings to these beers, without being too much of either. I wasn't sure if it was the best pick for a Belgian Red IPA, however... because it's not overly prominent, would the malt bill and hops hide the Belgian character, making this just another Red IPA? Quite possibly. However, I also didn't want to swing the other way, where too MUCH Belgian character may ruin the beer completely. So, 3655 for this first attempt was my final choice.

I've brewed several Red IPAs in the past couple of years that I've really enjoyed, so I had a few different malt bills in mind. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that maybe the recent Belgian Pale Ale malt bill would be a good choice. I know this one works well with 3655; I figured that with a touch of Midnight Wheat to darken the beer slightly (but not add roasty or acrid character), it would be about what I was looking for. Consisting of mostly Pilsner malt, plus some CaraMunich II and Victory, it's pretty straight-forward... and it works, at least, for a Belgian Pale Ale, it does. I also liked that it gives a nice caramel-quality to the beer, without coming across as too busy, for lack of a better word. There's room for yeast to show off, and hopefully room for hops, too.

So, yes, the hops. I continued to tweak this beer based on some others I've brewed recently. My Meek Celebration 2014, a Red IPA I brewed to give away at Christmas, came out pretty fantastic. That beer featured lots of Amarillo, Azacca, and Simcoe hops, which gave fantastic flavors and aromas, with lots of tropical fruit, citrus, and a bit of pine. I was definitely leading to a similar hop profile for this beer - more American-hopped than Belgian-hopped (noble varieties), say. I settled on Azacca and Simcoe, and threw in some Mosaic - another fantastic variety I've been wanting to brew with again. With a small Simcoe addition at 10 minutes, I would then whirlpool with Azacca and Mosaic, with more of all three being added when the immersion chiller was turned on. Add a single dry-hop of all three, and you've got a beer with close to 3/4 lb of hops for a 5-gallon batch (I brewed 4 gallons, which is my normal batch-size for hoppy beers, now).

The beer fermented in the high 60s, and reached up to about 70 F at one point. Warmer would have no-doubt brought out more yeast character, but I was happy with these temperatures for this style. Everything went off without a hitch, for the most part; after a couple of weeks, I racked the beer to the dry-hop keg and threw in an ounce each of Azacca, Mosaic and Simcoe. After 5 days, I moved the beer to the serving keg via a closed system (the exact procedure that Derek from uses; detailed explanation here). My keezer was lacking a few taps around this point, so I tried using the shake-to-carbonate method... but on a very toned-down scale (it just doesn't feel right to be doing it, for some reason!). I was drinking the beer within a week or so, I'd say.

Tasting notes are written at the bottom of this post, but all-in-all I've been quite happy with this beer. The first few sips, it tastes pretty much like a regular Red IPA... the Belgian character hardly comes through at all. Not to say it's not a good beer; the hop combination works extremely well - very fruity, big on citrus, mangoes, berries, and a touch of pine. And the malt character is great; maybe not as "deep" with toffee and caramel as the Meek Celebration, but there's still enough to complement the hops.

As the beer starts to warm a bit, however, the Belgian yeast character becomes more assertive. As expected from the strain, it's not a wave of really intense Belgian character (namely, strong phenolics/spiciness), but more of a mild fruity/spicy tang that is different from the fruitiness from the hops. It's definitely interesting, and sometimes I drink it and feel that the combination doesn't quite work; but, most times, I feel that it does.

I know, not exactly a ringing endorsement, but in the end I do like this beer. I had originally planned on splitting the wort into two batches, and fermenting one half with 3655, and the other with US-05. That definitely would have been useful to really determine how much the 3655 lends to a beer of this style, but unfortunately I got a little lazy. Still, if you're looking for to brew up something a little different, give this recipe a try. Or better yet, play around with some different hop/yeast combinations! As in all things homebrewing, you're really only limited by imagination.

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.070, FG ~1.015, IBU ~60, SRM 16, ABV ~7.1%

4.1 kg (85.9%) Pilsner
350 g (7.3%) CaraMunich II (45 L)
275 g (5.8%) Victory malt
50 g (1%) Midnight Wheat

Hop extract - 2.5 mL @ 60 min (or 14 g of 10% AA hop variety)

Simcoe - 28 g (12% AA) @ 10 min

Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)
Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)

Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Simcoe - 14 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Azacca - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Mosaic - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Simcoe - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3655 Belgian Schelde (about 1/2-3/4 cup slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed on January 13th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.048 (target 1.049). 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume 4 gallons; OG a little low 1.069. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fast and furious fermentation from the 14th - 15th, but it slowed down quickly after that. I was a bit worried maybe it had stalled, but when I checked the gravity about a week later, it was down to 1.015, where I had hoped.

- 26/1/15 - Racked to dry-hop keg (purged with CO2), added dry-hops and purged again. Set at room temp.

- 31/1/15 - In AM, set keg in keezer to cold-crash.

- 1/2/15 - In afternoon, transferred beer to sanitized and CO2-purged serving keg. Carbed by shaking keg at 30 PSI for 3 minutes, then set at 14 PSI.

Excuse the poor picture quality, my regular camera was broken
Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head that has quite good retention; eventually fades to 1/4-finger. Body is a brilliantly-clear, dark ruby-red color. This is a very pretty beer.

Aroma: Strong hop aroma (melon, stone fruit, bit of pine) backed up by a pleasantly-strong malt presence - caramel and toffee. As the beer warms, a touch of spiciness comes through, presumably from the Belgian yeast.

Taste: Extremely spot-on with the aroma - big hop character, and a healthy amount of caramel and toffee malt sweetness to back it all up. Again, the Belgian character becomes more prevalent as the beer warms. Medium bitterness in the finish, nicely balanced between sweet and dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Smooth and creamy.

Overall: Quite nice; a little unsure about it at first, but I've decided I really like this beer. I'm tempted to do the exact same recipe again, but with a different yeast strain; I'm thinking maybe a Trappist strain, such as Chimay.

1 comment:

  1. I've done a few BIPA's, and I'd suggest 3522 or WLP550, they attenuate well, and relatively moderate in regards to belgian character. haven't tried WLP500 as yet, thought about it, but the massive OTT fruit/banana put me off.
    I have used WY1214 though, and it turned out well, I used slightly elevated temps to ferment.