Friday, 10 April 2015

"Baby Zoe" - a Session version of Maine Beer Co. Zoe

It was almost two years ago that I brewed my first Maine Beer Co. clone; it was Zoe, a hoppy Amber ale that was the second beer that the brewery released. I had contacted co-owner/brewer Dan Kleban for help formulating a Zoe recipe; he sent along some useful suggestions, and the resulting beer was excellent. When tasted side-by-side with the commercial beer, I found that the homebrew version actually came out hoppier. I think it's possible that Zoe has become a less-hoppy beer over the years compared to when it was first released, but I could easily be wrong; it could simply be that my tastes have changed.

Either way, I really enjoyed the homebrew version and had always planned on brewing it again. Recently, I decided to revisit it, mainly because I've brewed several really hoppy Amber ales since then that I've loved (such as a Modern Times Blazing World clone, and Meek Celebration, a hoppy Amber I brewed for Christmas a few months ago), and I wanted to see if the Zoe clone could hold its own. But then I had another idea: I've been brewing more and more lower-ABV, hoppy beers lately, and had been planning on doing a "Session Red IPA" of sorts. I love Red IPAs, but they're usually 6-8% ABV (or higher), and the idea of a sessionable one really appealed to me. So... why not brew Zoe to a lower ABV?

This is exactly the same recipe - grist-wise and hopping-wise - as before, except it's all been scaled down to a 4-gallon batch, and to an OG of 1.048. The grist is made up of equal parts 2-row and Maris Otter, with several specialty malts added to give the beer its dark amber color and supporting malt backbone (lots of caramel in this one, and even a bit of chocolate, too). I did raise the mash temp this time; it was 150 F before (at Dan's recommendation), but with the lower OG, I wanted to make sure that the beer had enough body. My experience with low-ABV hoppy beers has led me to always use a mash temp of at least 153 F, which is the target I aimed for with this beer. I also kept the water adjustment the same as last time, with a bit of Gypsum, table salt, and Epsom salt added to adjust to the "San Diego - Hoppy" water profile from The Mad Fermentationist. Not a profile I usually aim to replicate anymore, but it obviously worked well for this beer before, so I decided to use it again.

The hopping schedule I used for Zoe is made up of equal amounts of Centennial, Columbus (CTZ), and Simcoe. Apparently, Simcoe is used as the bittering hop, but this time around I subbed in CTZ, simply because I can't see it making a difference. There's lots of other hop additions for flavor and aroma: two near the end of the boil, one at flameout for a hop steep, and another when I started chilling the wort. A single dry-hop (in primary) for a week or so, and then rack to a keg or bottle. Pretty straight-forward.

The brew day went well; my only real complaint was a slightly low OG due to a little extra volume. Brewing this time of year can be a pain, even with a garage to keep the wind out and the temps from getting TOO low (but come on, it's winter, and the door still has to be open a bit, so it's still damned cold). The one plus is that the ground water temps are so low, it takes barely any time to chill the wort to pitching temp. But yeah, I know, for those of you in California, this sounds like a bit of a stretch... and it is! Jerks.

As before, I fermented the wort with US-05. These low-OG beers usually ferment out pretty quickly, and after 2-3 days of activity in the airlock, things settled down. I dry-hopped the beer directly in primary about a week and a half later (I would normally have racked the beer to my dry-hop keg, but didn't have the time, oddly), then racked to a keg and carbed it up.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this beer, but I guess I was hoping to have a beer that smelled and tasted as good as the original clone, in spite of the lower ABV. And you know what? That's about how it turned out. For the first few pours, I felt like the beer was good, but not as hoppy as the last time (despite using the same hop varieties, and the same amounts); it actually tasted more like the real Zoe than the last one did! But after a couple of days (probably as the carbonation improved), the beer really opened up. It's the perfect balance of malty (slightly sweet, some caramel and toffee, and just a touch of chocolate) and hoppy (citrusy, fruity, slightly dank). All that and 4.3% ABV? I'll take it.

With these results, there's nothing I would change with the recipe. I suppose I could bump the mash temp up a bit, to 155-156 F, next time, just to see if a bit more body would make the beer even better. If you're a big fan of Zoe, brew the first recipe. If you're a big fan of Zoe but want less alcohol, brew this one. I'm definitely going to continue this experiment, and re-brew the other Red IPAs I mentioned above, but in the sub-5% ABV zone. Cheers!

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.012, IBU ~50, SRM 11.5, ABV ~4.7%

1.25 kg (41.7%) Canadian 2-row
1.25 kg (41.7%) Maris Otter
150 g (5%) Munich
150 g (5%) Victory
75 g (2.5%) Crystal 40 L
75 g (2.5%) Crystal 80 L
45 g (1.5%) Chocolate malt

CTZ - 5 g (11.3% AA) @ 60 min
Centennial - 10 g (8% AA) @ 10 min
CTZ -10 g @ 10 min
Simcoe - 10 (11.8% AA) g @ 10 min
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 10 g each @ 5 min
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 14 g each @ flameout, 10-minute hop steep
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 14 g each when started chiller
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 19 g each dry-hop for 5-7 days

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, ~3/4 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum, 3 g table salt, 2 g epsom salt added to the mash

- Brewed on March 6th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 9 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 4 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.4 gallons.

- SG low at 1.036 (target 1.037). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at ~4.25 gallons; OG a little low at 1.046. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Good fermentation after about 24 hours from pitching; took 2-3 days before it started slowing down significantly in the airlock. Temp reached as high as 68 F.

- 15/3/15 - FG 1.013. Added dry-hops directly into primary. Kegged about 7 days later and started carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, off-white head that eventually fades to a thin film on the beer. Body is a dark amber/light red color, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Equal balance between fruity hops and caramel malt... sweet, but not too much. A tiny bit of chocolate making its way through, as well as a little hop dankness.

Taste: Sweet caramel and toffee flavors at first, melded with just a hint of chocolate. The fruitiness of the hops comes through very quickly, and finishes with a moderate bitterness. More on the side of dry than sweet.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation. 

Overall: Very enjoyable; nice having a "sessionable-Zoe". Nothing wrong with the previous clone at ~7%, but I'll take something that tastes about as good with less alcohol, any time!

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