Big Spruce Brewing, based in Nyanza, Cape Breton, is a small craft brewery that has been in operation since 2012. Since their opening, they've been producing some of the better craft beer in Atlantic Canada, with a combination of very solid regular-release beers and plenty of different one-offs, brewed for special events, tap takeovers, beer dinners, etc. Their beers are currently found on tap at select accounts in Nova Scotia, and are available for growler fills at the brewery, as well as the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and private beer stores in Halifax.
Several months ago, they announced the details for their third annual Home Brew Challenge. This year, three different styles would be featured: Czech Dark Lager, Altbier, and Red IPA. Entrants were able to enter all three categories, with gold, silver, and bronze medals given for each category. In addition, the winner of Best of Show would be given the opportunity to brew a full-sized batch on Big Spruce's system for release in January, 2016.
I don't enter many homebrew competitions. I'm certainly not against them, it's just that I've fallen into a routine of brewing what I want to brew, and it seems that whenever I brew something I REALLY like, there aren't really any competitions going on in the area to enter. This time, there was plenty of notice, and Red IPA has always been one of my favourite beer styles, so I decided to brew up something for entry. I had lots of time to come up with a recipe when the competition was announced; my plan was to brew the beer in mid-October, so that I could bottle it and have it ready by mid-November at the latest. The deadline for entry was November 27th, with the judging taking place the next day.
I've brewed a few Red IPAs over the past 2-3 years that I've really enjoyed, including my Modern Times Blazing World clone, Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone, and last year's Christmas giveaway beer, a great one that featured Amarillo, Simcoe, and Azacca. I actually considered brewing any one of these for entry, since I knew that the recipe at least was sound. But I wanted to do something new, and in the end that's the direction I took. Unfortunately, I put it off too long, and suddenly it was the middle of October and I knew I should really get to brewing something.
Picking a grist for the beer was easy. For pretty much all of my recent Red IPAs, I've gone with the grist from either the Blazing World clone, or the Zoe clone. Both have worked well for me, and both are quite different. The Zoe clone has more malt types than I'd normally use in a recipe, but I find it works well, so that's what I ultimately went with: a mix of 2-row and Maris Otter, along with Munich, Victory, Crystal 40 L and 80 L, and a touch of Chocolate malt. This gives you an SRM of about 12, and with a target OG of ~1.056, an ABV approaching 6%. A lot of Red IPAs are higher than that, but I was looking for something a little more sessionable, despite not being a session beer. I also threw in 2% of Acid malt; I do this for basically all of my pale beers now. When I plugged the recipe into EZ Water Calculator, I was really aiming to get the mash pH down to 5.4, and the addition of acid malt brought it in perfect range. Along with 7 grams each of calcium chloride and Gypsum (targeting ~120 ppm each of sulfate and chloride), 5.4 was the calculated pH. I finally got around to purchasing a fairly-cheap-but-hopefully-decent pH meter, so now I could finally test the validity of the calculator.
Now, on to the important part... hops! I knew I wanted to use a hopping schedule fairly similar to the Zoe clone, but with different hop varieties. I thought about using some of the really new varieties I had on hand, such as Azacca and Equinox, but then thought that maybe I should realistically be using hops that were a bit easier to find. I decided to go with a mixture: Cascade and Columbus (CTZ), two tried-and-true hops that have been around for years, and Mosaic, a very flavourful, aromatic variety that is still fairly new. I didn't really overdo it with this batch, either: small additions of CTZ and Cascade at 10 and 5 minutes, Cascade and Mosaic at flameout for a steep and when I started chilling the wort, and all three for a single dry-hop in primary.
Everything went smoothly on brew day. I hit my mash target of 151 F (looking to keep the beer fairly dry), and the room temp mash pH was right on target, 5.38 (thanks, EZ Water Calculator!). Fermentation started within 20 hours after pitching (I went with my Red IPA standby, US-05... although I really think I'll use an English strain next time), and slowed down after a couple of days of vigorous activity. I dry-hopped the beer in primary on day 11, and after another week, racked and bottled. Normally I would keg a beer like this, but I haven't had the best of luck with filling bottles from a keg when they aren't going to be consumed within a couple of days.
I was drinking this beer by November 7th or so; it was pretty much completely carbonated after about a week of bottle conditioning. I liked it, and have been liking it since; the malt character is good for a Red IPA, and I like how the three hops work together - fruity and a bit earthy, is the best way I can describe it. However, I would like to see MORE with the hops, both in the aroma and flavour. The last few beers of this style I've brewed have been HUGE in that regard, and I was hoping for a stronger hop presence overall in this beer. No, 8 oz of hops in a batch isn't a huge amount, but I was expecting more.
To be honest, I think since I was kind of disappointed with the beer, I wouldn't have even bothered entering it. However, a friend (who was in charge of organizing the judging for the competition) was passing through days before and had already taken my entry fee and beers, so it was already a done deal.
I wasn't able to attend the post-judging announcement and party in Dartmouth on the 28th, but believe me that I was completely shocked to hear that the beer had won gold in its category! I really wasn't expecting it to place at all. The winning beer in the Czech Dark Lager category, brewed by Eric Gautier (co-brewer Justin Clarke), won Best of Show (note that they also won in the Altbier category, and the competition last year with their American Wheat!). While I haven't yet received my score sheets, I've since heard some of the scores in the Red IPA category from others (20 entries overall), and they've been very good; obviously we've got some serious, experienced home brewers here in Atlantic Canada!
Jeremy White, owner and brewmaster at Big Spruce, said that he really enjoyed the beer. He seems interested in having me make the trip to the brewery to assist him in brewing a batch for next year's Fredericton Craft Beer Festival (Saturday, March 12th). Not sure if that'll happen, but I'd definitely be game! It may even give us the opportunity to bring the hop level up higher to where I'd like to see it.
Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.056, FG ~1.011, IBU ~43, SRM 12, ABV ~5.9%
2.1 kg (41.2%) Canadian 2-row
2.1 kg (41.2%) Maris Otter
250 g (4.9%) Munich
250 g (4.9%) Victory
125 g (2.5%) Crystal 40 L
125 g (2.5%) Crystal 80 L
100 g (2%) Acid malt
50 g (1%) Chocolate malt
CTZ - 14 g (11.5% AA) @ 60 min
Cascade - 14 g (7% AA) @ 10 min
CTZ - 14 g @ 10 min
Cascade - 14 g @ 5 min
CTZ - 14 g @ 5 min
Cascade - 21 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
Mosaic - 21 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
Cascade - 21 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)
Mosaic - 21 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)
Cascade - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Mosaic - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 pack, rehydrated)
Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash
- Brewed on October 14th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 151 F. Mash pH at 5.38 at 68 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.
- Pre-boil gravity at 1.046. 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG 1.055. Chilled to 66 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 70 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 66 F.
- 25/10/15 - FG 1.013. Added dry hops into primary.
- 2/11/15 - Bottled with 106 g table sugar, aiming for 2.3 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, max temp 72 F reached. Bottled only slightly over 4 gallons; lots of hop matter caught in bottling wand before last 3-4 bottles could be completed.
Appearance: Pours with a medium-large, off-white head that has excellent retention, sticking around for several minutes before starting to fade. Body is a dark-red colour, with excellent clarity.
Aroma: Pretty decent balance of slightly sweet, caramel-type malt with fruity and citrusy hops. Clean. Would like the hop aroma to be boosted, however.
Taste: Same; the maltiness (both a bready quality and caramel sweetness) comes through first, followed quickly by a fruity/slightly earthy hop character, finishing fairly dry with a moderate bitterness.
Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Smooth.
Overall: A good Red IPA, but I'd like it to have more hop character, especially in the aroma.