I'm a big fan of Black IPAs... when they're brewed right. It can be a pretty difficult style to do extremely well; you've got to hit the perfect balance of chocolate and roastiness in the beer (too much and it's a stout, too little and it's just a dark-coloured IPA), along with a decent amount of bitterness (in the medium-high to high zone), and a good amount of hop aroma and flavour. Now that Black IPA is "official" - meaning that it's in the Specialty IPA category of the 2015 BJCP Guide - there's a little bit more to go on when brewing the style, if you're looking to get in the "technically-correct" range. Basically, you want some dark malt character, but not enough to be intense or so that it's clashing with the hops. Hop aroma and flavour can range from medium to high, for the most part.
This is my third Black IPA, and my third (and last) attempt at improving on my Hill Farmstead James clone. The recipe came from Mitch Steele's IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Hopped entirely with Columbus (CTZ) and Centennial, it's supposed to be a delicious beer. I initially thought I had had it, but realized last year that I had tried Foster, their "Black Wheat IPA". So, while I don't have any idea if my attempts are anywhere close to what James is really like, I continue to try to improve on the beer that I initially brewed over 2 years ago.
The first time I brewed the clone, I had to make some changes to the recipe (mainly in the grist) based on what I had available from my LHBS. When it came to the yeast, everyone knows HF uses an English strain, but which one commercially available is closest? I chose Wyeast 1098 British Ale; I had used it before and liked it. It's actually quite neutral, as English yeasts go, so it seemed like a good choice to start with. I eventually bottled the batch and was really, really happy with how it came out. I thought the roastiness of the beer was right where it should be, and the hops came through very prominently - lots of citrus, bit of earthy dankness... delicious beer overall. Unfortunately, the hop character dropped off very quickly, as it often does in bottled beers.
In my second attempt, I wasn't really looking to change the beer drastically, just maybe slightly improve on it. I was curious what effect a different yeast strain would have on the beer, and I had also started kegging and wanted to package that way; I naturally assumed that the beer would be even hoppier as a result. This time, I fermented with Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale; another clean strain, the description sounded like it had a bit more English character to it. While the beer was still enjoyable, I found that it wasn't quite as hoppy as the first one, even with the dry hop addition going right into the keg. I'm not sure if it was due to the yeast strain, hop freshness, or simply a change in my tastes over the previous year. Whatever was the culprit, I wanted to try one more time.
The recipe is still staying about the same this time, with another small change in the grist: I was completely out of Carafa Special, but I had lots of Midnight Wheat on hand. Both grains lack a husk (meaning you get the dark color and some of the roastiness, but not the acrid character as with other husked, dark grains), so I figured the switch would be negligible in the final product (especially at only 6% of the grist). Otherwise, the grist and hopping schedule were the same as last time. I did change the water chemistry slightly, by increasing the addition of both calcium chloride and gypsum to 10 grams each. This brought the final water profile to ~145 ppm each of chloride and sulfate, an approach with my hoppy beers I've been taking lately (I'm admittedly not completely sold on this target yet, however).
For fermentation this time, I went with Wyeast 1318 London Ale III. I've used this strain several times for hoppy beers (as have a lot of other homebrewers) and I really like how it works in these styles. Aside from being rumoured to be very similar to the English strain used by Hill Farmstead, its claim that it provides a "softly balanced palate" is true; or at least, it seems that way to me. A word of advice when you use this yeast: it usually provides a pretty big krausen that sticks around for quite some time; it's not unusual for it to take 10-14 days to drop out after active fermentation is complete, unless of course you have the ability to cold-crash.
So, I brewed the beer back in November, and as expected fermentation was fast and furious, with the airlock blowing off overnight. No problem, though; a bit of tinfoil over the top of the carboy did the trick till things settled down, and there were no issues with temperature control - the temp of the beer never went above 70 F. After almost two weeks I dry-hopped directly in primary, and then racked to a keg about 5 days later and carbed the beer.
I find the end result here to be more similar to my second attempt than my first, unfortunately. Once again the hop character is lacking slightly, and I'd actually like to see a little more roast character here, too. May not be a bad idea to add a bit of Roasted Barley or Black Patent. The mouthfeel is great, though - medium or even medium-full bodied, creamy... smooth. Nice firm bitterness in the finish. So, the beer is pretty good, but it's definitely not great. I suspect that, again, hop freshness MAY be playing at least a small part, but these weren't OLD hops by any means, and as usual they were stored cold and vacuum-sealed.
Next time I brew a Black IPA, I'll be trying something completely of my own design; different grist, different hops. Time to shake things up a bit for this style, for me. However, I really like how the London Ale III worked with this beer, even if the FG did end up being a bit high (1.018) - the mouthfeel is just where I want it for a Black IPA, and the slight fruity-esters in the aroma and taste are great. This yeast strain will continue to be used in hoppy beers of mine in the future!
Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.065, FG ~1.016, IBU ~80, SRM 33, ABV ~6.4%
5.1 kg (85.5%) Canadian 2-row
360 g (6%) Midnight Wheat
240 g (4%) CaraPils
120 g (2%) Flaked Oats
94 g (1.6%) Crystal 150 L
50 g (0.8%) Acid malt
CTZ - 10 g (11% AA) FWH
CTZ - 14 g @ 60 min
Centennial - 33 g (7.5% AA) @ 45 min
Centennial - 34 g @ 10 min
Centennial - 43 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
CTZ - 80 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
Centennial - 38 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 38 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter, ~240 billion cells)
Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 10 g Gypsum and 10 g calcium chloride added to mash
- Brewed on November 4th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 152 F. Mash pH low at 5.3 at 68 F (target 5.4). Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.
- Pre-boil gravity at 1.051 (target 1.053). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG 1.063. Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.
- Furious fermentation by the next morning; the temp was 68 F and the airlock had blown off the carboy. For the rest of the day and into the next, activity was so strong and the krausen so large, I just left tinfoil on top. Some beer was lost; temp didn't get over 68-70 F.
- 17/11/15 - Krausen finally dropped with a little cold-temp help. FG high at 1.018. Dry-hopped in primary. Racked to a keg and set in keezer to bring temp down 5 days later, before starting to carb.
Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, light-tan, creamy head that shows excellent retention. Sticks around for quite awhile before fading to 1/2-finger. Body is very dark brown if not black, and opaque. Ruby highlights at edges when held to the light.
Aroma: Light aroma of milk chocolate and earthy, dank hops. A touch of fruitiness follows at the end, hard to tell if it’s from the hops, or esters from the yeast.
Taste: Flavours of light chocolate and roast, following with some earthy and slightly-fruity hop notes, all finishing on the dry side of balanced, with a moderate-high bitterness. Quite smooth.
Mouthfeel: Very creamy, medium to medium-full bodied beer, with moderate carbonation.
Overall: I like it; I would like to see a bit more roast character, and a bit more hop character as well. Mouthfeel is great. In the end, unfortunately still not up to my first attempt, but I find that this yeast works really well with this recipe.