Thursday, 15 September 2016

Brewing a New England Pale Ale with Funktown Pale Ale yeast

By now, I think we're all quite familiar with the whole New England (Northeast?) IPA subject, a beer which many in the Northeast USA love, and those in the Western states despise. I actually don't think it's as cut-and-dry as all that, but if you were to read (and I'm sure most of you have) the constant arguments online over this, you'd be easily fooled. It seems to boil down to a beer that is super-hoppy (with an emphasis more on hop flavour and aroma than bitterness), hazy, and with a creamy mouthfeel (but still finishing fairly dry). It seems to be the haze that bothers non-believers the most; I fall on the side that doesn't care about the haze. If the beer is delicious, I'm ok with it; and as I've said before, when I now see a pale, super-hazy beer, I get excited! It's like Pavlov's dogs, but with tasty beer instead of dog treats or whatever he used (maybe he DID use beer, secretly).

There's plenty of commercial and home brewed NEIPAs and NEPAs out there now; even New Brunswick is coming through with some. TrailWay Brewing, here in Fredericton, releases many beers that are big on hop aromatics and flavours, hazy to the point of downright murky, and often sub-5% ABV. It's great! Personally, I've brewed a lot of beers in this area as well, even if I haven't really labelled them "New England" (or Northeast), specifically.

One thing I haven't been doing in my recipes that many others do is add oats (flaked or malted). It's not that I'm against it, it's just that I've had pretty good success in achieving the goals I've aimed for by fermenting with London Ale III, limiting use of fining agents to a bit of Whirfloc near the end of the boil, and adjusting my water chemistry to have roughly equal amounts of chloride and sulfate (in the 100-120 ppm range). When putting together a new Pale Ale recipe early in the summer, I decided to try incorporating oats into the recipe, and immediately remembered that I had always wanted to try brewing the Tired Hands HopHands clone on Ed Coffey's site. Obviously this is a very popular recipe, as there's around 90 comments on that post alone (no wonder he's gone semi-pro now!), and I've seen it pop up on other homebrew sites since.

Ed's recipe is made up of roughly 82% Superior Pale Ale malt, and 18% Flaked Oats; the beer is hopped with equal amounts of Amarillo, Centennial and Simcoe, with the emphasis being on a large dry-hop addition of all three. Fermented with London Ale III, he compares it to a "fruit juice cocktail", which sounds pretty damned good to me. However, I decided not to brew this exact beer this time around, although I imagine I will come to doing that, eventually. No, this time I wanted to "borrow" from this recipe, and take it in a slightly different direction.

How? Mainly by fermenting with The Yeast Bay's Funktown Pale Ale, which they describe as a "blend of our Vermont Ale strain and a unique wild strain of Saccharomyces that is well-suited for primary fermentation". The blend is a collaboration with White Labs, so let me just put out there what you're immediately thinking on that description - this is Conan blended with what used to be called Brett Trois (until White Labs confirmed that it's actually not Brett, and reclassified it as a wild Saccharomyces). A friend of a friend had some Funktown Pale Ale slurry left over, and I was lucky enough to get some, so I grew it up over a couple of steps to have enough for a Pale Ale. I hadn't set out to use it with Ed's HopHands clone grist and hopping schedule, but that seems as good a place as any to use it! I've never actually brewed with Conan, either by purchasing it, or growing it up from a can of Heady Topper, but I've heard plenty of good/frustrating things about it. I feel like I've read (from other homebrewers) that after several generations, it can be finicky to finish fermentation, but maybe I'm wrong.

As mentioned, while I kept the hop schedule, I changed two of the three varieties. The Simcoe remained, but I dropped the Amarillo and Centennial, mainly because I'm planning on brewing a Maine Beer Co. Lunch clone very soon, which uses these three varieties as well. So, I gave it some thought and mostly-randomly settled on subbing in Chinook and Hallertau Blanc, two varieties I've used before and always enjoy. With these three, I was expecting to get pine, grapefruit, pineapple, and citrus, which sounds like a decent mix to me. Roughly equal amounts of all three, the dry-hop amounts were a bit skewed due to inventory levels, but the overall amount used for that addition is still fairly large, at a total of 5 oz.

It was a relatively normal brew day; my OG came in on target, no major issues that I noticed. I pitched what I calculated to be about 200 billion cells. Who knows how accurate that is; I estimated to have a very small amount of cells to begin with, 3 billion, and like I mentioned built that up over a couple of starters on my stir plate. Fermentation started by that evening, however, so things were looking good. Unfortunately, when I checked the gravity a week and a half later, it wasn't at the 1.008 that BeerSmith had estimated (based on the apparent attenuation of the Funktown yeast)... it was 1.016! I'm not really sure what happened here - the temp didn't drop, and it appears that I pitched plenty of cells, so I'm going to assume it has something to do with the finicky nature of Conan? I'll never know. When I tried a taste, however, I didn't find it overly sweet, so I wasn't extremely worried. I dry-hopped the beer, and then kegged it six days later and force-carbed.

I'm pretty happy with how it came out in the end. The hops seem to work well together, although I don't really get much pine in either the aroma or flavour; mainly a fruit-blend, if that makes any sense. I can't really pick out any one or two specific types of fruit, but I've never really had a nose/palate for that, anyway. Definitely a creamy, smooth mouthfeel, the beer could still benefit from a bit of a drier finish. It's not sweet, exactly, but another 3-4 points lower in the gravity would improve it.

As for the real question, what does the yeast add to this beer... I'm not sure I can really answer. Since this isn't a recipe I've brewed before, or a yeast I've used before, all I can say is that it's a tasty, wonderfully hoppy brew. But how much does the yeast strain have to do with this? In hindsight, I should have split the batch and fermented half with US-05 or something, but it was the beginning of summer and I had limited fermenting space at this time. So, while I'd recommend the recipe as a whole, I'm not sure how different it would be with a more readily-available yeast strain. I'm interested to hear of others' experience(s) with Funktown Pale Ale, however!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.052, FG ~1.008, IBU ~38, SRM 4.1, ABV ~5.7%

1.95 kg (41.7%) Canadian 2-row
1.95 kg (41.7%) Maris Otter
600 g (12.8%) Flaked Oats
175 g (3.7%) Acid malt

Polaris - 5 g (20% AA) @ 60 min
Chinook - 14 g (11.8% AA) @ 5 min
Hallertau Blanc - 14 g (8% AA) @ 5 min
Simcoe - 14 g (11% AA) @ 5 min

Chinook, Hallertau Blanc, Simcoe - 21 g each @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)

Chinook - 35 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Hallertau Blanc - 51 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Simcoe - 54 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Funktown Pale Ale (with a starter, ~200 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 27th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.043 (target 1.042). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG on target at 1.052. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Airlock showing activity by that evening, temp up to 68 F. By the next morning, regular bubbling going on, temp at 72 F. Fermentation seemed pretty much done by the next couple of days; temp never got higher than 72.

6/7/16 - Added dry hops into primary; FG higher than planned, at 1.016.

13/7/16 - Racked beer to keg; LOTS of hop sludge left in the carboy that did not settle well, so I left more beer behind than I would have liked. Set in keezer for ~12 hours to bring temp down, then force carbed.

Appearance: Pours a very light-golden colour (lighter than it appears in this crappy picture), with a medium-sized, white head that settles at about 1/2 finger. Quite hazy, as expected.

Aroma: All hops, with the emphasis on fruity (pineapple) and citrus; not really getting much grapefruit or pine, surprisingly.

Taste: A little more malt character in the flavour, but it's definitely still in the background compared to the hops. I wouldn't say a particular fruit flavour jumps out at me; I find it a pleasant mix of tropical fruit. Medium to medium-low bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, very smooth and creamy. Moderate carbonation.

Overall: I enjoyed this beer, and found that it continued to improve over weeks in the keg, surprisingly. One could argue that the hops were a bit muddled at first, but I found the fruit character came through more once it settled down a little. A fine beer that I wouldn't necessarily rush back to brew exactly the same, but I'd definitely experiment with this yeast some more.