Wednesday 25 June 2014

Brewing a Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 clone

Ah, summer. The season of warmer weather, vacations, and of course, beer! Also, fortunately or not, weddings. And next month, my older brother Geoff is getting married. I'm in the wedding party, but luckily I'm not responsible for making any speeches or really doing much of anything, other than standing there and looking pretty. There IS a big party the night before the wedding, however, and I was happy to volunteer to make a batch of beer to go with it.

Like me, Geoff is a big beer fan. He's not into homebrewing, but still loves trying new beers. Also like me, his favorite beers are hoppy ones, especially American Pale Ales and IPAs. I gave him some options of beers that I could brew for the party, and we both decided to settle on an APA - it's always a great style, because if you brew it right, beer geeks can love it, but it can also be fairly accessible for people who aren't necessarily into beer. Think of a hoppy Pale Ale, but not an overly bitter one. There's tons of APA recipes out there, and I have a lot of hops on hand that it would have been pretty easy to throw together a new recipe of my own, but I wanted to brew something that was tried and true, since the opinion of many beer drinkers was weighing on it. After doing a big of digging, I came back to a recipe I had come across a few months ago, a clone of a fairly new APA by Russian River Brewing Company.

The beer is called Row 2, Hill 56. Kind of an odd name for a beer at first glance, but when you read into it a bit, it makes perfect sense. The beer is brewed with 100% Simcoe hops; Row 2, Hill 56 is the location in an experimental hop yard in Yakima, WA, where Simcoe was first created. Now, anyone who is a fan of hoppy beers has experienced Simcoe. Released back in 2000, it's a dual-purpose hop that is mainly used for flavor and aroma purposes, as it gives a very unique profile of both citrus and pine. Russian River uses it in a lot of their hoppy beers (it's very prevalent in Pliny the Elder), as do a lot of breweries and homebrewers.

You don't need me to tell you any more about Simcoe; pretty much anyone reading this is already bored. The clone recipe for this beer was originally posted here, on the popular HomeBrewTalk forum. The recipe and beer stuck out for many reasons: I'm a big fan of Simcoe, but have never brewed a beer using it all on its own; a mid-5% ABV beer with ~40 IBUs sounded perfect - not too high to be accessible only to beer geeks or hop heads; and the recipe appears to have been brewed by many people that stand by its deliciousness. Perfect! Let's get started.

As far as APA grain bills go, this one struck me as a little odd, strictly because the majority of it is made up of Pilsner malt. Most APA recipes incorporate 2-row as the base malt; I'm not sure how much of a noticeable difference there is using Pilsner, but after brewing this recipe, several homebrewers commented on how much they enjoyed the malt bill, so I'm more than willing to give it a shot. There's also a good amount of Pale Malt used (I had Maris Otter on hand); the rest is a fairly small proportion of light Crystal (15 L and Carapils). The mash is performed at a fairly high sacc rest, 154 F, I'm assuming to provide the beer with some body, due to the light use of specialty grains and lower gravity (compared to IPAs, anyway).

Now, look at that hopping schedule below. I will admit, I was hesitant at first. I've brewed a lot of hoppy beers over the past few years, including some APAs with 3/4 lb of hops (or more) per 5 gallon batch. This recipe calls for a comparably scant amount of ~4 oz for a 6 gallon batch; luckily, the majority is used at flameout and for the dry-hop, but 1 oz at FO and 2 oz for the dry-hop is still low when you look at a lot of other APA recipes out there. That being said, I've questioned in previous posts whether there may be a ceiling effect when it comes to hop aroma/flavor; of course we all know there is for perceived bitterness, but what about the aspects that count? I think this will be a good test of that, and again, this recipe has received rave reviews, so I'm more than happy following it as-is, before tweaking it.

The wort is fermented with a neutral American strain (as usual for me lately, US-05) in the high-60s F. For water treatment, I chose not to go too heavy on anything - I didn't add any acid malt to the grain bill to fiddle with mash pH this time. I DID add a very small amount of gypsum and calcium chloride, but that's it. I won't be kegging this beer, unfortunately; the wedding is in our home province of Prince Edward Island, and I likely won't have the room to take a keg and 10 lb CO2 tank with me, so bottles it is!

A lot of Geoff's friends are beer drinkers, so unlike all of my other homebrews, I don't expect I'll get to really consume much of this batch. However, I'll be sure to set a bottle aside to do an official tasting, to post on the blog. Look for that sometime next month!

Recipe targets: (6 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.056, FG ~1.014, IBU 41, SRM 5, ABV ~5.6%

Grains & Sugars:

3.325 kg (60.5%) Pilsner malt
1.782 kg (32.4%) Maris Otter
225 g (4.1%) Crystal 15 L
165 g (3%) Carapils

Simcoe - 14 g (12.4% AA) @ 60 min
Simcoe - 15 g @ 30 min
Simcoe - 28 g @ 0 (with a 5-minute steep)
Simcoe - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, 1 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 2 g calcium chloride added to the mash

- Brewed on June 10th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at 153.5 F, slightly below target temp of 154 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.75 gallons.

SG a bit high at 1.046 (target 1.044). 60-minute boil. Added flameout hops for a 5-minute steep, then turned on chiller. Final volume ~6 gallons. Chilled down to 66 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Gravity quite above target at 1.061. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast. Placed BB in room with ambient temp at 68 F.

- Over the next few days, fermentation gradually got going until reaching maximum activity in the airlock, bubbling every second, with the temperature getting as high as 72 F (warmer temps made it a bit tricky to keep it down to 68 F). The activity and krausen eventually settled after about a week.

- 24/6/14 - Gravity reading of 1.014, right on target. Added dry-hops directly into primary.

- 2/7/14 - Bottled with 115 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, with a max temp of 72 F reached.

- 30/7/14 - Tasting notes up... a delicious beer. Lots of hop presence with low bitterness; a fantastic beer to introduce non-beer drinkers to hoppy craft beers.

Monday 16 June 2014

Tasting : The Student (Societe Brewing The Pupil clone)

I'm a little late posting the tasting notes for this beer; I brewed it in late April and kegged it almost a month ago. Nothing extreme, by any means, but with it being an American IPA, I really wanted to get my impressions out there while the beer was extremely fresh. However, life can be busy, and I was a bit behind with some other posts, so for those of you who have been waiting to hear how this Societe Brewing The Pupil clone came out, I do apologize. On the bright side... it came out pretty great!

Everything seemed to go well with brewing this beer, from the brew day right down to the end of fermentation. The beer finished close to my target of 1.010 (final gravity was 1.011); Doug Constantiner, the brewer at Societe who gave me some very generous help constructing the recipe, listed the FG as 1.006, but I knew on my system I'd never get it that low with US-05 yeast. After posting the recipe I came up with, Doug suggested that if you can't get to 1.006, add some table sugar to the beer (in place of some of the 2-row base malt) to help get it down to his FG target. He felt that having this beer end up very dry was key.

Now that I've been drinking several pints, I definitely agree with his recommendation. The beer really did come out great; fantastic aroma and flavor of big, tropical fruit... the Nelson is definitely the dominant hop, but the Citra and Centennial work wonderfully to provide a background of citrus character. Mouthfeel is great - the beer is very smooth and creamy; very easy-drinking for its higher ABV. However, the beer could definitely be drier. It's not a sweet-finishing IPA, don't get me wrong (1.011 is hardly a high FG), but I remember The Pupil finishing very dry, but not with a bitterness that was astringent.

Whether you've had The Pupil or not, I recommend brewing this beer. If you're like me and have trouble reaching 1.006 in a beer that doesn't involve an addition of table sugar, take Doug's advice: drop some of the 2-row, and add some table sugar to compensate. Maybe start with 1/2 lb and go from there. That's what I'll be doing when (not if) I brew this beer again!

Appearance: Poured with a medium-sized, white creamy head. Pretty good retention, eventually settles to 1/2-finger size. Body is a light golden color, with pretty good clarity... a bit of haze.

Aroma: Wonderful aroma of tropical fruit; some citrus in there as well, but the gooseberry, tropical character of Nelson wins out. Not much in terms of malt character (a touch of sweetness in the background), but the beer doesn’t strike as harsh or unbalanced.

Taste: A very smooth-tasting IPA; while the tropical fruit character of the hops is what hits you first, the beer has a nice, balancing sweetness to it. Moderate bitterness in the finish at most, quite creamy. Could probably stand to finish a bit drier, but I like it.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: Very approachable despite the calculated IBUs; an IPA I think non-IPA drinkers could really enjoy. If it was a bit drier in the finish, I think it would be near-perfect.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Tasting : Fixing A Hole (Classic American Pilsner)

I'd like to say that I originally brewed two pale lagers (a Munich Helles, and this beer, a Classic American Pilsner) early this winter to have them ready in time for drinking during the warmer months of spring and summer, but I don't think I actually thought of it at the time! I mainly picked both styles because they were new to me, and because there were very few, if any, commercial examples available in my area. Luckily, the Munich Helles turned out great, and I'm happy to say that the results for this Pilsner are pretty tasty, too.

I don't have much to compare this beer to - actually, I'm pretty sure I've never had this style of beer before - but I've really enjoyed the first few pints I've poured from my keezer. I find the beer fits nicely in the BJCP guidelines for the style: the aroma is a bit grainy with the flaked corn in the background, with a good amount of the Saaz hops coming through (spicy and floral); they're fairly prevalent in the flavor, as well. I'd say the beer is moderately bitter in the finish; it has a malty sweetness to it, but ultimately finishes fairly dry. My only complaints, and minor ones at that, are that the clarity could definitely be better, and the head could be a bit larger and longer-lasting.

Overall, though, I'm very happy with how it came out; it really is a great summer beer. As far as Pilsners go, I like how this one is hoppier than the other Pilsner styles... don't get me wrong, it's not an IPA, but Saaz hops are very mellow and enjoyable, and they definitely come through, here. Together with the Helles, it's unusual for me to have two lighter, easy-drinking homebrewed beers at the ready. But there's been lots of grass to mow already, so this helps!
Still tasty on a cloudy day

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized head that begins fading fairly quickly, eventually settling into a thin film on the beer. Body is yellow in color, with decent clarity, but showing some haze.

Aroma: Pleasant, grainy aroma (with a bit of corn thrown in, an acceptable amount for the style) that is supported strongly by the floral and slightly spicy/earthy aroma of the Saaz hops. No diacetyl, quite clean.

Taste: Very nice. The Saaz hops come through in the flavor, making the beer slightly floral/spicy-tasting, but the malty-sweet and grainy flavors provide the bulk of the taste. Finishes nicely balanced between sweet and dry, with a medium bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, fairly creamy... moderate carbonation, could stand to be a bit higher.

Overall: Easy-drinking and tasty. Fresher Saaz hops (I'm pretty sure the ones I used were last year's crop) would likely add to the hop punch a bit, but this is a very approachable beer, with a bit more character than other Pilsner styles.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Brewing a Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine clone

Photo courtesy of Lawson's Finest Liquids

On my one and only trip (since getting into beer) to Vermont in the late winter of 2011, I considered myself very lucky that I was able to try fresh beers from two of the three "big" Vermont breweries... and by big, of course I mean most popular with beer geeks. I had several Hill Farmstead beers at several beer bars in Burlington and Montpelier, and I also had a few Alchemist beers (including Heady Topper on tap) at their brewpub in Waterbury... it was soon afterwards that the brewpub was destroyed by flooding due to Hurricane Irene. Unfortunately, I found no beers on tap or in bottles anywhere from the final brewery of the top 3... for those of you who don't know (and I know most of you do), that brewery is Lawson's Finest Liquids.

Lawson's Finest, run by owner/brewmaster Sean Lawson, has been around for a little while now (they just celebrated their 6th anniversary in April); from what I understand, it didn't take them very long to make a name for themselves in the beer world. Found on tap at beer bars and restaurants throughout Vermont, and in bottles at a limited number of stores and markets (and from what I've heard, these bottles go FAST), their beers range across many styles, including English Browns, Hefeweizens, and a "Maple Ale" named Maple Nipple, brewed with Vermont maple syrup. However, Lawson's is best-known for their hoppy beers, specifically, an Imperial/Double IPA called Double Sunshine.

The brewery describes this beer as "packed with juicy tropical flavors and bright herbal aromas, thanks to the abundance of U.S.-grown hops". It comes in at ~8% ABV, and is very highly-rated on Beer Advocate (#4 in DIPAs), Ratebeer (#10), and Untappd (#4). As you can tell from the brewery's description, information on what hops are used in the beer is pretty vague. Derek from Bear Flavored did a really interesting article back in September, "How Many Hop Varieties are in the Best IPAs?", and with a bit of sleuthing figured out that Double Sunshine only uses one hop... and that it was either Citra, Centennial, or Simcoe. I think most brewers would come to the conclusion that this hop is Citra, based on the many reviews describing the beer's hop character as extremely tropical, and dank. Well, it doesn't really matter now, because in the October, 2013 issue of Brew Your Own, they include homebrew recipes for Double Sunshine and Toast (a Black IPA) from Lawson's Finest... along with recipes for other beers from The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead.

Now, I may know what you're thinking. Up until now, I don't think I've ever brewed a clone recipe from BYO, and they've got a LOT of them. I get the impression that a lot of homebrewers tend to take BYO clone recipes with a hefty pinch of salt. If you're familiar with certain commercial beers and you start flipping through the recipes, you'll know what I mean. A beer that you know has Simcoe, for instance, may have a recipe with no Simcoe at all. Or, another one that isn't dry-hopped, has a recipe that calls for dry-hopping. I'm not trying to be super-particular here; obviously a great beer as the final product is the most important thing. But if some aspects of a beer are openly provided by the brewery and are common knowledge, you'd like to think that whoever comes up with a clone recipe has done their research.

Anyway, the recipe for Double Sunshine in BYO looked pretty solid when I read the article. It certainly used Citra as the only hop (for flavoring, aroma, and dry-hop, anyway). I had a ton of Citra on hand, and had been planning on a DIPA that used a lot of it, so brewing this recipe seemed like a good idea. I decided to reach out to Sean Lawson and see if he would offer any information on adjustments to the recipe; he got back to me pretty quickly:

Hi Shawn,
The BYO article was done in consultation with the brewers at each of those three Vermont breweries, so you have the best information right from the source there! That recipe is the best approximation I can offer for a homebrew clone. I appreciate your interest and enthusiasm!

That sealed the deal for me; even if the recipe isn't an exact clone anyway, it certainly looked pretty tasty (disclaimer: Citra hops in a recipe can make anything look tasty)!

So, on to the recipe. The grist is a little more complicated than a lot of DIPA recipes that you see now; more and more DIPAs seem to follow the Vinnie Cilurzo approach, which involves mostly 2-row, <5% of a light-colored Crystal malt, and some sugar to dry out the beer even more. The Double Sunshine recipe, however, lists five grains, and sugar... <65% of the grist is 2-row, with ~16% being Vienna malt, ~6.5% flaked oats, and another 7.5% divided between a light Caramunich malt and Carapilsen. They suggest a mash temp of 152 F, not quite as low as the 147-178 F you often see in DIPA recipes.

Unfortunately, I screwed up a bit on my end. My inventory (which is tracked on BeerSmith) said that I had almost a kilo of Vienna... of course, the night before brew day, I couldn't find any Vienna malt at all. Zero. So, I had to sub something, and I decided to go with Munich malt. However, Munich malt is generally darker than Vienna malt (10 L compared to 4 L, for me), so I decreased the amount of Munich I'd be adding to end up with an SRM of ~6, what the recipe calls for. That meant increasing the 2-row to compensate. I also had to sub Crystal 30 L for Caramunich. Oh, and I also had less flaked oats than the recipe called for. SO, the recipe you see below is my bastardized version, and not an exact copy of the one provided by BYO. Once again, I also added some Acid malt to drop my mash pH a little bit.

Hop-wise, though, it was all good. Like I said, I had lots of Citra on hand. The bittering addition called for Magnum, but I decided to use some hop extract for the hell of it. Other than bittering, it's all Citra... some at 20 minutes, then large amounts of 3 oz each at 5 min, flameout (for a 30-minute steep), and dry-hop. I changed the flameout approach a bit, going with my now-typical half of flameout hops for a 15-min steep, turn on the chiller, then add the other half when the wort temp is below 180 F. For the dry-hop, I'm going to add it as one addition as the recipe calls for; I'm sure dividing it into two additions is fine, too.

For most of you who have brewed with Citra, you know just what a wonderful hop it is... citrusy, tropical, slightly dank; of course, when used too heavy-handed, it can take on a cat-pee quality, so you have to be careful. I've never brewed a beer with ONLY Citra (even my Kern River Citra DIPA clone had some Amarillo in it), so I'm interested to see how this beer comes out.

The wort is fermented with a neutral American yeast strain; I'll be using US-05 as per usual for my American beers. The recipe made no mention of water treatment, so I added some gypsum and calcium chloride in mostly equal amounts, to bolster my calcium a bit. Otherwise, it's recommended to ferment the beer in the high 60s F, dry-hop for 5-7 days, and then package. I'll be kegging this beer, of course, to try to keep as much oxygen as I can away from those precious hops. I'm hoping to have this beer on tap before the end of June. You'll notice I brewed a smaller-than-usual batch... with a limited number of taps (4) and increased brewing lately, I have to start taking this approach, especially with beers >8% ABV!

Recipe targets: (4 gallons, 70% efficiency) OG 1.074, FG ~1.012, IBU ~100, SRM 6.2, ABV ~8.2%

Grains & Sugars:

3.6 kg (71.2%) Canadian 2-row
400 g (7.9%) Munich
260 g (5.1%) Carapils
215 g (4.3%) Flaked Oats
130 g (2.6%) Crystal 30 L
100 g (2%) Acid malt
350 g (6.9%) Table sugar, added to primary when fermentation slows

Hop extract - 5 mL @ 60 min (or 28 g of a 10% AA hop)
Citra - 23 g (12.7% AA) @ 20 min
Citra - 67 g @ 5 min
Citra - 67 g @ 0 min (1/2 steeped for 15 min, 1/2 added after temp below 180 F)
Citra - 67 g dry-hop for 5 days

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, 1 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 4 g calcium chloride added to the mash

- Brewed on May 28th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at 151.5 F, slightly below target temp of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.25 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~2.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.25 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.053 (target 1.055). 60-minute boil. Added half of flameout hops for a 15-minute steep. Turned on chiller, added second half of flameout hops when temp of wort dropped under 180 F. Final volume ~4 gallons. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Gravity slightly high at 1.066; so, with sugar addition in primary, OG calculated at 1.075. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast. Placed BB in room with ambient temp at 68 F.

- Lots of activity in the airlock by the next morning, temp ~ 68 F. After just 2-3 days, activity started to slow, so I added the sugar over a 24-hour period, half one morning, the other half the next. Sugar was boiled in ~1/2 cup water and cooled before adding.

- 6/6/14 - Took gravity reading of 1.012.

- 10/6/14 - Racked beer to keg, purged with CO2. Added dry-hops to keg in a mesh bag, keg left at room temp.

- 23/7/14 - Tasting notes finally up... a very tasty DIPA, great Citra character, but could be a bit better.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Tasting : Hicken 2.0 (Hill Farmstead James clone)

Homebrewing is a wonderful hobby; the day I decided to start homebrewing will always stand out as a very happy day for me. Yes, marriage days and baby birth days are important days too... but, come on. Beer!

I'll stop before I get myself in trouble. What I was getting at was that homebrewing can also be frustrating. In many, many ways. Without getting into all of these ways, wouldn't you expect that re-brewing a recipe for a hoppy beer, with very few changes, and then KEGGING the beer instead of bottling it - and therefore presumably introducing less oxygen - would result in a BETTER beer, instead of a... less better beer?

Well, I'm sorry to say, that's what happened with my second attempt at brewing a Hill Farmstead James clone, a Black IPA. The only real change was that the beer was fermented with a different yeast than before. It was still an English yeast, but a different strain. The beer fermented fairly clean (it was a few points about its target FG), and everything from brew day to keg-hopping seemed to go off without a hitch, but the beer is less hoppy than my first try. And I would think that keg-hopping, what with a system flushed with CO2, would result in a hoppier beer. Sadly, it did not.

The beer is still tasty, no question. It has some chocolate character without being really roasty, with some pleasant dank-citrusy hop notes. But, my first attempt really impressed me with how extremely hoppy it was, along with the chocolate flavors. I can't see the change in yeast strains being the cause, here. What do I feel is the culprit? I'm going to go with hop freshness. All of my hops are stored vacuum-sealed and in the freezer, but this is only so effective at retaining flavors and aromas. Both the Columbus and Centennial used in this beer are from last year's hop harvest; don't get me wrong, they weren't brown and cheesy smelling. In fact, they still smelled pretty darn good, or I wouldn't have used them. But I think that it goes to show that you should order hops accordingly, and try to use what you've got. Hop hoarding is easily done - you never know if a certain variety is going to be readily available next year, more expensive, etc., but it's in your best interest to use the freshest hops you can.

Oh well, what's done is done. Like I mentioned, this is not a bad beer. It's actually really good, in my opinion. But it suffers from not exhibiting the greatness of Hicken 1.0. On the bright side, the hop character hasn't faded as fast with this beer, which I assume is due to the beer being kegged.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out the new keezer...

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, light tan head that is creamy and sticky, with great retention. Body appears black and opaque, but when held to the light shows good clarity, with a very dark brown color.

Aroma: Chocolatey aroma, no real roasted or burnt characters. Dank (and slightly spicy?) hop character in the background; not quite as strong or up-front as Hicken 1.0, but it’s still there. No flaws.

Taste: Like the aroma, a nice meld of chocolate and hop flavors. The chocolate hits first, followed quickly by the dank/spicy hops; finishes with a very firm bitterness that lasts.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, creamy, moderate carbonation.

Overall: I like it, but I admit I’m slightly disappointed. The hop character in Hicken 1.0 was higher, despite the hopping schedule being the same, and this batch being keg-hopped. However, the hop character is definitely lasting longer with this batch, which is a real plus.