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.


  1. How did it turn out? I am trying your recipe this weekend.

    1. As usual, I'm behind on posting my tasting notes; sorry about that. It made a very nice beer, I think you'll be quite happy with the results, especially if your Citra hops are fairly fresh. I'll try to get the notes up soon, thanks for the reminder!

    2. Shawn - it turned out great despite that I didn't get the conversions that I had hoped. Thanks for a great recipe.

    3. Glad it turned out for you! But no thanks necessary to me; thank the people at BYO, they get the credit for this one!