Friday 12 June 2015

Batch #100 : Maine Beer Co. Dinner clone (No. 6 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

I've always kept track (maybe a bit too meticulously) of each batch of homebrew I've brewed, starting with my first (Nov 29th, 2009; no, I did not have to look that up), all the way up to this, my 100th batch. So, I've known this day was coming for awhile, and had wanted to do something "big"; that is, a brew that would be a large undertaking, maybe not in terms of ABV, but just in the sheer craziness of it all (and tastiness, hopefully). I threw around a few ideas, but it didn't take me too long to settle on one: a clone of Maine Beer Co.'s first Double IPA, Dinner.

I've already brewed a couple of "clones" from Maine Beer Co. (Zoe and MO; also, quite recently, a low-ABV or "Session" version of Zoe), and they're easily one of my favorite breweries, so tackling another beer from them has always been one of my many homebrewing intentions. But Dinner is in a whole category of its own. Since its first release in late-2013, it has consistently dominated the "Top DIPA" categories, sitting in the top spots among Heady Topper, Enjoy By, Double Sunshine, Pliny, et. al. The difference compared to the ones I just mentioned? Dinner isn't a regular-release beer; in fact, it just had its 4th release on April 11th (actually, the next release is coming up soon, June 20th). If you want to get some, you can find it on tap at several bars/restaurants across Maine around its release, or, you have to buy it on release-day at the brewery in Freeport. For the April 11th release, there were apparently over 700 people lined up (starting quite early in the morning), patiently awaiting the opportunity to buy one case of Dinner, which is the limit. It was sold out later that day.

I'm lucky - I've actually had this beer, and more than once. I have a friend who lives in Freeport who was kind enough to grab a few bottles for me at the second release. I don't think things were as crazy then as they are now; I believe he just walked in and bought a few bottles. Now, they sell out before even reaching the end of the line! But I can tell you, this beer is delicious. As expected from Maine Beer Co., it's the perfect balance between hugely hoppy (tropical, citrusy, piney, dank) and easily-drinkable, finishing very dry and without an overwhelming bitterness. Basically, one of the perfect DIPAs, actually living up to its hype.

Once again, when I decided to attempt cloning this beer, I first checked out the info that Maine Beer Co. provides on their website. They may not get into specifics, but they DO list all the ingredients in terms of grist and hops for each of their beers, which is a great starting point. For malt, they list 2-row, Carapils, Caramel 40, and Dextrose. As for hops, we've got Falconer's Flight, Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic listed... and here's the kick - they dry-hop the beer twice, with over SIX. POUNDS. PER BARREL. In homebrew terms, that's over 1 lb (16 oz, 448 g) of hops for your standard 5-5.5 gallon batch. For the dry-hop alone! Factor in what's sure to be a healthy amount in the late additions, and this has got to be one of the highest-hopped commercial batches available.

Let's just take a moment to discuss. We all know there's a "ceiling" when it comes to bitterness in beer. Sure, you can hop a beer until you get - theoretically - 1000 IBUs, but we humans can only really detect up to 90 or so IBUs in terms of bitterness. Anything more than that is really just waste. But what about aroma, and flavor? Is there a limit to what we can detect? When does it become ridiculous in terms of cost and wastage (of hops, of beer due to absorption) to keep adding more hops, whether it be at flameout, dry-hop, or whenever? I used to be under the assumption from what I'd read that there WAS no ceiling-effect on aroma and flavour, but I don't know if I completely believe that.This is not to suggest that Maine Beer Co. is doing anything wrong. If there's a brewery that knows how to brew quality hoppy beers, it's them. But as a homebrewer, I'm truly curious as to how much is too much... if that number even exists at all.

Ok, back to coming up with a recipe for this beer. Based on the other clone recipes from MBC that I constructed, I quickly put together a grist for the beer. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do; this isn't a dark beer at all, and MBC's IPAs and APAs are not heavy on the Crystal malts, so I went with 87.5% 2-row, 5% each Carapils and sugar (I always sub in table sugar when a recipe calls for Dextrose), and 2.5% Crystal 40 L. For the hops, there was a wide variety of combinations that could come into play, so I reached out (once again) to owner/brewer Dan Kleban. I let him know what I had in mind for the grist, and asked if he would suggest leaning more-heavily on certain hop varieties for flame-out and dry-hopping. Despite how busy he's sure to be, he was extremely kind to get back to me after a time:

You are actually pretty close. 
As for malt, scrap the C40 and use more base malt.
As for hops, lean on Simcoe and FF for additions starting about halfway through the boil, then feather in some Citra in the WP. Use equal parts of Simcoe, FF and Mosaic in the dry hop. Aim for about 95 total calculated IBUs.
Hope this gets you started.

Have I mentioned already what a great person this guy is? Maybe I didn't in this post, but I did in the others... anyway, it bears repeating!

To me, that email reads that they don't start adding ANY hops until halfway through the boil; I emailed him back to double-check, and he confirmed that. So, knowing exactly how many hops to add in the dry-hop, I pretty much had a recipe. I added a bit of Acid malt into the grist to bring my mash pH down, but otherwise made no other changes. The hop additions at 30 and 10 minutes aren't overly large (well, at least not compared to later), because I knew that large flame-out additions would still add quite a few IBUs to the beer. I actually split the FO additions into two (I went with equal parts FF, Simcoe, and Citra), as I often do with big, hoppy beers - one for a hop stand, and another after the chiller has been started and the wort temp is below 180 F. Combined with two dry-hop additions (each one containing 2 oz each of FF, Simcoe, and Mosaic), that's a lotta hops! About 21.5 oz total for a 4.5 gallon batch, if you're keeping track.

That's what 21.5 oz of hops look like (the white bowls are the dry-hop additions)
Well, my 100th brew day approached quickly. Actually, it was spread over two days; due to circumstances, I had to complete the mash one evening, and finish the beer the next morning. Shouldn't be a big deal, I've done it once before with no issues. After the mash, sprage, etc. were all complete (I treated the mash with 8 grams calcium chloride* and 3 grams Gypsum, aiming for higher-chloride levels based on some good results I've had with some recent hoppy beers), I heated the wort to over 180 F to kill off any unpleasantables, and left it in the garage with the lid on.

The next morning, I started the boil and weighed out all of the hops. As you can imagine, there was a crapload. When I opened the Falconer's Flight (a very prominent hop in this beer; along with Simcoe, my recipe calls for a grand total of almost 8 oz for a 4.5 gallon batch), I wasn't blown away by the aroma like I have been with this variety before. Yes, this is a variety that will change constantly, since it's made up of several West Coast, C-hop varieties, but still... something was not right. I bought them from a friend, who bought them from a local homebrew shop who had told him they were the 2014 crop. So, I trusted this, and not my instincts**. The brew day went fine otherwise, I pitched a healthy amount of rehydrated US-05, aerated with pure O2, and began fermenting the beer in the mid-60s. I will say that despite the large hop additions, the wort didn't smell near as good as the Fortunate Islands clone I had brewed a week before (= clue).

After about 10 days, I threw in the first dry-hop addition into primary, left it for 5 days, then transferred the beer to my dry-hop keg, purged with plenty of CO2, and added dry-hops #2. Waited another five days, did a closed-transfer to the purged serving keg, carbed it up, and started drinking it.

I'm much later posting about this beer than I had ever intended. Part of that is because I still hadn't posted about the Fortunate Islands clone, another part is the typical busyness of life. But a big part of that is the shame that is weighing down on me like a soaking wet blanket over this beer. The thought of having to come on here and post about such an utter failure still makes me sick to my stomach.

Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but hey, it's beer! A beer that is my 100th batch. A beer that a lot of people knew I was brewing. A beer that I was looking forward to more than any other beer I've ever brewed. But not every homebrew is a great success; some are, lots are ok, and some are bad.

This, my friends, is not a good beer. This beer tastes of - mostly - oxidized hops. This is not a fruity, citrusy, tropical, piney hop-bomb, like I was expecting. It smells and tastes like oxidized hops; there's definitely that cheesy presence that you dread to experience in a hoppy beer. You don't have to have had Dinner before to know that this isn't anywhere CLOSE to the real thing. I'm not sure that some bad Falconer's Flight is the only problem, though. I've had a few people try this beer, because despite not liking it, I really wanted honest, critical feedback, which they were kind (?) enough to give me. All agreed that there was clearly a strong aroma and taste of oxidized hops, but a couple of people thought there was something more. Not an infection, not heat from the alcohol, just more... badness. Which doesn't do me a lot of good, but the end-result is still the same: at least some of the hops must have been bad. Old, poorly stored, maybe both. It's not TERRIBLE, drinking it doesn't make you want to vomit, but the fact that the oxidized hops come through right away... it distracts you from anything else.

The FF was definitely one of the culprits; I can't say with surety that the other hops were all perfect. But they WERE all fresh (the 2014 fall crop), and properly stored in their original one-lb vacuum-sealed packages from Yakima Valley hops; I've bought many hops from YVH in the past, with no issues, so let's hope the FF were the only problem ingredients. It's too bad, since it's a highly-used hop in this recipe; odd that the other hops didn't overpower them to some degree. But maybe this should just be a strong lesson - albeit an expensive lesson - on the importance of ingredient freshness.

As for the water chemistry, I don't think the adjustments I made have anything to do with how the beer turned out. Like I said, the chloride and sulfate levels I aimed for worked really well in an APA and IPA that I brewed earlier this year. Since I didn't brew a similar beer with unadjusted water, I can't say for sure, but I definitely feel the hops are mostly, if not solely, to blame.

I won't wax poetic on how bad this turned out any more; it's done... onward and upward. And please don't let my failure deter you from trying to brew this beer. I believe the recipe is still sound, especially since a lot of it came right from MBC. Yes, it's pricey, and yes, it may be unnecessary to add that many hops to one beer. I'm just as skeptical as before that this many hops is necessary; in fact, maybe this beer was too-highly hopped, on a homebrew scale at least, since my technique doesn't exactly mimic the oxygen-free process at the best breweries. All I know is that I brewed an Equinox Session IPA with 4 oz of hops (a fifth of the hops used in this Dinner clone), and it came out smelling and tasting better than a lot of other beers I've brewed, with a lot more hops.

Up until now, I've been really lucky with the beers I've brewed so far in 2015; I've enjoyed all of them till this one. So, please, if anyone reading this decides to brew this recipe, let me know how it turns out for you. I didn't want to just pretend this didn't happen (despite the urge!), especially since Dan Kleban was so helpful in putting the recipe together. I just hope you all have better luck than I did! If that amount of hops and/or the price is scaring you off, maybe try halving the dry-hop additions. And, once again, remember: the importance of hop freshness should not be played down!

*Mistake #1?
**Mistake #2 

Note: No official tasting notes for this beer; the flaws - which I've spoken about at length already - cover up everything else.

Recipe Targets: (4.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.073, FG ~1.010, IBU ~90, SRM 4.7, ABV ~8.3%

Grains & Sugars:
4.85 kg (88.2%) Canadian 2-row
275 g (5%) Carapils
100 g (1.8%) Acid malt
275 g (5%) Table sugar (added during boil)

Falconer's Flight - 14 g (10.8% AA) @ 30 min
Simcoe - 14 g (12% AA) @ 30 min

Falconer's Flight - 35 g @ 10 min
Simcoe - 35 g @ 10 min

Citra - 28 g (12.3% AA) @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Falconer's Flight - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Simcoe - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Citra - 28 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)
Falconer's Flight - 28 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)
Simcoe - 28 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)

Falconer's Flight - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Mosaic - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Simcoe - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Falconer's Flight - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
Mosaic - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
Simcoe - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1.5 packs, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on March 28th/29th, 2015, by myself. 60-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at 148.5 F (target 148 F). Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG 1.052. 60-minute boil. Added table sugar with 15 min remaining in boil. Flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at ~4.75 gallons; OG low at 1.070. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 100 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation started off strong by the next morning, and continued for 4-5 days before slowing significantly. FG 1.010.

- 7/4/15 - Added 1st dry hops directly into primary.

- 12/4/15 - Racked beer to CO2-purged dry-hop keg, added 2nd dry hops, and purged again.

- 17/4/15 - Set keg in keezer for two days to cold-crash.

- 19/4/15 - Transferred via CO2 to serving keg and started carbing.


  1. It's a bummer when a batch doesn't turn out the way you anticipated, especially one you had high hopes for. It's even more irritating when you're not 100% sure of the culprit!

  2. On the Jamil show,(7/8/14), about DIPA's. He mentions that Vinnie from Russian River has tested how the ph rises when the dry hopping rate rise's above 3/4 lb per barrel, and this mutes the hop character of the beer. He mentions you have to lower the ph (lactic acid?) which helps the hops to "pop". Hope this helps.

    1. Cool, thanks for the info! That's really informative, and could explain at least some of the problem with this beer.

  3. Bummer exactly. Sorry man. I know the feeling when you are really looking forward to something.
    Hope the next attempt is successful.

    1. Thanks, Aaron! Luckily, the Alpine Nelson clone I brewed shortly after (which I should be posting on soon) came out much better.

  4. Sorry to hear this batch didn't turn out Shawn! I've found it's best to just try brewing the beer again to redeem yourself (to yourself). I had a best bitter that I brewed in the fall not turn out well, infected bucket, so I brewed it again a few weeks ago and it came out great, no longer upset about that batch.

    1. Thanks! Normally, I'd agree with you, but with this particular recipe featuring so many expensive, hard-to-get hops...

      I think at the very least, if I ever brew this again, I'll cut each dry-hop addition in half. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this is far too many hops. And the comment from Anonymous above about pH convinces me even more...

  5. I dont think its too much hops. I brew my IPAs similarly (no specialty malts, concentrate on flameout additions) but with a different emphasis. I do like 12oz or so at flameout and hopstand instead of dry hopping that much. I usually hopstand for 1 hour before chilling and do the "hopstand" addition after 30min or so. I save 3-4 oz for dry hopping but put most of my eggs in the hopstand basket. It has really put my IPAs over the top. Very little bitterness ends up in the final beer but an incredible amount of hop character. Its like drinking fresh squeezed hop juice but with the drinkability of gatorade. You should try it out

  6. General rule of thumb is no more than 8oz hops when dry hopping and no more than 5 days with a few exceptions.