Thursday, 3 September 2015

Brewing a White IPA (with Amarillo and El Dorado)

I've brewed a lot of hoppy beers; specifically, a lot of different types of IPAs. From your standard American IPA, to English and Imperial, and then onto a lot of the newer sub-styles like Brown, Red, Session, and of course the increasingly-popular 100% Brett IPA. I've also tried to experiment a little, such as with a Belgian Session IPA, a Belgian Red IPA, and a Session Red IPA. With IPAs, you're not limited by much!

However, despite being brewed by more commercial breweries these days, there's one IPA sub-style that I personally haven't brewed before: White IPA. Sharing the characteristics of a Belgian Witbier (light, spicy and fruity - from Witbier yeast and/or additions of orange peel and coriander) and an American IPA (lots of hop aromas and flavors, and a high bitterness in the finish), it's one of those styles that can come across as really tasty, or a bit of a mess. For me, timing was the main incentive here; I brewed a Witbier in early June and figured: why not save some slurry and knock off a White IPA while I'm at it? Witbiers are great for summer-drinking, and White IPAs aren't any different... when they're brewed well, of course.

I've had some White IPAs that I thought were really tasty, where they managed to include the spiciness of the coriander and yeast characteristics, and plenty of citrusy, fruity hop flavors... and have them work well together. Others have been fair to poor, where the beer came across as simply a Witbier, or just a lighter-colored IPA. And some are just plain-old mislabelled, where the bottle/menu basically indicates that the beer is an American IPA that has wheat in the grist.

For my recipe, I took the grist for the Witbier I brewed beforehand (I haven't posted on that beer yet, mainly because I split the batch and pitched Brett Amalgamation from Yeast Bay, along with the Witbier yeast, in half of the wort, which I'll be hopefully bottling soon) and scaled it up to a higher OG (1.061). It's nothing unusual for a Witbier grist: 50% Pilsner and 40% Flaked Wheat make up the majority, with some Flaked Oats and a bit of Acid malt (to lower mash pH) topping it off. I aimed for a mash of 153 F, hoping to get a medium-bodied mouthfeel. Yes, you want the beer to be refreshing, but a too-thin White IPA can really distract from any other positives, in my experience.

When selecting the hops, I immediately decided to limit myself to two varieties. I was already leaning strongly towards using some newer varieties that I had only begun to experiment with, and I was worried that if I threw in too many types, I'd be increasing the chance that they would ultimately clash with the Witbier yeast. Belgian yeasts generally are so expressive, with plenty of phenols, esters, etc. that it puts their beers at a higher likelihood of not melding well with certain hops/hop combos. I had some El Dorado left over from a previous one-hop Session IPA I had brewed; I really liked the idea of using that one, because I get a lot of orange-candy from that hop that I thought would work well in a White IPA. For the second variety, I ALMOST went with Azacca; I've really liked this hop in the few beers I've used it in. At the last minute, however, I changed over to Amarillo. Not really sure why; I think I started worrying that the Azacca would overpower the El Dorado... and who doesn't love Amarillo, really? It's so versatile, and works with so many other varieties. So, I ultimately decided on a flavor addition of Amarillo at 10 minutes, a steep/hop stand of Amarillo and El Dorado, and a fairly-hefty dry-hop addition of El Dorado alone, to try to bring out the orange character. I didn't hop this as strongly as I typically would an IPA - while the beer is meant to be hoppy, you don't want the hops overpowering the Witbier characteristics. It's important to find a balance, and with this being my first attempt, I wanted to err on the side of caution (hopefully).

For the other additions, I used some freshly-ground coriander seed (14 g) at flameout. The later in the boil you add spices, of course, the more of the aroma characteristics you'll keep in the beer. Now, with a 10-minute steep, that's probably equivalent to actually adding the coriander back at the 5-10 minute mark, which some may consider a bit too early. In hindsight, perhaps I would have been better off adding it sometime during the steep, but I wasn't too worried. I didn't end up adding any citrus peel at flameout, for two reasons: 1) I forgot to buy fruit, and I didn't have any of the dried orange peel on hand, and 2) I figured with the hops being added, there'd be sufficient fruitiness in the beer, anyway. Especially considering how orangey El Dorado is (really, you've got to try it).

When I was deciding on the yeast strain for my Witbier, I decided to try one that was new to me: Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier. I've used the Forbidden Fruit strain before, and enjoyed it, but I was curious to go with something different, see if there was a big difference. Belgian Witbier is described as being heavier on spicy phenolics as opposed to fruity esters. Now, knowing this, I'm not really sure why I ultimately chose this strain, because I prefer a more-fruity Witbier, as opposed to spicy... or at least, one that is balanced. Anyway, I ordered it on a whim, so there you go.

This beer was already brewed and fermenting when I had finally kegged and started drinking my Witbier. I was worried; the Witbier was not great at all. I had missed my OG by several points, and the FG came in higher as well, so the Witbier was only at 3.5% ABV. But of course that wasn't really the problem... there was something... "off" about it. I can't quite put my finger on it; it didn't taste infected, it just had this weird flavor to it. One fellow beer geek referred to it as "Asian noodles". I dunno about that, but he may be closer in describing it than anyone else! Hopefully the Brett half of that beer turns out better.

With the White IPA, at least the brew day seemed to go well. I did a better job of hitting my OG (right on target), and there weren't any problems that I could see. The hops smelled great out of the bag, even though they're definitely a bit past their prime, age-wise. Fermentation temps got a bit higher over the next couple of days than I would have liked, but never seemed to go above 72 F. I DID have a very active fermentation, however - the airlock blew off about 24-30 hours after pitching, and I wasn't able to put it back in until a day or so later. Dry hops were added a week and a half after brew day, and the beer was kegged 5 days after that.

The beer was ready by early July, which was perfect timing for summer drinking. Luckily, it turned out much better than the Witbier had; I never would have guessed that both beers had the same grist and yeast strain. As a White IPA, it hits most of the major points I would want to see for the style: lots of fruitiness from the hops, some spicy phenols from the yeast (but luckily, not too many at all), and the coriander comes through just enough to let you know it's there. The one area where it falls short is the bitterness; for this type of beer, it should definitely be higher. I'd say it's at medium, when it should be high, if you're following the BJCP guidelines. That's really due to an error on my part; I had changed from Azacca to Amarillo at the last minute, and forgot that the AA% for my Amarillo hops was much lower than the Azacca. Instead of the IBUs coming in at around 50 as planned, it's probably closer to 35-40. Style comparison aside, I'm not really upset that the bitterness came in a bit low.

So, yeah. Came out pretty well, especially for a first attempt. The hops really worked well in this beer, especially the El Dorado dry hop. I didn't find I was missing the lack of a orange peel addition at all; the beer is plenty "orange-y" thanks to the El Dorado. It's also held up really nicely; we're into September now, and the keg is about empty, but there's still lots of juicy hop character in the beer. Amarillo and El Dorado aren't the easiest varieties to find, but if you can, I encourage you to give this one a try!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 68% efficiency) OG 1.061, FG ~1.015, IBU ~37, SRM 4, ABV ~6%

3.1 kg (49.4%) Pilsner
2.5 kg (39.8%) Flaked Wheat
350 g (5.6%) Flaked Oats
200 g (3.2%) Acid malt
125 g (2%) Rice hulls

Hop extract - 2.5 mL @ 60 min (or 14 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Amarillo - 28 g (7.8% AA) @ 10 min

Amarillo - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
El Dorado - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)

El Dorado - 84 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min, 14 g Coriander seed (freshly ground) at 0 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier (slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 2 g Gypsum and 6 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 16th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in slightly above target at 154 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.25 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG a bit high at 1.048 (target 1.046). 90-minute boil. Final volume high at ~5.75 gallons; OG on target at 1.061. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fast and very active fermentation by the next morning. By that evening, the airlock had blown off, so I replaced with sanitized foil for 24 hours or so, before I was able to replace the airlock. After a couple more days, activity had slowed down to a trickle. Max temp of 72 F reached.

- 25/6/15 - FG 1.015. Dry hops added to primary.

- 1/7/15 - Racked to CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to cool overnight, started carbing the next day.

Appearance: Pours with a white, thick head; very nice retention, eventually fades to 1/2-finger and stays there. Body is a pale golden color, with the expected cloudiness.

Aroma: Quite fruity; it's hard to tell how much is from the hops, and how much from the yeast. I suspect it's a combination of the two. Some background spiciness as well, but the esters/hops win out. I get a bit of coriander in there, but not a lot.

Taste: Nice wheat-based malt backbone, followed by plenty of fruitiness. Definitely a good amount of hop flavor in there, probably more so than fruity esters from the yeast strain. Some spicy phenolics (clove, mainly) come through afterwards. Medium-low bitterness in the finish, should be higher.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Very creamy.

Overall: I enjoy this beer; I like the Witbier characteristics, and I really like how El Dorado and Amarillo work together. I think it could use a bit more Witbier bump (read: slightly more phenolics and coriander), but otherwise it's about what I was aiming for. More bitterness would up it a notch, however.


  1. Great write up! This is my wife's favorite style, so I'll be brewing up a batch based off of your recipe. Down here in Columbus, OH we have a great white IPA done by Four String Brewing called Big Star. Thanks again for the inspiration! Your blog is great!

    1. Thanks for the heads-up on the Big Star. Wonder if they distribute outside of OH... maybe even in New Brunswick? Ha!

      And thanks for the kind words!

  2. Nice post. I haven't had too many true White IPAs, usually they are just IPAs with 40+% wheat.

    I always have a little chuckle when I read "Brewed on , by myself.". It reads as if you are resentful of your friends or partner for not joining in on the brew day. Not a bad thing though! I brew on week nights from 8pm-1am so no one ever joins me either!

    1. Ha, so you're saying I should write it like this: "Brewed on , by myself. :( "?

      It's a habit I got into in my notes, because I actually used to brew with my wife, or brother, quite often. Now, since I almost always brew when I'm home alone, before an afternoon/evening shift, I'm alone!