Wednesday 30 December 2015

Hill Farmstead James clone, attempt #3

I'm a big fan of Black IPAs... when they're brewed right. It can be a pretty difficult style to do extremely well; you've got to hit the perfect balance of chocolate and roastiness in the beer (too much and it's a stout, too little and it's just a dark-coloured IPA), along with a decent amount of bitterness (in the medium-high to high zone), and a good amount of hop aroma and flavour. Now that Black IPA is "official" - meaning that it's in the Specialty IPA category of the 2015 BJCP Guide - there's a little bit more to go on when brewing the style, if you're looking to get in the "technically-correct" range. Basically, you want some dark malt character, but not enough to be intense or so that it's clashing with the hops. Hop aroma and flavour can range from medium to high, for the most part.

This is my third Black IPA, and my third (and last) attempt at improving on my Hill Farmstead James clone. The recipe came from Mitch Steele's IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Hopped entirely with Columbus (CTZ) and Centennial, it's supposed to be a delicious beer. I initially thought I had had it, but realized last year that I had tried Foster, their "Black Wheat IPA". So, while I don't have any idea if my attempts are anywhere close to what James is really like, I continue to try to improve on the beer that I initially brewed over 2 years ago.

The first time I brewed the clone, I had to make some changes to the recipe (mainly in the grist) based on what I had available from my LHBS. When it came to the yeast, everyone knows HF uses an English strain, but which one commercially available is closest? I chose Wyeast 1098 British Ale; I had used it before and liked it. It's actually quite neutral, as English yeasts go, so it seemed like a good choice to start with. I eventually bottled the batch and was really, really happy with how it came out. I thought the roastiness of the beer was right where it should be, and the hops came through very prominently - lots of citrus, bit of earthy dankness... delicious beer overall. Unfortunately, the hop character dropped off very quickly, as it often does in bottled beers.

In my second attempt, I wasn't really looking to change the beer drastically, just maybe slightly improve on it. I was curious what effect a different yeast strain would have on the beer, and I had also started kegging and wanted to package that way; I naturally assumed that the beer would be even hoppier as a result. This time, I fermented with Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale; another clean strain, the description sounded like it had a bit more English character to it. While the beer was still enjoyable, I found that it wasn't quite as hoppy as the first one, even with the dry hop addition going right into the keg. I'm not sure if it was due to the yeast strain, hop freshness, or simply a change in my tastes over the previous year. Whatever was the culprit, I wanted to try one more time.

The recipe is still staying about the same this time, with another small change in the grist: I was completely out of Carafa Special, but I had lots of Midnight Wheat on hand. Both grains lack a husk (meaning you get the dark color and some of the roastiness, but not the acrid character as with other husked, dark grains), so I figured the switch would be negligible in the final product (especially at only 6% of the grist). Otherwise, the grist and hopping schedule were the same as last time. I did change the water chemistry slightly, by increasing the addition of both calcium chloride and gypsum to 10 grams each. This brought the final water profile to ~145 ppm each of chloride and sulfate, an approach with my hoppy beers I've been taking lately (I'm admittedly not completely sold on this target yet, however).

For fermentation this time, I went with Wyeast 1318 London Ale III. I've used this strain several times for hoppy beers (as have a lot of other homebrewers) and I really like how it works in these styles. Aside from being rumoured to be very similar to the English strain used by Hill Farmstead, its claim that it provides a "softly balanced palate" is true; or at least, it seems that way to me. A word of advice when you use this yeast: it usually provides a pretty big krausen that sticks around for quite some time; it's not unusual for it to take 10-14 days to drop out after active fermentation is complete, unless of course you have the ability to cold-crash.

So, I brewed the beer back in November, and as expected fermentation was fast and furious, with the airlock blowing off overnight. No problem, though; a bit of tinfoil over the top of the carboy did the trick till things settled down, and there were no issues with temperature control - the temp of the beer never went above 70 F. After almost two weeks I dry-hopped directly in primary, and then racked to a keg about 5 days later and carbed the beer.

I find the end result here to be more similar to my second attempt than my first, unfortunately. Once again the hop character is lacking slightly, and I'd actually like to see a little more roast character here, too. May not be a bad idea to add a bit of Roasted Barley or Black Patent. The mouthfeel is great, though - medium or even medium-full bodied, creamy... smooth. Nice firm bitterness in the finish. So, the beer is pretty good, but it's definitely not great. I suspect that, again, hop freshness MAY be playing at least a small part, but these weren't OLD hops by any means, and as usual they were stored cold and vacuum-sealed.

Next time I brew a Black IPA, I'll be trying something completely of my own design; different grist, different hops. Time to shake things up a bit for this style, for me. However, I really like how the London Ale III worked with this beer, even if the FG did end up being a bit high (1.018) - the mouthfeel is just where I want it for a Black IPA, and the slight fruity-esters in the aroma and taste are great. This yeast strain will continue to be used in hoppy beers of mine in the future!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.065, FG ~1.016, IBU ~80, SRM 33, ABV ~6.4%

5.1 kg (85.5%) Canadian 2-row
360 g (6%) Midnight Wheat
240 g (4%) CaraPils
120 g (2%) Flaked Oats
94 g (1.6%) Crystal 150 L
50 g (0.8%) Acid malt

CTZ - 10 g (11% AA) FWH

CTZ - 14 g @ 60 min
Centennial - 33 g (7.5% AA) @ 45 min
Centennial - 34 g @ 10 min

Centennial - 43 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
CTZ - 80 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)

Centennial - 38 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 38 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (with a starter, ~240 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 10 g Gypsum and 10 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on November 4th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 152 F. Mash pH low at 5.3 at 68 F (target 5.4). Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.051 (target 1.053). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG 1.063. Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Furious fermentation by the next morning; the temp was 68 F and the airlock had blown off the carboy. For the rest of the day and into the next, activity was so strong and the krausen so large, I just left tinfoil on top. Some beer was lost; temp didn't get over 68-70 F.

- 17/11/15 - Krausen finally dropped with a little cold-temp help. FG high at 1.018. Dry-hopped in primary. Racked to a keg and set in keezer to bring temp down 5 days later, before starting to carb.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, light-tan, creamy head that shows excellent retention. Sticks around for quite awhile before fading to 1/2-finger. Body is very dark brown if not black, and opaque. Ruby highlights at edges when held to the light.

Aroma: Light aroma of milk chocolate and earthy, dank hops. A touch of fruitiness follows at the end, hard to tell if it’s from the hops, or esters from the yeast.

Flavours of light chocolate and roast, following with some earthy and slightly-fruity hop notes, all finishing on the dry side of balanced, with a moderate-high bitterness. Quite smooth.

Mouthfeel: Very creamy, medium to medium-full bodied beer, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: I like it; I would like to see a bit more roast character, and a bit more hop character as well. Mouthfeel is great. In the end, unfortunately still not up to my first attempt, but I find that this yeast works really well with this recipe.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Brewing a Red IPA (with Cascade, CTZ and Mosaic) - my Big Spruce Home Brew Competition beer

Big Spruce Brewing, based in Nyanza, Cape Breton, is a small craft brewery that has been in operation since 2012. Since their opening, they've been producing some of the better craft beer in Atlantic Canada, with a combination of very solid regular-release beers and plenty of different one-offs, brewed for special events, tap takeovers, beer dinners, etc. Their beers are currently found on tap at select accounts in Nova Scotia, and are available for growler fills at the brewery, as well as the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and private beer stores in Halifax.

Several months ago, they announced the details for their third annual Home Brew Challenge. This year, three different styles would be featured: Czech Dark Lager, Altbier, and Red IPA. Entrants were able to enter all three categories, with gold, silver, and bronze medals given for each category. In addition, the winner of Best of Show would be given the opportunity to brew a full-sized batch on Big Spruce's system for release in January, 2016.

I don't enter many homebrew competitions. I'm certainly not against them, it's just that I've fallen into a routine of brewing what I want to brew, and it seems that whenever I brew something I REALLY like, there aren't really any competitions going on in the area to enter. This time, there was plenty of notice, and Red IPA has always been one of my favourite beer styles, so I decided to brew up something for entry. I had lots of time to come up with a recipe when the competition was announced; my plan was to brew the beer in mid-October, so that I could bottle it and have it ready by mid-November at the latest. The deadline for entry was November 27th, with the judging taking place the next day.

I've brewed a few Red IPAs over the past 2-3 years that I've really enjoyed, including my Modern Times Blazing World clone, Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone, and last year's Christmas giveaway beer, a great one that featured Amarillo, Simcoe, and Azacca. I actually considered brewing any one of these for entry, since I knew that the recipe at least was sound. But I wanted to do something new, and in the end that's the direction I took. Unfortunately, I put it off too long, and suddenly it was the middle of October and I knew I should really get to brewing something.

Picking a grist for the beer was easy. For pretty much all of my recent Red IPAs, I've gone with the grist from either the Blazing World clone, or the Zoe clone. Both have worked well for me, and both are quite different. The Zoe clone has more malt types than I'd normally use in a recipe, but I find it works well, so that's what I ultimately went with: a mix of 2-row and Maris Otter, along with Munich, Victory, Crystal 40 L and 80 L, and a touch of Chocolate malt. This gives you an SRM of about 12, and with a target OG of ~1.056, an ABV approaching 6%. A lot of Red IPAs are higher than that, but I was looking for something a little more sessionable, despite not being a session beer. I also threw in 2% of Acid malt; I do this for basically all of my pale beers now. When I plugged the recipe into EZ Water Calculator, I was really aiming to get the mash pH down to 5.4, and the addition of acid malt brought it in perfect range. Along with 7 grams each of calcium chloride and Gypsum (targeting ~120 ppm each of sulfate and chloride), 5.4 was the calculated pH. I finally got around to purchasing a fairly-cheap-but-hopefully-decent pH meter, so now I could finally test the validity of the calculator.

Now, on to the important part... hops! I knew I wanted to use a hopping schedule fairly similar to the Zoe clone, but with different hop varieties. I thought about using some of the really new varieties I had on hand, such as Azacca and Equinox, but then thought that maybe I should realistically be using hops that were a bit easier to find. I decided to go with a mixture: Cascade and Columbus (CTZ), two tried-and-true hops that have been around for years, and Mosaic, a very flavourful, aromatic variety that is still fairly new. I didn't really overdo it with this batch, either: small additions of CTZ and Cascade at 10 and 5 minutes, Cascade and Mosaic at flameout for a steep and when I started chilling the wort, and all three for a single dry-hop in primary.

Everything went smoothly on brew day. I hit my mash target of 151 F (looking to keep the beer fairly dry), and the room temp mash pH was right on target, 5.38 (thanks, EZ Water Calculator!). Fermentation started within 20 hours after pitching (I went with my Red IPA standby, US-05... although I really think I'll use an English strain next time), and slowed down after a couple of days of vigorous activity. I dry-hopped the beer in primary on day 11, and after another week, racked and bottled. Normally I would keg a beer like this, but I haven't had the best of luck with filling bottles from a keg when they aren't going to be consumed within a couple of days.

I was drinking this beer by November 7th or so; it was pretty much completely carbonated after about a week of bottle conditioning. I liked it, and have been liking it since; the malt character is good for a Red IPA, and I like how the three hops work together - fruity and a bit earthy, is the best way I can describe it. However, I would like to see MORE with the hops, both in the aroma and flavour. The last few beers of this style I've brewed have been HUGE in that regard, and I was hoping for a stronger hop presence overall in this beer. No, 8 oz of hops in a batch isn't a huge amount, but I was expecting more.

To be honest, I think since I was kind of disappointed with the beer, I wouldn't have even bothered entering it. However, a friend (who was in charge of organizing the judging for the competition) was passing through days before and had already taken my entry fee and beers, so it was already a done deal.

I wasn't able to attend the post-judging announcement and party in Dartmouth on the 28th, but believe me that I was completely shocked to hear that the beer had won gold in its category! I really wasn't expecting it to place at all. The winning beer in the Czech Dark Lager category, brewed by Eric Gautier (co-brewer Justin Clarke), won Best of Show (note that they also won in the Altbier category, and the competition last year with their American Wheat!). While I haven't yet received my score sheets, I've since heard some of the scores in the Red IPA category from others (20 entries overall), and they've been very good; obviously we've got some serious, experienced home brewers here in Atlantic Canada!

Jeremy White, owner and brewmaster at Big Spruce, said that he really enjoyed the beer. He seems interested in having me make the trip to the brewery to assist him in brewing a batch for next year's Fredericton Craft Beer Festival (Saturday, March 12th). Not sure if that'll happen, but I'd definitely be game! It may even give us the opportunity to bring the hop level up higher to where I'd like to see it.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.056, FG ~1.011, IBU ~43, SRM 12, ABV ~5.9%

2.1 kg (41.2%) Canadian 2-row
2.1 kg (41.2%) Maris Otter
250 g (4.9%) Munich
250 g (4.9%) Victory
125 g (2.5%) Crystal 40 L
125 g (2.5%) Crystal 80 L
100 g (2%) Acid malt
50 g (1%) Chocolate malt

CTZ - 14 g (11.5% AA) @ 60 min
Cascade - 14 g (7% AA) @ 10 min
CTZ - 14 g @ 10 min
Cascade - 14 g @ 5 min
CTZ - 14 g @ 5 min

Cascade - 21 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
Mosaic - 21 g @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)

Cascade - 21 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)
Mosaic - 21 g @ 0 min (after started chilling)

Cascade - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Mosaic - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 pack, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on October 14th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 151 F. Mash pH at 5.38 at 68 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.046. 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG 1.055. Chilled to 66 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 70 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 66 F.

- 25/10/15 - FG 1.013. Added dry hops into primary.

- 2/11/15 - Bottled with 106 g table sugar, aiming for 2.3 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, max temp 72 F reached. Bottled only slightly over 4 gallons; lots of hop matter caught in bottling wand before last 3-4 bottles could be completed.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-large, off-white head that has excellent retention, sticking around for several minutes before starting to fade. Body is a dark-red colour, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Pretty decent balance of slightly sweet, caramel-type malt with fruity and citrusy hops. Clean. Would like the hop aroma to be boosted, however.

Taste: Same; the maltiness (both a bready quality and caramel sweetness) comes through first, followed quickly by a fruity/slightly earthy hop character, finishing fairly dry with a moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: A good Red IPA, but I'd like it to have more hop character, especially in the aroma.