Tuesday 23 February 2016

100% Citra-hopped Session Red IPA, fermented with London Ale III

For my last homebrew batch of 2015, I didn't have too much trouble coming up with what to brew. I never have problems with ideas, it's more often a case that I can't decide WHICH one to go with. Here, however, I had just brewed a new Imperial IPA for giving away (well, mostly) as Christmas gifts, and I was looking to have a couple of session beers on tap. I actually rebrewed my Equinox Session IPA, but wanted another. Looking back at some of the hoppy, session beers I've brewed, the "Baby Zoe" - a clone of Maine Beer Co. Zoe, but dialled back to a sub-5% ABV - stuck out as one of my favorites.

So, I planned on brewing another Session Red IPA, so to speak. But I didn't want to do the exact same recipe... quite the contrary. I used the idea to come up with one that was completely different in grist, hops and yeast. I've been having mostly good luck with my series of one-hop Session IPAs, and I liked the idea of trying a single hop in a darker grist. Would the hop come through with similar characteristics as in a pale beer? I didn't know; I don't really recall trying many Session Red IPAs at all, let alone a single-hopped one, so I picked a hop that I loved, and was quite familiar with: Citra. Hey, if you're a homebrewer and like hops, you're familiar with Citra.

But first, as always, the grist. My first intention was to simply copy the grist I had used for the Baby Zoe; I liked it, and had used in a couple of other beers. But I remembered that the grist for another Red IPA clone recipe I brewed once - Blazing World, from Modern Times - was also quite good. I have actually been wanting to do a "Baby" recipe of that beer as well, so it made sense to give it a try in this beer, in case I never got around to doing a smaller Blazing Worlds. It's a simpler recipe than what's involved for Zoe: a large portion of Maris Otter for the base, almost 15% Munich for extra breadiness, and then a bit of Roasted Barley and Carafa II to darken. I also added close to 2% Acid malt for mash pH purposes (and some calcium chloride and Gypsum, of course). Pretty straight-forward, giving a calculated SRM around 11.

I took a slightly different approach to the hopping schedule as well. Yes, it's all Citra, of course, but I dropped the 60-minute addition. I've been keeping the IBUs in a lot of my hoppy beers relatively low, with most of them coming from late or whirlpool additions, but I still usually add a little bit of a high-AA hop at the beginning of the boil. This time around, I made no additions until the 10-minute mark, where I threw in 1 oz. Another ounce at 5 minutes, then a steep of 3 oz, and another 3 oz for the dry-hop. That's half a pound of Citra in a ~4.5% ABV beer, which I assumed would be enough. But would it be the super-tropical, sometimes-cat-pee aroma that I was used to?

As for fermenting the beer, normally I'd use something neutral like US-05. But I've been having a lot of fun with London Ale III for my last bunch of hoppy beers, and I wanted to try using it in this one. If I had been really curious as to how a low-ABV, Red IPA with all-Citra would taste, I wouldn't have changed another variable, let alone the yeast. Oh well!

Once fermentation was complete, I left it alone for a few more days before taking a gravity reading and throwing the dry hops into the primary fermentor. After another five days, I kegged the beer and started carbonating. As usual, I started sampling the beer a bit too early; I can't help it, I always have such a hard time waiting for a beer to be "ready", and it doesn't matter what it is! But with this beer, I find it's been tasting virtually the same since I started drinking it in early January.

In a nutshell, I like this beer. I like that it's low-alcohol, but thankfully doesn't come across as too thin (mind you, more body WOULD be preferable; my target mash temp of 155 F was missed by a couple degrees, since I was tackling too many things that morning and got distracted). I enjoy the malt presence - there's some toffee and caramel in there, but it's not too sweet for a Red IPA. I do think I prefer the Zoe clone grist, however, so will likely stick closer to that in future beers of this style. The Citra does come through quite a bit, but definitely not so much as in a pale beer, as I mostly expected. I actually find that it's more dank than fruity; I know others have noticed this in beers heavy in Citra, and since it's a single-hop beer, I shouldn't be surprised. But I brewed a Kern River Citra DIPA clone in 2012 - that single-hop beer had far more fruitiness to it than this one.

My only real complaint is that the head isn't very dense; it disappears soon after pouring the beer. If I brewed it again I may add some wheat malt, but I haven't really had issues with that before. The beer is also very hazy, but I've been getting that a lot with many of my recent heavily-hopped, London Ale III-fermented beers, and I'm ok with it. If you're looking to try something new with your Citra, give this one a go, especially if you're into sessionable Red IPAs.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.014, IBU ~40, SRM 11, ABV ~4.5%

3.5 kg (81.7%) Maris Otter
625 g (14.6%) Munich
75 g (1.8%) Acid malt
45 g (1.1%) Roasted Barley
38 g (0.9%) Carafa II

Citra - 28 g (11.1% AA) @ 10 min
Citra - 28 g @ 5 min

Citra - 84 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Citra - 84 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, ~200 billion cells)

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

- Brewed on December 14th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water; mash temp low at 153 F (was aiming for 155 F, but got distracted). Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5 L of boiling water to 163 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity a bit high at 1.041 (target 1.039). 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5-5.75 gallons; OG 1.049. Chilled to 62 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fast and efficient fermentation over the next couple of days. FG on Dec. 26th was 1.014; added dry hops on this date in primary. Racked into CO2-purged keg on January 2nd.

Appearance: Pours with a small-moderate-sized off-white head that fades very quickly, leaving only a thin film on the beer. The body is a dark red color, and quite hazy.

Aroma: Pleasant blend of toffee-sweet malt character and a mixture of fruity and dank from the Citra. The sweetness is there, as expected, but luckily it's well-balanced thanks to the hops.

Taste: That malty sweetness (caramel, toffee) comes up first, surrounded immediately by mostly-dank hops. Some fruit, but I find the taste has the dankness dominate. It finishes slightly sweeter than a paler hopper beer, as expected; moderate bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation (bordering on moderate-low).

Overall: Enjoyable. Would like to see more body and a denser head, but I enjoy the easy-drinking nature of the beer and the slightly-altered Citra presence. A worthy experiment, and another sessionable beer I could see myself brewing again.

Friday 5 February 2016

2015 Homebrewing Year in Review

Well, it's time to write up another Year in Review post... I'm not really sure it's necessary, but it IS a good way for me to look back at the previous year and see if I met all - or really, any - of my homebrewing goals from the year before. So, here we go!

I was able to JUST manage to make 2015 my most-successful brew year yet... in terms of numbers, anyway. With 23 brews, I beat 2014's record of 22. Out of those 23 homebrews in 2015, TWENTY-ONE of them were hoppy ones. I've been brewing more and more hoppy beers for the last couple of years, but that surprised me when I counted them up. That's 91% of total beers brewed, compared to 68% in 2014 (15 of 22 total). I mean, I guess it's good to brew what you like, and to be fair, these weren't all just IPAs and APAs - there were several different "styles" I approached, including a couple I hadn't really seen before. But it IS a bit of wake-up call that maybe it's time to branch out a bit! However, the hop inventory in my freezer never seems to go down, so they will continue to make a hefty presence in the majority of my homebrews!

Looking back at these 23 beers, I would say that I was at least pretty happy with 18 of them. That's a pretty good ratio, I think. That's definitely not saying I LOVED those 18, just that they were at least pretty tasty, and I was happy enough to share them with others and not tuck them away in a corner where they couldn't be seen. The other five, for the most part, weren't terrible, but I certainly wasn't proud of them. So, let's look at a few standouts on either end from 2015:

My favorite homebrews of 2015:

Equinox Session IPA - Session IPAs seem to easily provoke feelings of love or hate in the beer world; personally, I don't get the hate. If I can get plenty of hop aroma and flavor in a beer, without the alcohol... perfect! With this one, the third in my one-hop Session IPA experiments, I finally dialled in a grist I was happy with... but it was really the Equinox hop that brought the love. Living up to its reputation for big aromas and flavors (with plenty of citrus and, yes, a touch of green pepper), it was easy-drinking and big on taste. I enjoyed it so much, I brewed the same recipe later in the year - something I never do.

100% Brett IPA with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc - My first 100% Brettanomyces-fermented IPA, I used Amalgamation - a "Brett Super Blend" made up of six different Brett strains - from The Yeast Bay to ferment the beer, and it came out pretty much where I wanted it to be. It was super-tropical, with enough Brett funk to make it clear that this was NOT your typical American IPA. The blend of Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc worked really well in this beer; it was the first time I had brewed with HB, and I was so impressed with it I made sure to use it again in future brews. My follow-up Brett IPA, brewed with Galaxy and Southern Cross, was almost equally as tasty.

"Baby Zoe" - This one was a Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone scaled down to 4.3% ABV. I'd brewed a regular Zoe clone in 2013, and it had turned out pretty great; I eventually decided I wanted to try brewing a session version of this beer. Not just to keep the alcohol down, but to see if it could be done without sacrificing flavour or body. Well, turns out simply scaling back the grist and upping the mash temp worked really well! The IBUs were decreased, but all flavour and aroma hops were added with the same amounts as in the regular Zoe, resulting in the perfect balance (for me) between the toffee-like malt character, a bit of sweetness, and plenty of citrusy, dank hops.

Baby Zoe

Alpine Nelson clone - On a couple of trips to San Diego, I've had several Alpine beers (which all lived up to the hype), but never Nelson, a "Golden Rye IPA" that always gets big ratings. When I stumbled upon a clone recipe on Reddit supposedly straight from Pat McIlhenney, I had to give it a try. Brewed with 17% Rye malt and hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross, I certainly can't say how close it was to the original, but it was damned tasty. This was a very juicy beer, despite the seemingly-small kettle additions (and NO whirlpool!), although the dry-hop was pretty large. Either way, definitely a recipe worth re-brewing.

Honorable mentions: Meek Celebration (2015), White IPA (with Amarillo and El Dorado), Belgian Red IPA

Homebrew disappointments of 2015:

Maine Beer Co. Dinner clone - Hooboy! Talk about your real stinkers! Where do I even begin with this one? I had been wanting to do something special for my 100th homebrew, and eventually settled on this beer because the commercial version is so delicious and highly coveted, and because I've had such great luck with "cloning" several Maine Beer Co. beers in the past. Hopped with Falconer's Flight, Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic, and dry-hopped twice at 6 lbs per barrel (yes, really), this was a massive undertaking. And expensive, as homebrews go. But I vowed to try it, and a total of 21.5 oz of hops were used for my measly 4.5 gallon batch. Unfortunately, the beer came out not good at all - it smelled and tasted sweet, and kind of like oxidized hops, even though the hops I used were supposed to be fresh. I was really flabbergasted as to what went wrong, then started reading several sources that said when you dry hop over a certain point, the pH of the beer can start to rise and affect the flavor and aroma, and needs to be adjusted with acid. This theory may hold true, as another former disappointment of mine was the hugely-hopped Pliny the Younger clone I brewed in 2013. Will I try this Dinner clone again? Maybe, but doubtful at THOSE hopping rates. If there was one thing this beer was a perfect example of, it was that more does not necessarily mean better.

Hello, my pretties! Prepare to be wasted!

Summer Session IPA - My fourth one-hop Session IPA, I was expecting great things from this beer. I was happy with the general recipe at this point (having loved the Equinox Session IPA mentioned above), I had a half lb of fresh, vacuum-sealed Summer on hand, and had heard overall good things about this hop variety. Unfortunately, the beer came out pretty boring - barely any hop character to speak of, it tasted more like a Blonde Ale than anything else. Several factors could have been the cause, but I feel like this hop, if used on its own, would work better in a SMaSH beer due to the simpler grist.

I also brewed a Witbier that I didn't post about - half was fermented with Wyeast 3944, the other half with 3944 and the Brett Amalgamation. I haven't bottled the Brett half yet (when I do, I'll be sure to write up a post), but the 3944 half was pretty gross... really odd aroma to it that someone described as "noodles". Nice. The 3944 slurry was used in the White IPA I mentioned briefly in the honorable mentions, and that beer came out really nice, so not sure what went wrong with the Witbier. But really, only a couple of real disappointments in 2015, so I'm happy there wasn't more.

Viewership for the blog has continued to climb, for the most part, with the majority of readers still coming from the U.S. (about 9 times as many). Here are the number of page views for the busiest months of the past two years:

Page views for Oct, 2014: 8,670
Page views for Nov, 2015: 11,506

Not exactly a huge jump, and much lower than the really popular homebrew blogs out there, but it at least proves that my parents have really mastered using that Refresh button in their browser. Hopefully things continue upward; last month was the biggest yet (despite only one new post, at the end of the month) with over 16,000 page views. The most popular post of 2015 (so far) is Brewing an American IPA with London Ale III yeast and high chloride water, probably the most boring-titled post in history. Despite that, it's already at #6 in post popularity, and will soon be taking over the #5 spot. Goes to show how London Ale III is growing in popularity in its use in hoppy beers, not to mention that more and more homebrewers are obviously learning that the previous lesson of "use lots of sulfate in hoppy beers" may not always be the best approach.

Ok, now let's see how many of my homebrewing goals for 2015 were actually reached:
  • "You can definitely count on more clone recipes (I've got something hopefully big planned for my 100th batch, which should be coming up in 2-3 months)" - They're definitely there - about 8 in total - but fewer than the year before. Guess I started experimenting more. As for the something big... unfortunately, I did follow through on that promise!
  • "...and I want to do another sour at some point (I'm leaning towards my first Lambic, which will likely involve putting at least some of it on fruit... blueberries?)" - Eh, kind of. The only real sour beer I brewed all year was a Berliner Weisse back in April, which I haven't bottled/posted about yet. I will be racking half on blueberries very soon; last time I checked, though, the pH was only at 3.85, so this one won't be sour enough, unfortunately.
  • "I also plan on playing with some more of the IPA sub-styles (e.g. White IPA), and possibly stretching some of those out a bit further." - Yes, definitely. With the White IPA, Belgian Red IPA, and Brett IPAs mentioned above, along with several Session IPAs, the India Pale Ale was definitely the star of the year.
  • "On top of all this, I'd really like to re-visit 2-3 of my favorite beers over the past couple of years, ranging from outright rebrews to variations on past recipes." - I always say this, and in 2015 I actually did it. As I mentioned above, I rebrewed the Equinox Session IPA (in the same year!), my Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone (with half the batch fermented with the yeast formerly known as Brett Trois), and my Hill Farmstead James clone, among others.
As for 2016, likely more of the same. Lots of hoppy beers, for one. I'll definitely squeeze in a few more clone attempts; look for at least one featuring a delicious Trillium beer sometime soon. And I really do hope to do more sours, for real this time. I'm going to take a couple of cracks at kettle-souring some beers, and adding various fruits, spices, and/or hops to them. I'd love to do another long-term sour, too, since the Oud Bruin I brewed close to two years ago has finally been bottled, and is tasting pretty good. Finally, I really hope to brew at least one experiment-style beer, where I compare 1318 vs US-05, for example, or maybe even changes in water chemistry. We'll see if that actually comes to fruition or not!

Thanks everyone, for following more of my ramblings throughout 2015! Cheers to another year of beer!