Thursday 9 February 2017

Orange Creamsicle IPA - my first attempt at a "Milkshake" IPA

With the number of commercial breweries at an all-time high, it's not surprising that new beer styles are popping up on a fairly regular basis. I use the word "styles" very loosely, of course; some people don't really like seeing that word used when these beers aren't actually official styles, at least according to the BJCP or other organizations. Me? I don't really care; if you want to call your beer a "Purple Yak Juice IPA" style, go for it. As long as I don't have to drink it.

One style I've been hearing about for months now is the Milkshake IPA. I believe Tired Hands was either the first, or at least one of the first, to start brewing such a beer (as to how that got started, I suggest you Google it... it's a pretty funny story!). But even Atlantic Canada is starting to hop on the Milkshake train, with at least two breweries releasing their own: Tide & Boar in Moncton, New Brunswick, has released several iterations with different fruit (such as Peach Ale Shake), and Nova Scotia's Big Spruce Brewing currently has their take on the style out, Liquid James Brown.

So what exactly is a Milkshake IPA? It takes the growing popularity of the Northeast/New England IPA (cloudy, pale-coloured, creamy, and super-hoppy without high bitterness) to the next level...
  • Lactose powder is added to the beer to give some residual sweetness, and bump up the mouthfeel even more.
  • Vanilla bean is usually added to bring the aromas/flavours associated with vanilla milkshakes.
  • Fruit is often added (but not always), bringing even more to the aroma and flavour.
Of course, you need to add lots of hops in whirlpool/dry hop additions; Flaked Oats are often used to help the beer get plenty cloudy; and it's quite common to see London Ale III used for fermentation, in true classic-Northeast IPA style. Some brewers even add flour to the mash (and maybe even the boil?) to enhance cloudiness, but I dunno... this seems like an unnecessary step to me.

The more I read about Milkshake IPAs, the more I wanted to brew one, and not because I thought it was a slam-dunk style. If anything, this type of beer strikes me as one that could be either really tasty, or a complete mess. There's a lot of different ingredients working together! If you add too much lactose, your beer could be TOO full-bodied, and maybe a bit too sweet (although lactose is only 1/6 as sweet as table sugar, I believe). Too much vanilla? That's an ingredient that could overwhelm the hops pretty easily. But I was intrigued enough to give it a try on my own, even though I didn't really have anything to go on. Giving it some more thought, I moved towards making this beer orange-heavy; combined with the vanilla, this would give it an orange creamsicle-ness in the aroma and taste - I hoped, anyway.

I started with the grist, putting together a recipe that looked like it would work well for a Northeast-style IPA: 2-row and Maris Otter make up the base, with a good amount of Flaked Oats (~15%) to provide the creamy mouthfeel and haze; I also added a little bit of Carapils and Acid malt. The lactose powder is of course meant to be added in the boil; I didn't really know how much to go with, here. With the Flaked Oats already boosting the body, I was worried that too much lactose would overdo it, not to mention the potential to add too much sweetness. The only time I've brewed with lactose in the past was for a couple of Sweet Stout recipes, where I added a pound for each 5 gallon batch. I decided to halve it for this beer, figuring it'd be better to go too light than too high.

Now, for a truly orange creamsicle-type aroma, I would add Galaxy and Citra to this beer. Orange characteristics are present in plenty of different hop varieties, but I find it particularly strong in these two. However, I didn't have a lot of Galaxy or Citra on hand. What I DID have a lot of were two other varieties I really enjoy, Equinox and Azacca. I've seen "tangerine" and "citrus" used when describing Azacca, and Equinox definitely has some other citrus characters that I thought would work well, so this was the combo I chose. I went with my fairly-standard approach of an ounce each at 10 min, a good amount for a hop steep/whirlpool addition, and then two separate dry-hop additions (with the second dry hop made up of Equinox, and the remaining Galaxy in my inventory). With a touch of Polaris at the beginning of the boil, the IBUs come in at a calculated mid-50s range, which seemed perfect to me. With the majority of the 10 oz of Azacca and Equinox being added after flame-out, I was going for lots of fruity, citrusy hop aroma and flavour.

After fermentation with LAIII was complete, I dry-hopped the beer in primary for 5 days, then racked to my DH keg (which has two filters surrounding the dip tube) along with more hops. This was where I also added the orange zest; I went on the seemingly-heavy side, adding 9 g zest (that's about 0.5 g/L) in a sanitized, mesh bag, weighted down with some marbles, and held suspended in the keg by some dental floss. After 4-5 days in this keg (I roused the hops frequently by picking up the keg and basically turning it back and forth a few times every day), the beer was pushed via C02 to the serving keg.

This is when I added the vanilla bean, another ingredient that I was worried about adding too much. Instead of adding a full bean as I've done in the past with other beers, I went with a half. I suspected this may be at the low end, but again, I didn't want the vanilla too strong, where it could start hiding the hops. I had scraped and chopped the vanilla bean about a week previous, and soaked it in a bit of vodka for that period (this method had worked well in my recent Belgian Dubbel). That liquid was then strained into the serving keg before transferring the beer onto it.

After chilling and carbing the beer, I had my first taste... and was quite happy, especially considering it was a first attempt with several things I thought could have went wrong. Because I've been behind on blogging, this beer has now kicked, but many people got to try it, and feedback was good. The beer was definitely cloudy, with a very smooth, creamy mouthfeel. The aroma and taste had a lot of hop character - plenty of citrus, fruit, and yes, some orange - with some slight sweetness coming through... but thankfully, not too much. Bitterness was medium-low, right about where I wanted it.

In terms of what I'd like to see changed, the vanilla character was definitely too low. Yes, there was some there, but I think for this style there needed to be more. A friend had brewed a Milkshake IPA as well, which I got to try after I had brewed mine. He had added two vanilla beans to his, and while the beer was tasty, the vanilla character was too strong, and definitely overwhelmed the hops (this was easy to confirm because he had split the batch, with half getting no vanilla at all). I'd say you could safely add one vanilla bean, and have a better chance of hitting that sweet spot. Finally, the beer could be a bit drier; not sure why, but my final gravity was several points high at 1.022. Keep in mind that high number is because of the lactose, which isn't fermented by the yeast, but it still would have been a better beer if it had finished at 1.018, as the recipe called for.

Ultimately, this was a good beer, and I think a pretty decent recipe. Azacca and Equinox sure aren't the easiest hops to find, but I'm sure there's a multitude of substitutions you could make and still have a great beer... maybe even better! Hopefully some of you try this recipe, and have equally good results.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.068, FG ~1.018, IBU ~54, SRM 4.6, ABV ~6.8%

Grains & Sugars:
2.9 kg (47.2%) Canadian 2-row
1.75 kg (28.5%) Maris Otter
900 g (14.7%) Flaked Oats
180 g (2.9%) Carapils
180 g (2.9%) Acid malt
227 g (3.7%) Lactose powder (added during the boil)

Polaris - 8 g (17% AA) @ 60 min
Azacca - 28 g (7.8% AA) @ 10 min
Equinox - 28 g (13.4% AA) @ 10 min

Azacca & Equinox - 42 g each @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Azacca & Equinox - 28 g each dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Equinox & Galaxy - 42 g each dry-hop for 4 more days (in DH keg)

9 g orange zest (in DH keg)
1/2 vanilla bean (scraped and chopped, soaked in vodka for a week, strained and added in serving keg)

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (~240 billion cells)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on November 16th, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water; mash temp on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 8.5 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~3 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.053. 60-minute boil; added the lactose in the final 20 min. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG a bit low at 1.066. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white head; nice retention, some sticky lacing as the beer recedes. Body is a beautiful light-orange colour, very hazy/cloudy.

Aroma: Lots going on here - interesting mix of orange, tropical fruit, and light vanilla. No alcohol.

Taste: I'd say in decreasing order of intensity, I get tropical fruit hop character, orange, and vanilla, with a lingering low amount of sweetness. Very smooth. Medium/medium-low bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied, medium carbonation.

Overall: This turned out better than I had really expected; obviously, luck was a big factor here. I'd love to experiment with this style - different fruit, different hops - but I'd definitely keep the grist, mash schedule, and yeast as-is.