Saturday 20 May 2017

Brewing a Brett Session IPA (with Azacca and Columbus)

I brewed my first 100% Brettanomyces IPA in May of 2015; I'm not really sure why it took me so long, since I'm a big fan of Brett, a big fan of hops, and a big fan of when the two are used together! There's lots of Brett IPAs available commercially now (well, in most parts of North America), so you probably don't need me to tell you that the good ones feature just the right amount of funk (not too much, but noticeable) with lots of citrus, tropical, and pineapple notes from the addition of large amounts of the best hop varieties. Sure, it depends on exactly what hops you go with, AND the strain(s) of Brett you ferment with, but this really can be a delicious style. But you didn't need me to tell you that, right?

That original brew was, for me, the best out of all the Brett IPAs I've brewed since. It featured Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc, and was fermented with The Yeast Bay's Amalgamation, a "Brett Super Blend" made up of six different Brett strains (which they don't tell you exactly what they are). I don't know why this particular beer was so great, but I guess it was just the right combination of hops and Brett. I've used Amalgamation several times since, and it's definitely a winner, and my go-to when it comes to 100% Brett fermentations.

I've been trying to have one of my four taps always dedicated to a sour or 100% Brett beer, and when my Gose dry-hopped with Chinook and grapefruit zest was finally about to kick, I made sure to take the time to brew another Brett IPA. This time around, however, I was looking for a beer that was lower than the 6.5-7% ABV range. There's nothing wrong with these beers, but I continue to be drawn more and more towards the sub-5% beers that aren't going to necessarily leave me buzzed when I shouldn't be. So, why not a Brett Session IPA?

Why not, indeed! The only real concern that I had was ending up with a beer that was watery and thin. Since most Brett strains don't produce glycerol, a compound that is responsible for giving a lot of mouthfeel/body to a beer, fermenting entirely with Brett runs the risk of resulting in a thin, watery beer; with a lower ABV beer, I'd imagine this is even more likely. With my other Brett IPAs, I always tried to account for this by adding a good portion of Wheat malt, and by mashing relatively high. This approach has worked in the past, so with this Brett Session IPA, I did the same thing; in fact, I used almost the same grist as my other Brett IPAs, to a lower OG of 1.042, but took out some Wheat malt and made up the difference with Flaked Oats. I also mashed even higher than before at 155 F, compared to 153 F last time.

I took the opportunity to use different hop varieties this time around - aside from my all-Azacca Brett IPA that I brewed last spring, all of my others had two hop varieties in them, and this is the approach I wanted to take here. I still had quite a bit of Azacca on hand, so I decided to go with this again; for the second variety, I chose Columbus, a hop I feel is often unfairly overlooked. It's readily available, cheap, and has a nice dank, resinous, sometimes-kind-of-fruity set of qualities to it that I usually enjoy. I thought maybe it would pair well with the Azacca, offering a nice contrast to the citrus, mango, and pineapple notes from that variety. The hopping schedule is similar to the other Brett IPAs: a bit of Polaris at the beginning of the boil to get a few IBUs, then the Azacca and CTZ (with an emphasis on Azacca) for a hop steep, more when the immersion chiller started doing its thing, and then a couple ounces of each in the single dry-hop.

Brew day and fermentation seemed to go off without any major hitches. The FG came in very low this time around, at 1.003 (I've had a wide varieties of apparent attenuation with Amalgamation), and after dry-hopping the beer for 5 days, I racked it to a keg and force carbed it. When I had my first pour, I knew immediately that it had fallen short of where I wanted it to be, and that this wasn't going to improve with time. The issue? Too much Brett character, and not enough hops.

This had happened before. The aforementioned all-Azacca Brett IPA had the same problem, but at that point I assumed it was due to the Brett strain I had used for fermentation. This was one of the only times I brewed a Brett IPA and DIDN'T use Amalgamation; instead, I went with Brett brux Trois Vrai. While I did enjoy that beer, I want the hops to really pop in a Brett IPA (it's not just a Brett beer, after all), and that didn't happen with that beer. And since I had used Azacca before and loved it, I blamed it on the Brett.

This latest beer is somewhere in between: more hop character than the all-Azacca beer, but not as much as other Brett IPAs I've brewed. So, while I still stand by my initial conclusion that Brett brux Troi Vrai may not be the best Brett strain for hoppy beers (at least in part), I admit now that some of the reason for it's blahness is due to the newer Azacca I had used. A friend and I bought a couple of pounds (this was the 2015 crop), and he was underwhelmed by his as well. Unfortunate, but it happens.

Regardless, it's not a bad beer at all, it's just not where I wanted it. Definitely some nice Brett funk in there, bit of pineapple, citrus, and a little dankness from the Columbus. And at only 4.7% ABV, I'm really happy with how easy-drinking it is. I should also mention that the recipe definitely turned out a low-ABV beer with a solid mouthfeel, even with the lack of glycerol production from the Brett... it's not too thin at all. So if you're looking to brew a Brett Session IPA, I can recommend the recipe... just maybe check your Azacca, or go with a different hop!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.042, FG ~1.010, IBU ~25, SRM 3.1, ABV ~4.1%

Grains & Sugars:
2.6 kg (72.2%) Canadian 2-row
350 g (9.7%) Flaked Oats
350 g (9.7%) Wheat malt
150 g (4.2%) Carapils
150 g (4.2%) Acid malt

Polaris - 4 g (17% AA) @ 60 min

Azacca - 42 g (8.2% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20-minute steep)
CTZ - 28 g (10.9% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20-minute steep)

Azacca - 42 g @ 0 min (when started chilling)
CTZ - 28 g @ 0 min (when started chilling)

Azacca - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: The Yeast Bay Brett Amalgamation (with a starter, to ~150 bil cells)

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

- Brewed on January 24th, 2017, by myself. 50-minute mash with 10.5 L of strike water; mash temp on target of 155 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 4 L of boiling water to 162 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG low at 1.039. Chilled to 64 F, then poured into SS Brew Bucket. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 65 F.

- Good activity after 24 hours, only lasted for a couple of days. Temp reached max of 68 F during fermentation. Added dry hops into fermentor after about 2 weeks (I had been away), for 5 days. FG quite low at 1.003. Racked to keg at this point and force carbed at 30 PSI for 36 hours.

Appearance: Pours with a large, dense, white head that sticks around for days. Body is light-yellow, and quite hazy.

Aroma: Definitely a Brett beer... that barnyard Funk character hits the nose first, followed by light citrus/dank notes from - I assume - the Azacca and Columbus.

Taste: Again, the Brett wins. Funky, bit of pineapple, with the hops supporting nicely. Bit of carbonic bite in the finish, and the bitterness is about medium (higher than I expected from the 25 IBUs calculated). Very dry finish, thanks to the low FG.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium carbonation. Smooth, not too thin at all for a sub 5% ABV beer.

Overall: I like it, but the hops don't come through enough. I think the hopping amounts and schedule are sound, it's just that this Azacca crop isn't doing it.