Monday, 28 September 2015

Brewing a Maine Beer Co. Peeper clone (No. 7 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

After my attempt to brew a clone of Maine Beer Company's highly-coveted DIPA, Dinner, I didn't want to wait too long to try brewing another one of their beers. Why? Because that clone attempt came out pretty crappy. Probably one of my worst homebrew attempts of all time. If I hadn't had so many people that wanted to still try it, it probably would have turned out to be my first drainpour batch. It didn't, in the end... but it wasn't too far off. More on that failure in the link above.

Anyway, time to move on, right? I've had several successes since then, and have learned from the experience; this is what homebrewing is all about. I know now that a pound of hops for a 5 gallon batch dry-hop is probably a WEE bit too much. And I've had some good results with some other Maine Beer Co. recipes, with one I'd been sitting on for awhile that I've always been wanting to try - a clone recipe of their very first beer, Peeper.

When Maine Beer Co. came on the scene in Portland six years ago, they initially only had one beer available. Spring Peeper was an "American Ale", basically a really hop-forward APA that was dry, refreshing, and immensely hoppy. I remember my very first trip to Portland's Novare Res Bier Cafe in the fall of 2009; one of the bartenders there insisted that I had to try this beer (even though "the brewery name is kinda crappy"...!). They didn't have it on tap, but they did have the 500 mL bottles available (which were being delivered, I believe, to bars and beer stores in the area by owners/brewers Dan and David Kleban, who still had their day jobs at the time as well). The hype was real - this beer was delicious. And it was, of course, eventually followed by many other amazing beers over the years.

The name was eventually changed to Peeper (I assume so people wouldn't be confused and think it was only a seasonal release?), but the beer stayed the same. Peeper is like Coors Light in Portland - it's hard to go into a beer bar, restaurant, etc. and NOT find it... which speaks volumes as to the awesomeness of Portland. Several years ago, I came across a post on Home Brew Talk where someone included a clone recipe of Peeper that they had received from Dan Kleban. I've had great luck and lots of help from Dan on other clone recipes of his beers, but this was even more... it was quite detailed. I assume that he was simply less busy back then, and had a little more time to answer pesky homebrewer's emails! I held on to this recipe for quite awhile before I finally decided to brew it. Here it is in its entirety:

I use American 2-row base malt (88%), then red wheat (3.5%), Vienna (3.5%), and C-10 (5%). U.S. Magnum as bittering charge, then equal amounts Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo at beginning of whirlpool. Dry-hop equal amounts Centennial and Amarillo only (4.5 oz/5 gal). House yeast is a variant of Wyeast 1056. Mash at 150 F and sparge with 180 degree hot liquor to raise runoff to 172ish. 60 minute boil. 

OG: 1.053
FG: 1.011
IBU: approx 45
SRM: no idea

My secret: extreme late hopping (up to 50% of IBUs come from whirlpool hops)

Pretty helpful! I imagine that most of their hoppy beers follow the same approach, where a good hunk of the bitterness comes from whirlpool additions. All of their beers are so smooth and easy-drinking, with tons of hop aroma and flavour; this is the approach I've used with all my Maine Beer Co. clones (not to mention a lot of other recipes).

So, obviously the grist was extremely easy to put together. I threw in 100 g of Acid malt, as per usual for my pale beers, for mash pH purposes. I also didn't have any Crystal 10L; I first thought of just using Carapils, but I have a lot of CaraRed, which is about 20 L. So, I used that one, but decreased the amount to ~3% to hopefully-account for the slightly-darker color. For the hops, I went with 1.5 oz each of Amarillo, Cascade, and Centennial at flameout, for a 15-minute steep (I basically just went with a quantity that would yield about half of the 45 IBUs I was aiming for). I probably should have steeped longer, since there were no other flavor/aroma additions until this point, but I was on a tight schedule and have had good results with 15-minute steeps in the past. For the dry-hop, I followed the instructions exactly... and assumed that it was 4.5 oz TOTAL, not 4.5 oz of each hop.

That's about all the work I had to do with this one. The brew day went smoothly; while taking place in June, the temperatures really weren't that high, so the groundwater was still manageably cool, and the fermentation never got out of control.

I was quite happy with how this one came out. While I've had Peeper plenty of times - like I said, it's everywhere - the last time I had it was in March. And of course I don't have access to it here, and unfortunately I haven't been to Maine in months... so, no side-by-side tasting, which would have been great. I can say that the beer is very tasty - while there's a pretty good background note of bready malt, the hops are quite prevalent. But this isn't your typical BANG hops in your face hoppy beer... I find them somewhere between subtle and prevalent. That sounds contradictory, but it's hard to explain. Fruity and kind of tropical, not quite in the background, not quite overpowering. Maybe just really nicely balanced?

Either way, it's good. I think the beer, despite cutting back on the CaraRed, is a touch too dark for a Peeper clone. It seems darker than the calculated 4.5 SRM, to me. Now that I look at the website, I see that Carapils is listed as an ingredient for Peeper, not C-10. And I feel like Peeper finishes drier, which wouldn't surprise me since Maine Beer Co. normally has extremely high attenuation in their beers (the OG and FG provided in the recipe must have been adjusted for homebrew purposes (they list the beer as 1.047 on their site, which means for 5.5% ABV it would be finishing at about 1.005).

So, if you're a fan of Peeper, or just of hoppy, tasty Pale Ales, give this recipe a try. I suggest subbing in Carapils for C-10 or CaraRed or whatever. Cheers!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.053, FG ~1.010, IBU ~45, SRM 4.5, ABV ~5.6%

4.25 kg (87.8%) Canadian 2-row
170 g (3.5%) Vienna
170 g (3.5%) Wheat malt
150 g (3.1%) CaraRed (20 SRM)
100 g (2.1%) Acid malt

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

Amarillo - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Cascade - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Centennial - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Amarillo - 63 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)
Centennial - 63 g dry-hop for 5-7 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; 3 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 16th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 150 F. Sparged with ~5.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- Forgot to take a gravity reading pre-boil. 60-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG on target at 1.053. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Good fermentation over the next couple of days, slowed down quickly by the third day. Temp never higher than 70 F. FG close to target, 1.011.

- Added dry-hops in primary about 12 days after pitching, kegged beer 5 days later and started carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, white head; retention isn't bad, but the slightly-low carbonation has it fading a bit faster than I'd like. Body is a burnished-gold color, with very good clarity.

Aroma: I get fruity, citrusy hops in the aroma, but with a firm background of bready malt. A bit of sweetness in there, too. Otherwise, clean.

Taste: Again, nice presence of malt character in this beer. The hops win (tropical and fruity), but as mentioned above, it's not an overpowering presence, but they're firmly there and linger perfectly. Medium-low bitterness in the finish, which is somewhere between dry and sweet, with the tilt towards dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium-low carbonation.

Overall: Quite enjoyable. Somewhere between one of your classic APAs where the malt comes through more (think the original Stone Pale Ale) and one of the way-more-hoppy APAs you see more often today.

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.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Brewing a Summer One-Hop Session IPA

Several months ago, when I was putting together my next bunch of brew days for my six week build-up towards summer inventory, adding a new one-hop Session IPA to the list was basically a no-brainer. I had really enjoyed all three of my former attempts (featuring Mosaic, El Dorado, and Equinox varieties), with the most-recent batch featuring Equinox being the definite winner of the bunch. With this beer, I wasn't simply extremely impressed by Equinox (which I definitely was!), I also felt like I had dialled in an overall recipe I was happy with for a hoppy and sessionable IPA.

But with my fourth Session IPA scheduled, which hop should be featured this time? I still had quite a few varieties on hand, and after a bit of thought, I decided to focus on yet another one that I hadn't used before. While hop characteristics definitely change when they're blended with other varieties, I always enjoy these one-hop experiments; I feel they really help give me a basic understanding of what one variety is all about. And if you can use this "research" to get a better idea on how to use the hop in future beers, with other varieties, even better!

One of the few varieties I had on hand that I hadn't used yet was Summer. A dual-purpose, low alpha-acid Australian hop, it appears to have been around since the late 1990s, although I get the impression that it's really only started seeing higher usage in North America over the last few years. I bought half a pound on a whim a few months ago and wasn't really sure what to do with it. While the descriptions you see online sound appealing - citrus, melon, apricot - it seemed upon further reading that this was more of a "mellow" variety. Nothing wrong with that in the right circumstances, but after brewing so many hoppy beers with prominent hops such as Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra, Galaxy, Mosaic, etc., I didn't want to combine it in a beer with other varieties that could simply over-power it. With the summer season fitfully approaching, at the time it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try the hop out: in a single-hop Session IPA that would - hopefully - let its characteristics become prevalent.

The recipe was extremely easy, since I took basically the exact same recipe for my most-recent Session IPA - Equinox - and simply scaled it up to 5.5 gallons and substituted in Summer. As mentioned above, I've been happy with the grist for this recipe. Keeping in a good majority of specialty malts, while not overdoing it with Crystal, keeps the body from being too thin, while at the same time avoiding too much sweetness. I increased the mash temp a little more this time to 156 F to boost the body even more; I had aimed to do this with my last Session IPA, but still only managed to hit 153 F, then.

Although the AA% is much lower for Summer than Equinox, I didn't change the quantities at all in this go-around; the bittering addition is with hop extract, and I was ok with the rest of the bitterness coming in a bit lower. While it's not exactly a hop monster, 6 oz in a 1.048 beer is a pretty healthy amount, in my opinion. I've had excellent results with these quantities, so I assumed that since these hops were fresh, 6 oz would be more than enough to provide a hoppy beer.

The brew day went fine; the mash temp came in on target, and the OG just slightly higher than what I had aimed for, at 1.049. I aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched some rehydrated US-05, and let fermentation go at room temperature, since it still wasn't very hot out (what a crappy June). Once fermentation was complete, I waited a few more days and then tossed the dry hops into the primary fermentor. Five days or so later, I racked the beer to a keg and started carbing.

Well. The first pull from the tap was quite disappointing. And subsequent pulls. This isn't a bad beer, per se, but I don't consider it to be a great Session IPA, by any means. The problem? It's really not that hoppy. I get a little citrus in the aroma, and maybe even less than that in the taste. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was a Blonde Ale that had been hopped slightly more than usual for the style.

I knew going into this that Summer was supposed to be subtle, but I think I was still expecting more. I don't mean to bad mouth it, I just wanted it to... come out a little more. Unless I got a bad batch from a bad crop, I feel like if you used this hop with something stronger, that it would just be steamrolled over and there wouldn't have even been a point in using it. That being said, I know lots of commercial breweries feature Summer in some really great beers; I'm thinking specifically of Whirlpool from Night Shift Brewing. This is one excellent APA (one of the best I've ever had), and apparently it is hopped with Mosaic and Summer. I'm not sure if that's equal amounts of each, but obviously these guys are putting it to good use. So, maybe it's me? Maybe this particular recipe doesn't work well with Summer... perhaps less specialty malts? If I used it again, I think I'd try it in an APA or even a lower-ABV IPA. Bump up the gravity, cut back on the Munich and Crystal, lower the mash temp a few degrees. I likely won't be rushing out to buy it again, though; I've already got a lot of other varieties that I love brewing with. Another thing about Summer - it ain't cheap.

In the meantime, I have an easy-drinking beer for the rest of the season, that is just a bit underhopped for the style. If you've had similar - or completely different - results with Summer, please post in the comments! I'm really interested to hear if this is an isolated incident.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.013, IBU ~35, SRM 6.3, ABV ~4.6%

2.9 kg (70.8%) Canadian 2-row
450 g (11%) Munich
450 g (11%) Wheat malt
225 g (5.5%) Crystal 40 L
70 g (1.7%) Acid malt

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

Summer - 28 g (5.5% AA) @ 10 min
Summer - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

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

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

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

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum and 8 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on June 9th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 12 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 156 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 4.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG high at 1.042 (target 1.039). 60-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit high at 1.049. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Good fermentation over the next few days, airlock bubbling strong by the first morning. Temp reached as high as 70 F.

- 15/6/15 - Added dry hops into primary fermentor.

- 21/6/15 - Racked to CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to chill down. Started carbing the next morning.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white fluffy head that shows surprisingly good retention. Body is a burnished gold color, with very good clarity.

Aroma: Biscuity, bready malt, about evenly-balanced with a mild, citrusy hop presence. I suppose the apricot I read about is there... but I don't think I would have picked up on it if I wasn't already looking for it.

Taste: Ditto for the taste of this beer; the malt character is quite pleasant, but the hop flavors are far too low, in my opinion. Medium-low bitterness in the fairly dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: A tasty beer, but not what I would consider a strong Session IPA; more of a slightly-hoppy Blonde Ale. Maybe I should have used more hops here, but I really don't think that would have changed much. If brewed again, I'd change the recipe's grist a little, make it a bit drier, but I've found this grist works very well for other varieties.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Brewing a 100%-Brett IPA (with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc)

Despite my severe lack of posting lately, I was actually brewing quite a bit before summer began. Starting with my recently-posted Alpine Nelson clone, I brewed six times in six weeks. This may not seem like quite a feat for some of you out there (you know who you are), but for me to pull this off with the everyday-busyness of work, family, etc., I was impressed! I had planned this a few months ago, but wasn't too hopeful that I could make it work, let alone keep to my schedule, but somehow, I did. The choice to brew so much wasn't due to any particular reason, other than that I don't usually brew during July and August, other than once or twice - I'm often away when not working, and with much-warmer temperatures (and my fermentation chamber now acting as a keezer), it's more practical to brew during the rest of the year.

So, it was time to build up some inventory while I had the chance. As always, I had lots of ideas of beers to brew, but there was one "style" in particular that I had been wanting to tackle for awhile, but hadn't: Brett IPA. Not officially a style, per se, this type of beer is exactly what you would expect, an American IPA that is fermented completely with the "wild" yeast, Brettanomyces. Brett continues to increase in popularity in the brewing world, both in commercial breweries and among home brewers. I've had a few commercial versions of Brett IPA over the past year or two, but I've been doing more reading than drinking on the subject, when it comes right down to it. There's an entire chapter of Mike Tonsmeire's American Sour Beer dedicated to 100% Brett fermentations; the whole book is a great read, but this chapter in particular is very informative.

Something interesting about 100% Brett fermentations - despite what you'd first think, there's less funky character in a beer fermented completely with Brett, compared to when it's used alongside Saccharomyces strains. Because the Brett has access to all of the simple sugars available (no competition with other yeast strains), it doesn't ferment as many of the long-chain carbohydrates. Combine that with a large, healthy pitch of Brett, and there you have it: less of the esters and phenols you expect from a Brett beer.

On the bright side, the beer should be ready to package after several weeks, as opposed to the usual period of months that you see when Brett is used with other yeast. And when it comes specifically to IPAs and other hoppy beers, Brett is a good candidate for a 100%-fermentation, thanks to its well-known oxygen-scavenging abilities - technically, the hop character of the beer should last longer, since oxidation is minimized. And Brett IPAs can be damn tasty - the well-brewed ones have a wonderful blend of tropical fruit (especially pineapple), citrus, and barnyard funk. And while it's repeated quite often lately, I still feel the urge to make clear that Brett beers generally are NOT sour... Lactobacillus and Pediococcus (both bacteria) are responsible for souring in most beers.

So, recently I had to make an online order for some homebrew equipment, and when browsing through their inventory to see if I could get my order high enough for free shipping, I noticed that there were some new yeast strains available, including several Brett strains from The Yeast Bay. The one that interested me the most was their Amalgamation, a "Brett Super Blend" featuring no less than SIX different strains of Brettanomyces, which combine to create a "dry beer with a bright and complex fruit-forward flavor and aroma, accompanied by some funk on the palate". It sounded perfect to me for a Brett IPA, so I quickly ordered a vial.

When it arrived in the mail, it was time to begin making a starter to build up the cell count. As stated on their website, Yeast Bay's Brett vials contain only about 2 billion cells each; recommendations for how many cells to use in a 100%-Brett beer vary from normal ale pitching rates, to hybrid rates, to lager rates. I weighed the opinions and decided to go with ale pitching rates, which for a 1.057 beer is about 200 billion cells; so, I obviously had my work cut out for me! I also decided to overbuild and double the count to 400 billion cells, so that I could save some clean slurry for future batches.

Luckily for me, I recently obtained a stir plate... finally. No, I don't know why it took me so long; I'm usually pretty stringent on yeast health, wort aeration, sanitation, etc. but for some reason all of my yeast starters over the past several years consisted of intermittent shaking. But this was a great time to finally step things up. According to Tonsmeire, a Brett starter should begin with a low volume of wort, so I pitched the vial into 500 mL and let it go on the stir plate for a week. This is a lot longer than your typical 1-2 days for Saccharomyces starters, and I'm not 100% sure that it's necessary, but Tonsmeire mentions that maximum cell density should be reached "in about a week", so I deferred to him. After the first week, I added another 2.25 L of wort, waited another week, then chilled and decanted.

With a healthy number of cells built up, it was now time to hammer out a simple recipe. A friend had recently brewed the recipe for Tonsmeire's 100% Brett Trois IPA, and I liked the simplicity of the grain bill for that beer, so I followed it almost exactly. It consists of a majority of 2-row, along with a healthy amount of Wheat malt (~20%); lots of IPA recipes contain a bit of Wheat malt in the grist, but this is higher than normal. The reasoning makes sense: unlike Saccharomyces, most (all?) Brettanomyces strains do not produce glycerol, a compound which increases the body and mouthfeel of a beer. Therefore, the idea is that adding Wheat malt, flaked wheat, and/or flaked oats to the grist will help boost the mouthfeel so that the resulting beer doesn't come across as too thin or watery. In this recipe, a bit of Carapils for more mouthfeel, and some Acid malt to lower mash pH round off the grist. I aimed for an OG of 1.057 - definitely not very high for an IPA, but with the possible high attenuation of Brettanomyces, I wanted to make sure the ABV didn't come out TOO high. The grains were mashed at 153 F; with the likely absence of glycerol, this higher-than-normal mash temp for an IPA (for me, anyway) was another attempt to help boost the body of the beer.

When it came to the hopping, I had - as usual - plenty of options to work with. I wanted to keep it fairly simple, with 2-3 varieties, tops. Looking at my inventory, I realized I still had some Amarillo to use up from an older harvest; luckily, I had used it fairly recently and knew that it was still smelling and tasting great. So, I decided to bitter the beer with a little hop extract at the beginning of the boil, and then throw in 2.5 oz of Amarillo for a hop steep at flameout, and another 2.5 oz after turning on the chiller. For the dry-hop, I was originally going to use Equinox (I've only used Equinox once, in a one-hop Session IPA, and I loved it), but at the last minute I changed to Hallertau Blanc. I bought a pound of this variety on a whim a couple of months ago; described as having aromas of passionfruit, grapefruit, pineapple, and lemongrass, it's a new German variety that shows they're starting to experiment with hop varieties that mimic the extremely fruity American varieties that are so popular today. Sounded like it would work great in a Brett IPA - and with Amarillo - so I threw in 4 oz for the dry-hop addition.

I brewed the beer in mid-May; everything went fine on brew day, and I aerated the wort with 75 seconds of pure O2. I was aware that higher oxygenation could also limit Brett character in a beer, but I was looking for a fast turnaround to preserve the hop flavor, so I was willing to take that risk. The wort was fermented in the low 70s F. As you would expect, warmer temps will result in more of the classic Brett characteristics you expect to see, but then you also run the risk of the beer having more off-flavors. I erred on the side of caution, pitching the yeast in the mid-60s and letting the temp rise to 70-72 F.

Fermentation was fast and healthy; I took a couple of gravity readings a few days apart after 2 weeks, and it seemed to have stabilized at 1.014. This was higher than expected based on the 85%+ attenuation for the Amalgamation that is stated on the Yeast Bay website; however, it appeared to be in the normal range when I compared to other homebrewed and commercially brewed Brett IPAs, so I was happy with that number. I then added the dry-hops into primary, and bottled the beer 5 days later. This is normally a beer I would keg, but I was curious as to how the aromas and flavors would change over a few months (assuming the Brett character would increase as the hops faded), and bottling was the best option for me, what with limited keezer space and all. A note about bottling 100% Brett beers: basically, use the same sugar calculations that you would for non-Brett beers, and just keep in mind that it may take a little longer than normal for full carbonation to be reached. Yes, I was slightly concerned about bottle bombs in a Brett beer with a final gravity of only 1.014, but I aimed for 2.2 vol CO2, and have been drinking it for 6 weeks now, and all seems good.

Speaking of drinking... this beer came out almost exactly as I was hoping it would, which is rare. As mentioned, I've never brewed with Hallertau Blanc before, and maybe I got lucky pairing it with Amarillo, but the fruitiness to this beer - especially in the first few weeks - was fantastic. Very tropical, backed up by a mild funk/barnyard that has been slowly becoming more prominent, as expected, as the beer ages. I find the beer very hoppy, while some people who have tried it don't find it very hoppy at all; they still enjoy it, but they've said that it's the funk that comes through most. And at least one beer friend thought that the beer could use a little more bitterness, but personally I'm happy with it right where it is. More detail in the tasting notes below, but I would easily brew this beer again, and I'm looking forward to trying the same recipe with different hop varieties in the not-too-distant future.

Not much more to say here; I fully recommend this Brett blend if you can get your hands on it, and it seems that Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc are a fantastic combination! Watch for future posts featuring this blend in the near future; I plan to do some experimenting with both 100%-Brett beers, and combinations.
Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.057, FG ~1.010, IBU ~45, SRM 4.1, ABV ~6.5%

3.7 kg (71.2%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (21.2%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.8%) Cara-Pils
200 g (3.8%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 5 mL @ 60 min (or 28 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Amarillo - 70 g (7.8% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Amarillo - 70 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)

Hallertau Blanc - 112 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Yeast Bay Brett Amalgamation (500 mL starter, then 2.25 L starter, decanted)

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

- Brewed on May 19th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG 1.049. 60-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit high at 1.058. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched half of yeast starter (~200 billion cells) at 66 F.

- Fermentation going strong by about 24 hours after pitching, kept up for several days before starting to slow. Temperature never got above 70 F.

- 2/6/15 - Added dry hops into primary.

- 9/6/15 - FG of 1.011. Bottled with table sugar to 2.2 vol CO2.

Appearance: Pours with a stark-white, medium-sized head that shows pretty good retention; fades eventually to 1/2-finger. Body is a light-golden color (lighter than the picture appears), with a permanent haziness.

Aroma: Huge wallop on the nose, lots of pineapple, tropical fruit, citrus, with a fair amount of barnyard funk. It all pairs together really well, IMO.

Taste: Again, huge; this is not a mild beer, but it works! As in the aroma, plenty of tropical flavors and funk, with a medium-light bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: No worries about the likely lack of glycerol... this is a medium-bodied beer, quite creamy, with moderate carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: I really love this beer; it's almost exactly what I was hoping it would be when I put the recipe together. I'll likely brew it again with different hops, but I wouldn't be surprised if I come back to this exact recipe at some point again.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Brewing an Alpine Nelson clone

Alpine Beer Company's Nelson - a "Golden Rye IPA" featuring that amazing and delicious New Zealand hop variety, Nelson Sauvin - has always been on my wishlist of beers to try. I've had a few Alpine beers, and they were all excellent (especially Duet, an IPA which I've attempted to clone not once, but twice), and I've always heard rave reviews on Nelson, so of course I'd want to experience drinking an IPA featuring my favorite hop, from a highly-respected brewery. This is looking more likely now that Green Flash has purchased Alpine; during my two recent trips to Alpine, before the buy-out, I didn't happen upon Nelson anywhere. Now, I notice that Alpine beers are starting to pop up on tap at a lot of beer bars outside of California, such as many in Vermont; hopefully it's only a matter of time before we start seeing them in Maine.

In the meantime (and hey, it's not like I live in Maine anyway), there's only one way for me to try to experience Nelson... clone it! Or do what I always do, try to brew a close approximation of it. I was pretty lucky with my Duet clone; while Alpine's founder, Pat McIlhenney, didn't give me a recipe for Duet, he was nice enough to give me some tips as to the grain bill (the hop schedule was kind of easy, since it's well-known to be equal amounts of Amarillo and Simcoe). Soon after, I got the impression that I was really lucky to get any information at all; apparently Pat has a reputation for being quite secretive when it comes to specific details on his beers. I've been interested in brewing a clone of Nelson ever since then, but I didn't bother contacting Pat again... I didn't really want to push my luck!

Well, about four months ago I happened to stumble upon a Reddit post, "Who Needs Alpine When You Can Brew Nelson Yourself?", which included an extremely detailed recipe for, supposedly, a Nelson clone. I was skeptical... this recipe had exact amounts for the malts, and amounts and times for the hop additions. The author claimed that years ago, the recipe had been "coaxed out of Pat by some [Alpine] locals", and that it was supposed to be a very reliable recipe, when compared side-by-side to the real thing. Hey, that was good enough for me! Even if it wasn't Nelson (and I'd never know, anyway), I wanted to try this recipe. I really liked the look of it, and the large addition of Acid malt sure seemed to match up with what Pat mentioned in his Duet recipe (they use the Acid malt for, of course, mash pH adjustment purposes).

Looking over the recipe further, I admit I was quite shocked by how minimal the hop additions seemed. Nelson is hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross (another NZ variety), but this recipe wasn't calling for a hell of a whole lot. Sure, the dry-hop addition is pretty hefty, but from the beginning of the boil till the dry-hop, there's only about 2.25 oz added. That's not a lot, especially compared to a lot of other recipes I've brewed. But, as I've pondered before on this blog, maybe more isn't necessarily better, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and trust the recipe, as-is.

The grist isn't quite as simple as a lot of IPAs out there. It's made up of a majority of 2-row, but there's also some Maris Otter in there. A healthy proportion of Rye malt is featured (it IS a "Golden Rye IPA", after all), plus some Cara-pils and Acid malt (depending on your water profile, you may want to decrease the amount of Acid malt included in the grist). I also threw in a small amount of rice hulls, just as a precaution against a stuck sparge. As expected, the mash temperature is fairly low, at 150 F; the Alpine hoppy beers I had were perfectly dry and let the hops do their thing, just as they should.

As I mentioned for the hopping, it's pretty low, at least in terms of kettle additions. A FWH addition of Southern Cross, a bit of Nelson at 30 minutes (I haven't done a 30-min addition in a while), a bit more Southern Cross at 15, and then 1.25 oz between the two at 5 minutes. No flameout-additions, so no hop stands/whirlpools. As you can imagine, the IBUs for this beer are pretty low - 45 - for an IPA of 7.5% ABV. But that's on a homebrew system; that's with 5 gallons of wort that takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes to chill down to pitching temps. I assume on a commercial system, the hops are actually in contact with hot wort for longer, and therefore the IBUs would be higher? Either way, I resisted temptation to add more hops, and just went with the original recipe. But it wasn't easy! The beer then has a single dry-hop of both varieties; maybe not the biggest I've seen, but at over 4 oz, it's definitely enough to pack a wallop (especially considering one of the varieties is Nelson, which is one hell of an expressive hop).

A few words on Southern Cross - like I mentioned, it's a New Zealand variety; I've never brewed with it before now, but I've heard/read good things. According to Bear-Flavored's Hop Cheet Sheet, its characteristics are listed as "lemon, lime, pine"; other sources state the same, and it appears to be a variety that has been around for awhile (since 1994). I was lucky enough to grab a pound of it online, solely for the purpose of brewing this beer.

Ferment in the high 60s F with California Ale yeast (or in my case, my usual substitution of US-05), and there you have it. The directions note to transfer to secondary before dry-hopping, and "rouse twice in 2 weeks", but I'm sticking to my usual dry-hopping method of 5-7 days. I also didn't bother racking from the fermentor to my dry-hop keg, since I planned on dry-hopping early, and with one addition, I have good results just throwing the pellets into primary. The only real difference with my recipe is the small addition of some CaCl2 and Gypsum, as usual, to boost the calcium levels. Together with the fairly-large addition of Acid malt, my projected mash pH came in at 5.3.

The brew day went off without a hitch; I followed the instructions in the recipe for a 90-minute boil, even though for a beer like this, I'd normally stick with my usual 60 minutes. Fermentation was fairly quick, visible activity not really lasting any longer than my typical 4-5 days when using US-05. After 10 days or so, I threw the dry-hop addition into primary, and after 5 days racked the beer into a keg and started carbing.

Well, turns out there was no need to be skeptical about this recipe... the beer came out delicious! It's definitely got low bitterness for an IPA, but that never really bothers me. There's enough to balance the malt character nicely; speaking of which, I love how this beer is just bready enough to show it's not ALL hops, and the rye gives a bit of a nudge to your tastebuds, too. The aroma is quite nice; I really like how the Nelson and Southern Cross work together. Nelson is usually so distinct with its tropical berry, white wine character, but the Southern Cross does an excellent job of rounding out the fruitiness, while adding its own lemon-lime character to the beer. Overall, this is an easy-drinking IPA (I've been drinking this beer for weeks now; in fact, the keg is about to kick, and it's held on amazingly well).

I just came back from a trip to Vermont, and while I drank copious amounts of Hill Farmstead and Lawson's, among others, I didn't see any Alpine in my travels. However, a friend who HAS had Nelson tried this clone, and while admitting that the bitterness was lower, thought that it tasted and smelled quite similar, from what he could remember. Either way, the recipe made a really tasty IPA, so if you can get your hands on both hop varieties, I'd recommend giving this one a try!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.069, FG ~1.013, IBU ~45, SRM 5.8, ABV ~7.3%

4.2 kg (60.4%) Canadian 2-row
1.2 kg (17.3%) Rye malt
800 g (11.5%) Maris Otter
400 g (5.8%) Cara-Pils
250 g (3.6%) Acid malt
100 g (1.4%) Rice hulls

Southern Cross - 10 g (14.1% AA) FWH

Nelson Sauvin - 7 g (12% AA) @ 30 min
Southern Cross - 10 g @ 15 min
Nelson Sauvin - 21 g @ 5 min
Southern Cross - 14 g @ 5 min

Nelson Sauvin - 72 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Southern Cross - 58 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 & 1/2 packs, rehydrated)

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

- Brewed on May 6th, 2015, by myself. 60-minute mash with 19 L of strike water, mashed in at 150.5 F (target 150 F). Sparged with ~5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG 1.054. 90-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit low at 1.067. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation going strong by about 24 hours after pitching, kept up for several days before starting to slow. Temperature never got above 70 F.

- 20/5/15 - FG 1.011; added dry hops into primary.

- 26/5/15 - Racked beer to CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to bring temp down before starting to carb the next day.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head that has pretty good retention. Body is light-golden coloured with great clarity.

Aroma: Big fruity blast on the nose; lots of tropical aromas in there, with a bit of rye in the background. No flaws that I can find.

Taste: Ditto, ton of tropical fruit, bit of rye spice in there, all finishing quite dry with a moderate bitterness in the finish that lingers slightly. In a word: juicy.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: Great beer; nothing to compare it to, unfortunately, but I'm loving the juicy, fruity flavours and aroma in this one.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Batch #100 : Maine Beer Co. Dinner clone (No. 6 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

I've always kept track (maybe a bit too meticulously) of each batch of homebrew I've brewed, starting with my first (Nov 29th, 2009; no, I did not have to look that up), all the way up to this, my 100th batch. So, I've known this day was coming for awhile, and had wanted to do something "big"; that is, a brew that would be a large undertaking, maybe not in terms of ABV, but just in the sheer craziness of it all (and tastiness, hopefully). I threw around a few ideas, but it didn't take me too long to settle on one: a clone of Maine Beer Co.'s first Double IPA, Dinner.

I've already brewed a couple of "clones" from Maine Beer Co. (Zoe and MO; also, quite recently, a low-ABV or "Session" version of Zoe), and they're easily one of my favorite breweries, so tackling another beer from them has always been one of my many homebrewing intentions. But Dinner is in a whole category of its own. Since its first release in late-2013, it has consistently dominated the "Top DIPA" categories, sitting in the top spots among Heady Topper, Enjoy By, Double Sunshine, Pliny, et. al. The difference compared to the ones I just mentioned? Dinner isn't a regular-release beer; in fact, it just had its 4th release on April 11th (actually, the next release is coming up soon, June 20th). If you want to get some, you can find it on tap at several bars/restaurants across Maine around its release, or, you have to buy it on release-day at the brewery in Freeport. For the April 11th release, there were apparently over 700 people lined up (starting quite early in the morning), patiently awaiting the opportunity to buy one case of Dinner, which is the limit. It was sold out later that day.

I'm lucky - I've actually had this beer, and more than once. I have a friend who lives in Freeport who was kind enough to grab a few bottles for me at the second release. I don't think things were as crazy then as they are now; I believe he just walked in and bought a few bottles. Now, they sell out before even reaching the end of the line! But I can tell you, this beer is delicious. As expected from Maine Beer Co., it's the perfect balance between hugely hoppy (tropical, citrusy, piney, dank) and easily-drinkable, finishing very dry and without an overwhelming bitterness. Basically, one of the perfect DIPAs, actually living up to its hype.

Once again, when I decided to attempt cloning this beer, I first checked out the info that Maine Beer Co. provides on their website. They may not get into specifics, but they DO list all the ingredients in terms of grist and hops for each of their beers, which is a great starting point. For malt, they list 2-row, Carapils, Caramel 40, and Dextrose. As for hops, we've got Falconer's Flight, Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic listed... and here's the kick - they dry-hop the beer twice, with over SIX. POUNDS. PER BARREL. In homebrew terms, that's over 1 lb (16 oz, 448 g) of hops for your standard 5-5.5 gallon batch. For the dry-hop alone! Factor in what's sure to be a healthy amount in the late additions, and this has got to be one of the highest-hopped commercial batches available.

Let's just take a moment to discuss. We all know there's a "ceiling" when it comes to bitterness in beer. Sure, you can hop a beer until you get - theoretically - 1000 IBUs, but we humans can only really detect up to 90 or so IBUs in terms of bitterness. Anything more than that is really just waste. But what about aroma, and flavor? Is there a limit to what we can detect? When does it become ridiculous in terms of cost and wastage (of hops, of beer due to absorption) to keep adding more hops, whether it be at flameout, dry-hop, or whenever? I used to be under the assumption from what I'd read that there WAS no ceiling-effect on aroma and flavour, but I don't know if I completely believe that.This is not to suggest that Maine Beer Co. is doing anything wrong. If there's a brewery that knows how to brew quality hoppy beers, it's them. But as a homebrewer, I'm truly curious as to how much is too much... if that number even exists at all.

Ok, back to coming up with a recipe for this beer. Based on the other clone recipes from MBC that I constructed, I quickly put together a grist for the beer. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do; this isn't a dark beer at all, and MBC's IPAs and APAs are not heavy on the Crystal malts, so I went with 87.5% 2-row, 5% each Carapils and sugar (I always sub in table sugar when a recipe calls for Dextrose), and 2.5% Crystal 40 L. For the hops, there was a wide variety of combinations that could come into play, so I reached out (once again) to owner/brewer Dan Kleban. I let him know what I had in mind for the grist, and asked if he would suggest leaning more-heavily on certain hop varieties for flame-out and dry-hopping. Despite how busy he's sure to be, he was extremely kind to get back to me after a time:

You are actually pretty close. 
As for malt, scrap the C40 and use more base malt.
As for hops, lean on Simcoe and FF for additions starting about halfway through the boil, then feather in some Citra in the WP. Use equal parts of Simcoe, FF and Mosaic in the dry hop. Aim for about 95 total calculated IBUs.
Hope this gets you started.

Have I mentioned already what a great person this guy is? Maybe I didn't in this post, but I did in the others... anyway, it bears repeating!

To me, that email reads that they don't start adding ANY hops until halfway through the boil; I emailed him back to double-check, and he confirmed that. So, knowing exactly how many hops to add in the dry-hop, I pretty much had a recipe. I added a bit of Acid malt into the grist to bring my mash pH down, but otherwise made no other changes. The hop additions at 30 and 10 minutes aren't overly large (well, at least not compared to later), because I knew that large flame-out additions would still add quite a few IBUs to the beer. I actually split the FO additions into two (I went with equal parts FF, Simcoe, and Citra), as I often do with big, hoppy beers - one for a hop stand, and another after the chiller has been started and the wort temp is below 180 F. Combined with two dry-hop additions (each one containing 2 oz each of FF, Simcoe, and Mosaic), that's a lotta hops! About 21.5 oz total for a 4.5 gallon batch, if you're keeping track.

That's what 21.5 oz of hops look like (the white bowls are the dry-hop additions)
Well, my 100th brew day approached quickly. Actually, it was spread over two days; due to circumstances, I had to complete the mash one evening, and finish the beer the next morning. Shouldn't be a big deal, I've done it once before with no issues. After the mash, sprage, etc. were all complete (I treated the mash with 8 grams calcium chloride* and 3 grams Gypsum, aiming for higher-chloride levels based on some good results I've had with some recent hoppy beers), I heated the wort to over 180 F to kill off any unpleasantables, and left it in the garage with the lid on.

The next morning, I started the boil and weighed out all of the hops. As you can imagine, there was a crapload. When I opened the Falconer's Flight (a very prominent hop in this beer; along with Simcoe, my recipe calls for a grand total of almost 8 oz for a 4.5 gallon batch), I wasn't blown away by the aroma like I have been with this variety before. Yes, this is a variety that will change constantly, since it's made up of several West Coast, C-hop varieties, but still... something was not right. I bought them from a friend, who bought them from a local homebrew shop who had told him they were the 2014 crop. So, I trusted this, and not my instincts**. The brew day went fine otherwise, I pitched a healthy amount of rehydrated US-05, aerated with pure O2, and began fermenting the beer in the mid-60s. I will say that despite the large hop additions, the wort didn't smell near as good as the Fortunate Islands clone I had brewed a week before (= clue).

After about 10 days, I threw in the first dry-hop addition into primary, left it for 5 days, then transferred the beer to my dry-hop keg, purged with plenty of CO2, and added dry-hops #2. Waited another five days, did a closed-transfer to the purged serving keg, carbed it up, and started drinking it.

I'm much later posting about this beer than I had ever intended. Part of that is because I still hadn't posted about the Fortunate Islands clone, another part is the typical busyness of life. But a big part of that is the shame that is weighing down on me like a soaking wet blanket over this beer. The thought of having to come on here and post about such an utter failure still makes me sick to my stomach.

Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but hey, it's beer! A beer that is my 100th batch. A beer that a lot of people knew I was brewing. A beer that I was looking forward to more than any other beer I've ever brewed. But not every homebrew is a great success; some are, lots are ok, and some are bad.

This, my friends, is not a good beer. This beer tastes of - mostly - oxidized hops. This is not a fruity, citrusy, tropical, piney hop-bomb, like I was expecting. It smells and tastes like oxidized hops; there's definitely that cheesy presence that you dread to experience in a hoppy beer. You don't have to have had Dinner before to know that this isn't anywhere CLOSE to the real thing. I'm not sure that some bad Falconer's Flight is the only problem, though. I've had a few people try this beer, because despite not liking it, I really wanted honest, critical feedback, which they were kind (?) enough to give me. All agreed that there was clearly a strong aroma and taste of oxidized hops, but a couple of people thought there was something more. Not an infection, not heat from the alcohol, just more... badness. Which doesn't do me a lot of good, but the end-result is still the same: at least some of the hops must have been bad. Old, poorly stored, maybe both. It's not TERRIBLE, drinking it doesn't make you want to vomit, but the fact that the oxidized hops come through right away... it distracts you from anything else.

The FF was definitely one of the culprits; I can't say with surety that the other hops were all perfect. But they WERE all fresh (the 2014 fall crop), and properly stored in their original one-lb vacuum-sealed packages from Yakima Valley hops; I've bought many hops from YVH in the past, with no issues, so let's hope the FF were the only problem ingredients. It's too bad, since it's a highly-used hop in this recipe; odd that the other hops didn't overpower them to some degree. But maybe this should just be a strong lesson - albeit an expensive lesson - on the importance of ingredient freshness.

As for the water chemistry, I don't think the adjustments I made have anything to do with how the beer turned out. Like I said, the chloride and sulfate levels I aimed for worked really well in an APA and IPA that I brewed earlier this year. Since I didn't brew a similar beer with unadjusted water, I can't say for sure, but I definitely feel the hops are mostly, if not solely, to blame.

I won't wax poetic on how bad this turned out any more; it's done... onward and upward. And please don't let my failure deter you from trying to brew this beer. I believe the recipe is still sound, especially since a lot of it came right from MBC. Yes, it's pricey, and yes, it may be unnecessary to add that many hops to one beer. I'm just as skeptical as before that this many hops is necessary; in fact, maybe this beer was too-highly hopped, on a homebrew scale at least, since my technique doesn't exactly mimic the oxygen-free process at the best breweries. All I know is that I brewed an Equinox Session IPA with 4 oz of hops (a fifth of the hops used in this Dinner clone), and it came out smelling and tasting better than a lot of other beers I've brewed, with a lot more hops.

Up until now, I've been really lucky with the beers I've brewed so far in 2015; I've enjoyed all of them till this one. So, please, if anyone reading this decides to brew this recipe, let me know how it turns out for you. I didn't want to just pretend this didn't happen (despite the urge!), especially since Dan Kleban was so helpful in putting the recipe together. I just hope you all have better luck than I did! If that amount of hops and/or the price is scaring you off, maybe try halving the dry-hop additions. And, once again, remember: the importance of hop freshness should not be played down!

*Mistake #1?
**Mistake #2 

Note: No official tasting notes for this beer; the flaws - which I've spoken about at length already - cover up everything else.

Recipe Targets: (4.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.073, FG ~1.010, IBU ~90, SRM 4.7, ABV ~8.3%

Grains & Sugars:
4.85 kg (88.2%) Canadian 2-row
275 g (5%) Carapils
100 g (1.8%) Acid malt
275 g (5%) Table sugar (added during boil)

Falconer's Flight - 14 g (10.8% AA) @ 30 min
Simcoe - 14 g (12% AA) @ 30 min

Falconer's Flight - 35 g @ 10 min
Simcoe - 35 g @ 10 min

Citra - 28 g (12.3% AA) @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Falconer's Flight - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Simcoe - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Citra - 28 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)
Falconer's Flight - 28 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)
Simcoe - 28 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)

Falconer's Flight - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Mosaic - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Simcoe - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Falconer's Flight - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
Mosaic - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
Simcoe - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1.5 packs, rehydrated)

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

- Brewed on March 28th/29th, 2015, by myself. 60-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at 148.5 F (target 148 F). Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG 1.052. 60-minute boil. Added table sugar with 15 min remaining in boil. Flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at ~4.75 gallons; OG low at 1.070. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 100 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation started off strong by the next morning, and continued for 4-5 days before slowing significantly. FG 1.010.

- 7/4/15 - Added 1st dry hops directly into primary.

- 12/4/15 - Racked beer to CO2-purged dry-hop keg, added 2nd dry hops, and purged again.

- 17/4/15 - Set keg in keezer for two days to cold-crash.

- 19/4/15 - Transferred via CO2 to serving keg and started carbing.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone - 1/2 fermented with US-05, 1/2 with non-Brett Trois

Back in December, Embrace the Funk reported that the popular White Labs yeast strain WLP644 Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois was actually Saccharomyces; there was no Brett identified in the culture at all. For a nicely-detailed write-up about how this began and where it headed afterward, check out the post. A lot of homebrewers were fermenting their beers with WLP644 and reporting fantastic results, especially in beers where it was used on its own; most reported that it gave off lots of fruity esters, tropical, pineapple, etc. Shortly after I started writing this post, White Labs released a statement on their own research into the issue; they've concluded that Trois is basically a Sacch strain that "displays many properties similar to Brett", such as pellicle formation, low flocculation, and certain flavor characteristics. As a result, they're reclassifying the strain as a "wild Saccharomyces", and renaming it Saccharoymyces brux-like Trois.

Some people are irritated about this news, and other people don't care - they feel that the strain is still great, so who cares if it's Brett or not? Up until now, I had never used this yeast, but if I had I think I would be in the latter group. It's all about the end result, right? Not to mention that now, you don't have to worry about contamination of any of your equipment with Brett (if you're the type to worry about such things; and if this strain is a "wild" Sacch, is there still a worry about contamination?).

All the talk about Troisgate made me want to brew with Trois; not because of the arguments online, but because of the descriptions of the IPAs people have been brewing with it. Ed posted about his experiences back in February, and that was when I decided it was finally time to give it a try myself. Luckily, a friend was ordering some yeast and other supplies from an online homebrew shop, so I had a chance to order a vial without paying an equal amount in shipping. The question was: what do I brew?

I never have a shortage of hoppy beer recipes to brew; like probably every other homebrewer, I'm constantly thinking about what to try next, adding to an ever-growing list of new beers to clone, new recipes to try that I created from scratch, and beers that I've brewed before, and want to do again. The latter category, unfortunately, doesn't get tackled as often as I'd like. But when I was scrolling through the beers in this list, something caught my eye: Modern Times Fortunate Islands. This is an easy-drinking, super-hoppy American Wheat Ale that I cloned a couple of summers ago (before I had tried the commercial beer itself), and I loved it. Brewed with lots of late-addition hops (mainly Citra, with some Amarillo as well), it's very tropical, and has a really nice supporting malt character from some CaraVienne and the high proportion of Wheat malt. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that it would be a perfect beer to brew with Trois... maybe the yeast would make the beer even MORE tropical-tasting?

But, there was a bit of a problem. White Labs packages Trois as they do their all-Brett vials... that is, with the equivalent of 2-3 billion cells. Not the 100 billion cells that you see in Saccharomyces strains from Wyeast, for example. Two to three billion. Even for a 1.048 beer, that's a lot to step up. Talking with Ed about it, he suggested doing a small batch, and then I'd have plenty of Trois slurry to use for other beers. Great idea, but then I took it a bit further... what if I brewed a full batch (6 gallons), and split the wort into two: ferment one with US-05 as before, and the other with Trois? This way, I could compare the two side-by-side and see just how much extra fruitiness Trois offers in this beer, if any.

So, that's exactly what I did. I performed the hour-long mash as usual (at 155 F, it helps provide quite a good amount of body in an otherwise-refreshing beer), vorlaufed, drained into the kettle, sparged, boiled, and added the hops as usual. The original recipe actually called for a full 5 mL of hop extract to be added at the beginning of the boil; I did this the first time, and thought the higher IBUs worked well with this beer. But this time, I decided to cut back a little just to see the effect; I had planned on adding 3 mL, but realized too late that I only had 2 mL left in the syringe, so the IBUs will probably be significantly less with this batch (but still at ~35, really not low for a low-ABV wheat beer). There are no hops added until flameout, where lots of Citra and Amarillo are dumped in for a hop steep, and again when the chiller is turned on. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how amazing the wort smelled by the time pitching temp was reached.

After the temp was in the low 60s, I simply gave a slight stir to the wort (to ensure there was an equal amount of trub going in each fermentor) and poured half into one Better Bottle, and half into another. Both were aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2 each, and the yeasts were pitched. The White Labs website says the ideal fermentation temps for Trois are between 70-85 F; now, I'm not sure if this should be updated or not. I know others have used Trois and definitely weren't fermenting in the high 70s or beyond. But, to be sure, I set the BB with Trois in my water heater room, a small space with a baseboard heater controlled by a digital thermostat, and set it to 68-70 F. The US-05 fermentor, however, was set in my laundry sink, where the ambient temp was probably around 64 F.

Fermentation started relatively quickly for both beers; obviously, the Trois beer had more active fermentation at the beginning, as the temp kept steady in the high 60s and quickly reached 70-72 F, while the US-05 beer stayed in the low 60s for the first couple of days, before fermentation really took off. Trois finished faster, as expected, with US-05 a couple of days behind. After 10 days or so (no pellicle developed in this time; mind you, it probably takes longer than a week and a half, if it develops at all?), I took a FG reading - both finished at 1.013 (as you can see from the picture below, the US-05 beer dropped much clearer). I then dry-hopped directly in primary, twice, for 5 days at a time. Ideally, I would have moved both beers to "dry-hop kegs", as is my current routine for hoppy beers, but I only have one dry-hop keg, and I wanted to keep the procedure as consistent as possible between beers. At the time, I was also unsure if I was kegging the beers or bottling them, so dry-hopping in primary was my safest bet.

One week after pitching
I ended up kegging both, as I had two free taps in my keezer. The tasting notes for both beers are below; really, they came out pretty similar. That being said, I think most people could definitely tell the difference between the two, and I've had several friends try the beer, all of whom had no problem telling the beers apart. The general consensus is that the Trois-fermented beer is slightly better, with a bit more tangy, juicy fruitiness to it, but the US-05 version is pretty great, too. Personally, I find the US-05 beer has a bit more of a "bite" to it in the finish; not sure why - like I said, both beers finished at 1.013 - but there it is. Just my opinion.

Whether you have access to Trois or not, this is still a great recipe... one of the perfect hoppy summer beers, in my opinion. Big on hop aroma and flavor, low on alcohol. But if you DO have Trois, I find it gives the beer a slightly small push towards greatness, even from where it was before.

Now, White Labs, how about packaging more than 2-3 billion cells of Trois in a vial?

Recipe Targets: (6 gallons, 73% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.012, IBU ~35, SRM 5.3, ABV ~4.7%

2.6 kg (54.1%) Wheat malt
1.7 kg (35.3%) Canadian 2-row
330 g (6.9%) CaraVienne
80 g (1.7%) Acid malt
100 g (2.1%) Rice hulls

Hop extract - 2 mL @ 60 min (or 11 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Citra - 56 g (12.4% AA) @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
Amarillo - 28 g (7.9% AA) @ 0 min (with a 10 min hop steep)
Citra - 56 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)
Amarillo - 28 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)

Citra - 56 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Amarillo - 14 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
                                                                          *Both dry-hop additions halved for each fermentor
Citra - 56 g dry-hop for 5 more days (in primary)
Amarillo - 14 g dry-hop for 5 more days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1/2 pack, rehydrated) for half the wort, WLP644 Brett Trois (with a 900 mL starter, stepped up with another 1.5 L)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 5 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on March 22nd, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 155 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG on target, 1.040. 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at ~6.25 gallons; OG 1.048. Chilled to low-60s F, stirred gently to evenly distribute trub, then poured into two Better Bottles. Aerated each with 60 seconds of pure O2, and pitched decanted yeast starter in one fermentor, and the rehydrated US-05 in the other, at 64 F for each. The Trois fermentor was set in the water heater room (ambient temp ~68 F), US-05 fermentor in laundry room (ambient ~64 F).

- Fermentation for the Trois batch took off quickly, with visible activity complete after only 3 days (temp reached as high as 70 F). US-05 started slower and continued longer, eventually reaching a high of 70 F as well, albeit over several days. FG for both beers was 1.013.

- 2/4/15 - Added first dry-hop addition to primary for both beers.

- 7/4/15 - Second dry-hop addition, also into both primaries.

- 12/4/15 - Racked both beers to kegs, purged with CO2 before and after, set in keezer to chill down overnight. Started carbing the next day.

Appearance: Both poured with a medium-sized, white head that sticks around for a while before fading to 1/4-finger. Bodies are both golden-coloured with pretty good clarity. Seem identical to me.

Aroma: The aroma between the two is quite similar. I find the dankness/cat pee characters of the Citra comes through more in the US-05, while the Trois is slightly more fruity/juicy smelling. Bit of supporting sweetness in both beers, but obviously the hops dominate.

Taste: Trois - Starts off with a touch of sweetness and tartness, and then a really nice tropical fruit character takes over, with some supporting pineapple working with it. Very juicy. Finishes with a moderate-light bitterness, nice balance between dry and sweet.

US-05 - Ditto with the malt character, but the hop flavors are more dank; definitely still fruity from all that Citra, but not quite as tropical as the Trois. Like the Trois, finishes moderate-lightly bitter, but it has a bit more "bite" to it; slightly drier.

Mouthfeel: Both are medium-bodied with moderate carbonation.

Overall: Interesting experiment; at first I was more a fan of the US-05 half, as I didn't think the Trois was overly dominant at the beginning. But after a few weeks, I think I prefer the Trois; I really like the extra juiciness the yeast adds to the beer. That being said, I don't detect any Brett characteristics (funky, barnyard) in the beer at all.