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.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tasting : Baadasssss! 2.0 (Sweet Stout)

I brewed this Sweet Stout almost a year ago. I was drinking it for probably seven months or more; in fact, the keg kicked weeks ago. I have no idea why it took this long to post tasting notes on the beer; I wasn't waiting for it to improve. I think it's simply because I normally brew so many hoppy beers that I'm trying to get tasting notes out before it's too late, that I forgot about this one.

But I shouldn't have... it was pretty tasty! Basically a re-brew of a Sweet Stout from my first few months of homebrewing (with this brew being all-grain), it came out at least as good as I remember the original being. I really think this is a great style for those who avoid dark beers: enough roast and chocolate to let you know what you're drinking, but not too much of either. The addition of lactose gave the beer a nice background sweetness, although it's far from being cloying.

I'm also happy with my decision to keg this beer. I had initially planned on bottling it (Stout - any type - isn't my usual go-to style of beer), but was convinced that having one of my four types as a dark beer was a good idea. And I now agree; I still love my hoppy beers (which the other three taps almost always are), but it's a good idea to have a bit of contrast there, too.

So, while the roasted character of this beer naturally faded with time, I can highly recommend the recipe as-is. I don't think there's any real changes I would make; the results are just about exactly what I was looking for in a Sweet Stout.

Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, creamy, tan head. Pretty good retention, finally fades to a thin film on the beer. Body is jet-black, but shows ruby highlights when held to the light, and some clarity.

Aroma: Nice combination of sweet, milk chocolate, and light coffee on the nose. The roast has faded a bit with time, but overall it's held on well.

Taste: More of the same, nice and chocolately, exhibiting a good amount of sweetness... but it's definitely far from cloying. Bit of roast character in the background, that - like the aroma - has faded with time.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied, with moderate-low carbonation... right where I wanted it.

Overall: I'm pretty happy with how this turned out; it was tasting better a few months ago when the roast character was still more prominent, but even at the end of the keg I really enjoyed drinking this beer. A very solid recipe that I don't think I would change.

Friday, 10 April 2015

"Baby Zoe" - a Session version of Maine Beer Co. Zoe

It was almost two years ago that I brewed my first Maine Beer Co. clone; it was Zoe, a hoppy Amber ale that was the second beer that the brewery released. I had contacted co-owner/brewer Dan Kleban for help formulating a Zoe recipe; he sent along some useful suggestions, and the resulting beer was excellent. When tasted side-by-side with the commercial beer, I found that the homebrew version actually came out hoppier. I think it's possible that Zoe has become a less-hoppy beer over the years compared to when it was first released, but I could easily be wrong; it could simply be that my tastes have changed.

Either way, I really enjoyed the homebrew version and had always planned on brewing it again. Recently, I decided to revisit it, mainly because I've brewed several really hoppy Amber ales since then that I've loved (such as a Modern Times Blazing World clone, and Meek Celebration, a hoppy Amber I brewed for Christmas a few months ago), and I wanted to see if the Zoe clone could hold its own. But then I had another idea: I've been brewing more and more lower-ABV, hoppy beers lately, and had been planning on doing a "Session Red IPA" of sorts. I love Red IPAs, but they're usually 6-8% ABV (or higher), and the idea of a sessionable one really appealed to me. So... why not brew Zoe to a lower ABV?

This is exactly the same recipe - grist-wise and hopping-wise - as before, except it's all been scaled down to a 4-gallon batch, and to an OG of 1.048. The grist is made up of equal parts 2-row and Maris Otter, with several specialty malts added to give the beer its dark amber color and supporting malt backbone (lots of caramel in this one, and even a bit of chocolate, too). I did raise the mash temp this time; it was 150 F before (at Dan's recommendation), but with the lower OG, I wanted to make sure that the beer had enough body. My experience with low-ABV hoppy beers has led me to always use a mash temp of at least 153 F, which is the target I aimed for with this beer. I also kept the water adjustment the same as last time, with a bit of Gypsum, table salt, and Epsom salt added to adjust to the "San Diego - Hoppy" water profile from The Mad Fermentationist. Not a profile I usually aim to replicate anymore, but it obviously worked well for this beer before, so I decided to use it again.

The hopping schedule I used for Zoe is made up of equal amounts of Centennial, Columbus (CTZ), and Simcoe. Apparently, Simcoe is used as the bittering hop, but this time around I subbed in CTZ, simply because I can't see it making a difference. There's lots of other hop additions for flavor and aroma: two near the end of the boil, one at flameout for a hop steep, and another when I started chilling the wort. A single dry-hop (in primary) for a week or so, and then rack to a keg or bottle. Pretty straight-forward.

The brew day went well; my only real complaint was a slightly low OG due to a little extra volume. Brewing this time of year can be a pain, even with a garage to keep the wind out and the temps from getting TOO low (but come on, it's winter, and the door still has to be open a bit, so it's still damned cold). The one plus is that the ground water temps are so low, it takes barely any time to chill the wort to pitching temp. But yeah, I know, for those of you in California, this sounds like a bit of a stretch... and it is! Jerks.

As before, I fermented the wort with US-05. These low-OG beers usually ferment out pretty quickly, and after 2-3 days of activity in the airlock, things settled down. I dry-hopped the beer directly in primary about a week and a half later (I would normally have racked the beer to my dry-hop keg, but didn't have the time, oddly), then racked to a keg and carbed it up.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this beer, but I guess I was hoping to have a beer that smelled and tasted as good as the original clone, in spite of the lower ABV. And you know what? That's about how it turned out. For the first few pours, I felt like the beer was good, but not as hoppy as the last time (despite using the same hop varieties, and the same amounts); it actually tasted more like the real Zoe than the last one did! But after a couple of days (probably as the carbonation improved), the beer really opened up. It's the perfect balance of malty (slightly sweet, some caramel and toffee, and just a touch of chocolate) and hoppy (citrusy, fruity, slightly dank). All that and 4.3% ABV? I'll take it.

With these results, there's nothing I would change with the recipe. I suppose I could bump the mash temp up a bit, to 155-156 F, next time, just to see if a bit more body would make the beer even better. If you're a big fan of Zoe, brew the first recipe. If you're a big fan of Zoe but want less alcohol, brew this one. I'm definitely going to continue this experiment, and re-brew the other Red IPAs I mentioned above, but in the sub-5% ABV zone. Cheers!

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.012, IBU ~50, SRM 11.5, ABV ~4.7%

1.25 kg (41.7%) Canadian 2-row
1.25 kg (41.7%) Maris Otter
150 g (5%) Munich
150 g (5%) Victory
75 g (2.5%) Crystal 40 L
75 g (2.5%) Crystal 80 L
45 g (1.5%) Chocolate malt

CTZ - 5 g (11.3% AA) @ 60 min
Centennial - 10 g (8% AA) @ 10 min
CTZ -10 g @ 10 min
Simcoe - 10 (11.8% AA) g @ 10 min
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 10 g each @ 5 min
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 14 g each @ flameout, 10-minute hop steep
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 14 g each when started chiller
Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ - 19 g each dry-hop for 5-7 days

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, ~3/4 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum, 3 g table salt, 2 g epsom salt added to the mash

- Brewed on March 6th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 9 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 4 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3.75 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.4 gallons.

- SG low at 1.036 (target 1.037). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at ~4.25 gallons; OG a little low at 1.046. 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 after about 24 hours from pitching; took 2-3 days before it started slowing down significantly in the airlock. Temp reached as high as 68 F.

- 15/3/15 - FG 1.013. Added dry-hops directly into primary. Kegged about 7 days later and started carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, off-white head that eventually fades to a thin film on the beer. Body is a dark amber/light red color, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Equal balance between fruity hops and caramel malt... sweet, but not too much. A tiny bit of chocolate making its way through, as well as a little hop dankness.

Taste: Sweet caramel and toffee flavors at first, melded with just a hint of chocolate. The fruitiness of the hops comes through very quickly, and finishes with a moderate bitterness. More on the side of dry than sweet.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation. 

Overall: Very enjoyable; nice having a "sessionable-Zoe". Nothing wrong with the previous clone at ~7%, but I'll take something that tastes about as good with less alcohol, any time!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Brewing an Equinox One-Hop Session IPA

It's been awhile since my last one-hop Session IPA, and I've really enjoyed how the two I've brewed have turned out. The first attempt, Mosaic Session IPA, was my first time brewing with Mosaic; I loved what that hop brought to the beer - the aromas and flavors were amazing. The beer did come out a bit thin, however, so for my second attempt, El Dorado Session IPA, I increased the mash temperature from 149 F to 153 F, while using the same grist. While El Dorado wasn't quite as "powerful" a hop as Mosaic, it still contributed a really tasty orange-candy characteristic to the beer, and the higher mash temp definitely improved the mouthfeel.

Well, I'm ready for another try, yet again with another new, hot hop: Equinox. This hop really is quite new; I believe it's only been available commercially under the name Equinox for a year or so. I actually stumbled upon it in the fall when I was browsing new hop varieties online, and one of the flavor descriptors jumped out at me: green pepper. Other words used were quite familiar - floral, lemon, lime, tropical - but green pepper? Seriously? I was immediately curious if this was something I would pick up in a beer hopped entirely with Equinox. Granted, I didn't buy a pound of an expensive new hop JUST for this reason; I had read other good things about it, and some commercial beers have already included it both on its own, and combined with other varieties.

For the grist, I've left it exactly the same as the last two Session IPAs: about 70% 2-row, with some Munich, malted Wheat, and Crystal 40 L making up the difference (and some Acid malt for mash pH purposes only). The high percentage of specialty malts is to help give this light-ABV beer some extra body; in fact, this time around I decided to bump the mash temp up even higher, to 156 F. Yes, this seems high for an IPA, but other homebrewers have brewed Session IPAs with even higher mash temps and reported good results, so I thought I'd give it a try. The only other changes I made to the mash involve water chemistry: based on the success from my recent APA and IPA, I added 3 grams of Gypsum and 9 grams of calcium chloride to the mash, giving a final water profile of 153 ppm calcium, 187 chloride, and 74 sulfate. I really liked the creamy body and smoother bitterness in those two beers with these numbers; this is the type of mouthfeel I'm really aiming for in a Session IPA.

As for the hopping, I've settled on the following schedule for this style of beer: a touch of bittering at the beginning of the boil with hop extract (or any high-AA hop variety) to about 20 IBUs, then 20 g of the featured hop at 10 min, 40 g at flameout for a 15-minute steep, and a 60 g dry-hop for 5-7 days. I had moved things around for the El Dorado Session IPA, where the 10-min addition became 5-min, and the steep was shorter; I found this definitely affected the beer slightly - the aroma was great, but the taste was diminished.

Again, this beer was fermented with US-05, in the high 60s F; I'd love to try it with the Wyeast 1318 London Ale III that I'd been using, but alas the slurry from my last batch was gone. I highly recommend trying some other yeasts, though, if you have the chance.

The brew day went off pretty well. I was rushing in the morning, getting my daughter ready for daycare (don't judge; when I brew, I do it in the AM on a day where I don't work until 3 pm... less family time wasted!), and I missed my mash temp by 3 degrees. So, a mash temp of 153 F, just like before... oh well! Everything else went fine. The Equinox hops smelled amazing fresh out of the package, so I had high hopes for how the beer turned out.

And... it turned out pretty damned tasty, if I say so myself. I'm normally quite critical of my beers (I think), but I really enjoy this one. I think the recipe is right where it needs to be, in terms of malt background, hop presence, and mouthfeel (I still think a higher mash temp would make it even better). The Equinox is showcased front and center in this beer, and really lives up to its hype, in my opinion. It is definitely very citrusy and tropical; several beer geeks who have tried it have described it as "green"-tasting, which makes sense when you try it yourself. And yes, there IS a bit of green pepper in the aroma and flavor; would I have picked that out if I didn't know to look for it? Probably not. But I notice it now, and it actually works!

So, is Equinox worth tracking down? Like any new, talked-about hop, it's not easy to find, and it ain't cheap. But I recommend seeking it out; don't be afraid of the green pepper descriptions if you're not into that. I didn't think it would necessarily work, either, but it does, and it's certainly not a dominant flavor/aroma. I had purchased a pound, and split half, so I'm already down to little under 4 oz... but I'm quite curious to use Equinox with another hop variety or two. But...... which one?

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.010, IBU ~50, SRM 6, ABV ~4.6%

2.1 kg (70.6%) Canadian 2-row
330 g (11.1%) Munich
330 g (11.1%) Wheat malt
165 g (5.5%) Crystal 40 L
50 g (1.7%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 2 mL @ 60 min (or 11 g of a 10% AA hop)
Equinox - 20 g (14.5% AA) @ 10 min
Equinox - 40 g @ 0 min (with a 15-min hop steep)
Equinox - 60 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (about 1/2-3/4 pack, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 9 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on Feb 10th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 9 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F (target 156 F). Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 3.25 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.25 gallons.

- SG low at 1.036 (target 1.037). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at ~4.15 gallons; OG a little low at 1.046. 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 activity by the following afternoon; quite vigorous by the next day, reaching 72 F on the fermometer. Slowed down quickly after that. FG reading of 1.011.

- Dry-hopped directly in primary for 7 days, then racked into CO2-purged keg, set in keezer overnight to bring temp down. Set PSI at 30 for 24 hours, then 10.

When will this season end...
Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large, white, fluffy head; great retention, several minutes later it had barely receded at all. Sticky lacing left on the sides of the glass as it finally diminishes. Body is a burnished-gold color, with very good clarity.

Aroma: Beautiful and distinct aroma; includes citrus, tropical fruit, a touch of floral/spicy character, and a little green pepper. I want to say “green” overall, and others have described it as exactly that.

Taste: Everything translates over to the flavors, and it all blends together perfectly. The grist does a great job of backing up the hops and providing some body, without getting in the way of the Equinox. Finishes with a moderate, smooth bitterness. Very easy-drinking.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, medium carbonation. Again, very smooth.

Overall: Great beer, probably my favorite of the Session IPAs I've brewed so far. I think the recipe is where I want to be, both grist-wise and hop-schedule-wise. Equinox is a very nice hop; interested to see how it will pair with other varieties.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Brewing an American IPA with London Ale III yeast and high chloride water

Not exactly the catchiest of titles, is it?

With my recent stretch of Belgian-inspired beers, it's time for another American IPA! Looking back at every American IPA I've brewed, it hit me that I've used either US-05 or Wyeast 1056 American Ale for fermentation every time. I have absolutely nothing against using a neutral American yeast for any hop-forward beer, but I thought it was time to try something different. Seeing that other homebrewers have had success with fermenting their IPAs "outside the box" - that is, with English yeast - I wanted to try the same. There's also quite a few other excellent commercial breweries that have an English yeast as their house strain: Hill Farmstead, Stone, and Firestone Walker, to name just a few.

Ok, let's work backwards and start with the yeast, then. There's a lot of English strains out there; I've used a few, some in English beers, and some in American hoppy beers (but not IPAs). Wyeast 1968 London ESB Ale is often used in homebrew recipes, including several clones; I can't quite put my finger on why I'm not a huge fan of this yeast, but I'm just not. Any beer I've brewed with it, American or English, has had a certain flavor that I'm not big on. I fully admit this could be due to something else in the recipe, or some mess-up on my part, but I've consistently been disappointed with it in my homebrew history. I've had better luck with Wyeast 1098 British Ale, especially in American beers. Definitely a more neutral strain in the English yeast family, 1098 is often thought to be as close to the Stone house yeast that you can buy commercially; I've heard some sources say 1968 is closer, but I'd definitely go with 1098 if you ever brew a Stone clone.

More homebrewers have been using Wyeast 1318 London Ale III in their hoppy beers lately. Thought to be the Boddington's strain (check out the Wyeast chart from, I think what's led more and more people to this yeast is the rumor that it's also the same strain that Hill Farmstead uses; and if there's a shortlist somewhere with the top breweries that homebrewers want to emulate, Hill Farmstead is definitely on there. It's been a few years since I've had a HF beer; while I can't remember if Edward was the perfect hoppy beer, I definitely recall this it was extremely delicious. What I remember most, along with the beautiful hoppiness of the beer, is that it was somehow still very creamy and smooth. I don't know if this is due to the yeast strain they use, their water source/treatment, or a combination of both. I imagine it's both, along with proper transfer technique and whatnot (i.e. keep oxygen out of the picture as much as possible). When I read Derek's post (of about his experience with 1318, his description of the results having a "saturated, soft mouthfeel" immediately brought to mind my experience with Edward. So, time to finally give this yeast a try.

On to water chemistry. I won't try to get into the intricacies of this subject, here. Many others have written much more than I ever could, and much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do myself. In a nutshell, Shaun Hill has been saying for a few years now that chloride may be more important in water profiles for hoppy beers than most people realize. Certainly, the general consensus for years now has been to bump up your calcium and sulfate in your IPA's water, with no mention at all of chloride. More sulfate usually results in a drier, crisper beer, which is normally synonymous with IPAs; more chloride than sulfate is thought to give a "maltier" beer. But maybe in IPAs, "maltier" really means "smoother", as long as the beer is hopped appropriately (that is, lots of flavor and aroma additions)? I've been adding both calcium chloride and gypsum (calcium sulfate) to my hoppy beers lately; more to help decrease the mash pH than as a flavoring addition, but I was happy to try a different approach. So, with this IPA, I added a large amount of calcium chloride and a bit of gypsum, targeting a chloride level of close to 200, and sulfate at around 70 (based on levels Derek has aimed for).

Something else I've changed in my hoppy beers lately is the way I've dry-hopped and transferred them... sort of. Months ago, I read an excellent write-up (again, from Derek... homebrewer extraordinaire!) on a great method to dry-hop IPAs with no oxygen pickup or clogged kegs (now, that guy knows how to title a blog post!). Check out his post; basically, it involves the use of a "dry-hop keg" featuring two separate stainless steel filters (a small, narrow one that goes over the bottom ~4 inches of the dip tube, and another larger one, also encompassing the entire dip tube), and then transferring the beer afterwards to the "serving keg" by the use of two liquid QDs and some tubing. Pretty simple process once you purchase the equipment needed, and it makes sense that it should definitely minimize oxygen contact with your beer. I've followed this approach the past several batches; since I ferment in a Better Bottle, I still have to use an auto-siphon to transfer the beer to the dry-hop keg, but I'm working on other methods to further decrease oxygen exposure.

Before I continue with the recipe for this IPA, I'll mention briefly that I brewed an American Pale Ale recently that followed all three methods: high-chloride water, London Ale III yeast, and closed transfer when dry-hopping. I didn't post about it because it's a clone recipe (of sorts) that I vowed never to share, but I can say that I was very happy with the results. I had brewed the same beer last year with no water adjustments and with a different English yeast; this more-recent attempt came out much better - the hops popped more, and the bitterness was much smoother in the finish than before.

For the grist, I actually replicated the one used in my Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 clone (an all-Simcoe American Pale Ale). I really enjoyed that beer, and found that the combination of Pilsner malt and Maris Otter gave a nice, bready malt complexity while still allowing the hops to shine through. The only change I made was subbing CaraRed malt (~20 L) for Crystal 15 L, based on what I had on hand. I increased the amounts of each malt to give an OG of 1.062, but otherwise kept the percentages about the same as before.

I decided on three different hop varieties for this IPA; all hops that I've brewed with before, but never specifically used together. Two of them are of the newer, more-popular, and more-expensive varieties: Galaxy (an Australian variety), and Nelson Sauvin (from New Zealand). Nelson remains one of my favorite hops; I love how fruity it is, and at the same time... kind of dank. I've only brewed with Galaxy once, in an all-Galaxy DIPA; that beer kind of disappointed me, but I suspect it wasn't because of the hop variety. It's supposed to be an intensely tropical and fruity hop, and I know from drinking other Galaxy-hopped beers that it lives up to its hype. Stone Enjoy By is hopped with many varieties, but the heavy dry-hop is supposed to be with both Galaxy and Nelson; the few times I've had that beer, I've loved it, so I'm hoping both of these together in this IPA will work well. I also threw in a bit of Columbus at each addition, because... well... I like Columbus, too, and find that it can be a great supporting hop in lots of combinations.

Other than a small bittering addition at the beginning of the boil, with hop extract, I took the route of adding all hops from flame-out on: a 25-minute hop steep, and two dry-hop additions (one in primary, and one in the keg, as described above). I haven't completely given up on 5 or 10-min additions, but I HAVE been experimenting with the approach I've taken here, and can understand why some homebrewers (and professionals) prefer this method. I estimate the IBUs to come in around 70; a 25-min steep with three high-AA varieties comes in at a much higher number in Beersmith, but I suspect that whatever formula is in there is overcompensating?

Overall, the brew day went well... except, I had calculated for a 60-minute boil, and didn't realize until weeks later that I should have boiled for 90 minutes (well, I always do, anyway, when the grist contains pilsner malt). OG was a touch low, likely due to my volume being a bit higher than target, but fermentation took off well and was finished in several days. After 10 days total of dry-hopping, I carbed the beer and was drinking it near the end of February.

I have to admit, that while this beer is quite tasty, I'm slightly disappointed. I think I got my hopes up too much due to: a) the hop varieties I used, and the large amounts, and b) based on how much I enjoyed the APA I had brewed with the same yeast and water adjustment. To be fair, I find this beer has a good bitterness for the style, and remains quite smooth and easy-drinking; the higher chloride seems to provide a different mouthfeel - very creamy - than I'm used to with my IPAs. The Nelson Sauvin, however, appears to be overshadowed; there's nothing wrong with the hop aroma or flavor at all - it's very fruity, citrusy, and a bit dank - but the white wine/gooseberry/whatever-it-is-exactly that Nelson always contributes just isn't there. Not sure if this is because Galaxy is the more dominant hop of the two (not to mention the CTZ in there as well), or because the Galaxy hops I had were the freshest of the three in the recipe. Maybe it's both.

Whatever it is, the beer still came out very nice (other than the appearance... I have no idea why it's so dark and murky!), and I'll continue to make similar water adjustments in most of my hoppy beers. And I'll definitely be using the London Ale III yeast again; I think it's one of the best yeasts I've used in beers that showcase hops. If anyone else has any experience with this English yeast in IPAs, feel free to comment.

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.062, FG ~1.013, IBU ~70, SRM 6, ABV ~6.4%

2.05 kg (59.1%) Pilsner
1.3 kg (32%) Maris Otter
160 g (3.9%) CaraRed
120 g (3%) Carapils
80 g (2%) Acid malt

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

Galaxy - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 25 minute hop steep)
Nelson Sauvin - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 25 minute hop steep)
CTZ - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 25 minute hop steep)

Nelson Sauvin - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Galaxy - 14 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
CTZ - 14 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Nelson Sauvin - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
Galaxy - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)
CTZ - 14 g dry-hop for 5 days (in keg)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (~3/4 cup slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 10 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on January 28th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 11 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 149. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.25 gallons.

- SG low at 1.042 (target 1.044). 60-minute boil (NOTE: recipe should have been calculated for 90-minutes, my typical approach with pilsner malt in the grist). Flameout hops had a 25-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a bit high at 4.25 gallons; OG a little low at 1.060. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fermentation took off strongly by the next morning, with the airlock activity pretty much finished within three days. Temp reached as high as 72 F.

- 5/2/15 - FG reading of 1.011. Added 1st dry hops to primary.

- 10/2/15 - Racked beer to CO2-purged keg, added second dry-hops, purged again and set at room temp. Left for another 5 days, then set in keezer overnight to bring temp down and crash out hops.

- 16/2/15 - Transferred beer to serving keg via closed system. Set in keezer to and hooked up CO2.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, off-white head that has pretty good retention. Body is a murky, orangey-brown color, and very hazy. Not a pretty beer.

Aroma: Hop-forward - very fruity (kind of a mix of citrus and tropical) with a bit of dank mixed in. Not a lot of malt character there.

Taste: Again, lots of hops, with a mixture of tropical and citrus notes. The malt comes through more here in the flavor, with a pleasant supporting background without honing in on hop territory. Finished with a firm, moderate-high bitterness, but it’s all quite dry, smooth, and goes down easy.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: Pretty good beer; I think the Galaxy is the dominant hop here, but being that it’s the freshest of the three, I’m not surprised. I don’t know why the beer is so dark and murky though...? Solid recipe, solid beer, but doesn’t quite impress me as much as I thought it would.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Brewing a Belgian Red IPA

After the success of my Belgian Session IPA experiment, I wanted to take the Belgian IPA in another direction. Coming up with a few ideas wasn't too difficult; if you start combining several beer styles, and even look at throwing in different yeasts such as Brett, you'll have a list in no time of new things to brew. But I almost immediately centred on one of my favorite "styles", Red IPA. What if you took a Red IPA and fermented it with a Belgian yeast strain? Would the hops and grain bill simply plow over the yeast, or was it possible for all three to co-exist? More importantly, co-exist without clashing terribly?

I don't think these questions can necessarily be answered by one brew attempt, but I DID want to give it a go. I haven't tried a "Belgian Red IPA" before, and couldn't remember seeing one commercially, either. Once I started looking into it, however, of course several other breweries have already tried this, such as Odyssey Beer Werks in Colorado, and Four Peaks Brewing in Arizona (who actually have a "Belgian Red Rye IPA" listed as one of their beers).

Putting together a recipe for this type of beer strikes me as a bit risky, even more so than the Belgian Session IPA. Like I said, I see a lot of potential for bad, or even terrible flavor combinations. At least in a pale beer, you really only have to worry about the combination of flavors from the yeast and hop varieties. But with a red-colored beer, you're bringing in two or more malt types that exhibit possibly strong flavors on their own. Tread carefully!

I actually started with the yeast. Rather than order a new strain through my LHBS, I decided to re-use the slurry from my recent Belgian Pale Ale. Wyeast 3655 Belgian Schelde is normally used in maltier Belgian beers. I've only used it twice, and both times were in Belgian Pale Ales; I like the combination of spicy and fruity it brings to these beers, without being too much of either. I wasn't sure if it was the best pick for a Belgian Red IPA, however... because it's not overly prominent, would the malt bill and hops hide the Belgian character, making this just another Red IPA? Quite possibly. However, I also didn't want to swing the other way, where too MUCH Belgian character may ruin the beer completely. So, 3655 for this first attempt was my final choice.

I've brewed several Red IPAs in the past couple of years that I've really enjoyed, so I had a few different malt bills in mind. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that maybe the recent Belgian Pale Ale malt bill would be a good choice. I know this one works well with 3655; I figured that with a touch of Midnight Wheat to darken the beer slightly (but not add roasty or acrid character), it would be about what I was looking for. Consisting of mostly Pilsner malt, plus some CaraMunich II and Victory, it's pretty straight-forward... and it works, at least, for a Belgian Pale Ale, it does. I also liked that it gives a nice caramel-quality to the beer, without coming across as too busy, for lack of a better word. There's room for yeast to show off, and hopefully room for hops, too.

So, yes, the hops. I continued to tweak this beer based on some others I've brewed recently. My Meek Celebration 2014, a Red IPA I brewed to give away at Christmas, came out pretty fantastic. That beer featured lots of Amarillo, Azacca, and Simcoe hops, which gave fantastic flavors and aromas, with lots of tropical fruit, citrus, and a bit of pine. I was definitely leading to a similar hop profile for this beer - more American-hopped than Belgian-hopped (noble varieties), say. I settled on Azacca and Simcoe, and threw in some Mosaic - another fantastic variety I've been wanting to brew with again. With a small Simcoe addition at 10 minutes, I would then whirlpool with Azacca and Mosaic, with more of all three being added when the immersion chiller was turned on. Add a single dry-hop of all three, and you've got a beer with close to 3/4 lb of hops for a 5-gallon batch (I brewed 4 gallons, which is my normal batch-size for hoppy beers, now).

The beer fermented in the high 60s, and reached up to about 70 F at one point. Warmer would have no-doubt brought out more yeast character, but I was happy with these temperatures for this style. Everything went off without a hitch, for the most part; after a couple of weeks, I racked the beer to the dry-hop keg and threw in an ounce each of Azacca, Mosaic and Simcoe. After 5 days, I moved the beer to the serving keg via a closed system (the exact procedure that Derek from uses; detailed explanation here). My keezer was lacking a few taps around this point, so I tried using the shake-to-carbonate method... but on a very toned-down scale (it just doesn't feel right to be doing it, for some reason!). I was drinking the beer within a week or so, I'd say.

Tasting notes are written at the bottom of this post, but all-in-all I've been quite happy with this beer. The first few sips, it tastes pretty much like a regular Red IPA... the Belgian character hardly comes through at all. Not to say it's not a good beer; the hop combination works extremely well - very fruity, big on citrus, mangoes, berries, and a touch of pine. And the malt character is great; maybe not as "deep" with toffee and caramel as the Meek Celebration, but there's still enough to complement the hops.

As the beer starts to warm a bit, however, the Belgian yeast character becomes more assertive. As expected from the strain, it's not a wave of really intense Belgian character (namely, strong phenolics/spiciness), but more of a mild fruity/spicy tang that is different from the fruitiness from the hops. It's definitely interesting, and sometimes I drink it and feel that the combination doesn't quite work; but, most times, I feel that it does.

I know, not exactly a ringing endorsement, but in the end I do like this beer. I had originally planned on splitting the wort into two batches, and fermenting one half with 3655, and the other with US-05. That definitely would have been useful to really determine how much the 3655 lends to a beer of this style, but unfortunately I got a little lazy. Still, if you're looking for to brew up something a little different, give this recipe a try. Or better yet, play around with some different hop/yeast combinations! As in all things homebrewing, you're really only limited by imagination.

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.070, FG ~1.015, IBU ~60, SRM 16, ABV ~7.1%

4.1 kg (85.9%) Pilsner
350 g (7.3%) CaraMunich II (45 L)
275 g (5.8%) Victory malt
50 g (1%) Midnight Wheat

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

Simcoe - 28 g (12% AA) @ 10 min

Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)
Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)

Azacca - 28 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Simcoe - 14 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Azacca - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Mosaic - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Simcoe - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3655 Belgian Schelde (about 1/2-3/4 cup slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed on January 13th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 152 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.048 (target 1.049). 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume 4 gallons; OG a little low 1.069. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 64 F.

- Fast and furious fermentation from the 14th - 15th, but it slowed down quickly after that. I was a bit worried maybe it had stalled, but when I checked the gravity about a week later, it was down to 1.015, where I had hoped.

- 26/1/15 - Racked to dry-hop keg (purged with CO2), added dry-hops and purged again. Set at room temp.

- 31/1/15 - In AM, set keg in keezer to cold-crash.

- 1/2/15 - In afternoon, transferred beer to sanitized and CO2-purged serving keg. Carbed by shaking keg at 30 PSI for 3 minutes, then set at 14 PSI.

Excuse the poor picture quality, my regular camera was broken
Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head that has quite good retention; eventually fades to 1/4-finger. Body is a brilliantly-clear, dark ruby-red color. This is a very pretty beer.

Aroma: Strong hop aroma (melon, stone fruit, bit of pine) backed up by a pleasantly-strong malt presence - caramel and toffee. As the beer warms, a touch of spiciness comes through, presumably from the Belgian yeast.

Taste: Extremely spot-on with the aroma - big hop character, and a healthy amount of caramel and toffee malt sweetness to back it all up. Again, the Belgian character becomes more prevalent as the beer warms. Medium bitterness in the finish, nicely balanced between sweet and dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Smooth and creamy.

Overall: Quite nice; a little unsure about it at first, but I've decided I really like this beer. I'm tempted to do the exact same recipe again, but with a different yeast strain; I'm thinking maybe a Trappist strain, such as Chimay.