Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Brewing a Belgian Session IPA

After looking through the draft of the 2014 BJCP Guidelines when I was reading up on Brown IPAs (a style I brewed recently), I continued reading about the other types of "Specialty IPAs". My eye caught the detailed description of Belgian IPA, and it occurred to me that I've never brewed this style before. I've tried, and enjoyed, many commercial Belgian IPAs (notably Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel, Allagash Hugh Malone, and Dieu du Ciel! Dernière Volonté)... I guess I just never got around to brewing my own.

A fairly new style that's become more popular over the last few years, Belgian IPA is pretty much what you would expect from the name: a beer brewed to be quite hoppy and bitter, and fermented with a Belgian yeast. This results in a strong beer (up to and above 9% ABV) that has a moderate to high hop flavor and aroma, with additional fruitiness and spiciness from the Belgian yeast. Try a Belgian IPA brewed in Belgium, and you'll probably notice a strong presence of noble hops (e.g. Saaz); try one brewed in North America, and you're more likely to pick out the popular American hops (e.g. Citra, Centennial, Cascade... on and on and on). The Guidelines sum the style up perfectly: "A cross between an American IPA/Imperial IPA with a Belgian Golden Strong Ale or Tripel. This style may be spicier, stronger, drier and more fruity than an American IPA".

So, there's basically two ways to brew a Belgian IPA: brew a Tripel or Belgian Golden Strong and hop it to be more bitter and more flavorful/aromatic (e.g. Duvel Tripel Hop), or ferment an American IPA with a Belgian Yeast (e.g. Stone Cali-Belgique IPA). But what I started thinking was, what if you brewed the same style of beer, without the high ABV? As in, a Belgian Session IPA? I thought I was a genius when I came up with that idea, but it looks like others have - not surprisingly, really - thought of it before me! At least, some things popped up on Google when I punched it in, and I notice there's at least a couple of beers listed as a BSI on Untappd, but I don't think the "style" has exactly swept the beer world yet.

I should take this opportunity to say, yes, it has occurred to me that a Belgian Session IPA really isn't that different from a low-ABV, hoppy Saison (such as my recent Oxbow Grizacca clone). I would say the difference is that a BSI would likely be considered to be more bitter, and probably hoppier than most of the hoppy Saisons you find. Of course, that's going to vary from beer to beer... it's getting really difficult to classify beers nowadays!

I didn't have a lot to go on in terms of putting a recipe together, other than the style descriptors from the BJCP Guidelines. I was looking for the grist to be fairly simplistic, but not TOO simplistic; that is, I didn't want it to be just Pilsner malt. I figure that with a Belgian Session IPA, like your regular Session IPA, you need to have a good proportion of specialty malts to prevent the body from being too thin. This IS a sub-5% ABV beer, after all. So, I added several malts that I've used in Belgian-style beers before: Aromatic, CaraVienne, and Wheat malt (along with a bit of Acid malt, strictly for mash pH purposes). At about 15% of the grist, I'm hoping this will bump up the body, but not take away from a dry finish, and allow the hops and yeast to be the big players. I also didn't want to mash too low, so I aimed for 153 F (similar to my last Session IPA).

Choosing a hopping schedule and yeast strain for this beer was quite difficult; more so than normal. I have been re-reading some of the great Brew Like a Monk (BLAM), by Stan Hieronymus; he discusses Belgian IPAs, and makes a point of noting that "the choice of yeast strain and hop varieties is critical since many choices will horribly clash". Makes sense to me... normally when you brew an IPA, you're using a fairly neutral yeast strain. Belgian yeast strains, in contrast, or usually so chock-full of flavors and aromas (fruit, spices, phenolics, etc.), that you really do have to choose the accompanying hop variety(ies) carefully.


I've been planning to brew a Belgian Tripel soon, so I chose my yeast strain based on what I wanted to use for that beer as well (i.e. culture the slurry from the BSI). I've always meant to try the Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity, which is apparently the Westmalle strain. Actually, Westmalle provides the yeast for two other Belgian Trappist breweries, Achel and Westvleteren; I've had and thoroughly enjoyed beers from all three breweries, so figured this would be a good yeast to go with. According to BLAM, this yeast produces clove, alcohol, and pineapple at fermentation temperatures of 65-75 F; higher temps add bubblegum, fruity, and light solvent, but I'd be surprised if my fermentation goes higher than this at this time of year. Brewing during the colder temps of the year definitely has its perks, and its downsides, especially with yeasts (like this strain) that are a bit particular... BLAM states that this strain is well known to stop working - and "cannot be roused" - once it is cooled down when active.

Yeast health, pitching rate, aeration... they're always touchy factors when it comes to how you want your beer to be, but even more so when you're talking about BELGIAN yeast, which are generally so expressive. A higher OG beer fermented with a Belgian strain will produce more esters compared to a similar, lower OG beer; higher attenuation does the same. This is because yeast will usually throw off more fruity esters when they're made to work harder... so, a lower pitching rate and less aeration will also result in more esters in the beer. The trick is finding a balance - sure, you can pitch less yeast for more flavor, but of course you're putting your beer at risk of what happens when you underpitch, or under-aerate for that matter: more solventy flavors, incomplete attenuation, or even the dreaded stuck fermentation. It's tough. As I've recommended in the past, unless you have a good history of brewing Belgian beers and are comfortable with YOUR balance, err on the side of caution, and pitch a good amount of healthy yeast and aerate properly. I'd rather have a completely-attenuated, slightly-less fruity beer than a sweet, solventy mess.

After finally deciding on the yeast, it was time to pick some hops that I thought would complement the strain. I figured a beer like this would be better off with a fruity variety or two; noble hops would work great, I'm sure, but I was leaning towards the American side of things. When looking through my inventory, I noticed I had a good amount of Amarillo and Citra on hand, and I've had great results with these two varieties working together in the past (namely my Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone). Both varieties pack a lot of juicy, tropical, and citrus notes, which is just what I was hoping for. Combined with the "balance of complex fruity esters and phenolics" of the 3787 strain, here's hoping for something tasty, and not a clash!

I'm going to keg this beer, because I want to keep the hops as fresh and oxygen-free as possible, but I haven't been having the best of luck with getting the carbonation where I want it. Yes, it's supposed to be easier with kegging, but for some reason... Anyway, I likely won't have this carbed to where I'd really like to see it (maybe between 2.5-3 vol CO2), but hopefully it'll still be ok. Look for the tasting notes on this beer to be up very soon.

Recipe Targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.045, FG ~1.011, IBU ~40, SRM 5.6, ABV ~4.5%

Grains:
2.45 kg (83%) Pilsner
150 g (5.1%) Aromatic
150 g (5.1%) CaraVienne
150 g (5.1%) Wheat malt
50 g (1.7%) Acid malt

Hops:
Amarillo - 10 g (8% AA) @ 60 min

Amarillo - 20 g @ 10 min

Amarillo - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)
Citra - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)

Amarillo - 40 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (keg-hop)
Citra - 40 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (keg-hop)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity (PD Oct 29/14, with a 1 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed on November 4th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 8 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 3.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~4.5 gallons.

- SG quite high at 1.038 (target 1.032). 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller. Final volume a little over 4 gallons; OG curiously on target at 1.045. Chilled to 65 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched decanted yeast starter.

- Good fermentation over the next few days, but it settled down quickly. Temp never got higher than 72 F.

- 19/11/14 - FG 1.009. Racked beer to dry-hop keg, added dry hops and left at room temp.

- 23/11/14 - Placed keg in keezer to cold-crash.

- 25/11/14 - Transferred beer to serving keg and placed in keezer to start carbing.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Tasting : The Charlie Brownest (Brown IPA)


In what may be my fastest turn-around post ever, here are the tasting notes for my recent attempt at brewing a Brown IPA (aka hoppy American Brown Ale). I've probably picked a poor time to try to get caught up with my posts, since December is the craziest month of the year for everyone, but I'm going to at least give it a shot. When I posted about my brew day for this beer, I think I was actually already drinking it, or at least, just about to. At this point I've already brewed three beers that I haven't yet posted about, so I really have to get crackin'.

So, in a nutshell, I think I'm pretty happy with how this beer came out. Once again, I would like it to be hoppier, but I'm not TOO surprised that it comes across as a bit mellow, considering that the Nugget hops (the highest-quantity variety) were from the 2012 harvest. Not to mention that they're not the most aromatic/flavorful hop variety, at least not compared to a lot of others out there. But they DO come through, and I like the spicy, slightly-herbal qualities that they impart. When you add some additional dankness and fruitiness from the Citra and Columbus, it comes out quite nice. I like how these three varieties work together in these amounts, and in a darker beer like this.

Speaking of dark, this beer (as I worried in my original post) IS a bit too dark. In fact, you could easily mistake it for a Black IPA, I think. At 23.5 SRM, it's above the range listed in the new BJCP Guidelines for a Brown IPA (11-19), and actually is only 2.5 SRM lighter than the Black IPA I brewed earlier this year, my second Hill Farmstead James clone. Not that it makes a big deal - the beer isn't roasty or burnt-tasting at all; it's chocolately and toffee-like, which is what I was going for. But if you're concerned about keeping it lighter, I'd try cutting back on the Chocolate malt a bit till it falls into range.

Otherwise, an enjoyable Brown IPA. The next time I brew this style, I'll probably go for a lighter brown color, and use more hop varieties that will give more of a citrus/fruity aroma and flavor. I won't change the name of the beer, though; I think this is one of my better ones.


Appearance: Pours with a light tan, moderate-large sized head... very creamy and thick. Great retention. Body is dark brown, appears black at first glance. Almost fairly opaque until held to the light; some haziness from the dry-hopping.

Aroma: The dominant aroma is an earthy spiciness from what I assume to be the Nugget... a touch of fruit behind it, but firmly backed up by a caramel-sweet, toffee-like smell. All in all, balanced... the hops should probably be more forward.

Taste: Again, a caramel-like, toffee sweetness, followed by a spicy hop flavor. The fruitiness doesn't come through too much, here. Finishes moderately bitter, close to moderate-high; leans toward the sweet side.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Creamy. Smooth.

Overall: A good Brown IPA...but could use more hops. Or maybe, fresher hops?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Brewing a Brown IPA

I wrestled with how to title this blog post. I originally had it as "Brewing an American Brown Ale". The beer I'm going to talk about is on the hoppy end of the American Brown spectrum (I know, you're shocked). But with the recent proposed changes to the BJCP guidelines (and there's a lot of them; check out the draft here), it appears that American Brown Ale will now refer to the maltier, sweeter, chocolatey Brown Ales (think Big Sky Moose Drool, or Smuttynose Old Brown Dog, for example); the hoppier versions (such as Russian River Janet's Brown or Dogfish Head Indian Brown) are now going to be referred to as "Brown IPAs".

I guess we can't be surprised, really. With many beer styles gravitating towards more-hoppy versions, the BJCP decided to create a category called "Specialty IPA". Under this heading are several sub-categories of IPAs, including Black, Red, White, Rye, Belgian, and Brown. None of these sub-categories are a surprise to any seasoned homebrewer or beer-drinker; I'd say Brown IPA is the only one that I haven't heard of on a regular basis. For some reason, I've still always referred to that type of beer as a hoppy American Brown Ale. Oh well! I may not agree with all the confusing changes to the BJCP Guidelines, but I think this change is a necessary one.

So, Brown IPAs should still have aromas and flavors that are malty sweet (with "caramel, toffee, and/or dark fruit" in the moderate-low to moderate range, according to the official guidelines), but, of course, you want hop aromas and flavors... in the moderate to high range. So, mostly balanced, but with a slight emphasis on the hops, I guess. They should have a dry to medium finish, so you don't want cloying sweet, here, and a medium-high to high bitterness.

I don't think I've had many Brown IPAs, commercial or otherwise. I know the few I've had, I've mostly enjoyed, but most American Brown Ales I've sampled have been just that... American Brown Ales (by the new definition). I've brewed one in this category, a Moose Drool clone that came out ok; that was years ago. I came upon the idea of brewing a Brown IPA pretty much accidentally; I was flipping through Brewing Classic Styles, looking for ideas, and came across the Janet's Brown recipe, which I had always wanted to try (homebrewers always rave about this recipe). However, I started looking at some hops I had that I wanted to use up, and eventually decided on my own recipe.

For the grist, the majority of it is 2-row, as in lots of IPAs. However, there are four specialty grains added, which of course isn't usual when compared to the IPAs on the paler end of the spectrum. Caramunich II, Chocolate malt, Victory, and Crystal 60 L make up the difference, coming to 16% of the total grist. I went for a mash temperature of 153 F; I didn't want the beer to come out too sweet and/or full-bodied, but I didn't want it too dry, either. On further thought, I think you could go a bit lower, maybe 150-151 F, if you wanted to; I'll base future Brown IPAs on the results of this one with the higher mash temp.

I'm using three hop varieties in this beer, and not necessarily three hops I would think to use together: Nugget, Columbus, and Citra. I actually did brew an American IPA years ago, where I split it into two batches for different dry-hopping: one with Columbus and Nugget, the other with Citra and Simcoe. The Columbus/Nugget combination beer was quite interesting, and I remember thinking that the combo may work well in a darker beer. So, I decided to go with that, PLUS some Citra to add a fruity element (hopefully) to the beer. I hope they don't clash, as some hop varieties do, but I'm thinking it'll work. I hopped this beer quite heavily (almost 12 oz for a 4.5 gallon batch), going with a Nugget/Citra/Columbus ratio of roughly 5:3:2.

All of this gives you a beer on the higher end of the style. The OG is near the "max" (1.070), the IBUs are right at the top (70), and the color of the beer is actually a bit darker than recommended with an SRM of 23.5 (BJCP range is listed as 11-19; I realized too late that it's going to come out too dark). If you're thinking of using this recipe, of course feel free to fiddle with it and bring it into range, if that's your thing.

I'm fermenting the beer, of course, with a neutral American strain (US-05); you could also use basically any American strain, or maybe one of the lighter-character English yeasts out there. The beer is going to be dry-hopped heavily, in the keg, to see if I can boost that hop character even more. I haven't brewed any beers darker than an Amber since my Sweet Stout in May, so I'm glad to be getting something like this on tap.

Recipe Targets: (4.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.066, FG ~1.015, IBU ~75, SRM 23.5, ABV ~6.7%

Grains:
4.4 kg (84%) Canadian 2-row
275 g (5.2%) Caramunich II 45 L
225 g (4.3%) Chocolate malt
200 g (3.8%) Victory
140 g (2.7%) Crystal 60 L

Hops:
Nugget - 17 g (11.7% AA) @ 60 min

Citra - 28 g (12% AA) @ 10 min
Nugget - 28 g @ 10 min

Citra - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)
Nugget - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)
Columbus - 14 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)

Nugget - 42 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Columbus - 28 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Nugget - 54 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (keg-hop)
Citra - 42 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (keg-hop)
Columbus - 28 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (keg-hop)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, 1 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 4 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on October 23rd, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~2.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG on target of 1.052. 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller; second FO hops added shortly after when wort temp dropped below 180 F. Final volume ~4.5 gallons; OG a bit high at 1.067. Chilled to 65 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast.

- Strong fermentation over the next few days, then it quickly slowed down. I checked the FG about 10-12 days after pitching the yeast, and it was high at 1.018. Maybe the specialty grain amount, combined with the higher mash temp is the cause of this?

- 5/11/14 - Racked beer to dry-hop keg, added dry hops loose, purged with CO2 before and after.

- 11/11/14 - Set keg in keezer to cold crash hops; the next day, transferred via closed system to serving keg and set back in keezer (unfortunately, a good 2-3 L of beer remained in the dry-hop keg... clogged dip tube?).

- 5/12/14 - Tasting notes are up... came out pretty good, but the hop presence is a bit lower than I'd like. Probably partly due to hop age, and partly to the qualities that Nugget gives.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tasting : Hop Swamp (American IPA)

I feel it's important to take two different approaches in brewing...

1) Spend some time re-brewing batches that you really loved, so that you can enjoy them again, but more importantly, gain practice at nailing down a few styles with limited (if any) batch variability;

2) Experiment.

Obviously, "experiment" can refer to any number of ingredients, techniques, etc. in brewing. It all applies; it doesn't matter if you're brand-spanking new to the hobby, or if you've been doing it for 20 years, or if you're Shaun Hill. Experimenting will make you a better brewer. And isn't becoming a better brewer ultimately what this hobby is all about (to those of us who aren't just doing it for cheaper beer, that is)?

Well, in early October I experimented with an American IPA that I referred to as a "Kitchen Sink" IPA... that is, I added four hop varieties (Amarillo, Belma, Centennial and Falconer's Flight) that were from the 2012 hop harvest. To be honest, it was just as much about trying to use up older hops as it was about experimenting with this hop mixture, but I was truly curious as to just how hoppy a beer brewed with 2012 hops would be. Keeping in mind they were stored properly (vacuum-sealed, in the freezer), and weren't visibly too old (brownish-yellow color, for example), the hops even smelled pretty good... but you could tell they weren't as potent as fresh hops.

All that being said, the beer came out about what I expected... tasty, and hoppy, but nowhere near as hoppy as it SHOULD be with such a large amount of hops. Obviously other factors can come into play, but I feel that hop age was the deciding element, here. The beer smelled terrific after I removed the dry-hops, and tasted pretty darned good once it was carbed... but it fell off quickly (much faster than other hoppy beers have since I started kegging). Now, it's in the "good but not great" category of IPAs.

So, unfortunately I can't really say yay or nay for this beer's recipe; I don't think it's a safe representation of how these hops work together. Let this little experiment be a lesson, kids: use your hops while they're fresh. Try your best not to over-order.

But, really, who are we kidding?


Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, off-white head, creamy, good retention. Body is a light orange color, and very hazy.

Aroma: Kind of a muddled hop aroma (citrus, orangey) with a supporting malty sweet backbone. I would prefer to have the hops more upfront. No real flaws, just a bit...

Taste: Ditto with the flavor. It’s not a bad IPA at all, I just feel that the hops aren’t potent enough, especially considering how many were added in this beer. A combination of citrusy and sweet, it’s a little TOO balanced. Medium bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: A very decent IPA, but not a great one. I suspect the hop age is the most contributing factor to this.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Tasting : Saizacca (Oxbow Grizacca clone)

I'm writing this post while the pain is still fresh in my heart.

Let me say that I really loved how this beer, my clone attempt of Grizacca from Oxbow in Maine, came out. That's correct, I'm using the word "love" in the past tense, even though the beer has only been kegged and carbonated for a few weeks at the most. When I started drinking it, I was quite impressed with what Azacca brought to the beer. Sure, I threw in a bit of Simcoe, too, but I could tell this was something I hadn't had before. I wish I was better at describing different fruity characteristics... but I'm not. It just had a very over-ripe fruit aroma to it (but not in a bad way), that followed in the flavor; a friend insisted it reminded him strongly of clementines. Combined with the Saison yeast fruity/spicy flavors and aromas, it was a really interesting combination.

I even took a trip to Portland last weekend, and went to Oxbow's new "Blending and Bottling tasting room". Very cool spot; something like 6-7 of their beers on tap, lots of swag for sale, a couple of bottles, growlers, etc. Very large warehouse-like area that had the tasting room on one side (picnic benches and a bar, basically), and a whole lot of barrels on the other. There was also some brewing equipment over there as well...? Not sure what they have planned for the future. We were able to try several new Oxbow beers (to me) on tap, and I of course had Grizacca again. I thought it tasted quite similar to my clone, but theirs was definitely smoother and more-refined, I'd say. I had bottled some of my clone before the trip to drop off for owner/brewer Tim Adams, at his request. I'll be interested to see what he has to say about it. (UPDATE ALREADY: He said he and some other employees really enjoyed it...)


SO. When I got home, I checked on my keezer and hooked up the beer line for my Brown IPA that I had brewed and started carbonating. I tested it out, and that was that. The next afternoon, I decided to go down and pour myself a Saizacca. The towel on the floor, beneath the taps (a temporary drip-tray, I guess) was sopping wet. It was not like this the night before. When I opened the keezer, there was a good inch of beer on the bottom. Crap. Crap. CRAP. I don't know how I knew, but I pulled the Saizacca tap, and only CO2 came out (with a bit of beer left in the line).

Some slight cursing may have followed.

You know what's REALLY frustrating about all this? It's not just that there was still more than half the batch left (I had only poured/sampled it seven times myself), it's not only that I really liked this beer (more than the other 2-3 beers on tap at the time), it's that I still have no idea exactly what happened. I tested the keg for leaks, it's fine. I filled it with hot water and ran it through the same line, the same tap, the same QD, everything shortly after... and there was no leak. And I hadn't opened that tap before the leak began, either. One homebrewer suggested that when I hooked up the beer QD to the Brown IPA, maybe something jostled against the Saizacca beer QD, and it started a slow leak? I dunno, maybe; that's as good an explanation as any, other than there's an evil beer fairy who hates me.

Therefore, please excuse the lack of a photo of the beer in this post (the first time I've done that). Instead, I'm including a couple of not-fantastic-quality pics from our visit to the Oxbow tasting room in Portland. Luckily, I DO have my tasting notes on the beer. And also-luckily, I picked up a pound of 2014 Azacca hops on the trip, that I had ordered a few weeks ago. Maybe this is a sign?

Oh, and don't ever let anyone tell you that kegging is always better than bottling.


Appearance: Pours with a medium-sized, white fluffy head that shows some good retention. The body is a pale yellow color, and quite hazy.

Aroma: Huge ripe (over-ripe?) fruit aroma... really nice. Very up-front. A few more sniffs shows a bit of Belgian phenolic character coming through; very familiar to me after using this yeast many times.

Taste: Again with the ripe fruit. There's a lot going on here, I'm just not eloquent enough to say exactly what it all is; but there's lots of citrus and tropical fruit. Kind of reminds me of Nelson Sauvin, but it becomes clear after many sips that it's set apart from Nelson. Finishes with a moderate bitterness; perhaps a bit too much, and definitely more than the commercial beer has.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: It was a very nice beer. If I brewed it again, I'd cut back on the IBUs for sure. Definitely gives me a very good idea of what Azacca brings to the table; I'd like to use it in a beer with a more-neutral yeast, maybe an APA or IPA. I think it would pair nicely with other hops, as well.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Tasting : Galaxy DIPA

When I originally posted about this beer, a DIPA brewed entirely with Galaxy hops, I mentioned that Galaxy was "well known for making an almost-overwhelmingly fruity beer". By "well known", I was referring to tasting notes from other homebrewers who had experimented with the hop, not to mention the many descriptions noting just that from hop suppliers online. I hadn't brewed with Galaxy before, so I was really looking forward to an immensely-hoppy, fruity beer.

Unfortunately, I'm a little disappointed in how this beer came out. I don't find that I'm slapped in the face with fruity hoppy goodness. Maybe my hopes were too high, but like I said, I've read so much about how great the Galaxy hop is, and I know I've had some great commercial beers featuring Galaxy. I'm a bit confused how this happened. The hops I had were from the 2013 (the most recently-available at the time) harvest - no, not new, but not that old, and they had been vacuum-sealed and stored in the freezer the whole time. I used a 1/2-lb for a 4 gallon batch (that's the equivalent of ~3/4 lb for a 6-gallon batch of homebrew, the usual batch size, roughly), and all of those hops were added from flameout on (the single bittering addition at the beginning of the boil was hop extract).

So, what gives? Oxidation? I don't really think so - I used the same dry-hop method I've relied on for awhile, now (two additions: one in primary, and one in a weighted-down mesh bag in the keg), and the CO2 environment of the keg would cut down on oxygen issues, not to mention that the beer doesn't have that oxidized-hop aroma/flavor. I'm starting to think that it's just me - am I expecting too much with my beers lately? My wife and friends - fellow beer geeks, naturally - who have tried the beer seem to really like it. One friend in particular seemed to really enjoy it, and he's a BJCP-certified judge, so I trust his opinion and honest criticism.

Did I therefore just waste your time in a confused mini-rant about this beer? Sorry about that. If I could send out samples to everyone who wanted them, I would. It's really not a bad beer; I should have stressed from the beginning that the hops ARE there... I just wanted more from them. I'll admit that after typing this all up, I tried another pint of the beer, and liked it more... maybe I just needed to vent? In the meantime, I've ordered more Galaxy; I'm not scared to try it again. Maybe I'll even pair it with Nelson Sauvin in a beer (similar to the dry-hop of Stone Enjoy By), and/or try it in a Red IPA or something different.


Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, white, fluffy and sticky head that had very good retention, leaving thick lacing on the glass as the beer lowers. Body is a light golden color, with decent clarity and a bit of haziness.

Aroma: Fruity and citrusy, but not immensely so, as I was expecting. There’s a malt sweetness balancing it out; if anything, I would like to see more hops, and a bit less malt. Just a touch of alcohol in there as well.

Taste: As in the aroma - a good hop presence that’s mostly citrus, with a background of bready malt character. A firm (medium-high) bitterness in the finish, and a bit of warmth from the alcohol level.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: I'm just not crazy about this beer; I like it, but was expecting more from the Galaxy. It's still really decent, though, and mostly quite easy-drinking for a higher-ABV beer.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Brewing a "Kitchen Sink" American IPA

It's inevitable when it comes to homebrewers who love hoppy beers - you will almost always have more hops than you need. I know, at first glance the idea seems completely crazy. But when you start buying one pound at a time of all these new, hot varieties (e.g. Azacca, Galaxy, Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, Falconer's Flight, Belma), while at the same time buying up those tried-and-true varieties that you always want to have on hand (Columbus, Centennial, Citra, Amarillo, Simcoe, etc.)... well, they accumulate quickly.

And now the 2014 harvest is coming out! Trust me, you start to panic a bit, worrying you're going to miss out on Citra, or Mosaic, or whatever. You love these hops, and while you may not have a beer planned in the near future that involves them... what if you DO, eventually? And a lot of those varieties sell-out quickly, and then what are you going to do? Go a whole year without brewing with Nelson Sauvin? Uh-uh, I don't think so.

So, what happens? You start buying less food to store in your freezer, because space is being taken up by hops. However, while proper packaging and storage of hops can definitely extend how long they're good for, aroma and flavor components (not to mention bittering potential) are going to eventually fade over time. I brew a lot of hoppy beers (12 out of this year's first 16 batches had a good amount of hops, the majority of them significantly so), but I can't quite keep up with what's in my freezer. So, I decided to brew a new IPA, trying to make use of leftovers from - I'm ashamed to say - the 2012 harvest.

Before people start firebombing this blog, let me rush to say that these hops have indeed been vacuum-sealed and stored in my freezer, and I've made sure that all of them still look good and smell good. In fact, they smell pretty damned good; I'd never brew with spoiled hops just for the sake of using them up! Right now, brewing a beer like this came at a good time; I actually didn't have a long list of other beers to brew, at least not with yeast I have on hand (I have a couple of Belgian yeasts on special order, but they won't be here for awhile yet), so why not experiment a little?


I guess I should start with the grist. Nothing off the wall, here, I just put something together that would suit - hopefully - what I was looking for... a beer with a complementing malt character, but not a lot of specialty malts, letting the hops stay upfront. Mostly 2-row, some Maris Otter to give a bit more character, some Carapils and Caramunich II, and a portion of Acid malt. Mash at around 150 F to keep the fermentable sugars fairly high. Easy.

Now, the good stuff. Looking through my inventory, I had several varieties of hops from the 2012 harvest (meaning I bought most of them in early 2013, probably). I didn't want to just throw in everything that I had; more hops does not necessarily mean a better beer, and more hop VARIETIES doesn't mean better, either. I've had hops clash in homebrews before, and I've had commercial IPAs that have had so many hop varieties in it that the whole beer came out as a mess. Of course, there are many commercial IPAs available with plenty of different types of hops used in the brew, and they come out great. I guess the important thing is to experiment and try to learn from your mistakes.

So, I settled on four different hop varieties, all used at different parts of the brew for the most part. Just enough Centennial in a first wort hop (FWH) addition to give about 25 IBUs. A large amount of Centennial at 5 minutes and at flameout, for a hop stand; then, some Amarillo after the chiller was turned on and the wort temp dipped below 180 F. Two dry hop additions: one with just Belma, then Belma and Falconer's Flight for the keg-hop. All of this comes to the equivalent of just over a pound of hops for a 5.5-6 gallon batch (I scaled down to 4.5 gallons)... that's quite a lot.

The beer will be fermented with the mostly-neutral US-05, hopefully getting down to the low teens for a final gravity, keeping the beer quite dry. As mentioned, the beer will be kegged; extra-important here, I feel, because in my experience hoppy beers drop off much quicker when bottled. In a beer where the hops are older, I figure this will happen even faster than usual.

All of this is not something I'd jump to recommend. A tasty, hoppy IPA shouldn't really need over a pound of hops for a standard homebrew batch, at least not if the hops are fresh. The APA I brewed with only 4 oz of Simcoe hops (the Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 clone) came out very delicious and very hoppy; a lot of that was probably due to the freshness of the Simcoe. I'm brewing this beer mostly to use up these hops, and as a little experiment to the combination of these varieties. Hopefully the high amounts will help bring out some of their character, but it's possible that even with proper storage that this isn't going to happen. But I currently have a fairly good supply of beer on hand, so I don't mind using a brew day to test this out. These hops are only going to get staler, after all.


Recipe Targets: (4.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.064, FG ~1.012, IBU ~50, SRM 6.5, ABV ~6.9%

Grains:
3.3 kg (68.3%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (22.8%) Maris Otter
200 g (4.1%) Carapils
150 g (3.1%) Caramunich II 45 L
80 g (1.7%) Acid malt

Hops:
Centennial - 14 g (8% AA) FWH
Centennial - 60 g @ 5 min

Centennial - 99 g @ 0 min (with a 10 minute hop steep)

Amarillo - 70 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Belma - 56 g dry-hop for 4 days (in primary)

Belma - 50 g dry-hop for 5 days (keg-hop)
Falconer's Flight - 35 g dry-hop for 5 days (keg-hop)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, 1 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 2 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on October 8th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~2.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.049 (target 1.051). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller; second dry hops added shortly after when wort temp dropped below 180 F. Final volume ~4.5 gallons; OG low at 1.061. Chilled to 65 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast.

- Good fermentation activity over the next few days; beer temp got a bit warm, up to 72-74 F. Started slowing after 3-4 days, krausen dropping.

 - 18/10/14 - First dry-hop addition, into primary directly. FG a bit high, 1.015.

- 22/10/14 - Racked into CO2-purged keg (the "dry-hop keg"), added second dry-hops directly into the keg.

- 26/10/14 - Transferred beer to the serving keg after cold-crashing for a day, set in keezer and began carbing.

- 25/11/14 - Yep, hop freshness matters a lot. It came out pretty good, but far from great.