Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Brewing a Red IPA, à la Sierra Nevada Celebration

DISCLAIMER: This is not a clone recipe of, or an attempt at cloning, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

Not that I have anything against Celebration... on the contrary, I've always really enjoyed it. Hard to believe that a beer like this - they call it an American-style IPA, but look at it... it's a Red IPA, or hoppy American Amber, right? - has been around for over 30 years. There would have been a lot of years at the beginning there where you'd be hard-pressed to find another beer like this from anyone. For the two of you reading this post who haven't tried this beer, it's a seasonal release that comes out in the late fall, in time for Christmas. No, it's not spiced or mulled or anything like that, so I guess you can't call it a "Christmas beer", but what does that really even mean? It's just a tasty amber-colored, hoppy beer that is brewed with Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops.

All this being said, I decided this year to brew a "Christmas beer"; not a beer that is dark, strong, and heavily spiced, but simply a beer that I could give away for the holidays. I considered a lot of styles, most of them hoppy (of course), and, inspired by the type of beer Sierra Nevada Celebration is, I decided to go with a hoppy Amber Ale, aka West Coast Amber, aka India Red Ale, aka - and according to the new BJCP guidelines, the "definitive name" - Red IPA.

But I wanted this beer to be more than Celebration... that is, I wanted it to be hoppier. Every year there are some people who inevitably complain that Celebration isn't as hoppy as it was last year. I have no idea if this is true; I suspect that it's more likely that people have changed. I know for a fact that beers I found hoppy a few years ago would no longer taste as hoppy to me now; when you've had some great hoppy beers, you can get spoiled quickly (otherwise known as the lupulin threshold shift). Now that I HAVE had a lot of hoppy beers, I can confirm that Celebration isn't a supremely-hoppy beer... it's got a great malt character, and the hops ARE there, but I want more in my Red IPAs. I want beers along the lines of the last couple of hoppy Ambers I've brewed, namely the Modern Times Blazing World clone and Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone.

So that's exactly what I aimed for with this beer. I enjoyed the Blazing World clone so much that I went with the exact same malt bill; it makes a deep-red colored beer, with a really great malty sweetness that works fantastically at supporting a very hoppy beer. Lots of Maris Otter, almost 15% Munich malt, and then a little bit of Roasted Barley and Carafa II... in my opinion, it all works perfectly for this style of beer.

I had a LOT of ideas about which hops to use in this beer. I've brewed a lot of hoppy beers in 2014, and I still had quite a few varieties from the 2013 harvest. Three varieties, max, were what I wanted to use in this beer. But... which ones? After a lot of thought, I decided that I absolutely wanted to use Amarillo and Simcoe, mainly because I'm a big fan of Alpine Duet, an IPA that uses equal amounts of both; I've tried to clone that beer twice (here and here), and these hops really do work well together. But I had never used them together in an Amber, so I thought this was a great chance to try them in a darker beer.

Picking out the third hop was harder. I wanted to go with something great, one of the popular, new/newish varieties that I've brewed with, and therefore had a bit of experience with. I strongly considered both Nelson and Mosaic, but as much as I loved both, I had used them in the Blazing World clone. Galaxy crossed my mind as well, but in the end I settled on Azacca. I loved what it brought to my Oxbow Grizacca clone, and after the debacle with that beer (a leak of some sort drained most of the keg in the keezer, shortly after I had started drinking it), I wanted to try it again, and soon. The aromas of ripe stone fruit, the touch of pine... I figured it would work really well with Amarillo and Simcoe.

So, the hopping schedule below is what I came up with. I didn't base it on anything other than feel; if I had written the recipe down, and then erased my memory and wrote it again an hour later, the proportions would probably be different. An addition of Amarillo at 15 minutes, then heavy flameout additions (one for a hop steep, the other after turning on the wort chiller), and one dry-hop addition in primary... it all came to roughly 45% Amarillo, and 27.5% each Simcoe and Azacca. I really liked how the hopping in this recipe looked; it somehow worked in a way on paper that just HAD to translate to the final product. Or, so I hoped. Fermented with US-05, typical for my hoppy beers, the goal was a really hoppy (emphasis on tropical fruit and pine) ale, balanced with the malty sweetness of an Amber ale, finishing on the dry/bitter side.

I would normally keg a beer like this, but since my plans were to give the majority of the batch away, it just made sense to bottle it and distribute it ASAP, so that everyone would be able to drink the beer as fresh as possible. I timed the brew day to be in mid-November; that would give it a couple of weeks in primary, followed by the dry-hop (also in primary), and then a good two week period to carbonate, more than enough if the bottles were kept at room temperature.

And in a complete twist in my blogging routine, I'm posting the tasting notes at the same time as the recipe. I don't think I've ever managed to do that for a beer that I brewed recently! I'm quite behind in my posts lately, and I really wanted to have this one out before Christmas... looks like I'm just making it. BARELY. I can say that the beer came out really great, just what I was aiming for in terms of hop presence (huge), flavors/aromas (tropical, piney, citrusy), and malt presence (balanced almost perfectly). If I could change anything, I'd back off on the bitterness, but only slightly. Maybe knock it down to 60-65 IBUs? I've had several friends check-in to this beer on Untappd - Meek Celebration (2014) - and they've all loved it, for the most part.

If you're looking for a new hoppy Amber, Red IPA, whatever, to brew, I suggest you give this recipe a try... if you can get your hands on the hops, of course. Here's hoping everyone has a great Christmas, filled with good cheer, friends and family, and - of course - fantastic beer!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.068, FG ~1.012, IBU ~75, SRM 14, ABV ~7.2%

5.2 kg (83.3%) Maris Otter
930 g (14.9%) Munich malt
70 g (1.1%) Roasted Barley
45 g (0.7%) Carafa II

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

Amarillo - 40 g (8.1% AA) @ 15 min

Amarillo - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)
Azacca - 40 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)
Simcoe - 20 g @ 0 min (with a 15 minute hop steep)

Amarillo - 20 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)
Simcoe - 40 g @ 0 min (when wort temp below 180 F)

Amarillo - 54 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Azacca - 40 g dry-hop for 5-7 days
Simcoe - 20 g dry-hop for 5-7 days

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, 1 package, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed on November 18th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 8.75 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG a high at 1.057 (target 1.055). 60-minute boil. First flameout hops had a 15-minute steep before turning on the chiller, then added the second flameout hops. Final volume a little over 5.5 gallons; OG on target at 1.068. Chilled to 65 F, then poured/filtered into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast.

- Good fermentation activity over the next four days, started slowing down quickly after that. Temp got as high as 70 F.

- 28/11/14 - FG a bit high at 1.016. Added dry-hops directly into primary.

- 3/12/14 - Bottled with 104 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2. 

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, slightly off-white head that is thick and pretty creamy, with really good retention... fades to 1/2-finger or so. Body is a deep, dark ruby-red color, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Absolutely huge hop aroma. Lots of tropical fruit, citrus, pine... there's a lot going on. The malty sweetness is there behind the hops, and it provides a nice backing to the aroma. No alcohol, no flaws that I can detect.

Flavor: Some of that bready, maltiness that is a little sweet, but the hops win out again. Great, sticky tropical and citrusy flavors in here. The beer is nicely balanced, with the finish leaning towards the dry side. Moderate-high bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, medium (almost medium-high) carbonation.

Overall: I really like this beer; it's up there with the Blazing World clone for my favorite hoppy Ambers that I've brewed. I'd dial back the IBUs a little, but otherwise I'd keep the recipe as-is.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Tasting : Belgian Session IPA

This beer, a Belgian IPA that I had brewed with the intention of having it come out with an ABV of less than 5%, was one that I knew had a lot of potential to be problematic. Aside from the usual problems you can encounter with a Session IPA - watery, thin body, harshness from the high hopping, vegetal or grassy notes from the hops - you also throw in the possibility of the hop aromas and flavors clashing with the aromas and flavors provided by the Belgian yeast. I'm happy to say that this beer, a Belgian Session IPA, avoided most of these problems. Most.

I was a bit nervous taking my first smell and taste of this beer. However, the aroma was fantastic. Big, citrusy, fruity, with just a bit of spiciness... the Citra, Amarillo and Westmalle yeast worked really well together. I didn't find that anything clashed, and I wasn't getting any strong, medicinal phenolics, either.

Now, on to tasting it. The good news is that the aroma translates well into the flavor, with a big hop presence that is complemented nicely by the Westmalle yeast. It all gels together about as well as I could have hoped, with a moderate bitterness in the dry finish. The bad news... the body is slightly too thin. Perhaps if I took the time to increase the carbonation for this keg only - without affecting the other three kegs on tap - it would help. In hindsight, I should have used a higher mash temp than 153 F. I chose this because for my last Session IPA I used 153 F and was happy with the results. But I forgot to consider that the Belgian yeast has a higher average attenuation than US-05, bringing the FG down a few points lower than the other Session beers. Luckily, it's not watery... just a bit more body and it would be a great beer.

Otherwise, I have no complaints about this beer, and would highly recommend the recipe to anyone who was looking to have a similar style on hand. I'm very happy with how Amarillo and Citra work with Westmalle yeast; the combo would work great for a full-strength, Belgian IPA. My only suggestion for this Session type would be to increase the mash temp to 156 F or so; it seems a bit high when you look at it on paper, but I think with these highly-attenuative Belgian yeasts, it's a good idea.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head; retention is so-so; faded to a thin film after a few minutes. Body is a dark golden color, very good clarity.

Aroma: Wonderful aroma, lots of citrus and tropical fruit, and a touch of dankness. Backing spiciness from what I assume is the Belgian yeast.

Taste: Big fruity flavor, but with a slight phenolic spiciness that works surprisingly well. Finishes with a firm, medium bitterness (almost medium-high), and nicely balanced, leaning towards dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: A really tasty beer... took a bit of time to come together, but I'm loving how the flavors of the hops and Belgian yeast are working together.

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%

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

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 ~5.75 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.

- 22/12/14 - Tasting notes are up; very tasty and aromatic. Body is a bit thinner than I'd like, but otherwise it came out really tasty.

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%

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

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%

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

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.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Brewing an Oxbow Grizacca clone (No. 5 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

It occurred to me a while ago that I hadn't brewed any Maine beer clones lately; my last one was the delicious APA, MO, from Maine Beer Company, back in early January. So, naturally that got the idea in my head to brew another... and I'm telling you, there's a lot of good options. It never ceases to amaze me how many awesome breweries that Maine has. Some obvious beers that would be great to "clone" came to me: Maine Beer Co. Lunch, lots of beers from Allagash, and one of the most highly-sought-after beers in the state, The Substance, a fantastic American IPA from one of Portland's newest breweries, Bissell Brothers.

BUT. I was in Portland for one of my beer trips in June, and I had a lot of fantastic beers there, as always. Maybe my favorite was one from the farmhouse brewery, Oxbow, in Newcastle. The beers coming out of this little brewery are pretty awesome; I attempted a clone of one of their Freestyle series beers, No. 5 (a "Black Wheat Saison"), almost two years ago (my recipe here, along with more info on Oxbow). That was actually my first beer in the Maine Beer Clone series, and I had a lot of help from Oxbow co-founder and head brewer Tim Adams.

Oops, I'm digressing. Anyway, this awesome beer I had from Oxbow was Grizacca. I didn't know anything about the beer at the time, other than it was a ~5% ABV Saison-type beer. It was really delicious, and smelled fantastic. Light and easy-drinking, it was a very pale-colored beer, pretty cloudy. Strong on both Saison yeast character, and hops. Very "ripe" and fruity, I swore to myself that it must be heavily-hopped with Nelson Sauvin. Obviously, I was paying absolutely no attention to the actual NAME of the beer. Now that I know more, I can elaborate. Grizacca is a Grisette, heavily-hopped with Azacca.

First, some info on what a Grisette is/was. Thought to originate in the Hainaut province of Belgium in the late 1800s, Grisette was brewed for miners with the intention of being a dry, refreshing, and sessionable beer, similar to Saisons being brewed for farmers. Indeed, Grisette is very similar to the Saison style... at least, how Saison originally was: a low-alcohol, light-bodied golden ale. With a grist usually made up of a healthy portion of wheat, the beer was only lightly-hopped. According to "Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition", by Phil Markowski, only a single brewery in Belgium markets the name grisette: Brasserie Friart, better known now as Brasserie St. Feuillien

So, Oxbow took a mostly-diminished beer style (although, to be honest, it seems to me that a lot of today's low-alcohol Saisons could be considered Grisettes as well), and made it their own... by hopping the hell out if it with one of the newest, hottest hop varieties out there right now - Azacca. An American variety, I believe the 2013 crop was the first time Azacca was released commercially under that name (previously, it was known as ADHA 483; not quite as catchy). Like a lot of hops, it has many descriptors, including tropical fruit, citrus, pineapple, grapefruit, orchard fruit, and pine, among others. Already, there have been a lot of experiments with single-hopped beers with Azacca (especially among homebrewers; check out those by Derek at Bear-Flavored and Chris at Lewy Brewing).

Due to the generous information I was given for my last Oxbow clone, I decided to try emailing Tim Adams again to see if he'd be willing to help out a bit with a clone for Grizacca. Luckily for me, he was once again quite forthcoming. Here's his email response...

Use some good pils. 1/2 the grist should be a blend of malted wheat and and spelt.  Again, use the good stuff! Shoot for 4.5-5% abv. Blast your whirlpool with Azacca but save some for dry hop!  You might wanna dry hop twice, and you might wanna thow in one more hop varietal ;) Saison yeast of your choice, just make sure it does a good job!  We shoot for about 1.002 final gravity. You want that shit dry!

He was even nice enough to apologize later for being "cryptic" about the second hop variety; totally unnecessary, but still great of him! I felt this was plenty of information to go on, and could at the very least set me on the right track. 

I started by, of course, putting the recipe's grist together. Spelt is an ancient type of wheat that is high in protein (~17%) that is starting to see more use in brewing. I knew right away that I wouldn't be able to find any spelt from my LHBS. However, a friend here in Fredericton is the owner/brewer of a fairly-new Belgian-style brewery (Grimross Brewing), and he normally uses spelt in one of his flagship beers. Unfortunately, it had been hard to come by lately, so he was fresh out. Tim had actually told me that if finding spelt was an issue, to substitute in flaked wheat, which is what I ended up having to do. Otherwise, the rest of the grist was easy... I added a bit of Acid malt for pH reasons, and some rice hulls to help prevent a stuck sparge. I aimed for an OG of about 1.042 to get to ~4.7% ABV... I thought getting down to 1.002 for a final gravity may be pushing it a bit on my system at this time of year (summer would have been another story), so I figured 1.005-1.006 would be more realistic.

Coming up with a hopping schedule was, for the most part, pretty easy. I added a bit of Azacca at the beginning of the boil to provide a few IBUs (feel free to use any bittering hop; I used Azacca simply because I didn't feel the need to open a vacuum-sealed bag of another variety for just a few grams), and then added a whole whack of it near the end of the boil, at 5 minutes, flameout for a hop stand/steep, and even more when the wort temp dropped below 180 F (an approach I've been using a lot lately for hoppy beers). The question was... what should I add for the other hop variety, which I assumed would be in the dry-hop additions?

I really wish I had one of those amazing senses of smell, or a fantastic palate like some do... but I don't. I'm not going to pretend I can pick out a certain hop variety in a multi-hopped beer, especially when it's in the background compared to a highly-flavorful hop like Azacca. First, I considered Nelson Sauvin based on my initial thoughts on Grizacca, but somehow I can't see Oxbow using that in a beer with Azacca. I was going to go with Centennial, but at the last minute I changed my mind... and I don't know why. But I did, and threw in some Simcoe for both dry-hop additions. Even if it's not what Oxbow uses, I figure it'll still be tasty!

For my yeast, I went with the always-dependable (for me, anyway) Wyeast 3711 French Saison. I've used this strain several times in the past (such as in my very tasty Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merican clone); I really like what it brings to a beer, and how well it attenuates without a lot of fuss (I'm looking at you, 3724). It's also a great yeast to use this time of year; it's not exactly hot out anymore, and Wyeast lists the fermentation range from 65-77 F, which is perfectly doable any time of year, really, indoors.

And that's about it. As usual, here's hoping for a tasty beer, if not a clone of the real thing! It's all about the adventure, right? Well, the end product has to play SOME part in all this.

Recipe targets: (4 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.041, FG ~1.005, IBU ~40, SRM 3, ABV ~4.6%

1.3 kg (49.1%) Pilsner
650 g (24.5%) Wheat malt
650 g (24.5%) Flaked Wheat
50 g (1.9%) Acid malt
125 g Rice hulls

Azacca - 5 g (14% AA) @ 60 min
Azacca - 30 g @ 5 min

Azacca - 30 g @ 0 min (with a 15-minute steep)

Azacca - 60 g after started chilling, when wort temp below 180 F

Azacca - 40 g dry-hop for 4 days (in primary)
Simcoe - 20 g dry-hop for 4 days (in primary)

Azacca - 40 g dry-hop for 4 more days (keg-hop)
Simcoe - 20 g dry-hop for 4 more days (keg-hop)

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3711 French Saison (production date Aug 19th)

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

- Brewed on September 28th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 8 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.028 (target 1.029). 90-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 10-minute steep before turning on the chiller; wort temp was almost immediately below 180 F, where I added the second amount of flameout hops. Final volume ~4 gallons. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG slightly high at 1.042. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast.

- Good activity over the first several days, temp getting up to 74 F. Visible fermentation ended quickly.

- 10/10/14 - FG 1.005. Added 1st dry hops directly into primary.

- 14/10/14 - Racked beer to CO2-purged keg; added 2nd dry hops in a weighted-down mesh bag; left at room temp.

- 18/10/14 - Removed dry-hops, set keg in keezer to bring temp down before starting to carb.

- Tasting notes here... the beer came out great, I'm really happy with it. However...

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Tasting : Fiery Planet (Modern Times Blazing World clone)

I've brewed 17 beers so far this year, and I'm happy to say that I've been lucky enough to have been pretty pleased with how most of them have come out. They haven't been perfect, of course, but a lot of them have been quite tasty, and there hasn't been any major screw-ups yet (knock wood). But this beer - my clone attempt of Modern Times Blazing World, a hoppy Amber - is the first beer where my first smell and pour from the tap made me think: YES.

This was one of those brews where I knew before packaging that it was going to be good; heck, I could tell before dry-hopping it. When I took a gravity sample, I had a small taste as I always do... and it was pretty darn fantastic. I figured adding the hefty dry-hop of Mosaic, Nelson and Simcoe certainly wasn't going to hurt it. And as suspected, of course it only made it better!

As you'd expect from these hop varieties, the beer has a huge tropical nose to it, with a nice amount of dank hop character as well. And the flavor is pretty fantastic... once the beer warms up a bit, you get this great combination of caramel malt sweetness, tropical and citrus fruit, dankness... it's pretty awesome. Moderate bitterness in the finish, the beer doesn't have a harshness to it at all, which I was worried about considering the high calculated IBUs from the recipe.

I mentioned in the brew post that I've actually had the commercial version of this beer. I really liked it, but not as much as this homebrew clone. I'm certainly not saying I'm a better brewer than anyone at Modern Times; I just think this recipe works really well on a homebrew level. When you compare it to the one linked to from the Modern Times website, this one has noticeably more hops in the flameout and dry-hop addition, so that makes sense. If you're at home thinking of brewing this beer, I encourage you to use the one developed by the Mad Fermentationist.

That's two for two with Modern Times recipes for me (the Fortunate Islands clone, a hoppy Wheat, was another favorite homebrew of mine). I'm not sure if I'll attempt their other two flagships, but it's possible... their Black House, an Oatmeal Coffee Stout, is pretty fantastic. Either way, I'm really happy with this Amber recipe, and encourage anyone who can get their hands on these hops to give it a try. Now.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, creamy, off-white head that lasts for a while before fading to 1/2-finger. Body is a dark-red color, almost brown, and very hazy - I’m pretty sure that’s my fault, as I'm starting to think I forgot to add the Irish Moss tablet during the boil.

Aroma: Beautiful aroma: huge on tropical fruit, with a complimenting malt character. Not roasty, but caramel sweetness without being overpowering. Some nice dankness in the hops as well.

Taste: The malt sweetness (caramel character) is there at first, but the strong tropical fruit from the hops comes through immediately after, with a bit of pine and dank hop character as well. Finishes nicely balanced between sweet and dry, with a moderate hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied mouthfeel, moderate carbonation. Very creamy.

Overall: Fantastic beer. Up there with my Maine Beer Co. Zoe clone for hoppy Ambers that I’ve brewed. Delicious.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Brewing a Galaxy One-Hop Imperial IPA

Judging from the title of this post, it may appear that I'm overdoing it with concentrating on one-hop beers lately (two of my more recent brews were an El Dorado Session IPA, and a Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine clone, a DIPA brewed with all Citra hops). I swear it's a coincidence; this isn't the sole direction my homebrewing "career" is taking. I think two things helped me make the decision on what to brew next: 1) the Double Sunshine clone had kicked, so I was ready for another DIPA, and 2) I've been sitting on a 1/2 lb of Galaxy hops for months, and have never brewed with this hop, so I was anxious to try them out before they got too old.

First, a few words on the Galaxy hop variety. A high alpha-acid, Australian variety, it's another one of those hard-to-get hops that have become really popular over the past few years. Used for its very strong hop flavor and aroma (citrus and passionfruit are two of the main descriptors you'll see), it appears to make an almost-overwhelmingly fruity beer. I like fruity hops; hell, who doesn't? But there's a lot of fruity hop varieties out there, so I'm curious to see how Galaxy compares to a lot of others that I've brewed with in the past.

A beer where Galaxy hops are front and center certainly isn't something new, especially in the world of commercial beer. If you do a quick search online, you'll find many APAs, IPAs, DIPAs and more that are brewed solely with Galaxy. Always reassuring, especially considering that Galaxy hasn't been around that long. I wouldn't say that any of these beers in particular pushed me towards brewing my own, but I HAVE always had Hill Farmstead's Double Galaxy on my wish list (mind you, I have a lot of beers from HF on that list). What I'm brewing is in no way a clone attempt of Double Galaxy - I didn't contact Shaun Hill for any info and I've never tried the beer. My Galaxy DIPA is being brewed for research and enjoyment purposes only!

When putting together the recipe, I didn't really do any particular research. I know what I like in a DIPA - I don't want much in the way of specialty malts (I'm looking at you, Crystal), and I want the beer to finish dry. I'm looking for some firm bitterness in the finish, but I mostly want the beer to be about hop flavor and aroma. This isn't anything new, as I think a lot of hoppy-beer drinkers look for their DIPAs to be this way.

So, on to the grist. As you can see, I kept it very simple, with the high majority being 2-row, a touch of Carapils and Crystal 40 L, and some table sugar to help dry the beer out a bit more. And as I've been doing with most of my pale beers lately, a very small amount of Acid malt to bring the mash pH down. The sugar is added directly into primary (boiled with water and cooled) once fermentation slows; it's certainly fine to add it in the boil, I just prefer to do it the other way to take a bit of strain off the yeast. If you follow my approach, make sure you adjust your OG target accordingly when taking a reading after the boil.

For the hop schedule, I went with something very similar to that used in my Modern Times Fortunate Islands clone; that is, no actual hops added until flameout, but then you add a LOT after that point. A bit of hop extract for bittering at the beginning of the boil, and then lots of Galaxy at flameout for a hop stand/steep, some more when the chiller is turned on and the wort temp drops below 180 F, and then lots more Galaxy again in two separate dry-hop additions. I've had success with this approach before, so as long as these hops are fairly fresh (they should be; they're the 2013 harvest, but have been sealed, nitrogen-flushed, and stored properly the whole time) I'm expecting good things with this beer... minus the always-possible infection, stuck fermentation, etc.

Fermented as usual with US-05, I'm hoping to be drinking this beer by mid-October at the absolute latest. I'm continuing my approach to brewing smaller batches for hoppy beers; it's working out well, to prevent them from aging too much, without making me feel like I have to plow through high-ABV beers on a daily basis. Now that I'll likely be back to brewing every couple of weeks, it also helps keep the turnaround on the taps at a more-reasonable pace.

Recipe targets: (4 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.077, FG ~1.012, IBU ~80, SRM 6, ABV ~9%

Grains & Sugars:
4.5 kg (86%) Canadian 2-row
188 g (4.8%) Carapils
100 g (1.9%) Crystal 40 L
80 g (1.5%) Acid malt
300 g (5.8%) Table sugar (added in primary when fermentation slows)

Hop extract - 6.25 mL (equivalent to 35 g of 10% AA hop) @ 60 min

Galaxy - 50 g (14.1% AA) @ 0 min (with a 25-minute steep)

Galaxy - 50 g after started chilling, when wort temp below 180 F

Galaxy - 63 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Galaxy - 63 g dry-hop for 5 more days (keg-hop)

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale, rehydrated

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g of Gypsum and 3 g CaCl added to the mash

- Brewed on September 10th, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~2 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~5.75 gallons.

- SG a bit low at 1.052 (target 1.053). 60-minute boil. Flameout hops had a 25-minute steep before turning on the chiller; wort temp was almost immediately below 180 F, where I added the second amount of flameout hops. Final volume ~4.25 gallons, a bit high. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG high at 1.073 (when including future sugar addition). Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast. Placed BB in laundry sink with some cold water to try to keep temp down. 

- Fast fermentation over the next couple of days, temp getting as high as 74 F, higher than I'd like. Luckily I pitched low, so hopefully the alcohols don't get too hot. By the third day, fermentation was already showing signs of slowing down, so I added the sugar in two additions over 24 hours, 150 g each that had been boiled and cooled in about 1/2 cup of water.

- 19/9/14 - FG 1.012. Added 1st dry hop addition directly into primary.

- 24/9/14 - Beer racked to CO2-purged keg, second dry hops added in a weighted-down mesh bag. 

- 30/9/14 - Dry hops removed, keg put in keezer to drop temp down.    

- 10/11/14 - I'm admittedly a little disappointed, but it still came out pretty good... I was just expecting more fruit in the aroma and flavor.