Thursday, 30 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

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

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

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

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

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

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

- 9/6/15 - FG of 1.014. Bottled with table sugar to 2.2 vol CO2.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 10 July 2015

Brewing an Alpine Nelson clone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Cross - 10 g (14.1% AA) FWH

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

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

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation.

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