Friday, 22 April 2016

Belgian APA with Equinox and Mosaic (inspired by Schilling Racogne)

First off, let me say that I realize the term "Belgian APA" sounds kind of ridiculous. It's tough with a beer like this, though. You know what I'm getting at here, right? A Belgian IPA, basically, but in APA territory for ABV, as in roughly 5-6%. But I can't call it a Belgian Pale Ale, can I? There's already a style for that, and that one isn't considered a hoppy beer. So, while Belgian APA struck me as odd at first, I'm comfortable with it now; if you really think of it, it's no more crazy than saying "Belgian IPA".

What brought me to brewing a beer like this, you may ask? Well, when my wife and I drove to Vermont last June, we went out of our way to stop at Schilling Beer Company in Littleton, NH. I had been looking for a decent place to stop, and this place looked perfect. It was quite literally right on the way to VT, the beers brewed there (and the food) were rated really well, and I loved how what they were serving was a mixture of German, Belgian, and hoppy American styles, and beyond. It looked awesome, and we weren't disappointed.

The Schilling Brewery; photo: John Hession, NH Magazine

We were greatly in need of a beer or two when we arrived there after many hours of driving. Getting one of the last tables on their deck (beautiful little spot, by the way, overlooking the river), we ordered a couple of sampler trays, and I was impressed by most of what I tried. My favourite, however, was their Racogne. A "Belgo Pale Ale" (hey, maybe that's what I should have called this beer!), it's a 5.5% beer that the brewery describes as follows:

Hazy orange in appearance with a medium mouthfeel, Racogne (“Ra-con-ia”) showcases Mosaic and Equinox hops and a Belgian yeast of medium flavor intensity to produce mellow tropical fruit aromas and ‘juicy’ hop flavors.

I can tell you, it smelled and tasted as advertised. Hugely juicy and tropical, the beer took two of my favourite hops and made them work perfectly with whatever Belgian strain they used for fermentation. I could have drank a heck of a lot more than a sampler size, that's for sure. I never thought I'd be disappointed to have to get in the car and continue on to Vermont! Ok, maybe not quite, but close. Ever since, I've been meaning to brew something along the lines of this beer. Maybe not a clone, per se, but something along the same lines. I love Mosaic and Equinox - I've done a single-hop Session IPA with both (Mosaic here, Equinox here), but haven't used them together before. And I've been meaning to do another Belgian-style hoppy beer, so it all seemed like a good excuse to give this a try!

Before diving in, I thought I'd at least TRY emailing Schilling to ask them if they'd be willing to share a bit of info on the beer. I was curious about several things: the grist, whether they used Equinox and Mosaic in equal amounts, and mainly, what type of Belgian yeast are we talking about here? So, I sent out a friendly email, and got a quick reply from their Head Brewer and President, John Lenzini. He was very appreciative, but said that their current policy is not to share recipe info, at least not until they become more established and start distributing to a larger degree.

So, I was on my own. I decided to keep things as simple as possible, and developed the grist based on my previous recipe for a Belgian Session IPA, scaled up to an OG of 1.052. I had enjoyed this grist in the Session IPA, and the colour seemed about right for this beer. It's made up of mostly Pilsner malt, with small amounts of Aromatic, CaraVienne, and Wheat malt, and Acid malt. I find this gives a nice supporting malt character while allowing the hops to dominate; mind you, this was with a Session Belgian IPA, but really, this APA is only 7 gravity points higher than that one, so it should be fine. I still aimed to mash fairly low, at 150 F, to keep the beer pretty dry.

The hop schedule was pretty easy. I went with slightly more Mosaic than Equinox, simply because I had more Mosaic on hand. I decided to once again try dropping a bittering addition, with no hops being added until 10 minutes, where I threw in 2 oz of Mosaic. Three oz total for a hop steep, another couple after the chiller was turned on, and then equal amounts (1.5 oz each) of Mosaic and Equinox for the dry hop, giving a grand total of 10 oz of hops. Not bad; I don't think more than this would be necessary, assuming the hops are fresh.

I was mostly guessing when it came to choosing a yeast strain. As I mentioned in the Belgian Session IPA post, it's trickier pairing yeast with hops when you're working with Belgian strains, compared to American ones. There's a lot of Belgian strains out there, and they all have varying degrees of esters and phenolics, and can clash easily with certain hop varieties. I haven't brewed a lot of Belgian IPAs; the Belgian Session IPA used Wyeast 3787 (the Westmalle strain), and I really liked it. However, this brew day wasn't planned too far in advance, and I'd have to special order that one to get it again. My LHBS did have Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey in stock, which is supposedly the Chimay strain. Oddly enough, I don't think I've brewed with this strain before. Chimay doesn't brew any hoppy beers to my knowledge, but I'm a fan of their regular three-beer lineup, so I thought I'd finally give the strain a try and see how it worked with Equinox and Mosaic.

Well, the brew day brought no surprises, and I was drinking this beer within a few weeks (kegged, of course). While I honestly can't say if this is even close to Racogne, it is one tasty beer! I don't think I've brewed a hoppy, Belgian-style beer that had the hop aromas and flavours blend so well with the Belgian yeast. The aroma is probably 75% hop fruit bomb, with 25% Belgian fruity/spicy phenolics blended in... probably the same in the flavours. The beer is hazy, although NOT as hazy as that picture below would indicate (that was taken shortly after bumping the keg a couple of times when moving my CO2 tank around), with a medium-light body and a smooth, creamy mouthfeel (the feel and look of the beer would make me think it was fermented with London Ale III, if it wasn't for the Belgian characteristics).

So, in short, great beer, would absolutely recommend you give it a try if you're so inclined. Mosaic and Equinox aren't the easiest hops to find, by any means, but if you can, brew it! It'd be interesting to split the batch and ferment it with a couple of different Belgian strains, see how that affects the final beer; I may try this in the future. In the meantime, I'm really sad to see this one go... the keg kicked two nights ago, dang it.

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.052, FG ~1.011, IBU ~45, SRM 6, ABV ~5.3%

3.9 kg (83.4%) Bohemian Pilsner
225 g (4.8%) Aromatic
225 g (4.8%) CaraVienne
225 g (4.8%) Wheat malt
100 g (2.1%) Acid malt

Mosaic - 56 g (10.5% AA) @ 10 min

Mosaic - 56 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Equinox - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Mosaic - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)
Equinox - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)

Mosaic - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Equinox - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1214 Belgian Ale (with a starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 g Gypsum and 7 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on February 24th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13.5 L of strike water; mash temp a on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.25 L of boiling water to 168 F. Sparged with ~4.25 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity at 1.041. 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG on target at 1.052. Chilled to 60 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation was a bit slow to start with this batch; didn't really see a krausen till the evening of the 25th, with vigorous airlock activity by the next morning, temp at 74 F. By the next morning, the krausen had already receded quite a bit, and the airlock was silent... very fast!

- 9/3/16 - Final gravity of 1.012. Added dry hops into primary.

- 15/3/16 - Racked beer to purged keg, set in keezer to bring temp down and then started carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white head that shows good retention, eventually fades to a thin film on the beer. Nice lacing on the glass. Body is a light orange color, with a lot of haziness.

Aroma: Wonderful combination of big, tropical, fruity hops and Belgian phenolics; the spiciness follows the hop blast, as I had hoped. The nose is definitely reminiscent of Equinox, with the Mosaic character coming through well.

Taste: Ditto, fruity blast, green pepper slightly (or maybe I just know to look for it with Equinox?), followed by the phenolics. Medium-light bitterness in the finish, fairly dry.

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

Overall: Beautiful beer, one of my favourites lately. I'd brew this again and not change a thing, although I am curious as to what a different yeast strain would contribute, or take away.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

India Pale Lager (Cascade, Comet & Vic Secret)

For me, the months of January and February equal Lager Season. Not necessarily drinking, of course, but brewing them. Ever since I purchased a separate freezer and a temperature controller in 2011 (my first major homebrew equipment purchase), I've brewed 2 or 3 lagers each year. Now, with a temperature-controlled freezer, I could technically brew a lager any time of year, but it's just so much easier in the winter, when ground water temps are a lot lower. Lagers aren't my favourite class of beer to brew, but I completely appreciate the talent it takes to brew a really good one. You have to pitch a lot of healthy yeast, you have to aerate properly, you have to pay close attention to fermentation temps and diacetyl rests and lagering periods... it goes on and on. It's not easy to brew a really good Pilsner, and that gets missed a lot by people who don't know a lot about brewing.

Last year was the first time since having the freezer that I didn't brew any lagers. This happened for two reasons: 1) I was kind of on a big hoppy kick and kept brewing APAs, IPAs, etc., and 2) my fermentation chamber had become a keezer; with 3-4 taps flowing at a time, there just wasn't enough room for a carboy, let alone two. This year, however, I figured that I could take the time to brew at least one or two; by cleverly using the back, closed-off room of my garage for fermentation (acting as my beer cellar, it's kept at a perfect 48-50 F thanks to a simple digital thermostat), and the garage itself for lagering (it's typically 2-4 F during January and February), I thought I could make it work.

So, in early January I brewed a Festbier (think paler, more-bitter Oktoberfest) using a private collection strain from Wyeast, Munich Lager II. I've used this strain before in a Vienna Lager and a Schwarzbier, and was quite happy with it... good malt character, decent attenuation, less diacetyl-producing. The Festbier turned out pretty decent, and - as usual for my method to brewing lagers - I kept lots of slurry to re-use for another beer. I had full intentions of brewing a bigger beer, like a Bock or Doppelbock, but as usual, all those hops in the freezer were calling to me...

While India Pale Lager is not a defined "style" of beer (at least, it isn't in the BJCP), that - as usual - doesn't keep plenty of commercial breweries from brewing it. I don't think I have to get too technical here: an IPL is basically an American IPA fermented with a Lager yeast strain. I believe the idea is that since Lager strains generally give a very clean beer (if brewed properly), an IPL should bring the hops (and supporting malt) even more forward than when used in an IPA (even one featuring a generally-neutral yeast strain, such as US-05). I can't really comment on whether this is true; I've never brewed an IPL, and I haven't tried many of them either. The standout for me is one that is definitely impressive to have been brewed well, TrIPL, a 10% monster with CTZ, Chinook and Citra from Jack's Abby, probably one of the best Lager breweries in North America.

Well, I decided to give it a go, if only to see if there was really a difference between a heavily-hopped Lager vs. a heavily-hopped Ale. When putting together the recipe, I didn't want a beer that was too dark, of course, but maybe something that wasn't Light Lager yellow, either. I was originally going to go with all-Pilsner malt for the base, as I would with a lot of pale Lagers, but after a bit of reading online, I decided to add some 2-row in. I made up the rest with some Munich, Wheat malt, and Melanoiden, trying to give the beer a bit of body and provide some breadiness. A bit of Acid malt, as usual, and that was that. I mashed fairly low, at 150 F; I wanted a fairly-dry beer, and with the attenuation of the Munich Lager II not being super-high, I hoped this would give me a good balance of enough-body with not-too-sweet.

I went with three hop varieties, one that I've used plenty of times, one I've used once and really enjoyed, and one that I've never brewed with before:
  • Cascade - We've all used Cascade, and it often gets forgotten in the mad rush of new, hot hops out there... and it's a shame. Sure, it may not be as potent as Galaxy, Azacca, Citra, Mosaic, etc., but its citrus and grapefruit characteristics can be truly wonderful in a hoppy beer, and I've been trying to use it more often lately.
  • Comet - I think this one has been around for awhile, but I hadn't brewed with it since my 2015 Meek Celebration (Christmas giveaway beer), and I really liked it in that beer. Described by the Bear Flavored hop guide as "intense wild American grapefruit/citrus character, extremely dank"; it doesn't disappoint. So obviously, I'm looking for grapefruit in this beer.
  • Vic Secret - A new (~2013) Australian variety, this hop has been doing well - I see it popping up in a lot of beers lately, and I tried a single-hop beer from Fredericton's TrailWay awhile back that was quite good. Described as exhibiting flavours of passionfruit, pineapple and some light herbs and resin, I thought it would work nicely with the Cascade and Comet.
I mixed it up a bit as per the hopping schedule below, with an ounce or slightly more (when using up stock) of all three in a single dry-hop. But that raised the question: what is the best way to dry-hop an IPL? Do you lager the beer first, and then dry-hop? Or is the lagering period also the dry-hop period? Problem is, even light lagers are lagered for longer than your typical dry-hopping time (which is often no longer than 5-7 days, or even shorter). I looked into it some, and turns out that - surprise! - there are a lot of different opinions on the "best" way to dry-hop a lagered beer. So, I chose the following method: brew the beer, ferment cool as expected, raise temp for a short diacetyl rest, bring back down to ~50 F again, then after a couple weeks total, rack to a keg and lager the beer. After several weeks, throw the dry hops in that keg, move the keg inside to a warmer temperature for 5 days, then transfer the beer from that dry-hop keg into the serving keg, chill and carb. Make sense?

The brew day was fine, if a little longer than usual - with a 90-minute boil, a hop steep of 15 minutes, and having to chill to 50 F or lower, it definitely stretched out compared to an Ale brew. Fermentation was going about 24-36 hours after pitching, and in true Lager fashion for me, never got crazy... the airlock bubbling every 2 seconds for several days is what I'm used to for Lagers. After about 5 days the bubbling started slowing down, so I moved the fermentor inside for a 2-day diacetyl rest in the mid-60s F, then moved it back to 50 F ambient. After two weeks total, I racked the beer to my "dry-hop" keg and left it in the garage to lager... not exactly the most regulated way to do so, but my garage was holding at about 40 F or so, consistently, so it would have to do. Two weeks later I threw in the dry-hops, moved the keg inside for 5 days, and then transferred via CO2 to a purged serving keg, and started carbing.

And how did it turn out? I've got to say, I quite enjoy this beer. Really smooth and creamy, it's got a fruity, candy-like sweetness to it that in no way overshadows the citrusy, fruity, slightly-herbal flavours from the hops. The malt also complements the hops well, but be very clear, this is a hop-forward beer. It just seems a little less dry than a lot of hoppy ales I've brewed, but it's still juicy. That's the best way I can think to explain it. I'm sure a different Lager yeast with a bit higher attenuation would result in a drier beer, but I like how this tastes, and I'm a big fan of the mouthfeel.

This is something I'll definitely try again, although now it's probably going to have to wait until next winter. Lots of room for experimentation here - with many Lager yeast strains to play with, not to mention all those wonderful, wonderful hop varieties, this is a style I look forward to revisiting again. In the meantime, I need to track down some more commercial examples...

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.063, FG ~1.014, IBU ~52, SRM 5.7, ABV ~6.4%

3 kg (50.6%) Bohemian Pilsner
2 kg (33.8%) Canadian 2-row
300 g (5.1%) Munich
300 g (5.1%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.4%) Melanoiden
125 g (2.1%) Acid malt

Polaris - 10 g (19.8% AA) @ 60 min

Cascade - 28 g (6.4% AA) @ 10 min
Comet - 28 g (7% AA) @ 10 min

Comet - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Vic Secret - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Cascade - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)
Comet - 28 g @ 0 min (when begin chilling)

Comet - 44 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Cascade - 30 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Vic Secret - 28 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2352 Munich Lager II (slurry)

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

- Brewed on February 10th, 2016, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water; mash temp on target at 150 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7.75 L of boiling water to 165 F. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- Pre-boil gravity 1.047 (target 1.048). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.5 gallons; OG 1.064. Chilled to 48 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 120 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry at 50 F and set fermentor in back room of garage, ambient temp set for 50 F.

- Airlock showing signs of activity by the next evening, with steady bubbling occurring for the next week. When activity slowed, moved carboy inside for two days for a diacetyl rest at ~64 F. Moved back into 48 F temp for another 10 days or so.

- 1/3/16 - Racked to CO2-purged keg, set in back of garage where temp was approximately 38 F.

- 15/3/16 - FG 1.014. Added dry hops to keg, purged again, brought keg inside to sit at room temp.

- 20/3/16 - Transferred via CO2 to serving keg, began carbing.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-large size white head that shows good retention, eventually fading to 1/2-finger. Body is a deep-golden colour, with very good clarity.

Aroma: Pleasant bready malt character, with a strong hop presence that is fruity and tropical, for the most part. Clean, no diacetyl, no sulfur.

Taste: Lots of hops, tropical, citrusy, with a bit of an herbal-like quality that two fellow beer geeks picked out. Backed by the malt sufficiently, but definitely a hoppy beer. Finishes crisp and fairly dry, smooth and easy-drinking.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Very smooth and creamy.

Overall: Very enjoyable; I haven't had a lot of IPLs but this is one of the better ones I've had for awhile. Definitely a recipe to play around with; changing hop varieties and yeast strains really opens the possibilities.