Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Portland Ale Blazer X #pdxbeergeeks Collaboration : Brewing a Truly Local Beer

It was an absolute blast visiting our local growers for the Growing Local Beer series.  And I'd like to extend an enormous "Thank you" to Crosby Hop Farm, Imperial Organic Yeast, and Mecca Grade Estate Malt.  Each of our featured subjects extended amazing generosity and were very free with their time. The truly great thing about the craft beer and brewing communities is the willingness of everyone to teach and learn about making better beer.

While the Growing Local Beer project was underway, I offered our growers the opportunity to participate in a product demonstration to be featured on #pdxbeergeeks as well as my homebrew blog, Portland Ale Blazer.

The idea was well received. So, for the finale of the series, we're going to do something that I personally feel is a special opportunity; we will brew a beer strictly using ingredients from our profiled growers.  Every ingredient going into this beer was grown in Oregon, within 125 miles of my home brewery in Beaverton. The end result will be a truly local beer.


The Ingredients:
Along the way in my adventures, I was able to collect some ingredients from our featured subjects with a very special plan for this capstone to the series.  

Mecca Grade Estate Malt: Pelton base malt
Crosby Hop Farms: Cascade Pellets
Crosby Hop Farms: Centennial Pellets
Imperial Organic Yeast: A01: House Yeast


Mecca Grade Estate Malt (Pelton):
Pelton is a very lightly kilned Full Pint barley malt, similar to Pilsner Malt in style.  Mecca Grade's unique single source estate malt process lends it a uniquely crisp cracker (almost nutty) taste.  It is the one and only malt featured in our beer and should provide a nice soft and delicious platform into which our other ingredients can integrate themselves.


Crosby Hop Farms (Cascade/Centennial Pellets):
I always have a fresh pound or two of these hops on hand from CHF. They are the workhorses of my home brewery.  I brew mostly American style beers: Blonde, Pale Ale, IPA and Red ales year round, with Stouts and Porters in Winter.  These hops play very well in all these beers.  Cascade and Centennial will bring their bright citrus/piney flavor and aroma to this beer, without blowing the malt character away with dank, resinous or funky tropical notes.

Imperial Organic Yeast (A01 House):
My favorite strain of yeast is also a favorite of the guys at Imperial.  They love it enough to name it "House," which is the role this strain has assumed in my home brewery for years.  Though it is a British yeast, it is low on ester production, highly flocculant and very attenuative. Translation: This produces dry, clear beer without a lot of funky fermentation characteristics.  

The Recipe:
Last year, over on my home brewing blog, I brewed a fun and geeky IPA in order to apply some theories in practice.  The idea of starting with a small initial hop addition, then doubling the kettle hop additions over time would prove out the practice of Hop Bursting.  A common practice known to deliver great hop flavor without over-bittering the beer.  After fermentation, the opposite technique was applied.  Big dry hop additions at first, followed by incrementally smaller additions right up til packaging time. These multiple dry hop additions is a practice used often my commercial breweries to layer fresh hop flavor and aroma upon fresh hop flavor and aroma.  When I charted up the additions, it resembled a Bell Curve and that is what I called it.  It was probably the best IPA I ever brewed.

The magic of Bell Curve was the "standard distribution" of hops
This particular beer, which we will be calling Grade Curve (as a nod to the folks at Mecca Grade), is not intended to be an IPA.  Hop additions as substantial as those in Bell Curve would blast all the subtle nuance of our malt out the window.

The goal here is to something as smooth and drinkable as Bell Curve, while remaining more balanced.  We only have 4 ingredients here and the challenge is to create a beer that will feature each without overpowering the other.

I cut all the hop additions back and reduced the enormous Whirlpool and First Dry Hop additions by 50%.  This should allow for the hop flavor and aroma to shine, without overpowering the grainy, pilsner-like quality of the malt. 

I used WLP-007 by White Labs in my Bell Curve IPA.  It accentuated the hops well and produced a clean, clear beer.  A01 House is derived from the same strain and will be a perfect fit for this recipe.  When fermented at around 64f, this yeast is low on ester production, yet attenuative enough to produce a dry, clean beer. When this strain flocculates, it drops out so hard and fast, practically leaves a crater on the floor. 

Grain Bill:
13 lbs *
Mecca Grade Pelton Malt (2 Row) US (1.5 SRM)
Grain


Hops Schedule:
0.25 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Boil 60.0 min
Hop
5.79 IBUs
0.25 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min
Hop
8.28 IBUs
0.50 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Boil 30.0 min
Hop
7.0 IBUs
0.50 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 30.0 min
Hop
10.0 IBUs
1.00 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Boil 10.0 min
Hop
6.99 IBUs
1.00 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 10.0 min
Hop
9.99 IBUs
0.50 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz
Cascade [5.80 %]  - Dry Hop 3.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Dry Hop 3.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
*The grain bill is slightly larger because I created an additional 1 gallon batch for a brew club experiment.

Brew Day:
This brew day was an absolute breeze.  Despite the multiple hop additions, the 90 minute boil (to reduce DMS production in using such a pale malt) and the 30 min whirlpool, things were easy breezy.

The Mash:
I milled this grain at home and set my gap to a pretty tight, but versatile setting (.035" for those keeping score). The grain was a dream to work with.  The crush was uniform and thorough. The malt itself is sweet and grainy to the taste and possesses a uniformity I have not seen before.  I have to assume this is the result of using a single-source product.

I doughed in at 154 degrees with a single-infusion of strike water.  [ No one have ever called my home brew system "fancy" but it has served me well and I've added to it over the years.]  I anticipated a few degrees variance and by the end of the mash, confirmed that the saccharification rest ended at around 152f.  This should produce a dry beer, with enough body and foam stability to carry our hop bill.


The Boil:
I went with a 90 minute boil, as opposed to my standard 60 minutes, on this beer because it is 100% pilsner style malt. Lightly kilned malt bills like this have a higher potential for DMS production.  The result is a cooked corn flavor that is common in a lot of lower quality adjunct lagers (you know it if you have tasted it).  Boiling 90 min will drive off the DMS precursors and should also add some color and flavor depth due to maillard reactions. Just as longer cook times make food more brown and accentuate caramelized flavors, the same rule applies to our beer with this extended boil.


A video posted by @joetothemo on

Within the boil, I made several hop additions, doubling them along the way.  I started with a bittering addition of .25oz each of Cascade and Centennial at 60 minutes, doubled to .5 oz each in the final 10 minutes and then cut the flame. Once the flame was out, I added 1oz each and whirlpooled the wort using a pump for 30 minutes. This will result in a bright, fresh hop character, by avoiding boiling off the subtle oils and resins.

After a quick chill to 60f, I aerated the wort with pure oxygen* and pitched my can of Imperial Organic Yeast cold.  I was nervous and apprehensive about pitching yeast without a starter, but I am putting my faith in the product.

*I did learn that my O2 tank emptied in the process and this wort did not receive the full oxygen treatment I generally give..



The Fermentation:
I allowed the fermentation temperature to rise from 60f to 64f overnight.  I typically see visible signs of fermentation after 12 hours, however I did not see activity when I left for work at 5:30 AM on Monday Morning.  This is not all that surprising, I began to run out of oxygen as I was aerating the wort and am not confident that I added the amount I would normally add. 
Despite the slow start, fermentation was pretty standard for this strain. The beer completed to terminal gravity of 1.008 by about day 5.


After day 7, I moved the beer under CO2 to a second carboy with our first dose of dry hops.  Using a secondary fermentor is not something I normally do, unless I am planning to reuse the yeast (as was the case with this beer).  Pushing the beer with CO2 into a carboy flushed with CO2 will reduce the chance of exposing the beer to oxygen post-fermentation (a major factor in staling).
The beer received a second and final dry hop dose just three days from packaging.  Again, I pushed the beer using CO2 to the keg, ensuring a clean (oxygen free) transfer.

After carbonating the beer to a typical level of carbonation for a US craft pale ale, the beer was ready to serve.

The Final Product:
The beer took a while to clear up. I typically see beers using this yeast strain clear up a little quicker.  However, I did dry hop this beer, which can lead to some haze.  

The beer had an amazingly creamy mouthfeel and enormous head stability. This is largely due to Mecca Grade's malt, as well as some contribution from the layered dry hop additions.

The aroma was perfumy and sweet. I could definitely pick up a lot of aroma from the hops, but there was also a pretty strong contribution from the malt. It was a pleasant aroma that really accentuated the flavor of the beer.


Finally, the taste. 
Bottom line with any beer I brew is, "Does it taste good?"  And I can say, without question, this beer tasted good. 

In all honesty, it was not 100% what I envisioned when I drew up the recipe. I was aiming for balance, but assumed that the hops would come out slightly ahead of the malt and yeast contributions. 

In reality, it was the malt that stole the show. Typically, the base malt I use is designed to be almost transparent, a blank slate to showcase character grains and hops.  The Mecca Grade Pelton malt contributed enormously to the final product of this beer.. and it tasted great.  There was a nutty, creamy flavor that was further enhanced by that amazing mouthfeel mentioned earlier.  For a beer that finished this dry, with an ABV over 6.8, I was surprised to find such an easy-drinking creamy beer.

I passed bottles around to #pdxbeergeeks founder Michael Umphress as well as some of our profile participants. The response was favorable all around.  But, as always, my wife's critique mattered most...and she hit that tap over other draft options in the kegerator more than the other options.  That is normally how evaluate the success of a beer.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all our profile subjects along the way. Writing this series was a fun exercise that I found tremendously educational and I hope the same for you.

The plans are in place for one more Locally Grown Beer this winter... Stay tuned for a truly local lager in Spring '16 on www.portlandaleblazer.com

Cheers!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Brew #3 - American IPA (BJCP 14B)

Brew #3 - American IPA (BJCP - 14B)

Bell Curve IPA

***After a 1 year hiatus, I figure it is time to pick the blog back up.  Here is a post I abandoned half way through construction. Much of it was written in 2014 and updated in 2015***

Of all the styles I brew a lot IPA has given me the most headaches...from brewing and probably also from drinking.

I may brew Pale Ale more than any style, but when I buy beer, it is almost always IPA.  I like to try new IPAs to check what craft brewers are doing with the style. I like trying the new IPAs with crazy freaky hops, but I mostly stick to my favorites.

I like a good, fresh-tasting IPA that has huge fresh aroma, medium-to-high alcohol, clean malt and hop flavor and a nice light body and color.  I like an IPA that is low on residual sugar and with precious little caramel malt influence.  This is the prototypical West Coast IPA and it can be harder to brew that it looks in paper.

Homebrewed IPAs often come off as being just that... Homebrewed IPAs (at least my early efforts did).  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Fermentation problems, heavy-handed recipe formulation, under-attenuation and a host of other process flaws can really impact a homebrewed IPA.  But the primary villain out there waiting to ruin your perfect IPA is Oxygen.

Oxygen can impact the hops flavor and aroma from storage, through fermentation, dry hopping through packaging the finished beer.  It’s the boogie man and it is real.

The other code I needed to crack before creating commercial-quality IPAs was water.  And I’ll be honest, I did more harm than good for a few years. Hard water that is low in alkalinity is best for these pale-hoppy beers.  But going too far with your adjustments can result in an overly harsh, mineral/metallic tasting beer. I’ve done it myself, and if I can help you from making the same mistake, we’ll all have a reason to raise a glass.


The Roadmap:
I mentioned above that I like to stick to my favorites when I shell out $4-5 for a bomber of IPA at the store. Some of the IPAs that inspire me to brew the style are Gigantic IPA, India Pelican Ale (Now called Imperial Pelican Ale) and Firestone Walker Union Jack.

The common characteristics of these beers are all a light color, ABV hitting somewhere from 6.5-7.5%, a big hoppy flavor centered on Cascade/Centennial with some contributions from more edgy hops like Columbus and Chinook and also from newer hops like Simcoe and Amarillo.  These beers are all light in color, with a light body and minimal crystal malt presence.  For that reason, I used these beers as the template for my recipes.

I’ve tried a half dozen or so variations of similar IPA recipes over the past year or so.  I take inspiration from the Union Jack IPA episode of Can You Brew It and a little independent research done on India Pelican Ale (before it was reformulated as Imperial Pelican).  I stick to a very simple grain bill with kettle additions of Centennial/Cascade and multiple massive dry hop additions.

Try as I might, I still haven’t found “The One” as far as IPAs go. The good news is that I get to try new and interesting things. And I will say this recipe is pretty out there for me... creatively.  Who knows how it will work out, but I had fun drawing it up.


The Grain Bill:
Simplicity matters here.  There is so damn much going on in the hop schedule, there is no need to fuss around with the grain bill.  I am just going with a simple clean backbone to prop up the hop additions.  I want to hit that 6.5-7.5% range.  I want to finish dry. I want a light color, body and very little sticky caramel flavor influence.


The Hops:
This beer is all hops and the hops schedule was a freaking blast to conceive.

Some of the key points I wanted to hit with this beer were:
  • Smooth bitterness
  • Huge hop flavor and aroma

One technique for achieving these goals is to place the larger additions at the end of the boil... Called Hop-Bursting.  I had in mind a constantly escalating hop schedule.  The more I thought about it, the more conceptual I got about it. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I just stuck with the same 2 hops and just doubled the amounts at each addition.”  Cool idea, but which hops?

I’ve tried so many hop varieties and blends. But I always come back to Centennial and Cascade.  They just fit right for me.

Doubling the additions is a cool idea in the kettle.  But it was not a sustainable idea in the dry hop.  I considered just sticking with a couple ounces of Cascade/Centennial but, I felt I needed to come up with something cool enough to compliment that kettle schedule.  So, if I couldn’t double the additions, why not do the opposite?  I’ve done multiple dry hop additions in the past and it worked very well.

I got it in my head that I could have this sort of Bell Curve approach to the hop profile to this IPA. Minimal additions at the beginning and end of the process, with a huge swell of hops right in the late kettle and early dry hop.
 


The kettle additions are all Cascade/Centennial, but I let myself get a little more daring in the dry hop.  Cascade/Centennial make up the largest contributions again, but have support from Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe and Columbus. These are some of my favorite IPA hops and I love the potential complexity that they will bring to this beer.


The Yeast:
The old standby again for this beer as well.  WLP-007 is a British yeast, but man .. it ferments the hell out of a big, hoppy American IPA.  It’s virtues are worth mentioning again and again.  Clean ester production, unbeatable fermentation time, unbelievable flocculation...resulting in amazing clarity. Hops sing like a choir of angels with this yeast.


The Water:
I use the same profile for American Pale as I do with IPA.  3:1 Sulfate-to-Chloride ratio and zero alkalinity.  It took me years of ruining beers before I just broke down; ordered a water report, read a book, bought a pH meter and started acidifying my mash and sparge.  It is not beginner stuff.  But it worked wonders for my pale hoppy beers.


The Recipe:

Grain Bill:
14 lbs 8.0 oz
Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)
Grain
1 lbs
Munich Malt - 10L (10.0 SRM)
Grain
8.0 oz
Cara-Pils/Dextrine (2.0 SRM)
Grain
8.0 oz
Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L (40.0 SRM)
Grain

Hops Schedule:
0.25 oz
Cascade [8.80 %] - Boil 60.0 min
Hop
7.6 IBUs
0.25 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min
Hop
8.6 IBUs
0.50 oz
Cascade [8.80 %] - Boil 30.0 min
Hop
7.7 IBUs
0.50 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 30.0 min
Hop
8.8 IBUs
1.00 oz
Cascade [8.80 %] - Boil 15.0 min
Hop
8.1 IBUs
1.00 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 15.0 min
Hop
9.2 IBUs
2.00 oz
Cascade [8.80 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 20.0 min
Hop
13.4 IBUs
2.00 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 20.0 min
Hop
15.2 IBUs
1.00 oz
Cascade [8.80 %] - Dry Hop 7.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Dry Hop 7.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz
Chinook [13.00 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz
Columbus (Tomahawk) [14.00 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz
Amarillo Gold [8.50 %] - Dry Hop 3.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz
Simcoe [13.00 %] - Dry Hop 3.0 Days
Hop
0.0 IBUs




A Word About Oxygen:
Oxygen is the IPA killer.  Oxygen is no friend of (fermented) beer.  But it is particularly mean and spiteful to IPAs.  To protect against oxygen, I take a few steps.
  • I always flush hops with CO2 before vacuum sealing
  • I minimize my contact with the finished beer after fermentation.
  • When dry-hopping, I flush hops before adding them to the fermentor.
  • Purge all carboys and kegs with CO2
  • Push sterile transfers with CO2 as detailed in the APA write up.

Bottle conditioning IPAs never worked for me.  And it was not a lack of effort.  But I have to believe that the exposure to O2 in the bottle bucket and in each individual bottle took their toll.  I also believe the secondary fermentation within the bottle degraded the hop character.  I know of some very good IPAs out there that are bottle conditioned (Bear Republic Racer 5, Bridgeport IPA, Bells Two Hearted come to mind.  But I was not able to achieve positive results until I started kegging.

The Brew Day:

This beer was an absolute blast to brew.  I managed the water profile by adding gypsum and Calcium Chloride to my preferred 3:1 Sulfate to Chloride ratio.  I checked the local water bureau for the most recent alkalinity reading and added lactic acid to reduce that number to zero.

The Mash:
Using my prepared water, I doughed in at a strike temperature calculated to mash at 150f.  This should be a dry beer and I did not want to have too much unfermented sugar left behind. There was a bit of Carapils in the recipe to prevent me from drying things out too far.  This is something I picked up from an interview with Vinnie Cilruzo
of Russian River.  Vinnie's Pliny the Elder is the benchmark for West Coast Double IPA and I would jump off a bridge if he told me it would help my IPA.

Mash 60 min at 152-150f, lauter completely and run out slowly.

I batch sparged in a single second infusion at about 168f.

The Boil:

The ridiculous hop schedule of this beer meant I needed to babysit the kettle more than I normally might.  I used small glass containers to store the hop additions and flushed them with CO2 while they waited.

The Hop Stand:
In this case, I added the final addition at flame out and allowed all the hops to soak in the warm wort for 30 min before chilling.  In the year since I originally write this post and brewed this beer, I have added a March Pump and Morebeer.com Re-Circulation Chiller .  I will make a full post regarding this equipment change the next time I brew an IPA.  But I will simply say, recirculating hops in the whirlpool was worth the investment. And the chilling efficiency is unparalleled.

The Cold Side
Once the beer had been chilled to my pitching temp, I added my yeast starter.  I can see in my notes that the fermentation temp was 64f for this beer. Which is inline with what I typically do for WLP-007.
The dry hop schedule was pretty insane for this beer.  This is the one and only time I have made three separate dry hop additions.  And I don't see myself doing this way again. 
Rather than making three distinct additions to the carboy, I foresee myself making 2 additions to the fermenter and reserving the third for the keg.  Dry hops in the keg create a lasting hop character that I'd previously been able to maintain.  Some people have remarked that dry hops in the keg can cause a grassy flavor over time.  There is absolutely NO chance this beer will ever remain in my keg for longer than 2 weeks. So that is of no concern whatsoever.


Final Thoughts
I clearly remember this beer being the best IPA I had brewed up to that point and I plan on brewing it again very soon.  There were no competitions at the time this beer was brewed so, I did not have it judged. However, I gave a growler to my friend and cicerone Connor Christeson.  He was effusive in his praise and said that he would buy and drink a "lot" of that beer if it were available commercially.  It's always great to receive feedback on your beers and there is no greater compliment than someone drinking 64oz of it in one sitting.