Friday, August 26, 2016

Coping with the saddest time of the year

Maybe it is the kid in me, but summer is still my favorite time of year. Summer means daylight at 8:30, days at the beach, dips in the pool, fresh burgers off the grill, and refreshing summer beers. My birthday is in the middle of August and has always symbolized to me the beginning of the end of summer. Now as an adult it coincides with fall beers hitting the shelves.

Image result for end of summer

Last week I purchased two 12-packs of summer beer to get me through the rest of the actual summer. If I find more summer beer out there this weekend, I might add to my stash and save them for “sponge-worthy” occasions.

My feelings toward seasonal beer have evolved to a degree. I still dislike seasonal creep and express my displeasure with my wallet by not buying seasonal beer too early, but I have grown to accept it and not let it bother me. At the same time, I don’t want to be locked in to drinking only beer that is “in season”.

As much as I enjoy Oktoberfest-style beers in the fall, and big imperial stouts in the winter, I think I will brew some summer beers in the fall to enjoy during the winter. As fleeting as summer can be, maybe having 12 ounces of liquid summer during the depths of winter will be enough to warm the spirit.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Brew Day: US of IPA – Flyover IPA (Midwest IPA)

The  US of IPA  is a project where I will brew four regionally inspired American IPAs. I will be pouring all four at the North Shore Brewers tent  New England Homebrewers Jamboree. Jamboree is an event open to the public to benefit Make a Wish. Tickets are available  here.

With the first three IPAs that I brewed I had a few concepts simple concepts to wrap my head around: New England IPA: hazy appearance, juicy hop flavor, soft mouthfeel; East Coast IPA: balanced with an English influence; West Coast IPA: blonde color and highly aromatic. Leaving the relatively new New England IPA to the side, Midwest IPAs are somewhere in the middle between an East Coast and West Coast IPA. Hoppy, but not the one-dimensional hop bombs you find on the West Coast. They are balanced and malty, but not usually as dark and caramelly as an East Coast IPA. Examples that you can buy in Massachusetts would be Anti Hero IPA by Revolution, Founders Centennial IPA.


Out of all of my IPA recipes, the Midwest IPA was the last to come together. Without a couple of bullet points I knew I needed to hit, I put off designing the recipe. During the Regional American IPA: What’s Up with All the Crystal Malt? seminar, Carrie Knose singled out Modus Hoperandi by Ska Brewing as a beer she always goes back to. I found a clone of Modus and used that as my starting point.

Modus is noticeably darker than most Midwest IPAs which is another reminder that these regional differences aren’t absolutes. There is no Maginot Line that once crossed IPAs become dramatically different. Since I want my beers to be representative of these regional differences, I went about lightening the color of beer. I still used 120L Crystal malt, but I lowered the percentage of the grist. To compensate for the loss in body and head retention from decreasing the crystal malt, I added a small amount of malted wheat. Whereas Broken Fist used Briess 2-row barley, I used Great Western 2-row. I also used some Vienna malt to add a light toasted quality. On brew day I threw in a few ounces of Weyerman Dark Munich malt when I was a couple ounces short of Caramel 120.

Once I had the malt color and flavor where I wanted in my head, it was time to focus on the hops; this is an IPA after all! When looking over the recipes for Broken Fist,
Haze for Daze, and Age of Sail I had a few great IPA hops I hadn’t used yet: Simcoe, Centennial, and Amarillo. Centennial is the single hop used in one of the great Midwest IPAs: Bell’s Two Hearted. Not available in Massachusetts, I always seek out Two Hearted when I am in a state that Bell’s distributes to. When I was struggling for ideas for a Midwest IPA, I thought about brewing a Two Hearted Clone. Needless to say Centennial is perfect for a Midwest IPA.

Simcoe is very sticky and piney. Simcoe is synonymous with West Coast IPAs, Pliny the Ender in particular. I used Simcoe for bittering, and judiciously later on to add complexity while trying to make sure it doesn’t throw off the balance. Amarillo is one of the most popular aroma hops used in IPAs. I added some at flameout, and will have Amarillo make up a plurality of the dry hops. Taking a cue from Carrie’s beer, there will be one dry hop for ten days.

For my yeast I was debating using a more balanced strain like Wyeast 1272, or trying to culture up Bell’s house yeast from Oberon bottle dregs. I went back through the Regional American IPA presentation slides and remembered that Carrie said that while her house strain is Dry English Ale, most brewers in the Midwest use Chico. Having had a bad experience with Dry English Ale fermenting at too high of a temperature, I wasn’t about to try again in the middle of August. Beyond that Chico made sense to me on a couple of levels. It is the most common yeast used in the Midwest; Dale Katechis of Oskar Blues said on Brew Dogs that it is their house strain. At its core Midwest IPA is a middle-of-the-road IPA. If I am going to brew a representative example, using a neutral yeast like Chico makes sense. I also had a free sachet of Mangrove Jack’s M44 (presumably their version of Chico) from Homebrew Con. With all of the brewing I have to do before Jamboree, being able to use a dry yeast means it’s one less yeast starter I have to worry about.

After missing my target volume on my last two three gallon BIAB batches, I adjusted my settings in BeerSmith and was right on the money with my target volume this time. If there is one thing I can take away from this project it has helped me dial in my system through sheer repetition. The only difficulty I had was chilling my wort. When the ground water is warm like it is in the summer there is less of a difference in temperature between the water you are using to chill your beer and the beer itself. I had to let the beer chill overnight before pitching my yeast. I ended up using a swamp cooler when I brewed Haze for Daze.

I almost had enough beer to fill the keg. I did a better job accounting for boil off, but didn’t account for hop absorption. I won’t be able to taste this beer until everyone else does at Jamboree.

Click here for the recipe.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Brew Day: US of IPA – Haze for Daze IPA (New England IPA)

The  US of IPA  is a project where I will brew four regionally inspired American IPAs. I will be pouring all four at the North Shore Brewers tent  New England Homebrewers Jamboree. Jamboree is an event open to the public to benefit Make a Wish. Tickets are available  here.
Commercial beers change over time. Even when they are purported to be the exact same as they have always been, they will evolve as ingredients and processes change. More often though, a commercial brewer will make changes to a beer that they think will make the beer better. One beer that has changed is Bissell Brothers The Substance. On the right is The Substance purchased in August 2014, and on the left is The Substance as it appears in August 2016.
When I cloned the beer two years ago the grist was 86% 2-row, 7% flaked barley, and 7% flaked rye. The finished beer was quite clear; especially compared to hazy New England IPAs. Over time the appearance of the beer has changed. Since I only pick up cans a few times a year it is easy for me to spot, but the beer has definitely gotten hazier.
Beyond just the appearance I do get a slickness in the mouthfeel consistent with oats, while I no longer get any noticeable rye flavor. Maybe this is just my visual bias, meaning I see a hazy beer and based on what I see I start to feel and taste things based on what I am seeing. With that caveat, my guess is that Bissell Brothers replaced the flaked rye with flaked oats. The hop flavor and aroma feels similar but if a blend of six or seven hops is changed it is hard to identify a major difference.
When I started planning my New England IPA for the US of IPA my starting point was The Sustenance, but I wanted to adjust the recipe to make the beer more like how The Substance is now and not how it was in 2014. I wasn't going to be married to the hops from The Sustenance recipe. On a podcast Noah Bissell said he designed The Substance to use less sought-after hop varieties. As a new, tiny brewer it would be difficult to obtain in-demand hops like Citra and Mosaic. In that spirit my original plan was to buy the least expensive American hops I could find and make a hazy version of The Sustenance. Then I realized I had all of these free hops from Homebrew Con. What is cheaper than free?
I used three new hop varieties. I had four ounces of Pekko which I found the aroma to be quite tart and citrusy, almost lime-like. I also had two ounces of 007 hops which I found to be equal parts citrusy, herbal and spicy. For my dry hops I added an ounce of Triple Pearle which was similar to 007, if perhaps a bit more spicy and peppery.
In the interest of variety, I switched out the base malt from The Sustenance with Pearl malt which is what The Alchemist is rumored to use in Heady Topper. Drawing further inspiration from Heady, I chose to use Vermont Ale yeast. The Conan strain as it's called has an obscenely high attenuation. It will convert more sugars into alcohol than almost any other British or American strain (Conan is rumored to be English in origin). I added a higher percentage of flaked oats and wheat to try and make sure the beer doesn't finish too dry.
I haven't used Conan in two years. When I last used it, I harvested some yeast and froze it for future use. When freezing yeast two things are critical: you need to blend in one-part glycerin and two parts water before freezing, and you need to make sure the yeast doesn't thaw at all in the freezer. The glycerin protects the yeast cell walls from being punctured by frozen water crystals. Thawing and refreezing, which is essentially how a frost-free freezer works, puts the yeast's cell walls at risk each time it freezes. To hedge against this, I packed the yeast in a bag with an ice pack to try and make sure the yeast stayed frozen.
To try and revive my frozen Conan I let it thaw slowly in the refrigerator. I then added it to a diluted 800ML yeast starter and let it go on my stir plate. It took almost two days for there to be the faintest sign of any fermentation. I didn't trust that I had enough viable cells, so I bought a package of Giga Yeast's Vermont IPA strain. The nice thing about their packaging is that it comes with a "double pitch" which contains double the cells that Wyeast or White Labs include in their packages. I was able to pitch the package directly into my wort while still ensuring I had a proper pitching rate.
 

This was the final batch I brewed (if not blogged about) as part of the project. I had planned to brew all of the US of IPA beers during my vacation. That turned out to be too much brewing in too short of a period of time. I brewed this batch on a Wednesday night during the biggest heat wave of the year. Even with my air conditioner on high all day, the temperature didn't get much below 80F. I was able to use a swamp cooler to allow my beer to ferment in the high 60s.
As a kicker while I was brewing I realized I still hadn't packaged Broken Fist. I had planned to take care of that on Sunday, but ended up going to Lynch Park for the Homecoming fireworks instead. The beer being in contact with the dry hops for a few extra days isn't the worst thing in the world. I am glad the beer wasn't in contact with the dry hops for more than two weeks. That would have imparted plenty of grassy notes. Especially with the amount of hops I used.
Click here for the recipe.
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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Brew Day: US of IPA – Age of Sail IPA (East Coast IPA)

The US of IPA is a project where I will brew four regionally inspired American IPAs. I will be pouring all four at the North Shore Brewers tent New England Homebrewers Jamboree. Jamboree is an event open to the public to benefit Make a Wish. Tickets are available here.
At a recent North Shore Brewers meeting, I was discussing with a fellow club member named John how the Ipswich Ale Brewery has changed many of their seasonal beers over the last few years. Although I enjoy their new products, I do miss the old Winter Ale and Harvest Ale. Ipswich isn’t alone among New England breweries to change their lineup. The English-influenced IPAs that the East Coast, or at least New England used to be known for are losing shelf space, tap lines, and the consciousness of beer drinkers to hazy New England IPAs, and more assertive West Coast IPAs.
To that point, John said that his favorite IPA was Gentile IPA. Per Gentile’s website: “Light caramel malts add a touch of sweetness to the bitterness provided by American and English hops, providing the way for a balanced beer that is great to pair with food. No palate fatigue here.” He said that he enjoyed Gentile IPA because it reminded him of what East Coast IPA used to taste like and represent.
As much as I love hop bombs, I don’t want to live in a world where a more balanced IPA is considered old-fashioned or obsolete. There should be a place for both. What I wanted to accomplish with this beer is to make something that is an homage to the legacy of New England brewing. In the beginning our craft beer had a particularly strong English influence. Many of the first IPAs made in New England featured English base malts and yeast, complemented with caramel malts and for flavor and body. Local examples of a traditional East Coast-style IPA beyond Gentile IPA are Ipswich India Pale AleBerkshire Brewing Company Lost Sailor IPA, and Wachusett IPA (Purple Can). Balanced and restrained, these are beers that become more drinkable with each sip. When we were in Philadelphia we closed the hotel bar and each Yards IPA tasted better than the last.
Harpoon IPA also needs to be mentioned as one of the first IPAs brewed on the East Coast. It isn’t as dark in color or as English-inspired as some of the other IPAs I mentioned. It still exhibits a similar malt/hop balance to be comfortably considered a traditional East Coast IPA.
Outside of New England, as you go south, IPAs generally aren’t quite as English-inspired in the sense that they don’t necessarily use English hops and yeasts, but they do have more malt flavor than most IPAs from the West Coast. However, as I formulated my East Coast IPA recipe I wanted to pay homage to the English-inspired IPAs that used to be synonymous with New England beer. I started my recipe with Jamil Zainasheff’s English IPA recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I drew further inspiration from Ipswich IPA, Wachusett’s IPAs, and several other beers as I formulated my recipe.
One of my parameters for the project was that each beer would use completely different hops. This beer really should have Cascade hops, but I am already using it in Broken Fist. I made it a point to use two seminal American hops that aren’t commonly associated with IPAs: Willamette and Mt. Hood. I read an article recently that you don’t need to use “IPA hops” like Citra, Cascade, Centennial, or Chinook to make a great IPA. Revolution Brewing proved that with their Crystal Hero IPA. I look forward to trying that for myself.
For a while in the 1990s a Ringwood yeast character was synonymous with East Coast beer. As an ode to DL Geary, Shipyard, and Federal Jack’s it felt appropriate to use it here. Given that one of my self-imposed limitations with the US of IPA project was that each beer would use a different yeast to further differentiate the beers it made even more sense.
Originally I was going to use mostly English malts as well, but then I saw that Beer & Wine Hobby started carrying Stone Path Malts made right here in New England. What could be better for an old-school New England IPA than a bit of New England terrior? Stone Path has a Pale Ale malt that is similar in color to Maris Otter. Also available is a Caramel 40 and Dark Munich malt. The grist is 99% New England malt, I did add a small amount of Light Chocolate malt for color and to dry out the finish.
I brewed the beer on the first day of a stay-cation. The brew day itself was okay. I ended up with only 2.5 gallons of wort which I topped off with some additional filtered water. Since I will be filling a three-gallon keg, I really wanted to have three gallons. I pitched a two-month old starter of Ringwood that was made for a beer I never ended up brewing. It took about 36 hours for there to be signs of fermentation. I remember Andy telling me the Geary’s clones took a bit of time. I just hope I didn’t under pitch and end up with a diacetyl bomb. My plan is to move the fermenter to a warmer location after a few days to try and prevent that from happening.
I still have two IPAs to brew that need to be ready for the second weekend of September. Time isn’t exactly on my side at this point.
Click here for the recipe.
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