Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Brew Day: Geary's Summer Ale Clone

As a homebrewer it is possible to brew hard to find beers like an Australian Sparkling Ale. It is also possible to attempt to clone specific commercial beers. Homebrew shops and websites sell tons of commercial clone kits, occasionally they have hilarious names that thinly veil the beer the kit is attempting to clone. A year ago I attempted my own clone of The Substance by Bissell Brothers Brewing in Portland, Maine. At the time it was the hot, new IPA on the market. One year later people still line up outside the brewery. This time around I am cloning a beer from New England's oldest craft brewery.

Traditional brick boil kettle designed by Alan Pugsley.
Mash tun at the DL Geary brewery.

DL Geary Brewing was incorporated in 1983, one year before Samuel Adams, and started producing beer in 1986. David Geary spent three years in Britain learning his trade.  He spent time at the Ringwood Brewery owned by influential English craft-beer pioneer Peter Austin. Another disciple of Peter Austin named Alan Pugsley, who would later become head brewer and partner at Shipyard Brewing, helped set up the brewery.

Geary's produces mostly British-style ales. As the market has become dominated super-hoppy American ales and IPAs, Geary's traditional English ales are sometimes lost in the shuffle. My cousin/brewing partner Andy, his brother, and now his wife are huge fans of Geary's. My favorite Geary's brew is the Hampshire Special Ale (HSA), which under the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Guidelines I'd classify as a British Strong Ale. We tried brewing a clone of HSA two years ago. We didn't pitch enough yeast, drank a lot during that brew day, and from what I was told the beer was probably infected. Determined to get it right we purchased this clone kit and will try again.

Geary's Summer Ale might be Andy's favorite summer beer. During a recent visit to the brewery we brought back an extra 12-pack for Andy. Geary's Summer Ale is an interesting "summer ale". It's darker and sweeter than most summer beers, with a dry finish. While drinking the beer I was curious if there was a clone kit, or if anyone had attempted a clone recipe. Unfortunately after several minutes of thorough and rigorous research I wasn't able to find anything online. I checked the Geary's website for clues. Here are the brewer's notes:
The style of this ale is traditionally European, similar to a German kolsch: full bodied with a spicy hop tang and a rich, crystal clear golden color. Alcohol content is approximately 6% by volume.

Looking at and tasting the beer it is clearly not a kölsch in the . My guess is "similar to a German kolsch" means the beer is an Altbier, a malty and bitter German amber ale. Long Trail Ale would be the most prominent example that's locally available. Altbiers typically use mostly base malts, with small percentages of caramel/Cara Munich malts to add body and malt flavor, and roasted malts can be used for color and to dry out the finish.

The ingredients were also listed on the website as: Two row English malt (clarity, wheat and caramalt); Magnum, Tettnang and Saaz hops. I played around with the amounts of English base malt, light English Crystal malt, and chocolate malt in BeerSmith until I matched the color. I initially thought the dry finish was the result of a small amount of chocolate malt. I also couldn't match the color without it. In the end I added a very small amount of chocolate malt as something of a compromise even though it is not listed on the website. The rest of the malts are all very light in color and flavor.

Holding a Geary's Summer Ale up to the light to try and match the color.
The Alstom brothers on Beer Advocate made note of the distinctive esters from the Ringwood Ale yeast. German ale yeasts typically used in altbiers have a much cleaner flavor and have a higher attenuation than Ringwood ale yeast. To compensate I will mash at a lower temperature to make sure the beer finishes as dry as possible. The somewhat high starting gravity, wheat, and caramalt will still give the beer the "full body" touted in the description.

Compared to other breweries that use Ringwood yeast like Shipyard, the esters and buttery diacetyl flavor in Geary's Summer Ale are much more restrained. We pitched more yeast to help the beer attenuate and finish with as clean of a flavor as possible. I gave the beer a burst of pure oxygen from my tank and diffusion stone to help ensure a complete fermentation.

I adjusted the water for each beer as well. This is an area where even when brewing a kit the brewer has some additional latitude within a recipe. Some brewers will copy the water of certain brewing regions depending on what he/she is brewing. For example, if brewing a stout a brewer may try to copy the mineral content of the water in Dublin. For the Summer Ale I attempted to match the water of Dusseldorf where altbier is prominent. With the HSA clone I attempted to match the water in Edinburgh which is ideal for rich, malty ales.

Like Geary's we will be open fermenting the beers. We carried our fermentation buckets down to Andy's basement and left the lids off. There is an element of danger that the beers could be infected. Any wild yeast or bacteria that tries to find it's way into the beer will have to deal with several hundred billion cells of yeast that we pitched. Once active fermentation is done after a few days we will put the lids back on.

Geary's IPA in an open fermenter. The layer of yeast at the top protects the wort from the elements.
After our first experience, an HSA clone was our white whale so to speak. I have been waiting to brew the Summer Ale clone since we visited the brewery this past summer. This is my first time brewing with Ringwood yeast and open fermenting. I am anxious to see how these beers turn out!

Click here for the Geary's Summer Ale Clone recipe.

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