Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bear Flavored: Now With 100% More BYO Contributions and Homebrew Shop Management

Well, friends, it's been an interesting and fun and exhausting year so far — largely due to the effort required for my Fermented Man diet, which of course hasn't been easy, but also due to a few other things I have waited until now to announce. April is proving to be the craziest month in an already ludicrous year, and even still I have a few more announcements in my back pocket that I'll be dropping soon.

But today, I'm revealing two fun things that are happening nownow: I'm a newly-minted contributor to Brew Your Own Magazine, and also the manager of a new homebrew shop in my little town of Beacon.

My BYO article is on brewing a Brett IPA, because of course it is, and I'm quite happy with how it turned out. It's in the May / June issue and should be hitting mailboxes / shelves very soon. Though I haven't actually gotten a physical copy to read through yet, I know Mr. Mike Tonsmeire has an article in there as well, so it's obviously not an issue you want to miss. My article features some tips and info from Chris White of White Labs, Matt Walsh, head brewer at Modern Times, and Jeff "Chief" O'Neill, brewmaster at Peekskill Brewery. In addition to my own ramblings and suggestions, there's a recipe for a Brett Trois IPA of my invention (an updated version of Cairn, for astute readers of the blog), and a clone recipe for a Modern Times brew. Go check it out and let me know what you think!

And secondly, the reason I have more time to tackle additional writing these days: I'm now the manager of Beacon Homebrew, in Beacon, NY. It's been my goal and dream for a while to somehow making a living doing beer-things and talking about beer all day, and not only does running a homebrew shop happen to accomplish those things, it opens up a lot of freetime in my life to ferment, work on that whole book thing, meet other beer folk, and take on some freelance  writing.

Running a homebrew shop, tiny as it is for now, is only going to benefit the experiments and writing I can do for Bear Flavored (and whatever other writing opportunities I find.) I have more excuses and more time to brew now, more mental space to stay focused on what I'm doing, and my goal for this year is to relentlessly and obsessively perfect every style I have an interest in brewing regularly. And no, I will not be using the blog to shamelessly promote the shop, as it is, again, ridiculously tiny and locally-focused, and very few people that read Bear Flavored actually live close enough for it to matter. In the future I'll be sharing more of what I learn from the shop and leading classes, and any interesting experiences I may have. And of course, brewing lots of beer.

Thanks for reading, thanks for supporting Bear Flavored, and stay tuned for a few more announcements in the near future. It's gonna be a fun (if thoroughly exhausting) year. Check out the May / June issue of Brew Your Own Magazine, and if you enjoy the article, stop back here to discuss it, and give BYO a shout to let them know how you feel about that Bear Flavored fellow.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Robust Porter - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Porter
Brewed On: 12.23.2013
Bottled On: 1.26.2014
ABV: 8.4%

Appearance: black upon pour; pale brown evident at edges, tan foamy head
Smell: floral esters, sweet vague berry, burnt roast, vanilla, bready malts, perfume
Taste: sweet bland malts, dry bread, old coffee, slight astringency, burnt rubber
Mouthfeel: medium carbonation, medium body, oily, tongue-coating

For the sake of the ensuing discussion, let's start by lumping stouts and porters together. Brown ales too, because we're a feisty lot. To make things easier, we'll refer to this lot simply as 'dark beers.'

I enjoy dark beers quite a lot. If we're already lumping specific styles into general categories, I'd go as far as to say that dark beers may be in my top three of favorites. I can drink stouts and porters and brown ales almost any time — summer might slow me down a bit, but not entirely. Strangely, I find dark beers to be a category prone to averageness, more so than with others, while their averageness is also more forgivable at the same time.

Dark beers seem to exist within a narrow window — usually safe, but rarely exceptional.

That's just my taste, and I mean all that from the perspective of a consumer looking at commercial examples. But as a brewer, I have been aware for some time that dark beers are by far my weakest 'style.' Maybe it's the soft water here in Beacon, maybe it's my previous ignorance of how to accurately control the buffering effects of minerals and residual alkalinity in my mashes, maybe it's that I haven't brewed dark beers frequently enough to be able to pin down a pattern. Maybe I'm just super picky. The other thing that makes dark beers tricky for me: I don't find the ingredients so intuitive as different hop varieties or yeast strains, where it's easy to work with them in isolation and get a feel for their tendencies. One of these days I'm going to brew a series of test batches to really pin down which dark malts I like and which I'm kind of meh on — just 2-row and one black malt, with nothing else to dilute the flavor.

But today we're looking at a specific beer, of course; a robust porter that I brewed back in December. It's not bad. It's not great. There are maybe some low-level fermentation flaws, a floral ester note that doesn't belong, but in general, it's just kind of bland and muddled tasting. When I burp after drinking some, I occasionally notice a burnt rubber character that I find in tons of dark beers (both commercial and homebrewed.) There's little depth here; no real memorable flavors. On the other hand, I did brew it to be on the lighter side — if any style police are wondering, I'm calling it a robust porter not because it is modeled on any particular historical precedent, but because I wanted it to be strong, yet not utterly black, with brown malt playing a greater role in the recipe than roasted malts. Plenty of people I've given this batch to (without explaining anything about it) have seemed to enjoy it more than I expected. It sorts of confirms my above-expressed belief that dark beers can slip past the nets of mediocrity and survive through elusive, inscrutable okayishness.

Looking back at all the dark beers I have brewed previously, some have come out great, some have come out okay, and I'm only now starting to pin down why. Because I'm nothing if not long-winded, let's run through. An extract imperial stout that I brewed early on was overly sweet for reasons that were fairly easy to pinpoint (extract, molasses, Belgian yeast.) The next year, a rye porter came out decent, while a brown ale and a spruce dark ale came out varying degrees of bad for totally unrelated reasons. But then I've had great results with black IPAs, and last spring's hoppy Conan brown ale may still be one of my favorite batches ever. Around the same time, I brewed a version two of my rye porter, with splits aged on rosemary and chili (separately), and all three versions were excellent. Just to confirm, I drank my last two bottles of that batch next to a bottle of this current batch. The superiority of the year-old porter was undeniable.

For whatever reason, though, I gave dark beers a rest for most of last year, whipping up this one the day before I left for Pennsylvania on Christmas break. With four months to mellow out, it's shrugged off some of the noisome esters that tainted it early on, but its okayishness isn't going anywhere.

Now I'm determined to set my dark beers right. With more free time opening up in my life very soon (hooray!), I'm going to be able to concentrate a bit more on my brewdays and monitor my process a lot more meticulously than I have been for the last half year or so. The first step: finally, finally investing in a PH meter so I can actually see firsthand what's happening in my mash. 

PH is usually one of the very last factors to be addressed directly by a homebrewer (as was the case for me), and many of us that treat our water still are trusting the calculations we run, or our mere intuition. Personally, I treat water mostly towards how I want it to taste, and have primarily trusted that my PH would fall into line based on the calculations of the EZ Water spreadsheet. Well, just a few days ago, I brewed up a new stout, based on an even-more-careful scrutiny of my mineral additions and PH levels, and this time I got to measure it with an actual PH meter. Where the spreadsheet estimated a mash PH of around 5.5 (room temp), my meter read... 4.8. Whoops.

It's always best to assume user error in these things, and many others seem to have had luck with similar calculators, so I guess we'll just assume that I'm too stupid to use it and work from there. (Though I've since plugged everything into Bru'N Water, which seems to allow for more accurate and controlled predictions. I have a good feeling about it.) Maybe my attempts to calibrate my meter somehow failed spectacularly, and I'm still just flying blind. Maybe the water profile of Beacon has changed significantly, somehow, since I got it tested. Maybe my dark beers are cursed, and I'll have two mediocre dark beers in a row.

But whatever is going on, I'm not going to accept average beer, and I'm not going to rest easy until I achieve consistency. I enjoy stouts, porters and brown ales too much — and I expect them to rock just as hard as anything else.

4.75 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Fermented at 65 F, slow rise to 68 F after 4 days
OG: 1.082 / 19.8 Brix
FG: 1.018
ABV: 8.4%

68% (9.5 lbs.) 2-row malt
14.3% (2 lbs.) brown malt
7% (1 lb.) pale chocolate malt
5.4% (12 oz.) Cherrywood smoked malt
5.4% (12 oz.) rye malt

Hop Schedule-
1 oz / 48 IBU Warrior @60
2.5 oz / 40 IBU Pacific Gem @10 min

White Labs London Ale Yeast

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why Write About Beer?

This month's session will be my first time participating in the monthly beer writer's roundtable, but it's a topic I couldn't pass by: beer writing. Hosted by Heather Vandenengel (her blog: beerhobo), we're instructed: "It’s time for a session of navel-gazing: I’d like to turn a critical eye on how the media cover the beer industry. And, for a broad definition, I’ll define media as newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, TV, books and radio."

First, let's just be honest about why most of us write about beer. I mean, if we're going to complain about beer journalism's faults (something I have done many times), we should be honest about why the rest of us are doing it at all. We write about beer because we are writers and we really like beer and thus it just kind of happens. Most writing, I would argue, comes from a sort of directionless desire just to write, regardless of whether one actually has something to say. (Journalists, generally, are assigned a story, and I doubt most people write about all the horrible and or aggravating stuff that journalists normally write about because they are enthusiasts of political corruption or oil spills or what-have-you.) But me, a beer writer, well: once I passed a critical threshold of passion for beer, clearly that was the thing I would write about. And since I have a blog, I can write about whatever I want!

So the real question is: what is there one can say about beer that isn't fluff or opinion, or both? Writing is becoming more specialized, and culture is picked apart with far more fervor than it was in the days of newspapers and radio programs. But outside of analyzing every detail of True Detective or Breaking Bad — things which are indisputably vital to the maintenance of society — can we say anything worth saying about our passions, or have we created a bunch of self-sustaining cottage industries that enable us to take turns gushing about our favorite things with people who share very similar opinions, and are only waiting for their own turn to speak?

The last decade or so, most media attention ladled out to craft beer was a welcoming pat on the head by some trend-piece. Part of the reason beer journalism has sucked is that it's taken years for the media to accept that beer is just as complicated as food and wine and whiskey, if not more so. That it is a microcosm of larger agricultural and economic trends. To truly understand beer, one must catalogue a very large array of ingredients and processes and techniques, transmogrified through the magic of fermentation. No one can possibly know all there is to know about beer. I certainly don't. But it helps to write from a place of wishing to spread knowledge. And fortunately, online media is more and more specialized, allowing us who must write about beer to find what useful things there are to say about it. The future of journalism seems likely to be divided up by (and to rely on) highly specialized freelancers, now that the internet has made such a division of expertise possible. While journalism is generally viewed to be in decline, there are strong advantages to this — much of what we read is no longer day-by-day event reporting, and it makes sense to have people in the know covering specialty subjects.

Still, though: what specifically is there to write about? Inarguably, beer is a fun thing to write about, so naturally lots of us are jumping for the opportunity. And beer does affect people's lives, day to day, in a low-level way. It is part of a larger, and very important, shift in the function of local economies and local food systems. But as one of the oldest technologies known to man, fermented beverages aren't poised to change the world as suddenly and dynamically as even the most obnoxious tech trends. Writing about beer is largely a passion project or pop culture observation, and of course the writer's enthusiasm (or condescension) will show. What can we say that's actually meaningful? Why would anyone want to read about what that you drank last night? One hilarious comment quoted by Heather in her introduction to this session kindly states that all beer writers are "subhumans" pushing well-written yet "sanctimonious brown-nosing fluff." (My main argument with this commenter, and a point I hope he has since realized, is that this is true of all writers, certainly not just those who write about beer.) But he continues: "Beer journalism has almost always been a tepid affair; a moribund endeavor due to its singular objective to flatter and promote, without ever scratching beneath the surface.”

Let's break it down by what we're writing.

Reviews - Probably the most primal form of beer writing; humans seem to have an innate desire to start ranking anything we enjoy. In some sense, reviewing or recommending beer is the rawest form of beer writing, because theoretically you are simply writing about a beer, devoid of any context but how it tastes. By educating and spreading awareness (theoretically), this form of writing could possibly be among the most useful, if it were also not the most ubiquitous. (And of course I'm guilty too.)

Who's Reading? - Again theoretically: anyone. We're all out to find new beers we might enjoy. But at this point, with so many people writing beer reviews, the noise generally outweighs the benefits. One way I think beer reviews and recommendations can still be useful is to clearly establish your tastes and preferences, so a reader can get a sense of why you like what you like (and what you don't.) Context is everything. I can often tell that I will enjoy a beer just as quickly from a negative review as a positive one. When injecting opinion into anything, it's important to note subjectivity.

Recommendation Lists - The old: "this is a style, and here are 10 beers of that style you should try!" list. Theoretically similar to beer reviews, but rarely as critical in practice, the line between 'recommendation' and 'marketing fluff' can quickly be blurred.

Who's Reading? - Most likely readers exploring new realms of beer, but most beer nerds probably skip these. I'd say the same concerns apply as with reviews: establish where you're coming from, and understand who you're writing for. Subtly increase the reader's knowledge while providing a simple 'in' for them to quickly try out something different, in case that's all they're looking for.

But beyond recommending beers for others to try, still: what is the conversation? If you've got plenty of beer in your fridge already, why bother reading about beer at all? There must be more to say than just what's in the glass. Which is not to knock the basic format — it's all about providing enough information for the reader to understand why you're recommending what you're recommending.

Moving on.

News Bites - Sites like BeerPulse provide necessary news coverage of developments all across the industry without much depth or context. Exceedingly useful, but these usually don't involve a ton of deep insight, by design.

Who's Reading? - We need these services, because if we don't know what's happening, we can't say anything about it.

Regional Beer News - In many ways the broadening of the former category, regional beer news probably has the potential to be closest to traditional journalism as any of these. Opinion need not creep into these reports, but the localization makes them more relevant to readers. In my area, Chris O'Leary does a great job with this type of reporting at Brew York New York, though there are countless examples across the country. Most newspaper reporting on beer likely falls into this category.

Who's Reading? -  Similar to news bites, this sort of reporting is vital. While the localization allows a writer to inject a bit of personality, are we still actually saying anything here, or just putting up a sign to lead people in the direction of their next beer? With a blog, I think it can actually be advantageous at times to break objectivity and add commentary — provided, of course, you're trying and able to inform, rather than rant.

Profiles and Features - Where regional beer news mostly just takes a look at what's happening, and who's new, there's a difficult-to-classify realm of beer writing focused on exploring the backstories and personalities behind breweries. Not so much recommendations as elaborations, such pieces can help promote what a brewery is trying to do, while making it easier for drinkers to find new and interesting spots they might not have heard about, or just wanted to know more about. The most notable example of this type of beer writing at the moment would be the sorts of features that Beer Advocate does, as well as the photo-features of Good Beer Hunting, though very many beer writers delve into this genre at some point (including myself.)

Who's Reading? - I don't read much as much food journalism as I should, though I need to, just to get a basis for comparison. What do readers want from these feature pieces? Pretty pictures? Recommendations? How much criticism? And how many small-to-midsize breweries across the country can one read about before they start to sound the same? The inherent regionalism of craft beer often makes me wonder what the average person can really get out of beer coverage. Why would someone want to read the intimidate details of another small 7 bbl brewery out in California that they will never likely try beers from unless they happen to be in the area on vacation? What do people want to know about a brewery in the first place? If they're breaking new ground, doing something noticeably different, that's one thing. But how many people want to read the philosophy of another small brewery launching with a pale ale, a wheat beer, a pilsner, a stout and an IPA? Maybe there's a fascinating personal history there, or maybe it's just another business venture by some people who happened to have the resources. But if we pass on writing about breweries that we don't find interesting, are our profiles not themselves sort of reviews?

Man, beer is deep.

Industry Trends and Observations - A great deal of beer blogging probably falls under this category. It is a bit nebulous... but most beer blogging is rather nebulous. Content typically includes a bit of the previous categories, but with more analysis, more of the writer's personality, and maybe a few recommendations too. These are the craft beer commenters, giving an insider's perspective... mostly to other insiders.

Who's Reading? - Insiders and craft beer nerds want to read this stuff, but is there much appeal outside our hardcore demographic? Either way, I don't think there needs to be. Every industry needs commentary, and the beer industry is so dynamic — and so steeped in culture — that there's plenty of room for analysis. After all, beer news is limited by nature ("Hey look, a new beer and / or beer event"), so it may be that informed commentary is one of the few things worth writing about beer. There are plenty of good examples of this, and I particularly enjoy blogs like Boak & Bailey, Stan Hieronymus's, Bryan Roth's thisiswhyimdrunk. and lots of articles in larger publications.

Homebrewing - While most of my time spent with food-related blogs online is at recipe sites and guides for the DIY crowd, homebrewing and beer recipes form just one small corner of the beer writing world.

Who's Reading? - In my experience, homebrewing blogs seem mostly apart from the rest of the online craft community. Not that many cooking recipe sites offer restaurant-industry analysis either — I'm guessing that "making at home" and "industry analysis" are simply viewed as entirely different realms, even when they're covering the same resulting product. But here's why I started writing both homebrew recipes and beer reviews, industry rants and whatever other nonsense you find on Bear Flavored. While no one had any reason to believe I wasn't brewing completely mediocre beers, and hopefully you're all still questioning whether any of my advice is worth taking, I could hope to at least flesh out why I was writing about the beers I did, forming the opinions I did, and expressing the tastes I expressed. Context, hopefully useful information, and yes, some opinions.

Why do I write about beer? Because I'm a writer who is slightly obsessed with beer. But as brewer, I hope I can just share some occassional realization that may be of use to someone else. And as someone still passionate about the rhythms of the whole industry out there, I hope my own learning experiences can provide context to the stuff in my glass. Or your glass.

And maybe, looking back through each category I've thought of (not to say I've thought of them all — sure I neglected a few niches, and I didn't even attempt to tackle radio / TV / film) maybe that's the height of our calling as beer writers. The best we can do is to spread useful information, but there's a limit to the audience truly interested in learning detailed brewing specifics. (Which is why homebrewing blogs remain a small niche within the beer blog community.) The broadest and most helpful thing we can do — for those with a more general curiosity, especially — is to bring context.

Beer reviews and lists may fade from memory faster, but every beer could have something interesting to say, in the right place at the right time. And there needs to be, somehow, some exposure to the fact that craft beer is not homogenous. Quality varies — we don't have to be brutal on a brewery when they slip up, but I'm sure people would like to know why something might taste off. And beyond quality, there's still a need to acknowledge that we don't all have the same tastes or the same palate anyway, making the need for context in reviews and recommendations even more important. If writing an article about how hoppy beers are very prevalent in America today despite many people not having acquired a taste for them, simply pointing out "lots of people still don't enjoy hoppy beers," doesn't really explain anything useful to anyone, while explaining the framework of hoppy beer, the contextual reasons for some hoppy beers tasting different from other hoppy beers, may enable a new enthusiast to narrow down a beer that they will actually enjoy. There's a lot to know about beer — add to a reader's understanding, don't narrow it.

When there are thousands of breweries around the world mostly offering some variation on the same ten styles, a better story is needed now than just "Hey, there's beer here." Twenty years ago, "Did you know that some people make local beer?" was a novel tale; we have to work a little harder now. And we should, because there's a lot more to say. Add new details. Draw new lines. Dig up history. Make the beer world bigger, broader, more inclusive. Some stories will get told again and again, but the ones that find some memorable context will be those remembered.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shrunken Heady Topper Recipe, Plus New Tips from John Kimmich

There are always a number of factors at work when a beer explodes into the craft beer consciousness, shooting up the rankings and dominate "top" lists. There are a lot of factors and explanations and circumstances that allow some beers to fare better — and spread faster — than others. Heady Topper, The Alchemist, and John Kimmich all have a complex and fascinating story. But I think the reason Heady has the huge following it does now is as straight-forward as it is complex. This is a beer that has it both ways.

Heady Topper rewards the type of beer nerd that sits down to analyze and elaborate. It is deep, it is multi-layered, it is unique and welcomes you with a unique hop personality that other IPAs may imitate, though they don't quite get all the nuances and inflections right. When you get a really good can of Heady Topper (and certainly, you don't always), it represents the IPA's true self, pristine, and other IPAs veer into the uncanny valley of imperfect facsimile. Yes — I really enjoy a can of Heady Topper, to the point of going on record waxing poetic about it. Not necessarily because I think it is the best beer in the world or anything. You see, for all its juicy hop glory, Heady is also among the most refreshing and drinkable beers I know. Set a fresh can of Heady in front of me and I will be challenged not to empty that beautiful silver cylinder in an easy five minutes. Forget pilsners — this imperial IPA is my perfect summer camping beer. Or lawnmower beer. Or whenever beer. (Though narrowly shut out of my favorite beach beer.)

Except, whoops, it's still an 8% ABV imperial, and you'll notice sooner or later. Heady Topper drinks like a session IPA that forgot it's supposed to leave you intact for the rest of the session. So my inspiration for creating a beer called "Shrunken Heady Topper" should be pretty obvious, right?

I've had this idea for a long long time — I think almost since last summer's homebrew club attempt to clone Heady. The resulting brew from that collaboration was promising, and delicious, but the recipe was not quite there yet. We'll likely do another group attempt this summer, hopefully trying a few different variations on an updated Heady recipe. But before we get to that, I wanted to do a riff on Heady that wouldn't punish me too much for accidentally killing a fourpack in one night (if my beer came in fourpacks.) I waited, biding my time, until I got a kegging system and improved my technique for aroma preservation in IPAs, treating last month's Troika IPA as something of a test batch. I wanted to do this right. When Troika IPA was a pretty solid success, I decided it was time to give Shrunken Heady Topper a go.

The timing turned out to be perfect, as Chop & Brew recently posted a video of John Kimmich speaking in  Nashville, TN, October 2013, for the Music City Brew Off.

So the changes to this recipe are coming from three directions: the need to shrink the ABV of Shrunken Heady Topper down to around 5% while maintaining a similar body and presence, to improve upon the closeness of the hop bill based on my hunches from the last recipe, and to incorporate whatever new info we've gleaned from Alchemist mastermind Kimmich.

Collected from the video, here's a few things we've / I've learned:

Conan is also known as VPB-1188, and the strain was originally sourced from an English beer / brewery that Greg Noonan was particularly fond of. Kimmich makes it sound like the yeast had been with Noonan since opening the Vermont Pub & Brewery in 1988. (My guess: "VPB-1188" simply indicates the date and place when Conan first began its American conquest.) Kimmich has been using Conan for some 20 years now, which is pretty incredible to me. Almost since I started culturing the yeast myself, I've wondered where exactly The Alchemist gets their re-ups from. Even now they're probably not big enough for a full in-house lab, and they certainly wouldn't have had one in the early brewpub days. Larger yeast companies serve as yeast banks as well, and it seems likely that White Labs (or some other yeast bank... anyone know what other companies might even be options?) has had Conan in its vaults for 20+ years, potentially. They probably can't sell it themselves due to the proprietary nature of yeast banking, but someone has it. (This leads to the interesting scenario of other yeast companies harvesting Conan independently, from cans of Heady Topper, and banking it at White Labs separate from the original isolates of Conan. Which leads to some interesting ownership questions: at what point could White Labs [or another large yeast company] start selling it themselves from outside sources, or are they locked into mere banking of various incarnations of the same strain?)

Kimmich recommends a few yeast strains that he finds close to the character of Conan. First off is "Wyeast British Ale III," which I don't believe is the exact name of a strain, so far as my Googling can dig up. I believe he perhaps meant to say London Ale III, a strain offered by Wyeast that rumors say Hill Farmstead may use — and Shaun Hill apparently once also had access to Conan, as I've also heard, so that would kind of make sense? Kimmich also recommends German Ale for a similar character, and even just based on the Wyeast page for it, this sounds worth trying. At some point in the future I'll hopefully get to do a split batch comparing these various strains in one base beer.

On to water. Kimmich acknowledges that he slaughters a virgin in every brew before mashing in, but for most of us, this is already standard process. (Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Brettanomyces R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.) He says to aim for a mash ph of 5.1 to 5.3 — presumably he means at mash temps, as 5.4 - 5.6 ph is considered standard at room temp measurement. Having just bought a ph meter, I'm still getting the hang of recording my actual mash ph (as opposed to the mash ph as simply calculated by Bru'n water), but he makes it clear that any beer over the proper mash ph will be a "muddled piece of shit," and it's best to err on the low side. Fair enough.

As far as the hops: you'll maybe remember that that last recipe my club brewed, based mostly on the intrepid work of Signpost Brewing and HomeBrewTalk members, used a massive amount of hops, something like 1 pound per five gallons. Kimmich immediately debunks the statement that Heady uses "tons of hops," suggesting that the ratios he's heard from some clone recipes are far higher than what the brewery actually adds to the beer. Part of this is almost certainly scale and technique — as one might assume from a brewery at the top of its game, Kimmich alludes to "proprietary techniques" he's developed for dry-hopping, though it's left pretty open what those may be. He does say concretely that they dry-hop for 4 to 5 days, never more. Whirlpooling lasts for about an hour. The Alchemist uses only pellets, never whole hops, and does not add any hops during the boil, only CO2 hop extract (and all the hops after flameout.) I seem to be all out of Hop Shots, so I just used a fraction of an ounce of CTZ for FWH.

Almost all those pointers fall under the category of "general advice," and none really help us to lock down the unique makeup of Heady Topper. But that's fine — if I were in a position like Kimmich is, I'd give advice of the exact same sort. Having a mystery neatly unraveled for you is no fun, and if he can teach improved brewing techniques to those seeking simply to clone his recipe, it's ultimately best for everyone.

The main take-away, for me, is that my hopping techniques can always be improved, though dry-hopping in a secondary "conditioning" keg purged with CO2 is a fine start, and at least puts me on the same general plane as most breweries in regards to the oxygen-thwarting tools available to me. While I scaled down the total amount of hops in Shrunken Heady Topper already due to that whole "shrunken" part, I'm probably still using more than Kimmich would, from the sounds of it. I'm okay with that. Efficiency isn't as good at the homebrew scale, and I also don't have access to the freshest, highest-quality hops that the Alchemist is now contracting for. To a homebrewer, a few extra bucks and an extra ounce or two of hops isn't all that big of a deal. Not if it makes 5 gallons of beer emulating a world-class IPA.

Assuming I don't screw anything up here, and the results are anything close to actual Heady Topper (but lower ABV), the real question is: can I make the keg last more than one highly unproductive weekend?

5.33 Gal., All Grain
Brewed 3.23.2014
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 150 degrees for 65 minutes
Fermented at 66 F, let warm slowly to 70 after 3 days
OG: 1.049
ABV: 5~%

85.3% (8 lbs) Pearl malt
10.7% (1 lb) white wheat malt
4% (6 oz) CaraMalt

Hop Schedule-
0.2 oz CTZ @FWH
0.5 oz CTZ @0
0.5 oz Simcoe @0
0.5 oz Apollo @0
0.5 oz CTZ @ whirlpool
1 oz Simcoe @ whirlpool
1 oz Amarillo @ whirlpool
0.5 oz Apollo @ whirlpool
1 oz CTZ dry hop
1 oz Simcoe dry hop
1 oz Apollo dry hop
1 oz Amarillo dry hop

The Alchemist Conan Ale Yeast

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Citra / Centennial / Apollo IPA - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Citra / Centennial / Apollo IPA

Beer: Troika IPA
Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: American IPA
Brewed: 1.29.14
Kegged On: 2.16.14
ABV: 5.7%

Appearance: orange gold, soft lingering haze, ample head with good retention
Smell: bright citrus hops, orange, tropical fruit, mango, grapefruit, slight dankness
Taste: orange citrus, tropical rich fruit, mango, sweet creamsicle, creamy malts
Mouthfeel: full body, creamy presence, medium carbonation, very soft bitterness

In spite of their ubiquitous presence in craft beer bars and the style's unrelenting popularity, it's actually not all that easy to find a really great IPA — unless you happen to live close to the right breweries. (In my opinion, anyway.) Non-fans are quick to dismiss IPAs as an easy style to brew, because you can just dump a bunch of hops in to cover up flaws. On some level, this is true: it's easier to brew an average / acceptable IPA than with most styles. Still, I maintain that it's incredibly hard to brew a great IPA — as evidenced, in my humble opinion, by the fact that there are so few breweries doing so. The market is littered with thousands of average IPAs.

Not all of this is the fault of brewer's exactly. The dirty secret of IPAs is that packaging and freshness can cripple an otherwise solid IPA just as readily as brewing flaws.

So, needless to say, I'm still chasing the harpoon-studded tail of the Perfect IPA, and likely will be for some time. But I'm getting closer. At the risk of sounding full of myself, let's just say that it's getting harder and harder to go the bar and order an IPA that doesn't leave me feeling disappointed. 

That's not entirely me being a smarmy pretentious beer snob, though: we homebrewers have a few advantages when it comes to brewing IPAs. For starters — and this is a big one — there's no guessing as to how fresh the beer is. No shipping, no sitting in a cellar, no getting neglected at the bottom of a tap list for weeks until someone kills the keg. (Hopefully no dirty taplines, either.) And more importantly, any beer we brew is going to be exactly catered to our own tastes. So long as we have the skill, we can make the beer we want to drink far more specifically than any commercial brewer ever could.

But there are cons, too — significant cons in the case of IPAs. While I think that my IPAs have generally gotten better and better over time, there was always something naggingly not-perfect about the hop character, something in the aroma that didn't jell quite as coherently as I knew it could, and some lack of vibrance that made the beer fall apart far too soon. However good they were for the first week or two, there was something that seemed to 'muddle' the hop character and hold it back from transcendence. I always suspected that that muddling, limiting factor was oxygen. O2 is Kryptonite to hops, and regardless of the CO2 blanket that helpfully protects our beers during and after fermentation, oxygen is going to get into your beer once you start dry-hopping and bottling. 

And this, ultimately, is why I started kegging. Not convenience, not the time-saving, but simply to have more tools to protect my IPAs from oxygen-pickup. 

Troika IPA, a showcase of a three-hop combo that I'm quite fond of, was more of a test batch than anything, and I tried to use up some old-ish hops I had sitting in the freezer just in case I screwed something up and turned my keg into a beer fire hose. Which is not to say that it was a throw-away recipe: the combination of Citra, Centennial and Apollo hops is incredibly appealing to me, and I think one of the many secrets of great IPAs is finding a few complimentary hops that work to enhance each other's best qualities, rather than competing for attention. Citra is a bit funky, Centennial is distinctly New American, and Apollo is extremely dank, but all are very fruit-forward hops with a bent toward orange citrus character. Each adds tropical touches and a juicy character, but together they cohere wonderfully, creating a flavor that's distinct and memorable while also super refreshing. Fermented by Conan yeast and with a decent percentage of wheat in the grain bill to give the brew a creamy mouthfeel, there are definitely shades of Heady Topper in this one — both beers I get a pronounced "creamy orange citrus juice" quality from. The Citra, Centennial and Apollo hop combo is one I will be using again — as far as IPA concepts go, I think "Troika" has been firmly established in my roster.  

Which is not to say it still can't be improved. I would be neglectful if I didn't mention a few shortcomings with this batch that were mostly the result of me being scatterbrained lately. As I mentioned, I dashed this one off quick just to test out my new kegging techniques and equipment, so I was careless with a few things. Intended to be a stronger IPA than it came out, I had meant to add some corn sugar to this after a few days in primary. Not only did I forget that addition, but the reliably-unreliable Conan yeast decided to finish a few points high on this batch. With a terminal gravity of 1.014, it's noticeably fuller than it should be, finishing with a touch of lingering sweetness that the low level of bitterness doesn't tame. I love the soft creamy mouthfeel of the beer, but I need to achieve the same thing with a lower FG and less residual sugar. The wheat is already there to pull off that trick, so it shouldn't be hard to fix most of these issues with the next rebrew.

While I still have a few adjustments to make to my technique (I clogged up four dip-tubes with this batch), my new CO2-blanketed dry-hopping technique is already paying off. There was a noticeable improvement in the hop aroma here, both in coherence, vibrancy and longevity. It's the best put-together IPA I've made so far, and one of my favorite-tasting batches of beer. Perhaps the best indication of its quality: I killed this keg a week before I published this post about it. That marks the first time I've ever finished drinking an entire batch before I could actually blog about it... and that's saying something.

5 Gal., All Grain
Brewed 1.29.2014
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 150 degrees for 70 minutes
Fermented at 66 F, let warm slowly to 70 after 3 days
OG: 1.057
FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.7%

87.8% (9 lbs) 2-row malt
9.8% (1 lb) white wheat malt
2.4% (4 oz) Caramalt

Hop Schedule-
0.25 oz Apollo @FWH
0.75 oz Apollo @0
3 oz Citra @ whirlpool
2 oz Citra dry hop for 6 days
2 oz Centennial dry hop for 6 days

The Alchemist Conan Ale Yeast

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