Monday, August 1, 2011

Recipe and Tasting Notes: Citra IPA (ver. 1)

As much as I love making beer, my true
strength is as a food photographer, clearly.
Citra IPA ver. 1
6% ABV / 90 IBU
brewed on June 3rd
age at tasting: 7 weeks
2.5 gallon batch

Grains: 0.3 lb cara-pils / 0.25 lb wheat
Malts: 3 lb extra light DME / 12 oz clover honey
Hop Schedule: 
1 oz centennial @60
0.5 oz citra @15
0.5 oz citra @0
1 oz citra dry hopped
Yeast: Wyeast American Ale II

If you don't care about any of my rambling preface, feel free to skip down a bit. I'll mark where the actual review starts and the explanations / backstory / bullshit stop.

So here we are, the very first completely Bear Flavored ale of my own design. While my peach hefeweizen was sort of an original creation, the base hefe recipe was taken from Brooklyn Homebrew and simply adapted to my needs. This, though, isn't based on any recipe whatsoever, just my own whims.

Here's the inspiration: the world of beer is a magical, growing world. IPAs have been especially fun in the last 20 years, because unlike other ingredients used in alcoholic beverages, new hops are being developed all the time, creating totally new, unique flavors. One of the newest and most interesting breeds of hops is called "citra," and since it was just created in 2008, not many breweries have had a chance to work with it yet. But after trying a few beers that used it, and reading descriptions online, I knew I had to give it a try. Citra hops have this unbelievably potent aroma — it's a nice hoppy smell, but with hints of mango and peach. It's... amazing. I want candles made of it. I want clothing made out of it. And obviously, I wanted to use it in some beer as soon as possible. So it was time to design an IPA around it.

I read from a number of homebrewers online that citra isn't great as a bittering hop, despite its relatively high alpha acid content, and might lead to some weird flavors instead of the nice clean bitterness I wanted. I decided to use centennial as a bittering hop instead, as it met all those qualifications — mid-level alpha acid content, floral fruity qualities, and a clean unaggressive bitterness.

Here's where I screwed up a bit. It's summer, I needed to ferment my beer at reasonably cool temperatures, and therefore, the beer needed to fit in my temp-controlled mini fridge. So I started brewing smaller 2.5 gallon batches. And for half sized batches, I figured I could mostly just cut the amount of ingredients in half, with a few adjustments. For an IPA, I'd want about 5 or 6 ounces of hops per 5 gallons — here, I decided to use two ounces of hops in the boil and another ounce for dry hopping. I didn't consider that I just couldn't split things in half like that without also adjusting the timing of the hop schedule. True, I was only adding a total of two ounces of hops to the boil, but I was still adding a full ounce of centennial at sixty minutes, and with half as much wort, that led to far greater hops utilization. Long story short, when I put my recipe into some brewing software, I realized I had brewed an IPA with 91 IBUS. Most IPAs land somewhere around 50 to 70 IBUS — 91 is hitting imperial range. But Imperial IPAs usually have double the malts too, to give them enough sweetness to balance things out. I was using pilsner malts with very little of anything that would add malty sweetness. In fact, I was purposefully trying to go in the complete opposite direction from my first, recipe-based IPA, which was way too malty. I had brewed this IPA to be as dry and hop-focused as can be. Whoops.

Well, my first taste of the beer after a week of aging confirmed what I feared — there was absolutely no sweetness, and it was incredibly bitter, dry, and tart. It was a lot like drinking grapefruit juice. I liked it, but I knew it was absurdly unbalanced and only major hopheads would enjoy it. Then I let it age for another two weeks, before trying another bottle.

Actual Review: You'll hear it a lot from homebrewers, but what an incredible difference just a few weeks of aging makes. This IPA went from an overwhelming bitterness that washed out any other flavors, to a dry-but-smooth, super citrusy west coast style IPA. Don't get me wrong, it's still unbalanced. It's still bitter, but somehow, the bitterness seems smooth and fairly refreshing now. I'm actually really happy with this one. I like IPAs on this end of the spectrum, and it has a good amount of fruitiness to make up for its lack of sweetness. It's smooth and drinkable and extremely hoppy. It doesn't taste exactly like any other IPAs I've had, but there's no weirdness to make it unique in a "Oh huh... that's... different" kind of way.

This won't be my go-to IPA recipe, obviously. It fits a particular whim, but it also doesn't really satisfy what I was trying to accomplish — an IPA based around the strong, unique character of citra hops. After recently discovering a few other breweries with citra IPAs (and you can read those reviews here) I've concluded that maybe citra hops are just very difficult to make taste the way they smell. I know it can be done, because I've had at least one beer like that. But most citra IPAs have a unique taste that isn't necessarily directly fruity — the fruitness is there, but alongside something else. My IPA, unlike those others, took on more of a grapefruit flavor, wrapped around some tasty citrusy hop flavors. Citra creates a very interesting mouthfeel, but I think the trick to getting those strong aromas to come out is a massive amount of dry hops.  In this case, I obviously leaned a lot more toward a bittering hop profile, and that clearly took over. I'd like a citra IPA to have modest IBUs, I think — otherwise, citra may as well be any number of other American hops.

Future Revisions: In this case, having ordered extra citra hops, I ended up brewing a version 2.0 not long after this one, so I'll already have a comparison in a few weeks. I actually didn't change that much for the second version, and I still kind of messed up the IBU calculations. Number 2 is end-hop loaded instead of front hop loaded, though, so there should be some differences. We'll see. Other than that, I guess I would just tweak my recipe to make it more "balanced," with maybe gold malt extract instead of extra light DME, even less bittering hops, and at least double the amount of dry hops.


  1. It's really refreshing! and delicious.

  2. you should have come to the math expert and you would not have had these problems.

    also, beer is not a food.


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