Thursday, May 23, 2013

Simcoe Single Hop Pale Ale - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Simcoe Single Hop Pale Ale

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: American Pale Ale
Brewed: 3.31.2013
ABV: 5.3%

Appearance: pale copper / bronze, good clarity, fluffy head, good lacing
Smell: pine needles, citrus, peach, soft mellow berry, perfume
 pine, soft bitterness, peach, citrus, soft mellow berry
Mouthfeel: soft, light body, crisp finish, medium carbonation, mild bitterness

Most of the experiments I perform, I do so because I think they have the potential to lead to great, interesting beer that few commercial breweries are even attempting. Beer has so much room for growth and creativity, and judging by many of the talented, creative homebrewers I follow, homebrewers are often leading the charge. But not all experiments are leaps into the unknown — many are simply to shore up my own incomplete knowledge. Single hop beers rarely make for the best possible beer, and as such, they're often an educational tool more than a stab at recipe perfection. But I view them as necessary stepping stones in the path to beery Valhalla. Since I've somehow never brewed a single hop Simcoe ale before now, it was time to notch that one off my list.

I brewed a handful of single hop beers in 2012 (Galaxy, Rakau, Nelson Sauvin, Belma), but it's been a while since my last "basic pale ale / IPA" brew, so it's nice to see that my technique and process have come a long way in the meantime (especially since I've begun treating my water). This beer hits all the points in terms of style, and shows significant improvement over my hoppy beers from a year ago. Does that mean it's a perfect pale ale? Nope. I'd still like to be extracting more hop character and aroma than I am for the amounts I use. Pale ales are a little more forgiving than super-hopped IPAs (in that a lack of intensity isn't a flaw, and isn't the point), but it's certainly possible to make a better pale ale than this with other hops in the mix. Simcoe is a very interesting hop, with a character that most drinkers could by now recognize as quintessential to American hoppy beers. As such, its flavor is actually hard to describe: it's so recognizable, so quintessential, that it almost tastes like a hop blend. While some hops have a very specific flavor that almost everyone agrees upon (Nelson Sauvin, for instance), Simcoe seems much more subjective, with descriptions ranging from pine to citrus to mango to cat-piss, and more. Regardless of its intangible character, I at least like Simcoe in this pale ale quite a lot.

Given that Simcoe tastes pretty much like "classic American IPA" all by itself, I was lucky enough to hit the right notes with this beer. The color, carbonation, head, lacing and clarity are all very close for a quintessential pale ale. I'm still tweaking the grain bill and color for my pale ales, and this is a bit closer to a pale copper than the glowing, amber-gold I seek with such beers. The good clarity is more dumb luck than any change in technique, but I'll address that more at the end of the post. Carbonation — when bottle conditioning, anyway — is also a lot of estimation and luck, but I've been getting better at hitting the right levels. 

The first bottle I cracked of this had one of the best aromas I've smelled from my own beer, and the batch has followed a fairly standard progression since then. Over the three/four weeks since I started drinking it, the clarity has improved but the aroma has diminished — the usual progression, except that almost a month out, it's still holding up much better than my hoppy beers used to. One thing that's struck me about this batch is that I'm able to pick out significantly more complexity in the nose than the flavor profile. I get all sorts of soft fruit nuances in the aroma — there's a subtle berry character that I haven't heard many people ascribe to Simcoe before. After my experiences with Belma, a hop that many people described as extremely mellow but I got an intense strawberry character from, I'm wondering if my tastes buds are super sensitive to certain flavors from certain hops, and thus I taste lots of "berry" character that others interpret differently. I've gotten this berry-like character before in very soft, subtle IPAs like the excellent Maine Beer Lunch and Zoe, but I was never sure if it was from Simcoe or Columbus hops in those brews. Having now had a couple single hop beers featuring both varieties, I'm guessing it's actually both, but aggressive bittering (or treating your water too aggressively) will drown out this delicate character. I kept the bittering pretty mellow on this one, with only FWH and flameout additions, and added enough gypsum to nudge my water profile just out of the super soft range. This has a very subtle, almost perfume-y undertone from the Simcoe, and I love it. In an imperial IPA, I imagine it would be extremely hard to draw out this subtle nuance without the beer being too plain to earn its style status, but in a pale ale, the subtlety comes through without the beer seeming as if it's missing anything.

As usual, I will end on a more technical note. I fermented this batch with Conan, which has been observed by a number of homebrewers to drop in attenuation from generation to generation. I have been seeing this too (and in fact, my second harvest must have been a late-gen to begin with, as the attenuation never got above 80%), but Conan is still a nice yeast even when it's not super attenuating. Mashing at 155 F, I got about 78% attenuation, which is still pretty great. Still, I noticed that the distinct peach apricot character of Conan is less apparent in this batch than other previous batches, and the yeast seemed to flocculate much more quickly, explaining the unusually good clarity I'm seeing in the glass. So, in terms of this beer, the mutations don't hurt anything, though I think my stock of Conan is past the point where I'll see much of its unique, exceptional benefits. Time for another trip to Vermont and a prayer that the Heady on the shelf is swimming with fresh young Conan on that day.

3.5 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78%
Mashed at 155 F for 65 minutes
Fermented at 64 degrees F
OG: 1.052
FG: 1.011

82.7 % 2-row malt
7.9 % Cara-Pils
7.9 % Munich
1.6 % honey malt

Hop Schedule-
0.5 oz Simcoe @FWH
1 oz Simcoe @5 min
2.5 oz Simcoe @0 + hop stand for 20 min
3 oz Simcoe dry hop for 4 days

The Alchemist Conan

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