Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: American IPA
Bottled On: 10.28.2013
Appearance: amber gold, chill haze darkens hue, ample head, good retention
Smell: soft sweet berry fruit, peach, floral, tropic citrus, kiwi, dank
Taste: soft berry fruit, tropic citrus, kiwi, creamy candy peach, dry dank finish
Mouthfeel: thin-ish body, sharp / over-carbed bite follows soft mouthfeel, crisp bitterness
Sometimes your best batches of homebrew can also be the most frustrating. When you come extremely close to the target you wanted to hit, the tiny, avoidable distractions become head-slappers rather than lessons learned. I love the hop character in Solipsism, my latest stab at an American IPA, and ultimately, it's one of my favorite-tasting batches in a while (as I hoped and suspected it would be). But it's not perfect, and its silly imperfections nag me.
Ever since brewing my Columbus-hopped brown ale and Mosaic single hop IPA earlier this year, I've wanted to double-down on berry-ish hops with a combination of Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic and Columbus. There was really no chance I wouldn't love how they worked together: Mosaic provides a unique, super-fruity berry character that can't quite be pinned down; Nelson still reigns as my favorite hop, combining tangy tropic fruit with a funky dankness; while Columbus is both dank and fruity in entirely different ways from the others. So to get it out of the way early, the ultimate focus of this beer is an easy success: I really enjoy this hop combo. The timing of the additions will get some re-arranging next time, but I think I'd stick with the same combination for this beer. I'm getting closer — really close, possibly — to that Ideal IPA I have floating around in my head.
But for me, the real question when brewing an IPA is usually: did I get my money's worth? Could the hop character be clearer, more vibrant, more explosive? Part of this is refining recipes (which I'll get to in a minute) and water profiles; honing in on the target you want. The timing of hop additions is certainly important, as is the balance of bitterness against your hard/soft water profile, and the body provided by your malts. But when it comes to keeping hoppy beers in their best state after all that recipe formulation (ie, free of oxygen) sometimes it seems my equipment is just getting in the way.
For example: yep, I'm still bottling with my ol' bottling bucket, like some kind of luddite. The hoppier a batch of beer, the greater the likelihood that it will suffer from the oxygen exposure that homebrew typically encounters when you can't flush with CO2. I grow more and more concerned about this with each hoppy beer I make, though perhaps it's the defensive ego part of my mind cushioning myself again the eventuality that my beers aren't nuclear powerhouses of world-class hop clarity. (Gotta keep reasonable expectations, you know?) So even though I have no means of actually serving beer from a keg at this point, I did start buying up random articles of kegging equipment, including a CO2 tank. This CO2 tank was used to sort-of-flush the bottling bucket before racking this beer for bottling. I'm already questioning how much this helped — the hop character here is really tasty, and it doesn't seem to be fading as quickly as some of my IPAs have, but I can't say that it enabled any extra consistency.
Those silly mistakes I mentioned? I had designed this recipe, originally, as an IPA around 7% ABV. At the last minute, I decided I didn't need to brew such a strong IPA, figuring a session-ish version would suit me just fine. Which is all well and good, but I didn't adequately adjust the recipe to accommodate this change. Conan typically gives me a fairly creamy mouthfeel, which I had counted on somewhat, but it's clear that that yeast has a mind of its own. The result is a beer with the character of a full-blown IPA, but a body that's just a bit too thin. Again, not the hugest flaw in the world, and easily fixed in a re-brew, but irksome. My second annoyance isn't even a complaint, but a random inevitability of bottling homebrew on a small scale. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, carbonation varies from bottle to bottle. Most batches, this doesn't happen. When it does, I just kind of chalk it up to the arbitrary whims of the Yeast Gods. But it happened here, and every so often I'll open a bottle that's annoyingly close to flat, or pours with an annoyingly dense, huge head.
None of these things, however, are stopping me from drinking this batch in near-record time.
4.25 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 148 degrees for 70 minutes
Fermented at 67 F, let warm slowly to 72 after 4 days
88% (7 lbs) 2-row malt
6% (8 oz) Golden Naked Oats
6% (8 oz) Caramalt
5 ml / 50 IBU Hop Shot @60
2 oz Mosaic @0 min + 30 min whirlpool
2 oz Nelson Sauvin @0 min + 30 min whirlpool
2 oz Nelson Sauvin dry hop for 7 days
1 oz Mosaic dry hop for 7 days
2 oz Columbus dry hop for 3 days