My 2015 Homebrewing Year in Review

Last year I thought it would be cool to look back on my year in brewing, and it was kind of a fun piece to write so I thought I’d do it again.  This year didn’t have the sweeping life changes like buying a house that last year did, and all the changes to my brewing hobby that went along with it.  This was a year of dialing in recipes, and deciding what type of beers I really wanted to make.  I’ve finally got a handle on my hoppy beers, and I’m pretty happy with most of the other beers I brew.  The biggest change for me this year, and the biggest cause for my beer getting better, was switching from bottling to kegging.  I really can’t overstate how this improved my hoppy beers.  The aroma, shelf life, flavor, and even appearance of the beer have all dramatically improved after switching to kegs.  The ability to minimize O2 exposure in a keg setup is so, so important.

Beyond that, its been a year of dialing in my processes and recipes.  I’ve worked on my DIPA White Death a few times this year, and I’m VERY close to having that beer 100% dialed in to what I want it to be.  I’ve decided that I’m in love with the type of beers coming from the Northeast of this country, especially hoppy beers from places like Trillium, Tree House, Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist and so on.  The juicy, opaque, and smooth beers these guys are putting out is just ridiculous.  I’ve decided I want my hoppy beers to emulate this.  I really can’t be bothered with West Coast style IPAs at this point.  This is of course a blanket statement, but any time I see a clear, copper colored IPA brewed with “C” hops, I just get bored.

My Goals From 2015:  Lets take a look at my goals from the beginning of the year and see how I did!

  • Brew a big ass complex Imperial Stout.  Goal number one was a success!  My ISO: Whalez Bro!  Imperial Stout turned out really nicely.  It’s aged pretty well, and has become very chocolate forward.  I’d never brewed a beer quite that big at 10.6% ABV, and I’d never used wood, bourbon, or any of the other flavor additions prior to that batch.  Its certainly not a perfect balance of these flavors, but it was a hell of a good starting point.
  • Step up my Lager game.  Well, this one didn’t go so well.  I didn’t brew any lagers this year.  I had intended on brewing my Oktoberfest again, but I waited too long, and the last opportunity I had to brew it, my LHBS was out of the yeast I needed.
  • Continue to perfect my IPA’s and Pale Ales.  I achieved this one.  2015 was the year where my hoppy brews really started coming together.  Kegging was the obvious improvement here, but recipe formulation and technique improvements helped too.  I also discovered the wonders of Wyeast 1318 London Ale III yeast in hoppy beers!
  • Use fruit in a beer.  Done!  My Brett Saison Farmhouse Disco utilized apples from my very own apple tree in my backyard!  The beer was pretty solid, not great but not bad.
  • Brew a Brown Ale.  I didn’t get around to this one yet.  I got wrapped up in my DIPA perfection quest so brewing a Brown got put on the back burner.
  • Continue perfecting the recipe for any other of the beers from 2014 that I rebrew, or maintain consistency in reproducing them.  Mostly a success!  Every batch of beer that I re-brewed was an improvement with the exception of Hoppy Grinchmas.  I detailed the reasons for that on the entry for that beer, and I’ll cover it a bit more below.
  • Get a Kegging System:  Done!

 

My 2016 Goals:

  • Use Maple in a beer.  I’ve got two beers planned where I intend to use maple syrup and/or maple extract.  One beer is a new recipe that I intend on trying soon, and the other will be my 2016 version of ISO: Whalez Bro! Imperial Stout.
  • Finally finalize my White Death Recipe!  This will happen this year.  Its sooooo close to being exactly where I want it.  This will probably have to wait a little bit since I’ve got another DIPA recipe with some different malts and hops that I want to try first, but this will be on my radar soon.
  • Brew another Lager.  Either my Oktoberfest again, a Munich Helles, or both!  I think a Helles would be great in the summer so I’m hopping I get on this one.
  • Brew a Brown Ale.  Same goal as last year, and hopefully I’m able to take a crack at it this time.
  • Brew a Belgian Quad.  Belgian beers are pretty hit and miss with me, but I always seem to enjoy Quads when I have them.

 

My Favorite Batches of 2015:

Serrated Summer Ale 2.0.  I loved the way this beer turned out.  It was based on the idea of a beer like Treehouse Eureka.  I say based on the idea of that beer because its like a hopped up, hazy blonde ale that drinks like juice, but I wasn’t aiming for a clone, only a similar beer.  This beer turned out just how I imagined it would.  It was so refreshing in the summer months.  This was also my first experience with 1318 yeast.  I’ll rebrew this for sure with only some minor tweaks to the recipe.

White Death 5.0.  The last attempt of the year at perfecting my main DIPA recipe.  Its almost exactly how I want it, and this batch was fantastic.  I need to get it a bit lighter in color and just a bit juicier, but its almost there.  Using plain 2 Row instead of the pale malt, focusing more on the Citra and Mosaic, and subbing the Simcoe out for Amarillo should hopefully get me there.

ISO: Whalez Bro!  My big Imperial Stout with oak chips, bourbon, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans.  This beer turned out pretty great considering the number of variables at play.  The balance of all the flavors isn’t perfect, but the base beer is great.  I plan on doing yearly variants of this base beer with different flavors so that should be fun!

Beers That Need Improvement:

My Imperial Red, Hoppy Grinchmas, is the first that comes to mind.  Its not bad, but I feel like it was better the first year.  The dark fruit flavors and toastiness overpowered the other flavors.  Its not a bad beer, I just know I can do a better hoppy red.

I guess I’ll had Tree Tipper here.  That was my dry cider brewed from the apples from my tree that we had to cut down in the backyard.  There’s no improvements to be made here since it was a one time deal, but it just wasn’t that good.  Oh well.  I enjoy a cider every now and then, but not enough that I need gallons of it.  There’s a good chance this will be my only cider, at least for a while.

My Brett Saison, Farmhouse Disco.  Saisons are a very hit and miss style for me, and I don’t have a much experience with Brett.  This beer was pretty solid considering my lack of experience with the style, and it was fun to use my homegrown apples in it.  I feel like I can do a better Saison though.  I plan on doing another one at some point this year, and I’ve got a few new things I’d like to try.

 

All in all, it was a really fun and productive year of brewing and blogging.  It’s been fun to see the amount of readers grow over the past year, it makes doing this feel more worthwhile.  My yeast experiment between 1318 and Conan had my biggest number of readers by far, and I hope you guys found it interesting and useful.  I want to thank everyone who reads this thing, I hope my recipes can give you ideas for your own brews.  Thanks again for reading, and cheers to 2016!

Searching for a House Yeast Part 2: Conan Vs Wyeast 1318 London Ale III Side by Side

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On the left is Conan, on the right is London Ale III

In my never ending quest to dial in my recipes, I’ve been trying to decide on a house yeast for most of my ales.  I’ve used both Conan and London Ale III and really liked what both have to offer, but which yeast better fits my needs?  If you read my Part 1, you’ll see my thoughts on both of these yeasts.  Well, The only way to determine which yeast I like better for sure is to do a side by side comparison!  I took a pale ale recipe that I haven’t brewed yet, but had been meaning to.  I did a 3.5 gallon batch.

3.5 Gallon Batch Size
OG: 1.046
IBU: 40

4.5# 2Row
.5# White Wheat
5oz Caramalt 15L
.5# Flaked Oats
2oz Acid Malt

.25oz Warrior 60 min
.5oz Simcoe 5 min
.5oz Citra 5 min
.5oz Amarillo 5 min

1oz Simcoe 30 min hopstand
1oz Citra 30 min hopstand
1oz Amarillo 30 min hopstand

.5 Simcoe dry hop
.5 Citra dry hop
.5 Amarillo dry hop

My water profile was typical of my pale ales, heavier on the chloride with a smaller gypsum addition.

After the boil and hopstand were complete, I split the batch between two carboys.  I pitched London Ale III in one, Conan in the other.  Both batches of beer are fermenting at around 66 degrees.  I’ll bottle the two batches at about the two week mark, give it a week to carb, and then toss some in the fridge to test.

I’ll post back here with an update as soon as this experiment is over!

Update 08/08/15:  I bottled both batches yesterday.  I was surprised that both batches finished at 1.006, I had expected the Conan batch to finish just a bit dryer.  Both samples already smelled and tasted great, It’s going to be hard to decide which I like better.  I plan on waiting a week to carb and then putting the bottles in the fridge for a day.  I’ll then do the side by side!

Update 08/13/15 Tasting:  Here’s the moment I’ve been waiting for!  Let me start by saying that I really like both of these yeasts.  They each have strengths and you truly can not go wrong using either.  That being said, I have to say that London Ale III is my preferred yeast between the two.

The appearance of both beers was pretty close as you can see in the picture above.  The London Ale was just a hint more hazy and bright, the Conan just slightly darker and clearer.  Both were pretty looking beers and anyone who reads this blog knows I enjoy hazy hop forward beers.

Both beers smelled really nice.  The London Ale had an intense citrus aroma, more orange than grapefruit, with maybe a bit of pineapple.  There was also a bit of pine as well as some English ester aroma.  A really good smelling beer for sure.  The Conan had a more peachy and apricot aroma that blended with some citrus and pine.  This isn’t surprising as Conan is famous for that apricot/peach profile.  The aroma of both beers were fairly intense, and its hard to say which was more appealing.

The taste of these beers weren’t too far apart, but I slightly preferred the London Ale III.  I feel that both yeasts accentuated the hops and malts well, but I like that London Ale III was just a bit more neutral.  Don’t get me wrong, the London Ale had some nice subtle ester character to it, but I feel it was the more neutral of the two yeasts.  This will let the individual ingredients of the beer shine though in my opinion.  Conan was slightly bolder in flavor.  The hop profile of the beer was the same obviously, but Conan added that peach/apricot note, while the London Ale was more citrusy.  The flavor of the London Ale beer seemed rounder to me if that makes any sense.  The bitterness faded quickly, the citrus from the hops was there, and then it had a slightly sweet, juicy finish.  The Conan’s bitterness seemed to linger just a bit longer and its flavors seemed sharper.  Conan also left some nice sweetness in the finish as well.

The mouthfeel of these beers where both really nice, but I have to give the edge to the London Ale III.  This beer just seem so soft.  There’s a creamy feel that London Ale gives the beer that Conan, while close, just falls slightly behind.  Conan was a bit crisper, while the London Ale III had that roundness I mentioned previously.

Like I said earlier, you really can’t go wrong with either of these yeasts.  For my tastes,  London Ale III just barely wins over Conan.  Conan will likely make for a sharper, bolder beer, while London Ale makes a super balanced, round, and juicy pale ale.  I also feel like the London Ale would work better in a wider variety of beers, so if reusing yeast is a concern then that may also impact the decision.

All in all this was a really fun experiment to try.  I really like both of these yeasts, and a direct comparison was the only way I was going to be able to choose between them.  I encourage anyone who is considering these to try this experiment as well.  Taste is subjective, so your opinion may vary from what I found here.  I hope this post helps any fellow brewers who are looking to dial in their recipes!

Searching for a House Yeast Part 1: Conan VS Wyeast 1318 London Ale III

beer-yeast

Photo credit: Flickr user Duncan H

Now that I’ve started kegging and transferring my hoppy beers in a closed system under Co2, my hoppy beers have improved by leaps and bounds, both in terms of quality and longer term stability.  So, now that I’ve gotten that hurdle behind me, what’s next?  Dialing in the details!  Right now the biggest detail for me is finding a house yeast to use with my ales.  Most professional breweries have a go to yeast that helps define their flavor profiles for their ales.  Anything from Sierra Nevada has a somewhat familiar flavor due to the Chico yeast strain that they use.  Same with Stone, Lagunitas, and so on, all have a house yeast that helps define them.  I’d like to dial in the White Pointer flavor profile, and maybe start harvesting and reusing yeast, which is something I’ve never done.

I’ve used a bunch of different yeasts over the past few years and some have been great, some not so much.  The Chico strain and other American yeasts I’ve used are fine, but I like to have some subtle esters, so those are out.  For English yeast, I loved the convenience of Safale S-04, but there was a hint of tartness that I just wasn’t fond of.   I really liked WLP 007 Dry English Ale and it was almost my first choice until I used Conan.  The 007 is clean, attenuates well, clears on the beers that I care about clarity enough to use gelatin on, and has just a hint of ester aroma and flavor.  007 was great with my hoppy beers, but Conan edged it out.

I use the DIPA yeast from Omega which is the Conan strain found in The Alchemist Heady Topper.  This stuff is steroids for hops and lends an awesome peachy/apricot/pineapple note to the beer.  Despite what others have said about the strain, I haven’t had any attenuation issues with Omega’s version of it, usually getting around 80%.  I also really enjoy the smooth palate that this yeast helps create, but it remains drinkable.  My only complaint with this strain, and I haven’t used it on a maltier style yet so maybe I’m wrong, is it seems a bit one dimensional.  The several beers I’ve used it on all have a Heady Topper-esque flavor to them.   Now take that criticism with a grain of salt since most of my hoppy beers tend to be lighter colored “Northeast Style” beers anyway.  As much as I like Conan’s flavor profile, I’m concerned using it as a house yeast may be a bit one note.  The other issue is Conan’s low flocculation, though this is a much smaller concern for me.  I actually like my hoppy beers to be hazy.  The more fruit juice looking my APA’s, IPA’s, and DIPA’s are, the better in my opinion.  I don’t brew hoppy styles exclusively though, and there are certain styles that I’m not sure I’d use Conan on.  I’d be interested to see how Conan works in an American Amber or Imperial Red for example, two styles that I feel look better clear.   That being said, Conan is my favorite yeast that I’ve used so far and is my leading candidate for being my house yeast for 90% of my beers.

This brings me to my other option, and I just used it for the first time:  Wyeast 1318 London Ale III.  I used it on my most recent version of my Serrated Summer Ale (Brew Day post coming soon!).  This beer is in primary, so I have no personal experience with it, I can only go from what I’ve heard until I keg my summer ale and get drinking.  Rumor has it that London Ale III is the strain that Hill Farmstead uses.  Anyone who’s had their beer knows why I’d want to emulate them.  Their hoppy beers are usually light colored, cloudy, have great hop flavor and aroma, and are smooooooooooth.  I’m talking smooth like drinking a glass of OJ.  The mouthfeel is so soft, it just makes these beers incredible.  Now of course it isn’t just the yeast that does this, its water and brewing technique as well, but the yeast is an important contributing factor.  People who have used this yeast report that it accentuates hop flavors well, is clean with subtle esters when fermented at lower temperatures, and has mid range attenuation leaving a creamy body.  That all sounds exactly like what I’m looking for.  I’ve heard that, as with Conan, clarity can be an issue, but the vast majority of the time I don’t care about that.

I’ll be updating this post with my thoughts on London Ale III and how I feel it stacks up against Conan once I’m able to drink my summer beer enough to form an opinion on it.  I’m considering brewing a small batch of IPA and split it between the two yeasts to do a proper side by side comparison, but I’ll make that call after seeing if my summer ale is enough to make that judgement.

Update 06/25/15:  I’ve had a decent amount of my beer, Serrated Summer Ale, that used the 1318 London Ale III.  I have to say, I’m a big fan of it.  All of the things that I read about it are pretty true.  The yeast left what I can best describe as a “roundness” in the body and flavors.  The yeast, combined with my malt bill and water treatment, left a nice silky mouthfeel.  It attenuated at 77% so that’s pretty good for a beer that I mashed at 154 degrees.  The hop flavors and aromas of the beer popped nicely.  The beer left some residual sweetness, but it was pleasant, not at all cloying.  The ester profile was subtle, with some slight fruitiness that blended well with the hops I used.  I fermented the beer in the mid 60’s, so the yeast stayed pretty clean.  I wouldn’t be afraid to let it ferment warmer in the upper 60s.  All in all I’m very pleased with it.  I can’t say for sure that this is the yeast used in beers from Hill Farmstead or Tired Hands like the rumors suggest, but its at least a VERY similar strain.

The question is, how does it stack up against Conan, and which would I use as a house yeast?  Well, more research is needed for me to commit entirely to one or the other just yet.  In reality, I think I’ll need to brew a split batch of APA or IPA and do a side by side with these yeasts.

Both Conan and 1318 complimented the hops well in the beers I’ve used them in.  So you can’t go wrong with either of these in a hoppy style.  I routinely get around 80% or more with the Omega DIPA Ale version of Conan and I got 77% with the 1318.  If brewing a bigger beer, I’d want to maybe use some simple sugar to help the 1318 out.

Conan is definitely the more expressive yeast, throwing off some peach and apricot flavors and aromas.  It’ll be be hard for me to go away from this yeast on my IPA’s due to the fruity esters that play with the hops so well.  The 1318 is more subtle for sure, fruity, but not like the Conan.  I think you could probably get a more diverse array of flavors with this yeast though since everything with Conan will have that/peach apricot profile to some degree.

Both yeasts provide a soft mouthfeel, with the 1318 just edging Conan out here.  The beers that I’ve used Conan on seem to have a bit more “pop” to them though.  Both yeasts leave a pleasant sweetness to the beers I’ve used them in as well.

Both of these yeasts are winners in my book and I’d feel confident using them both in an wide range of beers.  I’m not sure I’ve settled on one or the other being a “house yeast” for me, if I even decide to go that route.  I need to use 1318 a few more times, and I really need to do a side by side.  I hope this write up helps anyone deciding to use either of these yeasts, you certainly won’t be disappointed in either!

UPDATE!  I decided the only way to truly decide between these yeasts was do do a side by side test.  Read about my experiment HERE! 

I’ve noticed that the Part 2 Side by Side tasting gets fewer clicks, so in the interest of streamlining info, here’s Part 2 if you don’t feel like clicking the link above!

Searching for a House Yeast Part 2: Conan Vs Wyeast 1318 London Ale III Side by Side
Posted on July 28, 2015
DSC_0643

On the left is Conan, on the right is London Ale III

In my never ending quest to dial in my recipes, I’ve been trying to decide on a house yeast for most of my ales. I’ve used both Conan and London Ale III and really liked what both have to offer, but which yeast better fits my needs? If you read my Part 1, you’ll see my thoughts on both of these yeasts. Well, The only way to determine which yeast I like better for sure is to do a side by side comparison! I took a pale ale recipe that I haven’t brewed yet, but had been meaning to. I did a 3.5 gallon batch.

3.5 Gallon Batch Size
OG: 1.046
IBU: 40

4.5# 2Row
.5# White Wheat
5oz Caramalt 15L
.5# Flaked Oats
2oz Acid Malt

.25oz Warrior 60 min
.5oz Simcoe 5 min
.5oz Citra 5 min
.5oz Amarillo 5 min

1oz Simcoe 30 min hopstand
1oz Citra 30 min hopstand
1oz Amarillo 30 min hopstand

.5 Simcoe dry hop
.5 Citra dry hop
.5 Amarillo dry hop

My water profile was typical of my pale ales, heavier on the chloride with a smaller gypsum addition.

After the boil and hopstand were complete, I split the batch between two carboys. I pitched London Ale III in one, Conan in the other. Both batches of beer are fermenting at around 66 degrees. I’ll bottle the two batches at about the two week mark, give it a week to carb, and then toss some in the fridge to test.

I’ll post back here with an update as soon as this experiment is over!

Update 08/08/15: I bottled both batches yesterday. I was surprised that both batches finished at 1.006, I had expected the Conan batch to finish just a bit dryer. Both samples already smelled and tasted great, It’s going to be hard to decide which I like better. I plan on waiting a week to carb and then putting the bottles in the fridge for a day. I’ll then do the side by side!

Update 08/13/15 Tasting: Here’s the moment I’ve been waiting for! Let me start by saying that I really like both of these yeasts. They each have strengths and you truly can not go wrong using either. That being said, I have to say that London Ale III is my preferred yeast between the two.

The appearance of both beers was pretty close as you can see in the picture above. The London Ale was just a hint more hazy and bright, the Conan just slightly darker and clearer. Both were pretty looking beers and anyone who reads this blog knows I enjoy hazy hop forward beers.

Both beers smelled really nice. The London Ale had an intense citrus aroma, more orange than grapefruit, with maybe a bit of pineapple. There was also a bit of pine as well as some English ester aroma. A really good smelling beer for sure. The Conan had a more peachy and apricot aroma that blended with some citrus and pine. This isn’t surprising as Conan is famous for that apricot/peach profile. The aroma of both beers were fairly intense, and its hard to say which was more appealing.

The taste of these beers weren’t too far apart, but I slightly preferred the London Ale III. I feel that both yeasts accentuated the hops and malts well, but I like that London Ale III was just a bit more neutral. Don’t get me wrong, the London Ale had some nice subtle ester character to it, but I feel it was the more neutral of the two yeasts. This will let the individual ingredients of the beer shine though in my opinion. Conan was slightly bolder in flavor. The hop profile of the beer was the same obviously, but Conan added that peach/apricot note, while the London Ale was more citrusy. The flavor of the London Ale beer seemed rounder to me if that makes any sense. The bitterness faded quickly, the citrus from the hops was there, and then it had a slightly sweet, juicy finish. The Conan’s bitterness seemed to linger just a bit longer and its flavors seemed sharper. Conan also left some nice sweetness in the finish as well.

The mouthfeel of these beers where both really nice, but I have to give the edge to the London Ale III. This beer just seem so soft. There’s a creamy feel that London Ale gives the beer that Conan, while close, just falls slightly behind. Conan was a bit crisper, while the London Ale III had that roundness I mentioned previously.

Like I said earlier, you really can’t go wrong with either of these yeasts. For my tastes, London Ale III just barely wins over Conan. Conan will likely make for a sharper, bolder beer, while London Ale makes a super balanced, round, and juicy pale ale. I also feel like the London Ale would work better in a wider variety of beers, so if reusing yeast is a concern then that may also impact the decision.

All in all this was a really fun experiment to try. I really like both of these yeasts, and a direct comparison was the only way I was going to be able to choose between them. I encourage anyone who is considering these to try this experiment as well. Taste is subjective, so your opinion may vary from what I found here. I hope this post helps any fellow brewers who are looking to dial in their recipes!

My 2014 Homebrewing Year in Review

I saw a beer year in review post on Meek Brewing, one of my favorite homebrew blogs, so I thought it would be a cool idea to do something similar.  I’ve been brewing for three years now as I write this post, but this blog business is pretty new to me.  I’ll do one of these posts each year I keep this thing running, so It’ll be fun to look back and see how I’ve come along with my brewing.

This year’s beers were by far the best I’ve brewed, and that boiled down to a couple different factors.  First, I’ve moved on to all grain.  I did a couple small all grain batches last year, but in most of my 5 gallon batches I had to at least use some extract to hit my OG.  This year, I’ve built my equipment up to where I do my brewing outside with a ten gallon kettle, and a propane burner.  I still do stove top all grain batches when the mood strikes, but this is the year when I really feel like I’ve got my process down and efficiency generally figured out.

I also moved into my own house, which meant I didn’t have to inconvenience my brother any longer leaving my stuff at his house and making him swap out water bottles in a swamp cooler.  I also got a spare refrigerator and a temperature controller, so I’m finally able to really keep my temps where I want them and keep them consistent, and can do lagers.

Speaking of which, I did my first lager this year, and was pretty happy with the results.  I brewed an Oktoberfest that was just a bit more robust than a typical Helles, and while there’s room to improve, I think it was definitely a successful first lager.  It’s still the only lager I’ve done, and I don’t drink a ton of them, but I’d still like to expand my lager range.

My Favorite Batches of 2014:

White Death (ver. 2.0)- DIPA.  I based this recipe off of a recipe for Heady Topper from homebrewtalk.com, but made some changes to personalize it a bit.  It was probably my favorite beer I’ve ever brewed, and I’ve made some further improvements in a batch that is currently fermenting as I write this!  The only downside to this beer is the short shelf life it seems to have at its peak flavor since minimizing oxidation is difficult when bottling compared to kegging.

Black December a Black Rye IPA.  Homebrewtalk.com has a recipe for Firestone Walker Wookie Jack, the beer this one is based on.  I modified it some to fit my tastes, but its still really close to Wookie Jack, and that’s fine by me since Wookey is one of my favorite beers.  I still have a decent amount of this left since its my winter seasonal, and it’s held up really well with a bit of time.  The combination of tropical hops and rye spice mixed with some roasted grain really gives a unique flavor.

Doodle Face (ver. 2.0) an APA featuring Citra hops.  It came out as one of my favorite beers I’ve done, an easy drinking pale ale dripping with tropical hop goodness.  This thing looked like a glass of carbonated OJ, and there’s not a thing I’d change with the recipe.  I’m sure this beer will make another appearance this year.

I had a couple others I really liked that I’m sure will make a return, though I’ll probably modify them a bit such as my Serrated Summer Ale, Flood Waters Amber, and Hoppy Grinchmas, and Voodo Rookin, my coffee milk stout.

Improvements and goals for 2015:

I will say that while not every batch I made in 2014 knocked it out of the park, there wasn’t a batch that was bad, or didn’t accomplish roughly what I wanted it to.  That being said, I’d like to improve some of my beers when or if I’d make them again.  My Irish Red, O’Sharkahan’s, comes to mind as a beer that, while in the ballpark of what I wanted flavor wise, had room for improvement.  I’ve got a new batch of that with an updated recipe fermenting now, and I think I’ll be happy with it.  I also need to settle on a easy drinking lighter style of beer that will appeal to beer drinkers that don’t dig hops as much as I do.  I’ve made a Blonde Ale, Shark Piss, that was decent as far as this goes, but I can do better.  I’m thinking a Munich Helles might fill this need.  There are several beers from 2014 that I’m sure I’ll make again in 2015, and I hope to continue to improve upon them, or if I’m truly 100% satisfied with my recipe, then I hope to maintain a level of consistency in reproducing the beer.  I also hope to try to brew some styles I’ve never made before.  So with all that in mind, Here’s my goals for brewing in 2015:

  • Brew a big ass complex Imperial Stout.  I need to convince a friend to go half on this one since 5 gallons of this would be too much for me.  I’d love to include ingredients like chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and some bourbon soaked oak cubes.
  • Step up my Lager game.  Brew a nice clean easy drinking lager such as a Munich Helles, something that will appeal to people that aren’t the usual craft beer drinker, but will still appeal to me as well.  a good crisp Helles should fit that bill.  Also in the Lager department, I’d like to improve my Oktoberfest.  I think I might Americanize it a bit more with some specialty malts this year since I don’t typically drink it in 1 liter increments!  I need to keep it drinkable, but some more toasty and caramel flavor could make it more interesting.  I’d also like to try a Pilsner, but I’d like to try some new age hops with it, something like Mandarina Bavaria hops.
  • Continue to perfect my IPA’s and Pale Ales.  These are what I feel I brew best, and it’s what I drink the most.  I’ll continue brewing my DIPAs White Death, my APA Doodleface, and I need to try a new American IPA recipe that I’ve been planning.
  • Use fruit in a beer.  I’m not a big fan of fruit beers normally, so I’d try incorporating fruit into a hoppy beer to enhance the fruitiness provided by the hops.  I’m thinking a Mango DIPA sounds about right, and I might incorporate that into my 527 Celebration DIPA I do for my anniversary with the wife every year.
  • Brew a Brown Ale.  I’m thinking I’ll do this in the fall.  I’d like something with some toasty nutty flavor, but a good hop presence as well.
  • Continue perfecting the recipe for any other of the beers from 2014 that I rebrew, or maintain consistency in reproducing them.
  • GET A KEGGING SYSTEM!!!!!!!  I can’t imagine how much this will help my hoppy beers.

I’ll be interested to see if this blog catches on a bit in 2015, but I know there are a lot of homebrew blogs out there to choose from.  To any friends or family reading this, thanks for being supportive of my hobby and sharing my brew days and beer with me.  To everyone else, thanks for reading this.  I hope I can give back some of the information I’ve learned from others, and I hope anyone reading this can take something away that can help them make their own beer better.  Here’s to a great year of brewing in 2015!

Brewing My Perfect DIPA

hops

Now, notice I said MY perfect DIPA, not THE perfect DIPA.  What tastes amazing to me may not be as good to someone else.  So this article will focus on my struggle to brew MY perfect DIPA, but I think that what I’ve learned in this process will hopefully help others questing for the perfect hop bomb. IPAs and DIPAs are my favorite styles of beer, and tend to be what I brew the most of.  There’s more to it though then just throwing a bunch of hops into the kettle without thinking about all aspects of the recipe and how they’ll blend together. A great place to start looking on tips for IPA and DIPA brewing is this homebrew blog: http://www.bertusbrewery.com/2012/08/how-to-brew-better-ipas.html That particular article has some great pointers that really helped me improve my hoppy beer, though its more skewed toward the West Coast style, while my IPAs tend to be of the newer Northeast Style.  His entire blog is great too, definitely worth a read. There are plenty of world class DIPAs out there, but the ones that have inspired me the most have several things in common.  Those beers are Heady Topper, Pliny The Elder, Surly Abrasive, Bissell Brothers Swish, and hoppy beers from Hill Farmstead, Trillium, and Treehouse.  Breweries such as Three Floyds, Pipeworks, Firestone Walker, Victory, Lagunitas, Stone, and others all make great hoppy beers that have inspired me as well.  Lets look at what makes these beers and other top tier hoppy beers great.

Hops:  Loads of em.  To get an IPA to have the hop profile that these world class brews have, you have to use a crap ton of hops.  I’m an active member on homebrewtalk.com, and it always blows my mind when people try and brew IPA and DIPA with only a couple ounces of late hops and dry hop.  You need to be using a boat load of hops in these beers to be on par with the greats, especially late addition and dry hops. It hurts the wallet for sure, but in order to get that HUGE flavor and aroma its just a necessity now days.  My DIPA’s tend to have an ounce per gallon or more for the dry hop.

Hop choice is important too, and try to use hops that compliment each other.  I personally am a huge fan of dank and/or fruit juice like IPAs, and I shy away from using hops that have more floral qualities.  That’s just my personal preference.  I’m a huge fan of Simcoe, Citra, Amarillo, Galaxy, Zythos, Mosaic, and a few others to get my fruity flavors from.  Of course there’s also the old standby’s of Cascade and Centennial for a more grapefruit and floral experience if that’s what you want.  To get that dank quality, I’ve been using a lot of Columbus and Apollo.  They each have a pungent earthiness, but still have some citrus as well.  Use a super high alpha acid hop to bitter with like Apollo, Warrior, Magnum, Columbus, and others.  Hop extracts are a good way to go for bittering to keep the hop matter down, and both Heady and Pliny use extract.  The beers I mentioned above all utilize some combo the hops I’ve mentioned here, but there are a ton of good hops out there that I didn’t list that impart various flavors that work well in IPAs.  Experiment with these hops and others to see what works for you, but make sure you don’t skimp.

Another thing to consider is freshness.  Make sure the hops smell great to you when you open them, otherwise they aren’t going to smell great in the beer.  Old or improperly stored hops can lead to undesirable flavors in your finished beer.

Malt:  Malt of course takes a back seat to the hops in these beers, but it can’t be overlooked.  You can brew a good IPA with some 2 Row and a bit of crystal, but many of the greats have a bit more to them than that.  Thats where I differ in opinion with some of the West Coast IPA guys, and this is why I prefer Heady a bit over Pliny.  Pliny is basically 2 Row and a small amount of Crystal.  For my IPAs, I sometimes like base malt with a bit more to it than 2 row.  Beers like Heady, Abrasive, and New Glarus Scream all use malts from the UK as their base, or at least part of their base.  Heady uses Pearl as its base, Abrasive and another of my favorites, Bissell Brothers Swish, do a 2 Row and Golden Promise mix (Though Surly’s website now just says 2 Row for the 2015 batch), and Scream uses some Maris Otter.  Using a base malt with a bready or slightly toasty flavor can give you a good malt base without having to use a bunch of specialty grains.  There are plenty of great IPAs just made with 2 Row though, so don’t be afraid to go with the tried and true, I use it in some of my best hoppy beers too.  I’ve even used Pilsner malt as the base for an IPA, and it turned out great.  No matter what you do with the base malt though, please keep the crystal malt low!  Nothing makes an IPA more unappealing that that caramel sweetness distracting from the hops.  I like to keep crystal malts to 5% or less of the total grist.  Munich and Vienna malts are another good alternative to crystal to get some color and flavor without adding unfermentables.  Wheat, carapils, and flaked oats are good ways to add body to the beer without adding sweetness to it, and I use all three of those often in my pale ales.

`White Death

A lovely orange color for an IPA or DIPA

Color:  This kinda goes with the malt bill, but one thing I’ve noticed is that many of the new breed of great DIPA’s and IPAs have a light color.  Heady, Abrasive, Pliny, Scream, Maine Lunch, Dinner, and Another One, Double Sunshine, Toppling Goliath King Sue and many others all have a fairly light SRM.  Many of these great beers have a golden to orange color to them that is just beautiful.  So again, careful with those specialty malts like crystal so you don’t muddle that color up.  There are of course amber IPAs that are GREAT (Surly Furious for example), but I’ve found many of the typical copper/amber colored IPAs just don’t pop in the same way that the lighter SRM ones do, and its probably from overuse of specialty malts.

Yeast:  There’s some wiggle room in this area.  The Conan yeast strain found in Heady Topper can now be found commercially, and I’m a big fan.  I love the peach like and almost pineapple fruity esters that it throws off, and its a great choice for an IPA.  I’ve heard it can have issues with attenuation, but I’ve yet to experience that.  I’m also a fan of certain English strains for IPAs.  One of my personal faves is White Labs 007, Dry English Ale.  Yeast with a bit of a fruity ester profile can really compliment the hop profile of a beer.  Just make sure to ferment in the lower to mid 60s so the esters don’t become a distraction.  Good ol American ale yeast is always a good stand by though, and makes great IPAs too.  They’re crisp and clean, and don’t distract from your malt and hop bill.  The other big thing is choosing a yeast that attenuates well, since even a medium bodied IPA should still finish somewhat dry.  Use some simple sugar to help the yeast out if need be.  I’ve also become a big fan of Wyeast 1318 London Ale III, so much so that its become my house yeast!  If you are going for a beer like those made by Treehouse or Trillium, 1318 yeast is the way to go, and its my personal favorite.  This yeast will not typically clear when combined with large amounts of hops, and it really adds to that hop juice character found in those types of beers.

Water:  Water is something I won’t go deep into because…..well frankly I’m still learning and Chemistry sure as hell wasn’t my strongest class in school.  What I do know is that the right water is important for brewing a great IPA.  I won’t give specific levels because tastes are different, but I’ve found that a higher sulfate level is pretty important if you’re going more West Coast Style, less so with a more East Coast style.  I like to start with distilled water then build my water with a couple gallons of my tap water and adding other minerals back in.  There is a ton of room in this area to experiment though, so find what works best for you.  I’ve begun experimenting with lower levels of sulfate and higher chloride levels as well.  The reason for this is I’m chasing that Northeast IPA creamy smoothness you find in breweries like Hill Farmstead, Trillium, and Treehouse.

Technique:  There are several brewing techniques that you can implement to help brew the perfect IPA, and the clone recipes for the brews I listed above use them.  I believe it is imperative to do a hopstand/whirlpool after the boil is complete to get maximum flavor and aroma out of your hops.  In my opinion, take any hop addition in a recipe between 30 minutes and 10 minutes, and move them to five minutes and a hopstand/whirlpool.  Use a lot of hops here since this is where a lot of your flavor and aroma will come from.  There are of course different ways to do a hopstand/whirlpool, but I like to throw all my late hops into around 180 wort and let it sit for a while before I cool.  I like that I can still get just a bit of bitterness from the hot temps while still getting that great flavor.  Bringing the wort cooler before whirlpooling though will help retain some of those volatile hop oils, but won’t contribute any IBUs.

Another important thing to consider is oxygen getting to the beer.  Oxygen post fermentation is a hoppy beers worst enemy, and will muddle the flavors and aroma you’ve worked so hard to get into the beer.  I personally don’t transfer my IPA to a secondary just to minimize the exposure to oxygen.  Only open your fermentor when absolutely necessary.  If you keg, always purge head space with CO2 after you open the fermentor, and purge your receiving vessel when transferring.  Kegging has been the most dramatic step in improving my hoppy beers.  That’s not to say you can’t make a great bottle conditioned IPA, but it’s certainly harder and will see the effects of oxygenation sooner or later.  Be extra careful anytime you transfer the beer to minimize splashing.  If you keg, my preferred transfer method is in a closed system to eliminate exposure to oxygen.  I use a carboy cap with a racking cane stuck in it, and connect a gas line.  I then connect the racking cane tubing to my beverage out line on the keg.  Using a VERY low psi, I turn the gas on and the Co2 will start the siphon.

Another technique that many brewers use is multiple stages of dry hops.  I’ve read that the hops really only need 3 to 5 days of contact time with the beer to serve their purpose.  Layering the dry hop can add more powerful and complex aromas.  Keep in mind though that every time you dry hop, you may be exposing your beer to more oxygen if you aren’t careful or don’t purge your containers with Co2.  My preferred method is to do the first round of dry hops while primary fermentation is just finishing, usually at around day 5 or so.  The yeast is still somewhat active and should scrub off any oxygen introduced.  You may lose a bit of aroma to the active yeast, but the reduction of oxygen and the layered dry hop effect is worth it.  At about a week and a half to two weeks, I add a couple bags of the second round of dry hops into the keg.  I suspend the bags from UNWAXED dental floss.  This enables you to fish the bags out if you want to remove them, or it keeps the hops away from the dip tube if you leave them in.

I hope this information may help you in your quest for your perfect IPAs and DIPAs like it has for mine!

A note about my Recipes

I finally got caught up posting all my 2014 recipes that I’ve brewed this year.  The order I posted them was a bit all over the place, but they are listed in order brewed in the recipes section.  Beers brewed in the beginning of the year are towards the bottom, newer ones up top.

So, what about my older recipes?  I’ve been brewing beer for a few years now.  It was only towards the summer of last year where I brewed anything that I’d still be proud of if I made it now.  Some of those still contained extract, and I’ve moved to all grain so the recipe will change.  Anyway, There’s really only one beer from 2013 I plan on brewing again that I haven’t yet without a large overhaul, and that was my black rye IPA, Black December.  It’s one of my favorites.  As much as I dread winter rearing its ugly head again, at least I’ll get to brew that beer again, and with no extract this time.  So the point of all this is that I’m not going to bother posting any 2013 recipes that I made as Black December is the only beer making a return that I haven’t posted yet, and I’m sure as hell not posting any 2012 recipes.

 

Coming up in September, I hope to brew another batch of White Death, with some very minor improvements.  I plan on doing another batch of Doodle Face, which will see an overhaul of the malt bill and will go from an IPA to an APA.  I’ll have my Oktoberfest bottled in a few weeks, and should be opening my first bottle of Flood Waters, an improvement of a 2013 amber ale recipe.  After that we’ll see!  I plan on doing Black December and Hoppy Grinchmas, an Imperial Red, in November.  I may try and fit a small batch of something light and easy drinking in there somewhere, but that should complete my brewing for the rest of the year.

 

Cheers!