In Search of the Secret to Making a Session IPA

A few weeks ago I brewed a beer that I hoped would be a session IPA(1). On that front, I have good news and bad news. First, the bad news: Alas, at 5.2% ABV, it has turned out to be too high in alcohol (2). The good news? I got beer. And it’s not bad at all. I picked up the flavor of horehound in the non-carbonated beer.

It is now in the keg getting carbonated and had hops and grapefruit peel added for flavor and aroma.

I will try to brew a session IPA again as soon as we kick the keg of Grapefruit Pulpin.

 

  1. Yes, there are lots of definitions of what a “session” beer is, and doubly so for what constitutes a session IPA. My working definition is something below 4.5% ABV.
  2. It started too high in fermentable sugars and ended up too low in specific gravity.

Does this headline make me look ironic? In search of a good session IPA

I have become interested, nay, some would say obsessed, in that oxymoron of beers, the “session” IPA(1).

Our ribbon-winning House Pale Ale.

I like drinking a lower alcohol beer that isn’t like sex in a canoe, you know, “f**king close to water.” And you know the beers. The ones that taste slightly…umm…yellow. Besides being low in alcohol they are low in flavor and aroma. They are just a small step up from sparkling water, only with less taste.

The trend in microbreweries had been to brew bigger. Why make an IPA, when you can make a Double IPA? According to the American Homebrewers Association, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder is the best beer in America. I have had Pliny at Russian River Brewing. It tastes terrific but at 8.0% ABV, one pint is all I can drink. Driving is out of the question. Walking to Peet’s Coffee across the street and staring at my hands is all I can manage after a pint of Pliny.

So if you want to drink more than a thimble’s worth of tasty brew and be able to operate machinery, such as a lawnmower, you need something with less alcohol. To meet that need, some breweries have started making hoppy beers with lower alcohol. Examples include Squatters’ Full Suspension Pale Ale (4.0% ABV), Stone’s Go To IPA (4.5% ABV), and New Belgium’s Slow Ride Session IPA (4.5% ABV).

The best session IPA (perhaps the best session beer) around, in my opinion, is Ballast Point’s Even Keel. It packs a whole lot of flavor into a beer with 3.8% ABV (1). Ballast Point says Even Keel is “A full-flavored beer with a silky malt backbone and a bright hop profile of herbs and citrus, it packs all the taste of an IPA in a sessionable alcohol content.” It is just a damn good beer. RateBeer gives it a 92. Beer Advocate gives it an 86. Those are  respectable scores for a beer with less alcohol than Bud Light.

Once I knew that a great session IPA could be made, I had to try my hand at making one.

Session IPAs are not regular IPAs with water added. The goal is to make a beer with all the taste, mouthfeel, and aroma as a big beer but with less alcohol.

Change the base. To keep that flavor and mouthfeel, cut down on the base malt but not the specialty grains, and consider using more flavorful malt such as Maris Otter or Vienna instead of pale malt. The goal is to reduce the fermentable sugars the malted grain produces during the mash process.

Cut back on the hops. Every beer has a BU:GU ratio, that is, bitterness units to gravity units. If you lower the gravity, you will need to lower the bitterness to keep the same perception of bitterness. As a professor of mine used to say, “It’s all relative.” For example, if your favorite IPA has a BU:GU ratio of one and it’s OG (original gravity) is 1.070 with 80 IBUs and you decide to lower your OG to 1.040 then your new IBU target should be 45 IBUs (40/70 x 80). The 45 IBUs will keep the same bitterness to maltiness as the bigger beer. Also consider hop bursting and and hop stands to give the flavor and aroma punch without the added bitterness that comes from boiling.

Consider poorer attenuating yeast (that is one that finishes at a higher specific gravity). Also, consider under-pitching the beer. You want to leave sweetness and maltiness in the background so the beer doesn’t taste watery. Instead of California Ale yeast try Ringwood or an English Ale yeast. You want the fruity ester compounds.

Smooth Sailing Session IPA

Recipe

Batch Size: 5.50 gal
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Boil Time: 60 min
End of Boil Vol: 6 gal
Final Bottling Vol: 5.00 gal
Est Original Gravity: 1.044
Est Final Gravity: 1.014
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 4.0 %
Bitterness: 36.4 IBUs
Est Color: 6.9 SRM
Efficiency: 70%

Grain Bill

2.174 kg    Vienna Malt (Great Western) (3.5 SRM)      50.6 %
1.087 kg    Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)     25.3 %
0.353 kg    Caramel/Crystal Malt – 20L (20.0 SRM)    8.2 %
0.353 kg    Caravienne Malt (22.0 SRM)      8.2 %
0.163 kg    White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)      3.8 %
0.163 kg    White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)       3.8 %

Hop Schedule

9.00 g    Galaxy [14.80 %] – First Wort 60.0 min
7.00 g    Cascade [5.50 %] – Boil 20.0 min
7.00 g    Chinook [13.00 %] – Boil 20.0 min
7.07 g    Chinook [13.00 %] – Boil 5.0 min
7.00 g    Cascade [5.50 %] – Boil 5.0 min
16.00 g   Amarillo [9.20 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 0.0 min
8.00 g    Chinook [13.00 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 0.0 min
16.00 g  Simcoe [13.00 %] – Dry Hop
16.00 g Cascade [5.50 %] – Dry Hop
32.00 g Grapefruit peel – Dry Hop

Yeast

2.0 pkg    American West Coast Ale Dry Yeast (Danstar #BRY-97)

Mash Steps

Name    Description    Step Temperature    Step Time
Mash In    Add 11.20 l of water at 168.2 F    156.0 F    15 min
Mash Out    Add 4.48 l of water at 202.4 F    168.0 F    10 min

Boil for 60 minutes.

I will let you know how it turned out in a few weeks. In the meantime, have you brewed a session beer? How did it turn out?

For more information see: “Five Tips for Session Beer Brewers” and “Session Beers: Techniques

Footnotes

  1. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, an American IPA is:
    “A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties. The balance is hop-forward, with a clean fermentation profile, dryish finish, and clean, supporting malt allowing a creative range of hop character to shine through.” pg 37, 2015 BJCP Guidelines (PDF)
  2. For comparison, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light each have 4.2% ABV.

Northern California Homebrewers Festival 2015

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Our Malt Konocti Mashers’ booth on the right with a little waiting area in front of the dispensary.

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This year’s theme was Prohibition. Under the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, doctors could write prescriptions for alcohol. “You’ve gotta fever and the prescription is more beer.”

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Looking toward “Home” (left of photo) where you register and buy tee-shirts.

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Dr. Paul tasting a prescription to see if it meets his exacting standards.

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Patients could choose from a tasty array of medications.

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Next door to our booth was a “barber shop” where one of the aerosol cans of Barbasol dispensed an IPA.

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The D.O.Z.E. ([Mt.] Diablo Order Of Zymiracle Enthusiasts) booth was a Dept of Treasury office with soda up front and samples of forbidden beer in the back.

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Looking to the left of our booth.

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Evidence tags on illegal beer at the GBA booth.

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The Worts of Wisdom booth had soda in the front (self-serve). Word is that they had beer behind the curtain.

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GBA’s serving list being prepared.

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Almaden Brewers prove that tie-die is not dead, though it should be.

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Silicon Valley Sudzers had some cute names for their beers.

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The Silicon Valley Sudzer branch office of the IRS.

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The Doctor is in.

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GBA getting rid of the evidence by drinking it away.

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A wanted poster for Willie the Brewer on a trash can.

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Across from our booth. The lecture tent and stage on the left.

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The checkered awning is the booth for tasting the club competition beers.

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Lecture tent and stage on the right. More booths on the left.

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The “Library” with the faux stone walls had some amazing food.

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Dr. Jon dispensing medicine to needy patients. The sign in front says, “The Amazing Dr. Paul’s Healthful Elixirs: Good for What Ales You.”

These photos are from the Northern California Homebrewers Festival (NCHF).

NCHF was bittersweet this year, landing as it did, during the Valley Fire. When we set up our booth, we knew at least one member had lost his home and two others were not sure. To say it put a damper on our spirits would not be overstating it.

We thought we might just have a pile of burnt rubble instead of any booth. In the end, we set up and made the best of it.

The theme this year was Prohibition. Prior to the event we did some research (okay we Googled it) and learned that prescriptions were written for alcohol. So we ordered some toy stethoscopes and reflective mirrors for our foreheads, and printed up some fake Rx pads. We prescribed many of the following: Dr. Kam A. Sutra’s India Pale Tonic, Dr. Paul’s Chocolate Coconut Porter Elixir, Blanche’s Nutritive Cream Ale Tonic, Dr. Jon’s Mother’s Milk Stout, or Dr. Jon’s Three for the Road Tripel.

Next year’s theme is…wait for it…Belgium. So if you like beer that tastes like a barnyard with cloves and bananas sprinkled about, you’ll love the NCHF in 2016.

In which I give more badly written beer history a good kicking

I am currently listening to William Bostwick’s “The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer,” which, “is a beer-filled journey into the past: the story of brewers gone by and one brave writer’s quest to bring them—and their ancient, forgotten beers—back to life, one taste at a time. Pull up a bar stool and raise a glass to 5,000 years of fermented magic.”

Bostwick’s theme seems to be that beer continues to change and reinvent itself, and, as such, labels and categories confine it in a way that lessens its enjoyment by the drinker. Bostwick’s evocative language makes for a good story. I am saddened that the story is not quite as true as I would have hoped.

Zythophile

Why oh why am I still having to write lengthy corrections to articles about the history of India Pale Ale? Well, apparently because the Smithsonian magazine, the official journal published by the Smithsonian Institution, is happy to print articles about the history of India Pale Ale without anybody doing any kind of fact-checking – and William Bostwick, beer critic for the Wall Street Journal, appears to be one of those writers who misinterpret, make stuff up and actively get their facts wrong.

The article Bostwick had published on Smithsonian.com earlier this week, “How the India Pale Ale Got Its Name”, is one of the worst I have ever read on the subject, crammed with at least 25 errors of fact and interpretation. It’s an excellent early contender for the Papazian Cup. I suppose I need to give you a link, so here it is, and below the…

View original post 2,373 more words

Buying Rhizomes

I received an email from the contact Batch-22 link today that asked “Where can I get rhizomes?”

Rather than respond via email, it makes just as much sense to answer this online.

Zeus hops flowering.

Zeus hop bines with flowers

Rhizomes, if you are not familiar, are root cuttings from female hop plants. Females produce the hop cones that brewers put in the boiling wort.

Entering “Hop rhizomes” into a web search yields a full page of companies that sell rhizomes. I get mine through MoreBeer. See: http://morebeer.com/category/hop-rhizomes.html Plenty of other homebrew supply stores sell hop rhizomes when they are available. MoreBeer is out of 2014’s stock and will send an email when you can preorder 2015’s varieties. Do some research and find the one that will grow in your climate.

Happy brewing and Merry Christmas.

Norm

This Week in Brewzasters – Jago Pale Ale

Yesterday saw the brewing of another batch of the crowd pleasing Jago Bay Pale Ale, the house pale ale. Our sensory panel (well, me and some of the Malt Konocti Mashers, but “sensory panel” sounds better) says,

“This, to me, is a classic pale. In the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale template. There is an upfront sweetness/maltiness, a bready and toast flavor midway, followed by a the hop bitterness. A very drinkable beer.”

 

“WOW.”

This was the ninth iteration of the house pale. Each time the recipe has been tweaked by one item to learn if the change was better or not. The switching from Vienna to Victory malt has added a pleasant complexity, a bready flavor that is a keeper (though Amber malt will be tried soon–it has the same qualities with slightly more intensity).

Our ribbon-winning House Pale Ale.

Our ribbon-winning House Pale Ale.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the recipe for 5 gallons of Jago Bay Pale Ale* (PDF):

Est Original Gravity: 1.050 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.011 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.1 %
Bitterness: 34.6 IBUs
Est Color: 6.6 SRM

10.63 lb    Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)     90 %
0.75 lb  Victory Malt (25.0 SRM)    Grain        6 %
0.24 lb    Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM)    Grain        2.0 %
0.24 lb    White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)    Grain        2.0 %
0.5 oz    Galaxy [14.80 %] – Boil 60.0 min    Hop        23.2 IBUs
0.5 oz   Cascade [7.70 %] – Boil 10.0 min    Hop        4.0 IBUs
0.5 oz  Chinook [13.00 %] – Boil 10.0 min    Hop        7.4 IBUs
0.5 oz    Cascade [7.70 %] – Boil 0.0 min    Hop        0.0 IBUs
0.5 oz  Chinook [13.00 %] – Boil 0.0 min    Hop        0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg    SafAle English Ale (DCL/Fermentis #S-04) [23.66 ml]  Yeast
1.0 pkg    Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) [50.28 ml]    Yeast
1.0 oz    Chinook [13.00 %] – Dry Hop     Hop     0.0 IBUs

Single Infusion 150F mash (Mash into 4.5 gallons of water at 159 F)
Sparge Water: 4.2 gal
Sparge Water Temperature: 168.0 F

*65% efficiency

My House Pale Ale

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Not yet fully carbonated. This house pale ale is a nice blend of malt, hoppiness, and toastiness.

If your first pick for an ice cream flavor is vanilla, you may be a Pale Ale person. That vanilla ice cream tells you a lot about the other flavors that the maker has and how good they will be. Pale Ale, like vanilla, is the base for everything else in the lineup.

Gordon Strong, the world’s only Grand Master Level V Beer Judge, says this about American Pale Ale:

I always call for an American pale ale first. Why? Well, it’s a common style that every pub should have, and it allows for some creativity. But it also takes a little bit of finesse and is a good measure of the brewer’s skill. The same holds true with homebrewers; don’t tell me about all the oddball beers you can make. Show me first that you have your basic skills down. Give me an everyday American pale ale.

Making a drinkable and yet interesting American Pale Ale continues to be my quest. This last batch seems to be the grail. Good hop flavor with a touch of sweetness from the Caramel 60 malt and toastiness from the Victory malt.

The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) says the flavor should be:

Usually a moderate to high hop flavor… Low to moderately high clean malt character supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuity)….Caramel flavors are usually restrained or absent. Fruity esters can be moderate to none. Moderate to high hop bitterness with a medium to dry finish. Hop flavor and bitterness often lingers into the finish. No diacetyl [burnt butter or butterscotch flavor].

This American Pale Ale recipe started out as the American Pale Ale recipe from “Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew” by Jamil Zainasheff Palmer. It has been tweaked enough that it is now quite different. The latest tweak was to substitute Victory malt for the Vienna malt (which had replace Jamil’s Munich malt in the original recipe). The Sinamar in the recipe adds color without the flavor that would come from Chocolate malt or Midnight wheat.

This is a 10 gallon batch and the mash efficiency is at 82%. If your efficiency is higher or lower, you will need to adjust your amounts.

Est Original Gravity: 1.052 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.011 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.3 %
Bitterness: 38.3 IBUs
Est Color: 8.2 SRM

Mash Temp: 152F for 60 minutes

Pre-boil gravity was 1.042

Ingredients
Amt Name Type Step % or IBU
17.19 gal The brewer’s water Water 1
10.00 g Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 mins) Water Agent 2
0.03 kg Sinamar (750.0 SRM) Adjunct 3 0.30%
7.81 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 4 89.50%
0.54 kg Victory Malt (25.0 SRM) Grain 5 6.20%
0.17 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 6 2.00%
0.17 kg White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM) Grain 7 2.00%
28.00 g Galaxy [14.80 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 8 25.7 IBUs
28.00 g Cascade [7.70 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 9 4.4 IBUs
28.00 g Chinook [13.00 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 10 8.2 IBUs
28.00 g Cascade [7.70 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 11 0.0 IBUs
28.00 g Chinook [13.00 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 12 0.0 IBUs
3.0 pkg Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) [50.28 ml] Yeast 13
1.0 pkg SafAle English Ale (DCL/Fermentis #S-04) [23.66 ml] Yeast 14
56.70 g Chinook [13.00 %] – Dry Hop 14.0 Days Hop 15 0.0 IBU

What flavors and aromas do you like in your American Pale Ale?