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.

This Week in BrewZasters: Brewing the House Pale

Here's Big Red at 1 week old

I’m brewing the house pale ale today. The minor changes made to the 10 gallon recipe below are 20g of gypsum in the mash and 1oz of Sinamar coloring. The Sinamar addition should bring the color to near a 6 SRM.

Batch Size: 10.00 gal Style: American Pale Ale
Boil Size: 13 gal Style Guide: BJCP 2008
Color: 6 SRM Equipment: – My Keggle (15 gal capacity)
Bitterness: 41.4 IBUs Boil Time: 75 min
Est OG: 1.052 (12.8° P) Mash Profile: Single Infusion, 154F (Medium-Full Body)
Est FG: 1.014 SG (3.5° P) Fermentation: ~66F
ABV: 5.0% Taste Rating: 5 stars
17.19 gal The brewer’s water Water 1
18 lbs 5.6 oz Pale Malt (2 Row) US (1.8 SRM) Grain 2
1 lbs 4.0 oz Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM) Grain 3
13.0 oz White Wheat Malt (3.1 SRM) Grain 4
1.1 oz Galaxy [14.8%] – First Wort Hops 5
1.0 oz Cascade [5.5%] – Boil 10 min Hops 6
1.0 oz Centennial [10.0%] – Boil 10 min Hops 7
1.0 oz Cascade [5.5%] – Boil 0 min Hops 8
1.0 oz Centennial [10.0%] – Boil 0 min Hops 9
1.0 oz Sinamar color 10
4 pkgs Fermentis Safale 05 Yeast 11
2.0 oz Galaxy [14.8%] – Dry Hop 4 days Hops 12
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This Week in BrewZasters: MyBrewCo and the Accidental IPA (on purpose)

This past week I have had some good exchanges with Michael, the designer of the MyBrewCo.com website. Being a typical male, after reading in Brew Your Own (BYO) magazine that MyBrewCo existed, I jumped in and set up my own “Batch-22 Brewery (tagline: There’s Always a Batch). After I set up the Batch-22 Brewery, I posted my observations on this site (here) and Michael had responded to those (see the comments).

An Unexpected IPA. It was supposed to be an American Pale Ale.

An Unexpected IPA. It was supposed to be an American Pale Ale.

Thinking there was no time like the present to start tracking my brewing online, I tried uploading an XML file for the Accidental IPA that was exported from my BeerSmith program. This led to an error message that the recipe didn’t meet the database’s needs.  Databases are notoriously literal and don’t handle human inconsistencies well. (Michael says the standard procedure for standards is to deviate slightly from the standard.) In the end, I created the recipe on the website by picking ingredients from its drop-down menus. (Note: now when you upload a recipe the site tells you that your “File has been uploaded. We’ll process the file and let you know if the recipes need repairing. You can navigate away from this page.”)

Brewing the Accidental IPA on purpose

As you may recall, the first version Accidental IPA was supposed to be an an American pale ale from the book, “Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew” by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer. However the original gravity was higher than normal due to some alignment of things* that weren’t there before in my brewing that affected the efficiency of the brew session (apologies for the awkwardness of the sentence).  More sugars in the wort means more food for the yeast which gives the beer more alcohol in the end.

Yesterday, the plan was to brew the Accidental IPA on purpose. As always, I got out the trusty Brewer’s Logbook from BasicBrewing.com for my notes–paper and pencil really help capture stuff as it’s happening. I hit the numbers that the beer needed: 12.5 gallons of 1.057 wort pre-boil and 9.5 (I wanted 10) gallons of 1.072 wort into the fermenters.

One reason for notes is that I follow Tasty McDole’s method of mashing, in that I don’t sweat trying to calculate the exact strike water amount (at 1.25 quart/1 pound of grain), but simply put in 10 gallons and then fly sparge (rinse) the grains. Keeping track of the strike water temps for different size grain bills for 10 gallons of water becomes important to put in your notes, if you want to replicate the results.

I also went to MyBrewCo.com and set up a “Brew Job.” (You may set up a Brew Job only if you are registered as a “Brewery.”) I picked my recipe, named it On Purpose IPA, picked the mash schedule from the Mash Template (Infusion, Mash Out, Fly Spare, Medium [body])**, the Brewing Method (all-grain), and a few other details and told the program to “Create” the Brew Job. The program then gives you an overview of the job, including the beer’s profile (tachometer-style dials indicate the IBUs, the predicted original gravity, final gravity, ABV, and color***).  Above the dials are tabs relating to the batch: Job, Brew Day, Mashing*, Schedule, equipment, Fermentable, Hop, Miscellaneous, Yeast, Actuals (actual volumes of wort produced), Readings, Notes, Carbonation, and Batch Split.

After the instructions, the “Readings” tab is probably the most beneficial/important. It is here you add a “Reading Type” (Gravity or Temperature). Within the drop-down menu of the Temperature choice you will find: “Ambient, Grain, Mash-In, Rest, Mash-Out, Boil, Into Fermenter, Pitch, Primary, Secondary, Container, Serving.” What was missing, for me, was Strike Water temperature****.  I track the strike water temperature so that I can duplicate (or, more often, tweak it up or down because the mash temp was off) the result next time. I would like to see the strike water temperature in there (maybe it is and I missed it). I would also like to see the mash temperature listed in the recipe–mash temp controls the body of the beer. (for more on mash temperature and the body of the beer, see Brad Smith’s write-up here.)

Brewing is a craft–a mixture of art and science. You may think of brewing as I do, a simple process of making a porridge, saving the liquid and tossing out the grainy bits, boiling, cooling, and fermenting. But as you get better and acquire more knowledge, you consider more and more steps/requirements–and there are lots of those. MyBrewCo tries to help you track and manage the stuff involved in making consistently good beer, while trying to be different/better than other online brewing sites such as BrewToad.com. I wish Michael luck in this and will continue to help in dialing in the process.

About MyBrewCo.com

The MyBrewCo website says it is designed to, “Manage your brewing online.” You can:

  • “Create and upload Recipes”.
  • “Convert Recipes between brewing methods, unit of measures and automatically scale to equipment”.
  • “Let the system manage your efficiency and automatically scale recipes”.
  • “Manage recipe versions, copy and modify any recipe in the database”.
  • Create “An online shopping list, add custom items or let the system populate when a job is created”.
  • “Use our calendar or plug your brewing schedule into your favorite application using the internet calendar”.
  • “Use our online shopping list, add custom items or let the system populate when Use our online shopping list, add custom items or let the system populate when” you are ready to do so.
  • “Manage Brew Jobs, view recipe and instructions”.
  • “Record brew day statistics for analysis.”
  • “Track efficiencies between equipment profiles”.
  • “Record gravity readings and track your beer’s fermentation”.

*Perhaps my grain grinder has the perfect alignment of its teeth so it gives the perfect crush or switching from brewing in a bag (BiAB) to fly sparging or something else made the mash efficiency go up.

**The choice of the Mash Template is quite important. On my first attempt I wasn’t paying close attention and missed this selection and the first choice in the queue was chosen by default. This would normally not be a big deal, you would go to where you could edit the mash schedule and change it. The only change allowed after the program creates the Brew Job is to change the name of the mash; the temperatures, times, and steps cannot be altered. You will need to delete the Brew Job and reenter the data.

***The color that the program gives is a 10 SRM and the beer is probably a 4.0-5.5 SRM.

****The rule of thumb is to heat the strike water 10F more than the mash temperature desired due to the cooling provided by the grain (at 1.25 quarts of water per 1 pound of grain).

This Week in BrewZasters: American, erm, India Pale Ale (Take 2)

Cover of "Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winn...

I know I used this picture last time. But, really, you need this book. (Cover via Amazon)

Yesterday, we here at Flog This Dead brewing, tried our hand again at an American pale ale (definition here). And, again, we made a 10 gallon batch of beer.

The recipe was the same as before and came from the book, “Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew” by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer. (Really, if you don’t have this book in your library, you should.)

American Pale Ale
Anticipated alcohol by volume: 5.82%
Anticipated Original gravity: 1.056
Anticipated Final gravity: 1.012
Anticipated IBUs: 39
Anticipated Color: 4.5 SRM
Anticipated Efficiency: 65% (Actual Efficiency 76%!)

Grain Bill (for 10 gallons)
23.0 lbs of 2-Row Malt
1.6 lbs of Vienna Malt (substituted for Munich)
1.0 White Wheat Malt

Mashed for 60 minutes into 10 gallons at 154F (recipe calls for 152F)

Fly-Sparged at 168F

Boil time was 90 minutes

Hop Schedule
1.25 oz Horizon Galaxy (14% alpha acids) 60 minutes from end of boil
1 oz Cascade (10% alpha acids) 10 minutes from end of boil
1 oz Centennial (5.5% alpha acids) 10 minutes from end of boil
1 oz Cascade (5.5% alpha acids) 0 minutes from end of boil
1 oz Centennial (10% alpha acids) 0 minutes from end of boil
And, since the OG landed higher than a pale, it was dry-hopped:
1 oz Citra (12.0% alpha acids) dry-hopped
1 oz Cascade (5.5% alpha acids) dry-hopped
1 oz Galaxy (14.0% alpha acids) dry-hopped

The wort was divided into three carboys (4 gal, 3 gal, and 3 gal).

Two carboys were pitched with Fermentis’s Safale 05 yeast (I toyed with pitching one with Safale 04 but decided not to), and one carboy had Wyeast 3787 Trappist Ale yeast pitched into it. My son and my friend Paul are excited about the Belgian brew.

Actual alcohol by volume: 8.1%
Actual Original gravity: 1.071
Actual Final gravity: 1.010
Calculated IBUs: 39
Calculated Color: 4.5 SRM
Actual Efficiency: 76%

For the second time in a row, our American pale ale jumped into the India pale ale category (for two of the carboys–the Trappist will be Belgian-y), at least as far as alcoholic content is concerned.

This Week on BrewZasters: Brewing a Single-Hopped Ale

Humulus lupulus

The hop plant with cones. The cones hold the hop oil which give beer its bitterness. (Photo credit – Flickr)

This week on BrewZasters, we brew a beer using a single type of hop–in this case the Falconer’s Flight hop.

Many in the Lake County Homebrewers club are brewing these Single Hop Experiment (SHE) ales this month with the plan to compare, contrast, and exchange the beers at our meeting next month (which should occur on August 2o–the 3rd Monday of the month–at 6pm).

The recipe is very simple. The grain bill is: 9.5 lbs of 2-row malted barley, 0.75 lbs of crystal 60L malted barley, and 0.5 lbs of crystal 15L malted barley. Mash at 152F (this should give a specific gravity after the boil of 1.050).  Then the amount of hop added at 60 minutes is calculated to deliver 25 International Bittering Units (IBU–I calculated 0.68 oz of Falconer’s Flight would give 25 IBU), then 1 oz of the hop at 10 minutes and 1 minute before the end of the boil, and 1 oz of the hop in the fermenter as a “dry hop.” The yeast is White Labs California Ale WLP001.

Other than slightly scorching the bottom of my mash tunand ripping a gaping hole in my BIAB bag that I use for my mash…oh and raising the mash temperature waaaay too high again, and I’m a gallon short (4.5 gallons yield), the brew went swimmingly. The wort tastes great. Now, we wait for 14 days….

Demonstrating how to make beer without taste

Or, at least, demonstrating how to make beer without tastings of already-made home-brewed beer.

Two weekends ago my friend (and prez of the Lake County Homebrewers) Paul and I manned a booth for our homebrewing club at the  Lake County Home Wine Makers Festival in Lakeport, CA. It was the first time in at least five years that the booth for the Lake County Homebrewers’ group did not provide tastings of home-brewed beers. We decided to not pour our beers due to an opinion given to us by local officials of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (CABC) that pouring any of our homebrew at public events violates State law (at least as the local CABC interprets their regulations–regulations transform squishy language found in legislation to more concrete, hence more quantifiable language, then officials charged with enforcing the regulations interpret what the regulation’s language actually means). So, our group decided, we just could not risk losing our equipment to a CABC raid of our homes. Some of our group are going pro and will be opening nano-breweries soon and cannot risk pissing off the people reviewing their liquor licenses.

Consequently, Paul and I demonstrated the steps necessary to make an all-grain batch of India Pale Ale called Hoppiness is an IPA. Its (10 gallon) recipe is available here as a PDF.

Technically, we did not have beer until we added yeast. We split the 10-gallons of wort into two 5-gallon fermenters and took our half home where we added White Labs WP005 British Ale Yeast to the cooled wort.

I bottled my portion today (two weeks later). The starting original gravity was 1.061. The final gravity was 1.014 SG. That calculates to an attenuation of 76.5% and an ABV of 6.3% (almost a session beer by today’s IPA standards). It has ample piney bitterness and not citrusy.

This Week on BrewZasters: Bottling Laurel India Pale Ale

Last time on BrewZasters), we lost all of our  Lagunitas Brewing’s Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale clone  from our three Tap-a-Draft bottles.

Tap-a-Drafts are a compromise between bottles and kegs. It’s nice filling only three bottles…The handle has an issue. If you do not confirm that the handle is secure and the locking tab is in place, it leaks… About 15 minutes later the beer had found its way into vegetable crisper (onions, celery, and lettuce were marinating in beer), behind and under the crisper, and onto the kitchen floor…we lost one-third of our product, or about $10 retail. Damn. [Update: Lightning struck twice and a second TAD leaked. The TAD needs to be checked constantly.]

My version of Laurel IPA. Slightly cloudy with a SRM color around 6.

Well, gluttons for punishment that we are, today we packaged our third batch of Laurel India Pale Ale. The initial tastings of the flat beer hint at this being another dynamite batch. This time we filled just one Tap-A-Draft so that we can sample the Laurel sooner but we didn’t expose all our batch to the TAD [I checked that it was still holding product after writing this sentence.] We bottled the remainder in 12-ounce bottles.

We will keep constant vigilance on this batch. It is a sin to spill beer.

Fermentables
Ingredient    Amount        %         MCU    When
Pale 2-row 
Ale Malt     13lb 15oz     94.7 %    7.6   In Mash/Steeped
Carapils Malt  7.20 oz     3.1 %     0.1   In Mash/Steeped
Caramel 40L    5.40 oz     2.3 %     2.5   In Mash/SteepedHop Schedule
Hop                     %Alpha     Amt         Timing
Magnum                 11.0 %     0.77 oz    First Wort Hopped
Cascade                 5.9 %     1.85 oz   60 Min From End
Centennial              9.5 %     0.75 oz   30 Min From End
Simcoe                 12.5 %     0.30 oz   10 Min From End
Columbus(Tomahawk)     15.5 %     0.30 oz   10 Min From End
Centennial              9.5 %     0.45 oz   At turn off
Cascade                 5.9 %     0.20 oz   At turn off
Cascade                 5.9 %     2.12 oz   Dry-Hopped
Centennial              9.5 %     1.15 oz   Dry-Hopped
Citra                  11.1 %     1.00 oz   Dry-Hopped
Yeast
 White Labs WLP001-California Ale

mashed at 151F using 9 gallons of water
Output:
7.5 gallons wort pre-boil grav 1.044 @ 113F (Corrected pre-boil of 1.053)
Original gravity: 1.065
Final Gravity: 1.013
ABV: 6.9%