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.

A Whale of a Beer

Have things gotten out of hand in the world of craft beer? Did another brewery jump the shark, or was the shark just moved farther out? When did just making good beer stop being the goal and evolve to carnival act? Apparently, to even be noticed, you have to create something that’s never been done before (or in the case of Dogfish Head brewing, brew a beer that hasn’t been brewed for hundreds of years). Scottish brewers James Watt and Martin Dickie of Brew Dog have become notorious for making outrageous beers, with such beers as Sink The Bismarck! (41% ABV), a quadruple IPA. Wynkoop has brewed a stout ale with rocky mountain oysters.

Now, an Icelandic microbrewery, Steðji (Anvil) has jumped a whale and brewed a whale of a seasonal beer(5.2% alc ABV) with real whale in it. They say it will make you feel like a viking and it will be available for Iceland’s mid-winter festival.

An environmental group, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is having none of it. Vanessa Williams-Grey of WDC says, “[R]educing a beautiful, sentient whale to an ingredient on the side of a beer bottle is about as immoral and outrageous as it is possible to get.”

What will the next outrageous beer be?

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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).

Observations from the 16th Northern California Homebewers’ Festival

Neither rain, nor lightning, nor thunder will keep NCHF attendees from their appointed brews!

This was 2013’s theme and graphic for NCHF 16.

What the MKM booth was serving

What the MKM booth was serving

One year ago, the Northern California Homebrewers Festival (NCHF) was held during a hot spell. (You can read about that here) Temperatures were in the 90s. So, our club, the Malt Konocti Mashers planned for heat. None of MKM’s beers was bigger than 7.5% ABV.

What we got was this: “Showers likely (for Saturday, September 21, 2013), with thunderstorms also possible after 2pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 65. South southeast wind around 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.”

Almost on cue, the heavens opened up around two in the afternoon with lightning crackling very close to our location at the Lake Francis RV Resort in Dobbins, California.

Heck, we like water (lightning, not so much). Beer is mostly water, so we just kept on tasting great beers and eating great food.

Malt Konocti Mashers booth before the heavens unleashed

Malt Konocti Mashers booth before the heavens unleashed

Malt Konocti Mashers of Lake County banner

Malt Konocti Mashers of Lake County banner

Another view of the MKM booth as the serving day begins

Another view of the MKM booth as the serving day begins

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View on the way to the NCHF registration booth.

The registration line to pick up the wristband and tasting glass.

The registration line to pick up the wristband and tasting glass.

DOZE Spacelab with Dr. Who's TARDIS on the right.  This year's theme was "Space: The Beer Frontier."

DOZE Spacelab with Dr. Who’s TARDIS on the right. This year’s theme was “Space: The Beer Frontier.”

View of the booths on the grassy area at Lake Frances in Dobbins, CA

View of the booths on the grassy area at Lake Frances RV Resort in Dobbins, CA

DOZE's Spacelab with TARDIS booth on right.

DOZE’s Spacelab with TARDIS booth on right.

DSC08975

Worts of Wisdom booth in background

DSC08976

In case you missed it, Placerville Un.. Brewing Society is, wait for it, PUBS.

DSC08977Next year the NCHF 17 theme will be “Go West Young Brewer.” If you are interested in going in 2014, check out the NCHF website and get on their mailing list. Though this year’s festival organizers allowed 100 more people to attend, the event sold out in less than 2 hours.

Yes, kilts were there.

Yes, kilts were there.

DSC08980

DSC08981

Flying Saucer courtesy of the Chico Home Brew Club, which brought enough homebrew for all 600+ in attendance at NCHF. Notice drops of rain on the surface of the saucer. Such details qualify as foreshadowing.

Flying Saucer courtesy of the Chico Home Brew Club, which brought enough homebrew for all 600+ in attendance at NCHF. Notice drops of rain on the surface of the saucer. Such details qualify as foreshadowing.

And, then, the heavens opened up.

And, then, the heavens opened up.

I wondered if one of the brew kettles might be used as a flotation device.

I wondered if one of the brew kettles might be used as a flotation device.

It continued to rain cats, dogs, and frogs for the next several hours. The TARDIS continued to tempt, promising of dryness.

It continued to rain cats, dogs, and frogs for the next several hours. The TARDIS continued to tempt, promising of dryness.

This Week in BrewZasters – Tasting the Accidental IPA

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

Accidental IPA. It was supposed to be an American Pale Ale.

When it was brewed two weeks ago, the Accidental IPA was supposed to be an American Pale Ale.  That is, until, due to better efficiency in extracting sugars, the specific gravity was overshot by 12 points and Accidental IPA became an India Pale Ale (American style– though at around 39 IBU it is low on bitterness). The beer was dry-hopped with 1 ounce each of Citra, Falconer’s Flight™, and Centennial hops.

This time, instead of bottling the batch, it was put into a 5 gallon keg and 3 keggettes (Tap-A-Drafts actually, if truth be told).

Appearance

The beer is cloudy, perhaps due to the yeast not having dropped, or from the use of wheat, or the pickup tube pulling yeast in. Its color is about a 3 or 4 SRM (the color of straw,which is lighter than what the picture shows) and has a foamy white head. There is little lacing left on the glass after the beer is gone.

Aroma

The beer’s aroma is subtle, a sweet combination of malt and citrus. As the beer warms a fruity character appears (probably from the Citra dry-hopping).

Taste

My impression is that the beer leans toward the bitter side but not jarringly so and tastes of citrus. The aftertaste is citrus also. There may be an off-note that I can’t quite wrap my tongue around, but then I could be overly critical.

Mouthfeel

It strikes me as a bit on the light side, though not unpleasantly so. The beer is well carbonated and tingles the tongue and adds to the bitterness.

Overall Impression

This is a dangerous beer. It’s 7.5% ABV hides in the carbonation and citrus flavors and will definitely affect your ability to say no to another. It’s a drinkable beer with a good beat that many could dance to. I think it will be a hit at the Northern California Homebrewers Festival in September.

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Observations from the 15th Northern California Homebewers’ Festival

NCHF 15 logo and theme, “Our Founding Fathers.” From left to right: Ken Grossman, Charlie Papazian, Michael Jackson, and Fritz Maytag

It’s ninety degrees in the shade, if there were any shade, and I’m carrying a four-ounce taste of beer and a paper hot dog carrier filled with pulled pork up a hill toward a wooden picnic table underneath some live oaks. There’s reggae music playing in the background behind me, and as I walk, on my right a guy wearing a kilt is talking on a smartphone, “Have you ever strapped on a kilt?” he calls into the phone; as though wearing a kilt is completely new to him and wants to know if someone else has had the same feeling that he is experiencing now.

I’m at the 15th annual Northern California Homebrewers’ Festival and the first I have ever attended. Though the first festival was held in Skyline Park in Napa in 1998,

it is now held yearly at the Francis Lake Resort in Dobbins, California on the autumnal equinox—a religious event, of sorts (that goes a long way toward explaining the chanting and drumming later on at midnight). The festival registrar, Paul Keefer, tells me this year’s attendance is around 500. There are 36 homebrew clubs, under an assortment of canopies, pouring homebrew and handing out food.

“Mary, the Queen of Beers” tells me, “If you can’t find something you like here, you may as well pack up your tent and hit the road.” She is of indeterminate age, somewhere between 50 and death. She wears bangles on her wrists and bottle caps serve as earrings. She is to this beer event what the Annie Savoy is to the movie Bull Durham—a true believer in beer. She has tried them all and the only one that satisfies her is the Church of Beer.

Mary is right. While many of the beers are styles that just don’t appeal to me–meads, bretts, sours, and the like–I found a lot to taste: American Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, lagers, etc.

We are an eclectic mix of geeks (the male/female ratio is about 60/40), who probably enjoy talking about beer and beer making as much as we do drinking our product. And, there is a lot of product. According to Mary, Queen of Beers, there are “278 different tastes on tap here.” She knows because she went around and counted them. One booth had a couple of low-alcohol session beers. The 2.8% ABV one tasted like a liquid pretzel, bready and delicious.  A friend loved the Kölschs and Milds and he said Berliner Weiss beers both straight as well as with the raspberry and woodruff syrups were delicious.

Tossing the keg competition

Tossing the keg competition

From the picnic table on the hill, I see a knot of people at the rustic resort’s baseball field. At first I think it could be a pickup game of softball but the spectators are ringed around the infield. I wander down to the field, stopping only to sample a few more beers and finger foods, to find that it is the brewers’ version of a caber toss from the highland games. Mostly guys, but some women too, are testing their strength and skill at tossing an empty 15-gallon beer keg as far as they can. At the time I checked, the farthest toss was 29 feet.

In addition to the keg toss there are other competitions. There is the club competition for historical beers (one of them used molasses and sunflower and pumpkin seeds) and one for beers using brown malt. A chalice filled with samples of all 278 beers sat on top of the trophy. After the finalists were announced someone was going to have to drink from it–whether that was the winner or the losers was not clear to me.

If you were at this or other NCHFs please leave a comment below. As always, regardless or whether you have experienced any NCHFs, your comments are appreciated.

For more on the Northern California Homebrewers’ Festival see their website (http://nchfinfo.org/)

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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.