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.
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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.

Speed Brewing Your Six-Pack of Beer

At DFH Rehoboth Brew & Eats. Cheers.

Brew one in less than an hour. Cheers.

James Spencer and Steve Wilkes must be the nicest guys on the web. One of these days I would love to meet them. Their Basic Brewing website and (mostly James but more than occasionally Steve) podcasts are fun and informative. I really recommend the podcasts on toxicology of home brewing.

In this video they show how to brew an India Pale Ale in less than an hour (~45 minutes, not counting fermenting and bottling time). This technique will work fine for a pale ale (less hops) or a blonde (less malt and less hops).

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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.

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Worts of Wisdom booth in background

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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.

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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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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.