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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This Week in BrewZasters: American Pale Ale

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

Cover via Amazon

Yesterday at flog this dead brewing we made an American pale ale (definition here). And, for the first time ever in our brewing history, we made a 10 gallon batch of beer. The recipe came from the book, “Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew” by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer. If you don’t have this book in your library, you should. The recipes are designed for extract brewers, and also have the recipe for all grain brewers.

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%

Recipe (keep in mind this is for a 10 gallon batch of American pale ale):

We needed to slightly modify the grain bill for Jamil’s American pale ale by replacing the Munich malt with 1.75 pounds of Vienna malt. The rest was 23 pounds of 2 row barley malt and 1.25 pounds of white wheat malt.

The hop schedule for this one was 1.25 ounces of Galaxy hops at 60 min. (we had no Horizon hops in stock), 1 ounce of Cascade hops at 10 min., 1 ounce of Centennial hops at 10 min., 1 ounce of Cascade hops at 0 min., and 1 ounce of Centennial hops at 0 min. in addition, we will dry hop with 2 ounces of Falconer’s Flight hops.

4 packages of Fermentis’s Safale 05 yeast

In addition to this being flog this dead brewing’s 1st 10 gallon batch, it was also the 1st time we have ever fly sparged (our 15 gallon keggles could not handle that much grain and water at the same time). Perhaps it was the fly sparging for our better than 65% efficiency, but our efficiency was 73%. As a result, what should have been an original gravity of 1.056 turned onto be 1.068. Our American pale ale is in the India pale ale category at least as far as alcoholic content.

The beer is now in Better Bottle fermenters (and covered with wet T-shirts to keep the beer as cool as possible under trying conditions) and merrily percolating away. The initial taste of the raw wort is of a sweet pleasantly hopped ale. We should know in a week to 10 days if this batch will be a success.

This week on BrewZasters: Session IPA

I got a call from my friend Ron, the owner and head brewer, at Kelsey Creek Brewing Company the week before last. He had some American ale yeast, would I like it? Hell yes, I would like it. Getting “some yeast” from Ron is the equivalent of maybe 10 starter batches; it’s probably a pint (~0.5L) of active yeast.

I recently found a recipe for a “small” IPA (India Pale Ale) that I wanted to try. The recipe falls pretty well into the hoppy pale ale category. The idea is to give the “mouthfeel” and hoppiness of an IPA without the alcohol kick. Or, what I call a session IPA. Here’s the recipe:

(Anticipated) Original gravity = 1.045

(Anticipated) Finished gravity = 1.012

(Anticipated) SRM (Color) = 18

(Anticipated) Alcohol By Volume = 4.3%

Grain Bill (Mash at 152F/67C for 60 minutes)

2.9 lb (1.3 kg) 2-row pale malt (2 SRM)

2.5 lb (1.13 kg) Munich malt (9 SRM)

2.0 lb (0.9 kg) Vienna malt (3.5 SRM)

Hop Schedule

0.78 Oz (22g) Simcoe hops (12% Alpha acids) at 90 minutes

1.0 (28g) U.S. Golding hops at flameout

2.0 Oz (56g) Amarillo hops “dry hopped” in secondary

Yeast

Wyeast 1968 (London ESB) yeast

The author appears to be going for an English/American fusion IPA taste by calling for a London Extra Special Bitters yeast and the aroma/dry hop additions of Golding and Amarillo hops. These aroma/dry hop additions should give the beer a floral and citrus aroma but the London ESB yeast should dampen some of the taste in ways a cleaner American ale yeast wouldn’t. The use of Munich and Vienna malts should give a fullness (I’m no expert here, I’m checking BeerSmith and BeerAlchemy for descriptions) that wouldn’t be there with straight 2-Row barley because they will yield less fermentable sugars than straight 2-Row barley would. (Experts, please leave a comment to let me know if I’m totally off base)

I wanted to make this. I really like the session beer idea where you get a lot of taste but don’t need to take a nap after two beers.

Of course, I had only two ingredients of the recipe: 2-row malted barley and Munich malt.

I needed to get creative. I had ten to twenty batch-worths of yeast that wouldn’t last indefinitely. So as somebody (Hunter S. Thompson?) once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

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

This is a picture of my Laurel IPA, but the Session IPA looks similar.. Slightly cloudy with a SRM color around 6.

Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Estimated Original Gravity: 1.045

Estimated Final Gravity: 1.010

Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 4.5 %

Estimated Bitterness: 39.0 IBUs

Estimated Color: 6.1 SRM

5 gallon batch

Grain Bill (Mash at 152F/67C for 60 minutes)

5 lbs 12.7 oz Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)

1 lbs 12.1 oz Munich Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM) Grain 2 20.5 %

12.8 oz Corn, Flaked (1.3 SRM) Grain 3 9.3 %

3.8 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 4 2.8 %

Hop addition schedule

19.84 g Galaxy [14.00 % AAU] – First Wort Hop

1 Oz (28 g) Centennial [10.00 % AAU] – Boil 0.0 min

1 Oz (28 g) Falconer’s Flight [10.50 % AAU] – Dry Hop

Yeast

3 pkg Wyeast Labs #1272 American Ale II (a bit fruitier than my go to yeast Safale 05)

I brewed it on July 8 and hit the estimated numbers right on. The wort cooled and I added the yeast. Visible fermentation happened in 30-40 minutes. It started so quickly I worried that it had an infection. I covered the Better Bottle carboy with a wet t-shirt to keep it cool and closer to the optimum fermentation temperature. The coolest part of my house, the basement, was hovering around 80F during the day—too warm for something that is not supposed to be a Belgian-style beer.

The specific gravity after two days in the fermenter was 1.010. It was transferred to another carboy (i.e. the secondary) and left for several more days.

My beer wench (i.e. my wife) and I bottled the beer today using four ounces of corn sugar mixed with the beer to carbonate (bottle conditioning).

I’m pleased with how it turned out. I give the beer 4 out of 5 stars. It tastes delightful with a citrusy hoppiness that dances on your tongue. It has a pleasant aftertaste. The mouthfeel is on the light/watery side of the scale. I would like to have a bit more fullness and maybe a little biscuit. I’ll add Victory and Vienna malts to the next batch in lieu of the corn and Crystal 60.

Moving into all-grain brewing

Gary Glass, President of the American Homebrewers Association appears in this video. The video shows him pouring crushed malted grains into a plastic ice-chest and adding hot water (hot liquor in beer geek speak) to the grains and making a porridge (aka mash).

There is a formula for deciding how hot (the strike temp) the water you add should be to get the desired temperature for the mash (the target mash temp is quite often ~149F-152F).

After the grain(the mash)  has steeped for a while (60 minutes is common), the liquid wort is drained out to be boiled. (The ice-chest has some tubing on the outside and some screening on the inside to allow the sweet wort out and keep the spent grains in.) After the wort has been captured, it is boiled (60 minutes is common) just as an extract batch would be.

This week on Brewzasters: Brewing A Small Batch not Small Beer

Beer Brewing Supplies and Ingredients

You can brew beer in a small apartment  (Photo credit: billread)

Last weekend I gathered some brewing gear up and headed out to show some friends how to brew beer.

But, I didn’t grab any large pots or big burners. I needed no pot larger than two gallons and could have done my boil on a camp stove. In fact, everything I needed fit into a six-gallon bucket (the list is toward the bottom of the page.)

We were brewing a one-gallon batch of beer.

This size is perfect:

  • If you want to try your hand at brewing beer without spending wads of cash on a five or ten gallon set-up.
  • If you don’t want to spend wads of cash only to find you don’t like drinking five to ten gallons of the same thing.
  • If you have an apartment with little space.
  • If you want to experiment and not commit to five or ten gallons.

We made the batch using a German Blonde kit from Northern Brewer. (If you are interested in creating your own, you can find a similar recipe farther down this post.)

We started with putting the grain (for added flavor and color) into the kit’s muslin sack and putting that in 3/4-gallons of warm (~140 – 160F) water. We steeped the bag filled with grains for 10-15 minutes and then removed it and brought the wort to a boil. Once the weak wort began to boil we added the 1-pound of NB’s dry light pilsen malt extract and the hops they provided in the kit. The boil lasted 45 minutes.

My brewzaster happened with my hoping that adding four pounds of ice would cool and melt after the boil (assumption being a 1/4 gallon loss to evaporation which leave 1/2 gallon of hot wort). The ice worked well at cooling…it was the melting that didn’t happen–it looked like a pot of iced coffee with cubes of ice filling the pot. So, I transferred the wort to the carboy and added some bottled water to bring the wort up to one gallon. (The original gravity was 1.040SG)

Once we had a gallon of cooled wort, we added one-half package of yeast (no need for a starter with a one-gallon batch) and put the cap and air lock in place.

We plan to bottle it next week.

Call Me Irresponsible Blonde recipe

  • Est Original Gravity: 1.045 SG
  • Est Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 4.5 %
  • Bitterness: 20.0 IBUs
  • Est Color: 3.9 SRM

Ingredients

  • 3 oz  Caramel/Crystal Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM)
  • 16 oz Extra Light Dry Extract (3.0 SRM)
  • 0.23 oz Willamette hops [5.50 %] – Boil 60.0 min
  • 1/2 package of Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) Yeast

Steep grains for 10-15 minutes at ~150-160F (65-71C). Remove grain bag and bring to a boil. Once a boil has started, add hops (watch out for boil over). Boil for 60 minutes and cool. Transfer to a fermenter and add 1/2 package of yeast. Put air-lock (partially fill air-lock with water and sanitizer or vodka) or blow-off apparatus (tube on air lock opening and the other end of the tube in a jar of water and sanitizer) on the carboy and put in a cool (about 66F) and dark place for 10-14 days. Check daily to watch for over-active fermentation.

What you need to brew a one-gallon batch

  • Beer kit or beer recipe ingredients
  • One to two gallon pot (i.e., your brew kettle)
  • One-half gallon of sterile ice
  • One-gallon carboy fermenter with airlock
  • Stirring spoon
  • Scale (optional)[1]
  • Meat or candy Thermometer
  • Hydrometer (optional)
  • Cleaner (e.g., PBW – Powdered Brewery Wash)
  • Sanitizer (e.g.,Star San)
  • Mini-siphon or sterile flexible tubing
  • Large measuring cup
  • One gallon bottled water
  • Stuff for after fermentation has completed:
    • 11 sanitized 12-oz bottles (to be used in 10-14 days after brewing)
    • Bottle capper
    • Bottle caps (if you don’t want to mess with capping, you can use swing-style cap bottles)
    • ¼ cup corn sugar or sugar tablets (e.g., NorthernBrewer.com’s 8 oz Fizz Drops)

[1] For small batches we can estimate ~0.25-0.30 ounces of pellet hops per tablespoon.

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….

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%