This post is one in a series of making small adjustments to a single recipe in order to improve it, learn more about the impact each ingredient has on the finished product, and the art of recipe creation. The rest of the series can be found here.
Another Friday evening brew. I had bought my grains and hops a few days before and began preparing my setup on Thursday night so that all I had to do when I got home the next day was light the propane under my strike water to get going. But as seems to be universal brewing law, nothing can ever go 100% right. As I was gathering my tubing, airlock, etc., I was holding my hydrometer in one hand. (Everyone knows where this story is going.) Not thinking, I let my hand tilt and the hydrometer slid out of the tube, landing on the skinny top-end and doing so firmly on my concrete garage floor. Six years of brewing and I had yet to break a hydrometer. I had begun to believe that I was immune from this seemingly ubiquitous brewer’s problem—but hubris is the downfall of many. I’m sure having a drink or two prior to getting my stuff together certainly didn’t help either.
So, after using my Friday lunch break to make a quick run to the LHBS, I once again had a hydrometer and now had everything that I needed to start brewing when I got home. I was particularly excited for this version of my red IPA for a few reasons. The first reasons was that I had finally achieved a malt profile I wanted to keep with Iteration 5 and it was time to start toying with hops. The second reason was that after several brew days resulting in varying efficiency and lower than anticipated OGs (though maintaining the same process), I believed I had finally determined my problem: the crush provided by the LHBS mill. My solution to this problem was to have them mill my grain twice, hopefully negating any variation in crush in future batches, but also hopefully boosting my efficiency to allow me to achieve 7%+ ABV. As a side note, I did have to rely on my mash efficiency to yield this result as my 5-gallon cooler mash tun was maxed out at 12 lbs. of grain (assuming I wanted a reasonable liquor to grist ratio).
The double milling was a success…ish. It did result in my second ever stuck mash, so I ended up skipping my usual vorlauf step when I sparged since the run-off rate was far less of a problem when I first opened the valve. It did, however, result in particularly high mash efficiency, and that felt worth it. I think I’ll continue asking my LHBS to double mill my grains for now and simply skip the vorlauf, especially since that cloudy wort didn’t result in any cloudier of a beer than I normally get—but that’s another issue for another post.
Iteration 5 was perfect in the malt department. It had the dark fruit tones I wanted and had a characteristic red ale taste. The problem was that it wasn’t particularly red, nor was it IPA-level in terms of hoppiness.
For the color issue, I decided to shoot for an estimated 16 SRM, having read previously that this is where the red hue starts to become actually red and having personally experienced this to be true in an earlier iteration. I didn’t really want to change my malt profile, but I did add another 3 ounces of C120 to try to achieve this color. While I was concerned previously about the roastiness more than a pound of C120 added, I had upped the amount of base malt since that iteration and felt comfortable adding a bit more C120 as the percentage of the grist was still less than it was when I had the issue of roast flavor. This left me with a few questions from last time:
- How do I lessen the harshness of the bitterness without lowering the level of bitterness?
- How do I achieve more citrus flavor/aroma and less floral (while still maintaining some of that)?
- How should I adjust my boil/dry hop schedule to achieve more hop aroma/flavor?
- Should I change my hop combination?
- Should I add more hops (in weight)?
To be honest, I didn’t address the first question (regarding harshness) in considering how to adjust my hops for this iteration. The last two questions were simple to answer: yes. However, the trick was determining what that looked like. In order to make a change but to make it small enough that I could determine what the actual effect of that change was, I decided only to add one more ounce of hops into the mix and keep the three varieties of hops that I had previously used. I hoped that this change would also address my desire for more citrus aroma and less of the floral aroma, but I honestly wasn’t sure. The only way to know would be to try it out.
Another variable that hops throw into the mix is trying to balance estimated IBUs (to hopefully achieve the same level of bitterness, although I won’t begin to explore the issue of IBUs here). This is in addition to timing, variety, and amount of each. I thought hard about how best to approach this, and I finally landed on striving for an estimated IBU of within 10 IBUS of the last iteration (since research seems to show that we can’t really tell the difference between two beers 5 IBUs apart, 10 seemed acceptable to me). I also determined that I would keep my late kettle additions the same, although moving Simcoe from 60 and 30 minutes to flameout and dry hop.
Also striving to not change too much in the flavor just yet (outside of intensity), I decided on Magnum for my bittering addition. This allowed for me to skip the 30 minute addition, keep a similar IBU level, and move Simcoe to a place in the hop schedule where I could get more aroma from it. One disclaimer on the Simcoe I bought this time though: it was a different AA% than the Simcoe used in earlier iterations. I’m not sure if this was a different year’s crop or simply a different supplier for my LHBS.
It also seems that I accidently added my Centennial addition at 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes, as in earlier iterations. I did not realize I had done that until I sat down to write this post, but I do know that I did use 10 minutes in my IBU calculations.
- Mashed at 150⁰ F for 1.25 hrs.
- 10 lbs. 2-Row
- 1.2 lbs. Crystal 120
- 1 lb. Vienna
- Boiled for 1 hr.
- 1 oz. Magnum (60 min) at 14.7% AA
- 0.5 oz. Cascade (15 min) at 5% AA
- 0.5 oz. Centennial (10 min) at 9.7% AA
- 0.5 oz. Simcoe (0 min) at 12.9% AA
- Pitched US-O5
- OG: 1.066
- FG: 1.010
- ABV: 7.35%
- After 7 days, dry hopped 0.5 oz. Cascade, 0.5 oz. Centennial, and 0.5 oz. Simcoe for 5 days.
- Bottled and primed with 4 oz. of priming sugar.
This beer poured with a solid and tall head, and it had excellent staying power. The color was definitively amber. However, the hues of the beer have distinctly red tones when held up to the light. I think if I can get the haze out of my beer, this would shine the red color I’m shooting for. (On a tangential note, I believe I’ve determined the cause of the haze in my beer, and I feel fairly confident it’s due to my brewing water having only 12 ppm of calcium. I have yet to adjust my water, but this low calcium level seems to indicate that I need to strongly consider it, since 50 ppm is the lowest recommended level for any style.)
The aroma of this beer was definitely hoppy, although at the time of writing this, the aroma has faded dramatically since my first bottle a week prior. The nose is one of citrus, a little bit of floral, and that somewhat earthy dank scent so characteristic of Simcoe. The hops are covering up the malt aroma a bit more, but I’m unsure as of yet if it’s a good balance. The malt aroma that does manage to come through is really an indistinct “malt” aroma, lacking the dark fruit scent I was able to get before—or if not lacking, hidden.
The taste was initially typical IPA flavor, with the hops overpowering anything else. As the hops have mellowed over the last week, the plum and cherry flavors I wanted all along are coming through nicely, balanced by a strong, yet smooth citrus and earthy bitterness that lingers on the tongue.
Goals for the Next Brew
While the hop aroma and flavor is much improved in the intensity, I’m not sure that it is improved in the quality. I do love Simcoe as a hop, but I’m not totally sure that it’s the character I want for this beer. I’d like a little more citrus character to balance the plum and cherry flavors I’m getting from the malt, and Simcoe just isn’t doing that for me. The strength of this hop is in its distinct character, and I think, unfortunately, that’s detracting from what this beer could be.
I’m also not perfectly convinced that removing the 30 minute hop addition has improved the complexity of the hop flavor. I’m aware that many beers are now made with bookended hop additions (a bittering and flameout/whirlpool/hopstand addition) or are simply hopbursted, but removing the thirty minute addition from this beer seems to have resulted in a less complex hop flavor.
The questions I’m left with after this brew are:
- Should I replace the Simcoe hop addition, and if so, what should I replace it with?
- Should I add a 30 minute hop addition back into my hop schedule, and if so what hop?
- Can I improve the balance of hop and malt character?