Friday, December 9, 2016

How to Buy and Use Bulk Hops (by the pound)

Like so many other industries, the homebrewing industry changed a lot during and after the recession. Where there used to be few dedicated local suppliers of homebrewing equipment and ingredients, now there are many (though this may be changing). And while we have had a handful of online suppliers for quite some time (MoreBeer comes to mind), there are plenty of suppliers who are either new or who upped their online game considerably (e.g., Williams Brewing used to be primarily a catalog business). When I started brewing, there was one local shop I went to and I bought everything from them. I no longer live in California, but I still love this shop, especially for the people who work there and who helped me get into this great hobby.

But once I got really into the hobby, I realized that there was a better way to get certain supplies. And while buying whole sacks of base malt is great, I can appreciate the hassle that it represents. However, keeping dry yeast in the fridge and buying hops in bulk has saved me money, time, and has made it easier for me to get ready to brew on a moment's notice. I recommend keeping 2-6 sachets of dry yeast on hand (US-05, S-04, BRY-97, London ESB, Belle Saison, and Abbaye are all good options). I keep base malt on hand, too, so I am always ready to brew SOMETHING, even if I am alone and the LHBS is closed. If you are an extract brewer, it won't hurt to start buying dry malt extract in bulk, provided you don't let it go stale.

This is my guide to buying and using hops in homebrew for the casual brewer. Now, I am going to assume for the rest of this blog that everyone is brewing 5-gallon batches of beer, even though I brew 12-gallon batches. I am also going to assume that everyone brews once per month. If you brew more or less than this, consider changing the numbers I am recommending.

You will need to have an answer for these questions:
1. What kinds of beers do I generally brew?
2. How much freezer space to I have?
3. What kind of hops (whole/pellet) works best with my system?

First of all, everyone should be buying their hops in bulk online from hop retailers like Hops Direct and Yakima Valley Hops. There used to be a few more hop farms I recommended in the past, but today these are the two I find the most reliable and affordable. In general, Hops Direct has better prices and Yakima Valley Hops has better selection. I recommend you buy from either or both. And get a decent kitchen scale to measure your hops. Anything digital that goes to grams will work - it will also make you a better baker and coffee brewer to have one of these around.

Not only will this save you considerable money (I can pay $2.25/oz for Cascade at my LHBS or buy a pound for $9.60 at HopsDirect), but having the hops on-hand will allow you to brew whenever you want. No worrying about what they have available at the LHBS and no more getting not-too-fresh hops delivered from the online homebrew supplier. You will build your recipes (or sub when necessary) with all the ingredients you have.

Secondly, everyone who brews hoppy beers or high gravity beers should be buying a CO2-extracted hop resin. You can get the bitterness you need from these guys and not waste the kettle space with wort-absorbing hops. This is especially important if you are a whole hop brewer or someone who brews more than 100 gallons per year. That said, if you fill up some cappable oral syringes with the resin, then you put those filled syringes in a freezer bag and toss it in the fridge, they will keep very well for several years without losing much bittering potential and they take up very little space. If you're suspicious, just try one tube for your next batch and see how you feel about it. FWIW, I would describe the bittering of this resin to be similar to Warrior or Magnum.

If you are not planning to get a CO2 extract for bittering, then get an extra lb of nice clean bittering hops. Magnum, Warrior, Nugget, CTZ, and Apollo are all excellent choices in most circumstances. Magnum, Warrior, and Northern Brewer are very neutral and will leave very little aroma when boiled 60 or 90 minutes. CTZ may be a slightly bolder bitterer and has some lingering aroma, but this will rarely be a problem for a novice brewer. I would recommend Apollo over the others for most novice brewers because you can use less of it and it keeps very well and can double as an aroma hop. If you're only really into lagers and European styles, I would recommend Magnum.

Third, North American and European hops are harvested in the autumn (usually September and October) and they are usually available for sale in October and November (whole hops are typically made available before pelleted hops). Hops from the southern hemisphere (mostly New Zealand and Australia) are harvested during their autumn, and usually become available for purchase in March and April from the above hop distributers. You should plan to buy your hops accordingly. Buying one year's worth of hops in the fall works, but if you want to be guaranteed the freshest southern hemisphere hops, putting in one order in April and one in November is also a decent way to go.

Now, what kinds of beers do you brew?

If you brew mostly hoppy styles of beer like IPA, American Pale Ale, and Arrogant Bastard-inspired strong ales; you will need about 8 oz (6-12) of bold new world hops per batch. Planning for 8 oz per batch means you can buy 5-6 lbs of hops per year in bulk. If you run out before August (when the next year's US crop becomes available), you can always order a pound or two of Australian and New Zealand hops (Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin are my favorite "down under" varietals), since they are harvested in February/March and typically only available in April.

Since you're looking to buy 5-6 lbs of hops, you will want 3 lbs each of bold aroma/dual use varieties you know you love for your hop-forward beers. You will also want 1-2 pounds of pleasing "everyday" American hops for pale ale, brown ale, and stout. And it won't hurt to have 1-2 lbs of "noble type" or "English-type" hops for styles that just won't taste right with fruity new world hops.

If you brew only lagers and other continental styles of beer like Belgian ales, Altbier, Kölsch, Weissbier, and related American styles (California Common comes to mind), you will use less hops per batch. In this instance you could likely get by with 1-3 lbs of hops, and you should choose all Noble or English-style hops. Frankly, 1 lb of Northern Brewer and 1 lb of Hallertauer or Tettnanger would likely keep the lager brewer happy for 10-12 batches, but an additional lb of Sterling or Saphir wouldn't break the bank.

If you brew mostly balanced English and American ales, with the occasional lager or IPA, then you will need 1-2 lbs of great bold hops and another 1-2 lbs of everyday US hops. It would help to have a lb or two of English or Noble-type hops too. 1 lb of Citra, 1 lb of Mosaic, 1 lb of Cascade, 1 lb of Centennial, and 1 lb of Crystal would probably do you fine, but you could use more traditional "C" hops or more bold "IPA hops" like Simcoe and Apollo if you wanted. If you tend to brew more Likewise, going with more "English-style" hops can help build a nice balanced hop profile for a number of beers (Cascade + Willamette is a classic blend). Or you could just buy up 5 lbs of cheap, delicious cascade and probably brew a lot of great styles with just that.

If you don't know what you want to brew, then I would recommend you get yourself 2 lbs of bold new world hops, 2 lbs of everyday American hops, 1 lb of a genuine European noble hop (I like Tettnanger) and 1 lb of an American-grown Noble/English-type hop like Willamette. Mosaic, Citra, Cascade, Chinook, Saaz, and Willamette will probably allow you to brew whatever you want for a year.

Bold New World Hops: Personally, I would go with Simcoe, Mosaic, and Amarillo. I also adore Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy, so I would shoot for choosing at least 3 of those five varieties, depending on availability. Citra, Apollo, Summit, Chinook, and CTZ (Columbus, Tomahawk, or Zeus) are also all solid options, but they are less universally-enjoyed, so only choose them if you like them.

Everyday American Hops: These hops will also work well for IPA, but their use in moderation will also work great for more balanced beers like a clone of Mirror Pond or a nicely balanced American porter or stout. Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo are all great everyday hops. You can use these in almost any US-style craft beer and they will taste great. Use them in the boil, at flameout, or dry and they will work well. Cascade is also cheap, easy to find, and one of the easiest hops to grow yourself, should you ever try that hobby out. Personally, I try to always have Cascade on hand.

Noble or English Type Hops: There are two schools of thought here. Some people like to buy genuine European hops for brewing European styles. Others (like me) like to buy American hops that taste and smell similar to European hops to brew those styles. If you're from the former camp, consider that the Belgians use hops from all over Europe in their classic beers and that British brewers rely mostly on English hops for traditional ales (though they are increasingly using American and Oceanic hops). Germans prefer German and Czech hops and so on.

For versatility, I would choose from these continental varietals: Tettnanger, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Spalt, and Saphir. Any of these would be perfectly at hops in a lager or a Belgian ale, and they would also do well in a crisp blond ale or something like a Kölsch or Altbier. And no one will complain if you are using any of these as a subtle addition to a brown ale or stout, regardless of intended national "style origin."

For bitters and other British styles, and just about any Belgian ale (or as a "back up player" in an American style), these are good choices: East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, First Gold, or Styrian Goldings are a few good options.

If you are looking to brew an authentic Czech lager, you need Saaz.

For the latter camp (like me), and you want US-Grown Noble or English-Type Hops, I like to choose from these varieties for lagers, Belgians, and English-style ales: Mt. Hood, Ultra, Sterling, or Crystal. The best choices for English-style ales, which also work in American style ales are: Crystal, Willamette, Glacier, and US Goldings. Sterling is my recommendation for attempting a Czech pilsner without buying European Saaz hops. This is also a variety where I will frequently try something new rather than going with an old standby.

For what it's worth, this season I just bought Willamette, Bravo, US Goldings, Mosaic, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Chinook.

If you have a ton of freezer space, you can brew with whatever you want. If you want to stick to 100% whole hops, go ahead. But if you are limited in your freezer space, you will want to stick to pellet hops. They take up much less space, though they can be difficult to use with some systems. Basially, filtering out pellet hops can be hard. You can use a hop bag or another fine mesh steel instrument to encase the pelletized hops, but that reduces contact with the wort (reducing effectiveness of the hops). You can also run a whirlpool post-boil to try to corral most of the hop matter into the center of your kettle, but this is far from foolproof.

If you do not use a pump, then simply using a pickup tube of some kind and using hop bags or muslin bags will work. Or you can use a filtered pickup of some kind, like a kettle screen or a false bottom. With a filtered pickup system and whole hops, you will do great just letting the hops go free, provided everything is gravity-fed and there is no pump. Once you start using a pump, things get more complicated. You will need to use some combination of filtration and hop containment and you may decide you like one style of hop better for certain situations. For dry hopping, either works well, but you will need some sort of racking cane screen to filter whole hops out of your beer when you bottle or keg. Dry hops may take a long while to fall to the bottom of your fermenter if you can't cold crash them.

The Fun Factor (or, Keeping Homebrewing Approachable)

Not only have I found I rarely have the effort/energy/time to blog about brewing anymore, but there are a ton of way better homebrewing blogs out there, like Brülosophy that a "general experience" homebrewing blog like mine doesn't seem very relevant anymore. I love this current crop of homebrew blogs. For a decade-long brewer who deeply enjoys both the scientific and culinary aspects of this hobby (not to mention the deeper historical and cultural impact of beer in the western world), I find these popular blogs to be 100 times better than mine ever was and I don't believe I would ever be willing to devote the time and energy (let alone keg space) to producing a blog that could even approach the quality of Brülosophy or Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

And so, I let my blog wither away without caring too much about it.

Then when I read about the homebrewing industry hitting hard times, and when longtime online homebrewing supply store Northern Brewer was purchased by AB-InBev, I started to worry about the health of this hobby in a future where AB-InBev controls our homebrewing supplies. And so now I wonder if the blogs that appeal to a seasoned brewer like me might not be a little intense for a newbie brewer or a casual (couple times a year) homebrewer. Obviously the health of this hobby relies on maintaining a steady supply of new and casual homebrewers joining the party. So while many newer, better blogs aim at improving brewing results through the use of science and controlled experimentation, they don't always focus on improving the experience of the homebrewing process by keeping the hobby inexpensive and easy. In part, this can be because successful bloggers often get equipment and ingredients for free or at a discount.

Since this hobby is recessing a bit right now, and keeping casual homebrewers is an important goal, this blog will be primarily focused on the fun (and cheap) aspects of the hobby. I don't know if I will be able to produce more than a few posts a year, but my goal will be to produce one post every month, either about brewing or about craft beer, generally.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Brewing a White India Session Ale

It's been over two years since I updated this blog. I've brewed plenty in that time, but I haven't felt like I had enough free time to justify blogging about it. I can't honestly say how often this blog will get updated this year or in the future, but I would like to further educate enjoy this hobby online.

My wife and I just moved into our new (109 year-old) house and we're having a housewarming party real soon. So, I figured I would brew up a couple beers for the event. Since I don't have much time (the party is in 8 days), I decided to brew a beer that would ferment quickly and would be acceptable cloudy. I decided to go with a wheat beer base and late hop it like an IPA while bittering it like an American pale ale, to keep it reasonably balanced.

Rather than using primarily unmalted wheat, as in a witbier, or entirely using wheat malt, as in a hefeweizen; I decided to use mostly wheat malt, supplemented with some unmalted (torrified) wheat and some flaked oats. And since I had some American (Great Western) Pale Ale malt leftover from my last 50lb sack purchase, I opted for that rather than the more traditional pilsner malt of a witbier or hefeweizen base. I shot for a 1.040 base, but somehow ended up with about 1.032, which is fine for a session ale, but surprisingly low efficiency and a great deal smaller than I was shooting for. In this way, my malt bill is a hybrid between a bitter, American pale ale, witbier, and hefeweizen. In addition to a strange malt bill, I used a strange (for me) mash schedule, called a Hochkurz Mash. I mashed for 60 min at 144 and then for 30 min at 165. I assumed this would give me a dextrinous and highly fermentable wort (ideal for a session wheat beer), but my efficiency was stupid low, which makes me think I might have been better off with a single 152F infusion (of course the smallish percentage of pale ale malt compared to the massive amount of wheat malt and unmalted oats and wheat could have something to do with the low efficiency). The good news is a smaller beer ferments faster, so I may well be able to turn this around in the 8 days I have before the party.

As far as hopping this beer, I originally wanted to feature Ahtanum hops, with small amounts of Amarillo and Citra to give a bold, fruity aroma. But then my wife's coworker (and our new neighbor) brought over some freshly-picked wet hops - a mix of American varieties (mostly cascade, I believe). This is just the right amount of fresh hops for a nice flameout addition of a hoppy beer like the one I'm brewing today, so I altered the whole recipe, simplifying and using mostly Amarillo and cascade in the kettle, with the plan to dry hop, ever so briefly, with Amarillo and a touch of Columbus and Citra. Aside from the wet hops, all these hops are 2014 harvest stored in ziploc bags in freezers.

So here's the recipe (~11 gallons):

8 lbs Great Western White Wheat Malt
7 lbs 12 oz Great Western Pale Ale Malt
1 lb Great Western Torrified Wheat
1 lb Flaked Oats
4 oz Weyermann Sauermaltz (Acidulated Malt)

60g Cascade (8.8% AA) 90 min
50g Cascade (8.8% AA) 10 min
70g Amarillo (7.3% AA) 10 min
680g Wet Cascade (?% AA) 0 min (whirlpooled at 180F for 45 min)
90g Amarillo (7.3% AA) dry
30g Citra (12.3% AA) dry

Split - half fermented with Imperial A15 Independence at 64-66F and half with Imperial B45 Gnome 68-70F.

I am going to reuse these yeasties soon. I think a straightforward Mosaic/Ahtanum IPA is in order, followed by a Belgian Blond or maybe a singel.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Encountering Old Problems (or, How I Dealt With Two Blowoffs in a Row After Nearly 3 Years Without Needing One)

It is a common occurrence for the novice homebrewer. You boil your wort, add some hops, and chill it down to a pitchable temperature, then you add your yeast and check up the next day after work, to see if the fermentation has started... only to find that the beer has fermented so aggressively that yeast and beer are literally shooting out of the airlock and all over your closet. Sometimes the ferment is so great that the airlock and rubber stopper are sitting on the floor while a bubbly mess of muddy-looking yeast is spewing out of your carboy like some horrible Irish volcano.

This is called a blowoff, and it is a relatively avoidable problem. Blowoffs are caused by an active fermentation, as the CO2 produced by the yeast attempts to come out of solution by bubbling out the fermenting beer. This foamy yeast layer on the top of the beer is called krausen, and it is normally a sign of a healthy ferment. The more sugar and protein in the wort, the bigger and foamier the krausen will be. High pitching rates, warmer fermentation temperatures and certain yeast strains have also been known to cause foamier, messier krausen. As long as you are fermenting at your desired temperature with the correct amount of the proper yeast strain, the size of the krausen will not affect the beer. The trick is keeping the beer (and accompanying yeast) in the fermenter and out of the airlock.

The first time I experienced a blowoff was when I brewed my second homebrew after having taken a year-long break from the hobby (when I lived in NYC, I didn't have the space or the proper equipment to brew anything more complicated than a french press coffee). The year was 2008, I was living alone in a new city (Portland, OR), and I was spending a lot of time on homebrewing forums like Northern Brewer's Forum because I hadn't made many friends. I read about this technique called "reusing yeast" which took the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter and used it to make a fresh batch of beer. I had no idea how much I would utilize this technique in the future, but boy did I do it wrong the first time.

I proceeded to pour the fresh 72º wort from my ~1.070 chocolate stout directly on top of the full yeast cake left by my ~1.058 Amber Ale, which had just been racked to secondary. I let that stout it ferment at ambient, which was a pretty tame 58º F. Then I went out that night (because it was Halloween), came back home and cranked the heat up to 70º (because I had guests spending the night), and checked how the beer was doing the following morning. I found the airlock on the floor, a yeasty mess on the carpet, more yeast on the walls, and a sufficiently disgusting carboy. I then decided to use a blowoff to control the mess (basically a PVC tube going from the airlock hole directly into a 750L bottle filled with sanitizer and water). The next day the bottle was overflowing and making more of a mess. I then used a big 1 gal jug, which worked just fine.

Later I learned that the only guarantee to needing a blowoff is small headspace + high gravity wort + high protein grain bill + giant yeast pitch + warm fermentation temperature. I had several more blowoffs over the years, one even occurring in secondary (I guess fermentation picked back up when I racked to secondary). I would even plan for blowoffs whenever I would brew a high-gravity beer or I would leave less than 25% of the fermenter for headspace. But once I started controlling fermentation temperatures, I noticed something. When I fermented cooler (≤62º F), I wouldn't ever need a blowoff. The ferments lasted longer, but they never got out of control. And the beers ended up cleaner, too (even with "estery" English yeasts). So I started fermenting nearly everything ~2º under the recommended minimum listed on the wyeast/white labs/fermentis/danstar website. It worked. My beers improved and the messes were minimized.

Then something else happened: I stopped brewing high-gravity and high protein beers. My DIPA's got replaced by India Session Ales and APA's. My ESB's were replaced by Best Bitters. My Porter shrunk from its original 1.066 OG to a mere 1.052. I stopped brewing witbiers and Dubbels. My stouts were no longer Imperial. And my liver was thankful. No doubt this was in response to the Imperial-everything trend, and the fact that I found a nice IPA easier and easier to buy (and a fine session ale increasingly difficult to locate). But then I started brewing with someone else, and we started to retread the old trend of bigger, bolder beers. Our first co-brew was a big West Coast IPA, followed by a Rye APA, then we went on to do a Tripel, followed by a 1.062 version of my Grey Skies Porter, and not long after that, we did an Imperial Stout.

It was inevitable. I was going to brew up another blowoff. It was the Imperial Stout that did it. My kettle was filled almost to the brim with high gravity wort, and I pitched a tremendous amount of fresh yeast slurry. The blowoff started less than 8 hours after pitching the yeast. I had to build a blowoff for the first time since 2010. It was balls.

My very next brew was one I had been planning for a long time - I wanted to do a Black IPA with sinamar as the sole "roast" agent. But I ended up somehow putting nearly a gallon more wort in my fermenter than I typically do. Somehow I had boiled off 40% less than expected fascinating, I know. I proceeded to pitch about a pint of thick, hoppy slurry I got from Reuben at Triple Rock. So what happened? More blowoff. This time fermentation began within 8 hours of pitching (wort was 60º F when I pitched the yeast, and the fermentation chamber was set to 56º F). One hour after I noticed fermentation began, I found it had begun to blowoff. I quickly built a new blowoff setup and went on my merry way.

So the lesson in all of this? Yeast is alive and humans are forgetful. Try to remember that, just because you haven't had a brewing mishap for a while doesn't mean you'll never have it again.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Remembering a Lost Recipe (Old School IPA)

About a year ago, I was looking at some older (pre-2005) homebrew and craft beer IPA recipes because I remembered hating IPA so much when I was in college, and I wondered if I would like those same beers today (sure, many of them are still brewed, but the breweries were taken over by big beverage comglomerates, so the beers are of a lower quality than they once were). So I went to brew something along the lines of a 2002 American IPA, or an American IPA from the time when IPA was the next big thing and not the dominant best-selling style of craft beer (remember, this was even before "Imperial" meant anything to the average beer far we have come in ~10 years).

I noticed that many (most?) of those older recipes had 1 lb of wheat malt per 5 gal batch. Often the notes were odd, saying something like, "a little bit of wheat to make the beer clear better" or "some wheat to ensure proper carbonation," but nonetheless, the wheat was there pretty consistently. In fact, it seemed like every recipe from that time was 1.060-1.065 and had ~1 lb of wheat, ≥1 lb of carapils, and ~1 lb of other crystal malt (usually 40L or 60L). While I find that much crystal malt excessive in a standard IPA, and the hopping rates in most recipes were not what I would want, either - mostly 60-15-0 and 60-30-15-0, with dry hopping seemingly optional - I decided to take what I learned and synthesize an "Old School IPA" recipe. I actually lost that recipe when my last laptop was stolen, but I remember the basic premise well enough. 

I ended up going with a malt bill of (I think) 80% 2-row, 5% wheat malt, 5% crystal 60, 5% carapils, and 5% Munich 10L. I shot for a 1.063 OG and I believe I hit 1.062. I mashed at 150-152F (I don't recall exactly), and I employed a 90-minute boil. I used a hop schedule of 60-30-15-0-dry and I bittered with Columbus, used Centennial at 30, Cascade and Centennial at 15, and Cascade and Columbus at 0, and dry hopped with Cascade (and maybe columbus). I don't recall amounts used, but I do remember the flameout was 3 oz of hops (more than used at the time), and that the 15 min addition was just 2 oz of hops. Most of the IBU's came from the 60 min addition, and at least half of the remaining IBUs came from the 30 min addition. I bittered it to a mere 60 IBUs. The volume of dry hops was just 1 oz per 5 gal. I used WLP001 slurry.

The recipe went against a lot of my typical thinking when it comes to brewing IPA, and it came out great. It was the kind beer where I would drink 4 pints without realizing it. And despite that high volume of crystal malt, it was extremely refreshing. It wasn't the kind of "sit and think about it" IPA like Ballast Point's Sculpin or Alpine's Duet, but it also wasn't noticeably less hoppy-tasting than Racer 5 or Lagunitas IPA, and the maltiness was definitely less in-your-face than Lagunitas. The bitterness was tamer than West Coast IPA or Racer 5, but not by as much as I expected. It was a great beer for drinking, and sessionable despite its ~6.4% ABV. What I took from this brew were two things: Cascade and Columbus are incredible aroma hops (I have since used them a lot more than I did at the time), and a little wheat now goes into every hoppy beer I brew. I have since brewed similar beers with more contemporary hop profiles and less crystal malt, and I always notice the increased sessionability that I get from the the smooth texture a little wheat malt provides. And all that crystal malt made less of a difference than I expected. I think a lot of the problems people have with crystal malt in an IPA is actually a problem they have with high mash temperatures, mello bittering hops (like Magnum), poor yeast management (1 smack pack into a 1.070 IPA spells trouble) and DARK crystal malt. 

So now I add crystal malt freely if I want a caramel flavor (of late I am rather fond of Carahell for hoppy beers). I use a 2-1 ratio of easy-to-buy cascade and columbus as aroma/dry hops in anything where I am shooting for a "C Hop" aroma, and I freely bitter with Columbus in any American style of ale. Do I still love Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra in an IPA? Sure. But I am happy to spend $18 on a keg of great IPA with a "C hop" aroma and flavor than $40 on a similar IPA with a great fruity "new school" hop aroma.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Perfect BJCP Guidelines [UPDATED]

I recently had the opportunity to judge some beers at the World Cup of Beer. I judged beside David Teckam, one of the most active beer judges in California. We talked a bit about the BJCP guidelines needing a little edit in the near future, and I told him about my older post about problems I saw with the guidelines. That got me to thinking: just what do the perfect guidelines look like? So here is my take on what the BJCP style list looks like.

EDIT: I have already realized an obvious flaw in my first go at this, so I will discuss it here and edit out the problem. American Pale and Amber Ales and IPA make sense to merge together from an apples/oranges perspective, but there are just too many entries in those categories to keep them tied together. So my decision is to split them up.

Category 1: Pale Lager
1A. Global Pale Lager (this includes Classic American Pilsner in addition to Light, Standard, and Premium American Light Lagers; as well as adjunct-heavy Asian and Latin American pale lagers)
1B. European Pale Lager (think "green bottle" European beers and all-malt American pale lagers, as well as dortmunder lagers)
1C. Munich Helles
1D. Pilsner (Bohemian and German)

Category 2: Amber and Dark Lager I believe that these styles can be fairly compared against each other and so they should merge.
2A. Mexican Amber Lager (note that this replaces Vienna Lager, calling it what it is)
2B. Oktoberfest
2C. California Common Lager
2D. Munich Dunkel
2E. Schwarzbier
2F. Bohemian Dark Lager (rare that I feel the need to add a missing style, but this is just obvious)
2G. International Dark Lager (this includes American Dark Lager as well as a variety of dark lager styles from places as varied as Mexico and other parts of Europe).

Category 3: Strong Lager
3A. Traditional Bock
3B. Maibock/Helles Bock
3C. Doppelbock
3D. Eisbock
3E. Malt Liquor (yes, there is a place for it in the guidelines)
3F. Baltic Porter (finally placed where it ought to be)

Category 4: Hybrid Ale
4A. Blond Ale
4B. Cream Ale
4C. Kölsch
4D. Altbier (there is no good reason to specify N. German/Dusseldorf/Münster)

Category 5: British and Irish Pale and Amber Ale
5A. Ordinary Bitter
5B. Strong Bitter
5C. Extra Strong Bitter
5D. Irish Red Ale
5E. Scottish Ale (60/-, 70/-, and 80/-)

Category 6: American Pale and Amber Ale
6A. American Pale Ale
6B. American Amber/Red Ale
6C. American Specialty Ale (this would specify clean yeast profiles and hop-forwardness, so as to be inclusive of "hoppy beers" that have no unusual adjuncts or non-beer ingredients, like Double Red Ale, India Session Ale, and Black IPA. ≤8%)

Category 7: India Pale Ale
7A. India Pale Ale (6.0%-7.9%)
7B. Imperial IPA (8%+)

Category 8: Brown Ale
8A. Mild
8B. English Brown Ale
8C. American Brown Ale

Category 9: Porter and Stout This merge is a serious no-brainer
9A. Porter (combining robust and brown)
9B. Dry Stout
9C. Sweet Stout
9D. Oatmeal Stout
9E. Extra Stout (combining foreign extra stout and American stout)

Category 10: Wheat and Rye Beer
10A. American Wheat Beer
10B. Weissbier
10C. Dunkelweizen
10D. Weizenbock
10E. Roggenbier

Category 11: Belgian Ale
11A. Witbier
11B. Saison
11C. Belgian Blond Ale
11D. Dubbel
11E. Tripel
11F. Quadrupel (replacing dark strong ale)
11G. Belgian Specialty Ale

Category 12: Sour Ale
12A. Berliner Weisse
12B. Flanders Red Ale
12C. Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin
12D. Straight (Unblended) Lambic
12E. Gueuze
12F. Fruit Lambic
12E. Specialty Sour

Category 13: Strong Ale
13A. English Barleywine
13B. American Barleywine
13C. Scottish Strong Ale
13D. Imperial Stout
13E. Specialty Strong Ale (8%+)

Category 14: Flavored Beer
14A. Fruit Beer
14B. Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer
14C. Winter Ale
14D. Rauchbier
14E. Wood-aged Beer
14F. Specialty Flavored Beer

Category 15. Specialty Beer

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brewing a Classic American Craft Beer Style: American Amber Ale

While the American macro-brewing tradition traces its origin to German immigrants attempting to recreate German pale lagers with domestic American ingredients, the modern American Craft Brewing tradition more closely follows the British ale-brewing tradition. Starting with New Albion, Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Portland Brewing (now owned by a large beverage conglomerate and operated by Pyramid), Roaring Rock (now Triple Rock), and the Hopland Brewery (now Mendocino Brewing Company); the first post-prohibition US craft beer styles were American takes on English pale ale (bitter) and porter.

Early on there was no distinction between Pale and Amber ales. The term "amber ale" came about to account for the difficulty found by some brewing pioneers marketing a copper-colored "pale ale" to people who were used to straw-colored beer. The breweries all had different ways of marketing their products. While some breweries (notably Anchor and New Albion) simply called their Pale Ales "Ale" with the understanding that customers would associate an ale with "pale ale" due largely to the renown of Bass Ale from England (truly a hallmark of the style for over a century until some beverage conglomerate took over and reduced the brand to its current state). "Amber" slowly came to define those beers that were deep gold and copper-colored beers, while "Red" came to define those that were between copper and light brown. An today "red" and "amber" are basically synonymous (~SRM 10-16) with "pale" usually being reserved for light or deep golden-colored beers (~SRM 4-8).

By the time I came of legal age (2004) American craft brewers settled into the divergent "pale ale" styles of American Pale Ale, American Amber/Red Ale, and American Blond Ale (which developed to account for extra pale, light-bodied ales). They were all made from mostly domestic 2-row and they were all usually hopped with the "new" American cascade hop, that came to define and influence American brewing for the next two plus decades.

Today a blond is brewed with usually 100% 2-row, or occasionally pilsner malt; a dose of wheat perhaps; and possibly a pinch of very light crystal or carapils malt. Blonds are usually low-bodied and not very hoppy. They tend to be subtle, restrained beers - owing their heritage as much to the pale lagers of Milwaukee and St. Louis as they do to the pale ales of Britain.

Pale Ales came to be defined by a medium body, made from mostly 2-row and a touch of crystal malt, generously hopped with cascade hops (later other domestic hops became associated with the style, as well). Pale Ales today are frequently dry hopped, but this was not in common practice in the halcyon 1980's when the style really came into its own.

American Amber Ales (sometimes still called "red ales") are usually maltier versions of American Pale Ales. Probably the truest to its roots as an American take on English Bitters, the best Amber Ales are balanced, with a medium body, rich malt backbone, and the unique aroma and flavor of modern American hops. Most of the originals featured cascades again, but several are made with milder more "English" domestic hops like Willamette or Glacier. Others are made with bolder contemporary American hops like Citra or Simcoe. The malt bill is typically domestic 2-row and crystal malt, but many feature some Munich Malt (usually domestic 10L), a small amount of wheat malt, and/or some dark malt to help color the beer. The beers are usually bittered for balance, with low to moderate hop aroma and flavor. Dry hopping is optional, but somewhat rare in the style.

While most breweries either had a "pale ale" style of pale ale or an "amber ale" style of pale ale, today many breweries have both. As such, the styles have further diverged and Amber Ales have taken the short end of the stick. Often they are a brewery's "girl beer" for "BMC drinkers." They are often cheap on hops, overly sweet, and clearly not brewed to "wow" any beer geeks, but to produce something palatable for guests who do not generally like beer or hop bitterness. And that's fine. Not every beer needs to be something I find delicious. My problem is that, as American brewers have stepped beyond the British origins of American craft beer with the rise of American IPA, the decline of balanced American Amber Ales, and the near-death of American Brown Ale; bars and breweries rarely have a truly balanced ale on their taplist.

Homebrewing to the rescue. A well done American Amber Ale provides a gentle hop punch, a solid (but not overwhelming) malt backbone, and a body and ABV that lends itself to easy drinking. My take on American Amber Ale features the best attributes of American Pale Ale, Düsseldorf Altbier, and English Bitter. It is clean, fairly dry, medium-bodied, with a rich malt flavor and a distinct cascade hop aroma and flavor. A while back I "settled" on a malt bill of 8% British medium crystal malt, 1% carafa special II, 20-25% Munich malt, and a base of American pale malt (2-row or pale ale); this time I decided to try adding a touch of wheat malt to add a little more body and head retention without deepening the flavor or adding any sweetness. My recipe is designed to be mashed between 150º F and 152º F, aiming for a somewhat dry finished product. I bitter the beer with the smooth (but not too smooth) super-alpha Summit, which was not available to brewers in the 1980's. And I feature cascades in the beer as first wort hops, 5 min hops, and flameout hops (a hop schedule that is itself a curious mix of 1980's and 2010's). Since I am brewing 12 gallons, I initially intended to dry hop only half of the amber ale, for the sake of comparing the two.

The brewday was distracting, to say the least. My fiancée was having a bridal shower at the same time as I was brewing, and her dad and uncle were hanging out with me during most of the brewing process. Since I made a few bonehead mistakes before mashing in that wasted over an hour, I decided to cut my usual 90 minute boil down to 60 minutes, and I didn't really compensate for the reduced evaporation (I boiled a bit more aggressively than usual, but that didn't increase the evaporation rate by enough). As a result, I ended up with a little more slightly lower-gravity beer than planned. No problem, though, because the recipe was for a beer on the big end of the style.

I pitched some second-generation BRY-97 and fermented at 62F. After 3 days, the majority of fermentation appeared complete, so I pulled the fermenters out of the fermentation freezer and let them finish up at ambient for a couple days until the majority of the yeast appeared to floc out. At that point, I put one of the buckets back into the fermentation fridge at 34º F to help the yeast floc out of suspension to aid in both harvesting the yeast for an upcoming IPA and to clear the beer for future consumption.

I was planning on drinking one of these soon and dry hopping the second, but now I am considering just dry hopping both of them, as my taps are full and there isn't a free keg to put the beer in.