Jun 29 2016

The Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree, and the Freedom in IPA Meaninglessness

Throw shade towards the IPA “style” as much as you want, it has already conquered craft beer.

It is the flagship for most American breweries, and not having an IPA in your year-round portfolio seemingly borders on insubordination. And to further the sprawl and creep from this style, it isn’t limited to merely American and Imperial IPAs. There are red, black, white, brown, Belgian, rye, fruit, fruit peel, and session IPAs, as well. Tart IPAs are beginning to surface now, as well. (In full disclosure, I am brewing a tart IPA with a local brewery in the coming weeks so, yeah, I’m part of the problem, too.)

When any base style, or color I suppose, can be turned into an IPA, is anything an IPA anymore?

Given that rather nihilistic introduction, you’ll understand why I wasn’t immediately excited about an all IPA festival. The yearly “holiday” of IPA Day that occurs each summer only furthers the notion that history is written by the victors. I’m not a conspiracy guy and IPAs, which I really do enjoy, are not a virus leeching diversity from rows of tap handles, but their growth over the years is something that I have watched with some concern.

And if you are a west coast coaster reading this, you might scoff at an east coast IPA festival, and you have a point. Although after spending a week in San Diego last year, I was left a little underwhelmed by the state of IPAs there. While the finest IPAs do come out of the west coast, the number of unbalanced and Chinook-the-throat-destroyer beers that composed much of the rest of the west coast scene was saddening.

While IPAs have become the vanguard of experimentation for a lot of the American brewing scene, I think the first casualty is drinkability.

“What? Cool, you’ve added a new fruit/hop/grain/yeast to an IPA. No, I don’t want another pint. Honestly, I’m going to struggle to finish this one.” – Me

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

So, Saturday, June 25th, was Starr Hill’s IPA Jambeeree, which was a beer festival focusing solely on IPAs. Including Starr Hill, there were 16 Virginia breweries pouring at least two IPAs each. This netted out to over 50 IPAs with 33 from other breweries and 21 from Starr Hill alone.

The gig was broken into two events for me, as there was a homebrew component the night before, and then the festival the next day:

 

Homebrew Jambeeree

The Homebrew Jambeeree was a Pro-Am Competition for Starr Hill and homebrewers were asked to make IPAs which could be English, American, Speciality, or Double versions. The top 25 entries would be invited to the brewery for a private tour, and the best of show winner would brew their beer with Starr Hill for this year’s GABF.

I made the top 25, which is honestly not much of bragging point, but the thrust of the tour and gig was about celebrating the spirit of homebrewing, the backstory to many a pro brewer, and letting that group geek down with the pros and industrial equipment. I had done a Pro-Am with Starr Hill back in 2010, too, so I wasn’t really worried about the actual competition and I was happy to see someone else get a chance.

Starr Hill Hops Cooler

Starr Hill Hops Cooler/Cavern

Starr Hill Brew Deck

Starr Hill Brew Deck

 

Starr Hill Bottling Line

Starr Hill Bottling Line – Yeah, You Like That

 

The tour was great and the brewmaster, Robbie, and QA Manager, Jason, were energetic and happy to answer any questions that the group had. Starr Hill has gone through lot of changes in the last few years and as the previous brewmaster left, they’ve spent a lot of time reformulating old recipes and upping their quality control game. The hard work shows, and the multiple beers I had during that afternoon were crisp and without flaws. These guys care and they are doing right by themselves and their consumers.

Starr Hill Tasting Room

Starr Hill Tasting Room

In the end, I was not one of the top 3 brewers for the competition, but I knew that would be the result as the beer I brewed had been an experiment with Idaho 7 (now “The Golden Hop”?) hops and the London III yeast strain. That one came out mysteriously mild, but I’ve run through the process and recipe in the subsequent Hoppy McHopface blog post.

 

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

Cutting to the chase, I was on the fence about attending the IPA Jambeeree, but it was definitely worth my time. Since it was, metaphorically, in my backyard, I knew a lot of the people and brewers there, and it was fun to talk shop and shit (mostly shit) with those friends. The weather was perfect, and there was a far amount of variety in beer from the participating breweries.

Starr Hill's IPA Jambeeree

Starr Hill’s IPA Jambeeree

The only disappointment for the day was the number of breweries that kicked their kegs very early in the event. I showed up late at 3pm (2 hours after it started, 3 after the VIPs got in), and three or four major players in Virginia brewing were already out of all of their beers and many of the other breweries had already pulled tap handles. Perhaps they misjudged the demand, or maybe they were truly slammed with drinkers, but it would have been nice to see everyone get a chance to try those beers.

I think my ability to enjoy the event was due to the meaninglessness of the term IPA. Taking a deep dive with a style is helpful if you are trying to wrap your head around the parameters of the category and improve your evaluation skills. That could have been done to a degree here, but the diversity of IPA types was impressive. There were double and triple IPAs, but also the Belgian and Black IPAs that you’d traditionally expect, beside fruit and rye IPAs, that many breweries are adding to their quivers.

In a strained parallel, the assumption is that Belgian brewers don’t set out to brew a double, or a tripel, or a quad. They just make beer. Some are pale, and some are dark. Some are dry and phenolic, while others gravitate towards malt and dark fruits. There’s a huge variability on the ABV side, as well. I think styles are important to guide some expectations, and they equip us with a language to evaluate and enjoy beer, but I don’t think a brewer needs to have a style in mind. Just a vision of what he or she wants to create. 

Given the diversity of the IPA category and the fact that its tie to India is more than debatable,”IPA” doesn’t mean anything anymore. And, to me, that feels good. Isn’t there some freedom in that? If a brewer wants to use “IPA” as a placeholder to brew whatever beer he or she wants, then they are serving their creativity and I’ll always respect that drive as long as they have the technical ability to construct that vision. Let’s embrace the ingenuity of American breweries and concentrate on taste rather than extremity that only, in the end, creates similarity. 


Apr 20 2012

American IPA Homebrew – Citra Ass Down

Like many homebrewers, my favorite style when I first started brewing was the American IPA (AIPA), and I’ve probably brewed more of them than any other style. But where once they were every third batch, nowadays I might only brew them once or twice a year.

Despite spending less and less time making AIPAs, I think I’ve gotten better at brewing the style. I’m sure that has everything to do with brewing other styles of beer that require a bit more finesse. More balance.

And, to have an adult moment, AIPAs are not the hardest beer style to brew. They are very, very forgiving and the amount of hops that go into what is now considered a standard AIPA will cover up a lot of flaws. Sure, late additions and dry-hopping won’t cover up a sanitation issue, but they will cover some obvious malt imbalance issues that might leave your beer too sweet or without a bready, toasty backbone at all.

So, if you have the AIPA dialed-in, congrats. I don’t want to diminish that accomplishment. Brewing a great beer is hard and that is a great desert island choice. But the brewing of this style of beer has become impractical beast created with blunt instruments.

The inspiration for this AIPA was a Citra APA that I made last year. I love the citra hop, but it has become increasingly hard to get. It is a high alpha, low cohumulone hop that throws amazing mango and pineapple aromas and flavors.

I loved the American pale ale (APA) I made with it, but the final beer straddled the line between an APA and an AIPA. I figured I would go ahead and make a full-fledged AIPA from the hop the next time it came my way. And I did.

This one is a strange in that the malt bill is really just a double pale ale. I wanted to see if an AIPA could work without crystal malts, but it wasn’t that big of a test, since Imperial IPAs use a similar malt bill. After having a few commercial, and homebrewed, examples of AIPAs lately where the beers ran over into Amber territory (which I love, as well, but that is a different style), I wanted to reign it in and make a clean, hoppy beer that wasn’t too heavy and sweet.

I was very happy with the final beer. As the years go by, I’m less interested in deeply bitter beers that only leave you wanting something different next for the next round. My citra AIPA left me thirsty for more, not full of the palate fatigue that I get from commercial examples that seem like they were designed around a dare.

 Citra Ass Down – American IPA

Starting Gravity: 1.071 (12/26/11) 68º F  -> 72º F
Final Gravity:  1.014 (1/13/12)
7.6% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation:  79.3%
Real Attenuation: 65%

Mash (65 minutes ~152º)                           

12.00 lbs Maris Otter (2-row)
1.0 lb Victory Malt
0.75 lb Munich Malt
0.75 lb Wheat Malt

Boil(6o minutes)   

1.20 oz. Magnum Leaves 14.0% AA (60 min.)
1.0 oz. Citra Pellets 13.4% AA (10 min)
1.0 oz. Amarillo Pellets 8.2% AA (10 min)
1.0 oz. Citra Pellets 13.4% AA (0 min.)
2.0 oz. Citra Pellets 13.4% AA (Dry Hop) on 1/1/12

1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (68º F)  

Safale 05 – 1 packet (No Starter – Rehydrated in 90° wort)


Jan 11 2011

The Virginia Estate Ale Experiment

When a local farmer gave me a call about the grain he was growing, I was intrigued. It appears that Virginia Tech’s Small Grains Breeding Program had released a Thoroughbred barley variety.  So far, it seems to have only been used by Copper Fox Distillery (just an hour’s drive from me) to make whiskey. It is a 6-row malt, which I understand is better suited for the Virginia climate, and I can’t remember using anything other than 2-row in my homebrewing before.

The farmer was curious about using it for a beer, so he gave me about 5 pounds of the grains to play with. I initial thoughts circled around testing the quality and efficiency of the malt. How would the sugars I could mash out of the grain compare with the 2-row I normally use? Also, and this is the real bottom line, how would it taste?

When I received the grains they had already been malted and separated into 3 Ziploc bags. From what I understand from his process, he had malted and roasted them at different temperatures and times. Looking at the color of the grains and tasting them, they all seemed pretty similar to me. It looked like all of them were 6-row pale malt.

Since this was going to be a small batch, given the amount of grain he brought me, I set out to devise a simple recipe for this beer that would only feature this grain and some restrained hop additions. It, then, occurred to me that I could make a Virginia estate beer (a la Sierra Nevada’s Estate Ale). The grains would be the local farmer’s, the hops would come from my homegrown hop vines, and the water out of the local system. The yeast would be the rub, but used an American ale strain that I had gotten from Starr Hill. That yeast began in California, but it had surely gone through several generations at Starr Hill and then it had been used by me on several occasions. It was Virginian but nurture, if not by nature.

The brew session went quickly. I had decided to do an American Pale Ale and it would be very similar to a SMaSH brew (which is Single Malt and Single Hop beer). Only the 6-row grain and my homegrown cascade hops.

The grains were very normal looking and most of the rootlets had been spun out by the farmer.

The cascade hops were from last year’s harvest (2010) and I had dried, compacted and frozen them in a bags.

The original gravity of this brew was a 1.044 with an efficiency of ~70%. Given that this was a small batch, the batch didn’t go through my normal mashing process, I know efficiency was lost in that.

The yeast is pitched, and I look forward to tasting this Virginia beer. Definitely not the first of its kind, but maybe the beginning of a new, modern era.


Aug 11 2010

Homebrewed Citra Pale Ale

Citra is a hot, new hop that is used by Sierra Nevada to make their Torpedo IPA, and I finally got around to brewing with it a few months ago.  It is big in alpha acids (weighing in between 10% and 12%) and, although it is a citrus hop, Citra leans less towards the grapefruit and more towards the mango and pineapple side of the spectrum.

I decided to put it into an American pale ale, and to do some hop bursting at the end of the boil with Citra, as well as dry hopping a big dose of it to get a clearer view of its character. Although, as usual, I mixed in another hop to create a little complexity.  And I tried to kick up the malt by using Maris Otter, rather than the standard American 2-row malt that is common to the APA style.

The fermentation and bottling went uneventfully, and I was happy with how this batch turned out. The hop flavor and aroma from the Citra was firm and refreshing. Mangos, apricots (from the Amarillo, I suspect) and a background note of pineapple.

The only things I would look at if I were to revisit this recipe are the malt and the style. The malt didn’t come through as much as I usually like, so cutting back the late and dry hops would help. I might add a little more Munich malt, as well. Also, this one walked the line between an APA and an IPA. The previous reduction of late hops might bring it back into style….if you care about style. And I don’t.

All and all, a very solid beer.  Full of character and very refreshing.

The Recipe:

Citra Pale Ale

10-A  American Ale, American Pale Ale

Recipe Specifics

—————-

Batch Size (Gal):         5.50    Wort Size (Gal):    5.50

Total Grain (Lbs):       13.00

Anticipated OG:          1.058    Plato:             14.23

Anticipated SRM:           8.0

Anticipated IBU:          58.2

Brewhouse Efficiency:       65 %

Wort Boil Time:             60    Minutes

Grain/Extract/Sugar

   %     Amount     Name                          Origin        Potential SRM

—————————————————————————–

 80.8    10.50 lbs. Pale Malt(2-row)      Great Britain  1.038      3

  7.7     1.00 lbs. Victory Malt                 America        1.034     25

  5.8     0.75 lbs. Munich Malt                Germany        1.037      8

  5.8     0.75 lbs. Wheat Malt                   America        1.038      2

Potential represented as SG per pound per gallon.

Hops

   Amount     Name                         Form    Alpha  IBU  Boil Time

—————————————————————————–

  0.60 oz.    Magnum                    Pellets   14.40  33.8  60 min.

  1.00 oz.    Citra                            Pellets   11.10   8.7  10 min.

  0.50 oz.    Amarillo Gold            Pellets    8.00  15.7  10 min.

  1.00 oz.    Citra                            Pellets   11.10   0.0  0 min.

  2.00 oz.    Citra                            Pellets   11.10   0.0  Dry Hop

Yeast

Safale US-05

Mash Schedule

Mash Type: Single Step

Held 75 Minutes at 152°

Final Specs:

————-

Starting Gravity: 1.058

Final Gravity:  1.010

6.4% alcohol ABV

Apparent Attenuation:  82%

Real Attenuation: 67.2%