APA recipe and tasting (and hops!)

Thursday, June 3

During the winter and early spring, my friends Lance and Victor and I were doing a lot of collaborative brewing. We formed this little group buying club/collaborative brew crew to save money; a batch of beer ingredients split three ways comes out to about $10-12. Not bad for the 16 or so (hopefully delicious) beers you get, and it’s easier on the pocketbook than a full batch.

Early on, we hit upon the idea of buying our hops in bulk. Commercial breweries might use pounds of hops per barrel, but most homebrew recipes call for only a few ounces. Hoppier beers use more; this APA of mine had 11 oz, added at various stages of the brew.

But our decision to buy hops in bulk wasn’t motivated by a love for hoppy beers. As I sort of mentioned, the brew crew is broke as a joke. An ounce of packaged hops was up to $2.99 not too long ago, a remnant of the worldwide hop shortage of ’07. (As the NPR article mentions, the Big Brewers get first dibs on the world hop supply. Smaller operations, including homebrewers, get what’s left.) Hops are down to $1.99/oz now. Multiply $1.99 by the 11 oz in this APA and you get a $21.89 dent in your budget. You can make a whole batch of beer for $21.89, hops and all.

There are many hop farms in the US that sell bulk hops. We went with Puterbaugh Farms, a 4th generation family hop farm in Mabton, WA. They have a nice selection of hops by the pound, including several varieties grown on their farm. We stuck with farm-grown varieties of dual purpose hops (which have bittering and aroma properties). Keeping your hop-buying dollars at home is good for America and your pocketbook: one of Puterbaugh’s farm-grown varieties, Cluster, is $6.75 per pound. Per pound!



Now for the APA recipe. I recently discovered beercalculus, a free brewing software at hopville.com. There are other programs out there–some free, some not free–that will, based on the ingredients and quantities you input, compute all sorts of useful data about your recipe: starting and final gravity, IBUs, color, calories per 12 oz. The software relies on all sorts of assumptions and values, so it’s not exact or anything. But neither is brewing.

The APA recipe does include 11 oz of two kinds of hops, but the bitterness isn’t intense and is well managed by the fruity hop flavors and malt sweetness. There is also a lot of fruity and flowery hop aroma. The amounts of hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma are mostly determined by when the hops are added in the brewing process. This chapter from John Palmer’s How to Brew will tell you everything you need to know about hop additions.

This APA had first wort, bittering, finishing, and dry hop additions. However, the major contributor to overall bitterness was the bittering addition at the start of the boil, a mere 1 oz of Cascade. Non-bittering additions like first wort and dry hopping require a large amount of hops to get pronounced effects, which explains the 11 oz in this recipe. The 55 IBUs are a little above the style guidelines, but I think even a non-hophead would enjoy this beer. On to the tasting!

Aroma: Very hoppy aroma, mostly of citrus (orange) and tropical fruit, with some floral and ‘fresh hop’ aroma. As the beer sits and warms, a small amount of bread and caramel malt aromas come through, but hops are still the main aroma.

Appearance: The beer is a deep copper color with a light tan head. The head is nice and thick when poured, but dissipates rather quickly. Good lacing, though.

Flavor: The citrus and tropical fruit aromas (from the Cascade hops) definitely come through in the flavor, along with a nice amount of bitterness. The hop flavor is right up front, but the malt sweetness and some bread flavors quickly push their way in. This beer is pretty high in alcohol with a fair amount of malt flavor, and the hop flavors tend to the sweeter side as well. The bitterness does a nice job of cutting through and keeping everything in check. There is a small amount of lingering bitterness, but it fades quickly and isn’t cloying. There’s also some lingering sweetness, which I’m not sure I like. I used Munich and Victory malts to try and up the maltiness–if there’s one thing I dislike, it’s an extremely bitter APA or IPA with no malt flavors to balance the hops. This APA does have a pretty good balance, I think, but the malt flavors are a little sweet.

Mouthfeel: Just about medium-bodied, pretty full in the mouth. The carbonation level is nice and sticks with the beer as you drink it.

Overall: A great APA, lots of hop flavor and aroma with a manageable bitterness that’s kept in check by sweet malt and bread flavors. The next time I make an APA, I’ll definitely stick with lots of aroma/flavor hop additions. This was my first experience with dry hooping and my second experience with first wort hopping. The other beer I first wort hopped still had great hop aroma/flavor, and since FWH is an easier technique than dry hopping, I might use it instead of dry hopping in the future. I’ll also try to get more bread, biscuit, and toasty malt flavors out of future pale ales, maybe with some biscuit malt, or by replacing the pils malt with pale ale malt.


Cleaning, kegging, and more cleaning

Saturday, May 29

Cleaning and sanitizing are important tenets in brewing. They also make up a good portion of the ‘work’–i.e., not drinking–part of brewing. I had some dirty bottles piling up and a couple of empty kegs, and so ‘cleaning’ was the word of the day. My brewing buddy Victor and I have been making some beers together recently. He was nice enough to leave his bottle washing tree at my house.

bottle washing treeThe bottle washing tree is a marvelous device. Most of it is devoted to a sort of rack that holds the bottles upside down to dry after washing or sanitizing. The top portion of the tree is where the action happens.

How it works in a nutshell: You fill the reservoir with your preferred chemical solution; in my case this was an iodine solution to sanitize the bottles. You invert a bottle and insert the nozzle into it. As you push the bottle down, the nozzle shoots a jet of solution into the bottle; as you ease up, the spring-loaded nozzle moves up and refills itself with solution, ready for another thrust. A few pumps on the nozzle and the bottle is sanitized. It’s all quite sexual. The bottle washing tree is made in Italy, which I think is delightful.

Before sanitizing the bottles on the tree, though, I like to give them a rinse in the sink to get rid of dust and such. Cleaning and sanitizing require a lot of water, and I try to reuse as much water as possible. For example, if you don’t have a dishwasher or, if you’re like me, your dishwasher is busted and you have to wash dishes by hand, you can reuse the rinse water to rinse bottles. This wee jumping spider was hiding on one of the bottles as I plunged it into the sink. I managed to scoop it out of the water, and it scurried off, presumably to go dry him/herself and to curse me.

After rinsing and sanitizing a whole mess of bottles, I cleaned and sanitized a couple of empty kegs. Cleaning kegs is an annoying and sometimes painful task, owing to the small size of the keg opening, through which I must stick my arm to reach in and scrub the buggers clean. My forearm especially is just wide enough to scrape the edges of the opening, leaving my arm reddened and sensitive. Honestly, though, I’d rather clean and fill one keg than clean and fill fifty bottles.

Kegs go in here.

After I cleaned the two kegs, I put an APA in one of them, stuck it in the fridge, and hit it with the CO2 to carbonate it. This APA was my first experience with dry hopping a beer. Dry hopping is when you add hops after the bulk of fermentation has taken place (as

opposed to the ‘normal’ method of adding hops during the boil). Dry hopping adds more hop aroma and flavor without adding extra bitterness. It’s a perfect technique for a beer like an APA, which should really focus on hop flavor/aroma without being too bitter (the BJCP style limits APAs to 50 IBUs). I’ll have a review of the APA and a discussion of the recipe soon, so stay tuned!