Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pale Ale Quest

My quest has started for entering my first Homebrew Competition. The goal is to enter a brew into the 2011 Fresh Hop Festival in Yakima, Washington. The festival will be held on October 1st, 2011 at the Yakima Millennium Arts Plaza. There will be Craft breweries from the area selling their own fabulous creations as well as a judging panel for home brewers that enter into the competition.

Logo from Yakima's upcoming festival (

I chose this festival as my first competition because of a few reasons. The first is that I grew up in Yakima, which I still visit family and friends there occasionally. The second reason is that the competition seems fairly straight forward; you enter a brew into only one category and don't really have to debate which category your beer tastes like the most as you would need to do in something like a county fair competition. A third reason for entering this competition is that I have some time to try and perfect a different beer style that I haven’t brewed before, which is very hoppy pale ale.

Here is a list of the recipe formulation entry requirements at the Fresh Hop Festival:
  • The entry must fall into the Pale Ale to IPA category
  • The beer needs to be in the 40 to 120 IBU (International Bittering Unit) range <-wow that’s a lot of hoppiness
  • The beer color should be between 5 to 15 SRM (Standard Reference Method)
  • The entry must include 100% flavor and aroma hops from the 2011 harvest year. They can be commercially grown or homegrown but are not to be processed through kiln drying. Bittering hops do not fall into this rule.

Since the Yakima Fresh Hop Festival requires the home brewer to enter a very hoppy beer made with freshly picked hops, this year I decided to start growing my own hops.

Here are my hops and how they are growing so far.
 I also decided to grow my own because the price of hops for beer seemed to be the bulk of what I was spending my money on… no matter what style I was brewing.

After doing my research for the entry requirements I started to formulate my first try at a recipe. Since my new hop crop was just planted a week prior to my first recipe formulation I have decided to stick with the brewing supply shops hops (Brewcraft brand) for the duration of my recipe alterations all the way until the batch I will brew for the festival. I am doing this knowing that the freshly picked hops will have quite a bit more flavor, aroma and bitterness than the kiln dried and pellet style of hops.

When it came down to my recipe formulation, I didn’t want to have one of those bland hoppy beers.  Since I like a malt character to my beer, I decided to put a good helping, at least for pale ale, of Munich malt and Crystal 20L malt.  I also wanted to try for a pretty strong beer in terms of alcohol content, which I also haven’t tried to do in any of my previous brews.  In order to move into the strong beer direction with my recipes I knew that I would have to use a substantial amount of 2-row Pale malt or some other type of light malt.  Since the 2-row wouldn’t give me the malty character I was looking for, I decided to try and balance the 2-row pale malt with the Munich and Crystal malts.  Using a smaller proportion of crystal malt than Munich allowed me to both give the malty character while still keeping the beer in a pale color category.  The final grain bill I decided on was to use:

8 lbs of Pale Malt
5 lbs of Munich Malt
2 lbs of Crystal 20L

This recipe should have given me a calculated 6.8% ABV assuming 75% attenuation efficiency or 9.1% ABV with 100% attenuation for a 5-gallon batch.  Since 100% attenuation efficiency is unrealistic, I was assuming that I would get a 6.8% alcohol beer.  Since I wound up collecting about 7.7 gallons of wort and boiled it down to 6.7 gallons, I didn’t get the stronger beer profile I was hoping for.  I attribute the lack of efficiency to the fact that I didn’t measure out the exact amount of water I put into the mash tun.  In my future brews I think that measuring the exact amount of hot liquor I put into the mash tun will be the key to creating a strong beer.

As for the hop profile that I chose, I decided to both use up what I had on hand, Czech Saaz pellet hops, and to use Cascade Hops for the remainder.  In my future brews I plan on using Cascade Hops exclusively since that is the variety that I began growing.  I wanted to move towards getting more of a hop profile than I had been using in the past, so to do this I decided to use a 2oz package of kiln dried Cascade hops and the remaining 1oz of the Czech Saaz hops.  I had typically only used 1.5 to 2oz of hops for my past brews, so this increase wouldn’t give me an extremely high hop character compared to my last brews, but would give me an idea of how 1oz of hops could make a difference.  My final hop schedule wound up to be as follows:

1 oz Cascade at the beginning of boil
1 oz Czech Saaz at 30 min. into the boil
0.5 oz Cascade at 45 min. into the boil
0.5 oz Cascade at strike out while I cooled the wort using my emersion wort chiller.

I also fermented a portion of the beer with 0.5 oz Cascade hops (which at 70 degrees I dry-hopped). This leads me to the yeast.  I have only used a few different types of yeast strains to ferment my beer in the past.  I found that the dry Saffale Yeast T-58 has given me the best results as far as my taste buds go.  My friends have told me that the beers I brewed using that yeast strain have also been very appreciable; however, one of my friends that usually only likes light lagers and an occasional craft brew has told me that some of the beers I brew with the T-58 yeast strain have a wine like taste.  None of those beers have had any kind of adjuncts, such as fruit, which you would expect to give off that wine like taste he was referring to.  Since I liked this yeast strain and I have harvested some of it from my previous batches (this will be the third batch using that strain) I have decided to experiment with the 1.7 gallons extra that I collected.  The experiment is simply to ferment two batches of the same wort, one smaller than the other, and use two different yeast strains.  In the smaller batch (I used a 2.5 gallon bucket) I put the T-58 yeast strain and in the larger 5 gallon batch I decided to use the White Labs Pacific Ale yeast.  I also put the dry hops in the 5 gallon batch since it was my primary fermentation vessel and I was expecting a crisper beer profile using the Pacific Ale yeast.

After 2 weeks of fermentation in my basement, I checked on the progress of the beer.  I noticed that the 5 gallon batch with the Pacific Ale yeast still had a large cake of yeast on the top.  Because I was expecting it to have finished fermentation I took a sample of the beer and found that it was done fermenting based on my hydrometer reading of 1.010.  I also found that the 1.7 gallon batch was done fermenting based on the hydrometer reading of 1.012; however, none of the yeast was on the top of that fermentation vessel.  Both of the yeast strains were top fermenting according to the respective manufacturers which leads me to believe that some top fermenting yeast strains stay on the top of the beer no matter how exhausted they may be from fermentation.  Once I bottled the beer that had the Pacific Ale yeast and refrigerated it, the yeast finally had settled to the bottom though.

This concludes my blog for this edition of Pale Ale Quest.  If you liked this post and would like to hear more details about my adventures in home brewing, then leave me a comment.  If you would like the recipe from this post, simply browse to Custer Pale Ale v1 on my Recipes page.

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