Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Profile Series : Growing Local Beer : Brewing a Truly Local Beer

Guest post by Joe Morris

It was an absolute blast visiting our local growers for the Growing Local Beer series.  And I'd like to extend an enormous "Thank you" to Crosby Hop Farm, Imperial Organic Yeast, and Mecca Grade Estate Malt.  Each of our featured subjects extended amazing generosity and were very free with their time. The truly great thing about the craft beer and brewing communities is the willingness of everyone to teach and learn about making better beer.

While the Growing Local Beer project was underway, I offered our growers the opportunity to participate in a product demonstration to be featured on #pdxbeergeeks as well as my homebrew blog, Portland Ale Blazer.

The idea was well received. So, for the finale of the series, we're going to do something that I personally feel is a special opportunity; we will brew a beer strictly using ingredients from our profiled growers.  Every ingredient going into this beer was grown in Oregon, within 125 miles of my home brewery in Beaverton. The end result will be a truly local beer.

The Ingredients:

Along the way in my adventures, I was able to collect some ingredients from our featured subjects with a very special plan for this capstone to the series.  

Mecca Grade Estate Malt: Pelton base malt
Crosby Hop Farms: Cascade Pellets
Crosby Hop Farms: Centennial Pellets
Imperial Organic Yeast: A01: House Yeast

Mecca Grade Estate Malt (Pelton):
Pelton is a very lightly kilned Full Pint barley malt, similar to Pilsner Malt in style.  Mecca Grade's unique single source estate malt process lends it a uniquely crisp cracker (almost nutty) taste.  It is the one and only malt featured in our beer and will provide a nice soft and delicious platform into which our other ingredients can integrate themselves.

Crosby Hop Farms (Cascade/Centennial Pellets):
I always have a fresh pound or two of these hops on hand from CHF. They are the workhorses of my home brewery.  I brew mostly American style beers: Blonde, Pale Ale, IPA and Red ales year round, with Stouts and Porters in Winter.  These hops play very well in all these beers.  Cascade and Centennial will bring their bright citrus/piney flavor and aroma to this beer, without blowing the malt character away with dank, resinous or funky tropical notes.

Imperial Organic Yeast (A01 House):
My favorite strain of yeast is also a favorite of the guys at Imperial.  They love it enough to name it "House," which is the role this strain has assumed in my home brewery for years.  Though it is a British yeast, it is low on ester production, highly flocculant and very attenuative. Translation: This produces dry, clear beer without a lot of funky fermentation characteristics.  

The Recipe:
Last year, over on my home brewing blog, I brewed a fun and geeky IPA in order to apply some theories in practice.  The idea of starting with a small initial hop addition, then doubling the kettle hop additions over time would prove out the practice of Hop Bursting.  A common practice known to deliver great hop flavor without over-bittering the beer.  After fermentation, the opposite technique was applied.  Big dry hop additions at first, followed by incrementally smaller additions right up til packaging time. These multiple dry hop additions is a practice used often my commercial breweries to layer fresh hop flavor and aroma upon fresh hop flavor and aroma.  When I charted up the additions, it resembled a Bell Curve and that is what I called it.  It was probably the best IPA I ever brewed.

The magic of Bell Curve was the "standard distribution" of hops

This particular beer, which we will be calling Grade Curve (as a nod to the folks at Mecca Grade), is not intended to be an IPA.  Hop additions as substantial as those in Bell Curve would blast all the subtle nuance of our malt out the window.

The goal here is to something as smooth and drinkable as Bell Curve, while remaining more balanced.  We only have 4 ingredients here and the challenge is to create a beer that will feature each without overpowering the other.

I cut all the hop additions back and reduced the enormous Whirlpool and First Dry Hop additions by 50%.  This should allow for the hop flavor and aroma to shine, without overpowering the grainy, pilsner-like quality of the malt. 

I used WLP-007 by White Labs in my Bell Curve IPA.  It accentuated the hops well and produced a clean, clear beer.  A01 House is derived from the same strain and will be a perfect fit for this recipe.  When fermented at around 64f, this yeast is low on ester production, yet attenuative enough to produce a dry, clean beer. When this strain flocculates, it drops out so hard and fast, practically leaves a crater on the floor. 

Grain Bill:
13 lbs *
Mecca Grade Pelton Malt (2 Row) US (1.5 SRM)

Hops Schedule:

0.25 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Boil 60.0 min
5.79 IBUs
0.25 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min
8.28 IBUs
0.50 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Boil 30.0 min
7.0 IBUs
0.50 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 30.0 min
10.0 IBUs
1.00 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Boil 10.0 min
6.99 IBUs
1.00 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Boil 10.0 min
9.99 IBUs
0.50 oz
Cascade [5.80 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days
0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 Days
0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz
Cascade [5.80 %]  - Dry Hop 3.0 Days
0.0 IBUs
0.25 oz
Centennial [10.00 %] - Dry Hop 3.0 Days
0.0 IBUs

*The grain bill is slightly larger because I created an additional 1 gallon batch for a brew club experiment.

Brew Day:
This brew day was an absolute breeze.  Despite the multiple hop additions, the 90 minute boil (to reduce DMS production in using such a pale malt) and the 30 min whirlpool, things were easy breezy.

The Mash:
I milled this grain at home and set my gap to a pretty tight, but versatile setting (.035" for those keeping score). The grain was a dream to work with.  The crush was uniform and thorough. The malt itself is sweet and grainy to the taste and possesses a uniformity I have not seen before.  I have to assume this is the result of using a single-source product.

I doughed in at 154 degrees with a single-infusion of strike water.  [ No one have ever called my home brew system "fancy" but it has served me well and I've added to it over the years.]  I anticipated a few degrees variance and by the end of the mash, confirmed that the saccharification rest ended at around 152f.  This should produce a dry beer, with enough body and foam stability to carry our hop bill.

The Boil:
I went with a 90 minute boil, as opposed to my standard 60 minutes, on this beer because it is 100% pilsner style malt. Lightly kilned malt bills like this have a higher potential for DMS production.  The result is a cooked corn flavor that is common in a lot of lower quality adjunct lagers (you know it if you have tasted it).  Boiling 90 min will drive off the DMS precursors and should also add some color and flavor depth due to maillard reactions. Just as longer cook times make food more brown and accentuate caramelized flavors, the same rule applies to our beer with this extended boil.

A video posted by @joetothemo on

Within the boil, I made several hop additions, doubling them along the way.  I started with a bittering addition of .25oz each of Cascade and Centennial at 60 minutes, doubled to .5 oz each in the final 10 minutes and then cut the flame. Once the flame was out, I added 1oz each and whirlpooled the wort using a pump for 30 minutes. This will result in a bright, fresh hop character, by avoiding boiling off the subtle oils and resins.

After a quick chill to 60f, I aerated the wort with pure oxygen* and pitched my can of Imperial Organic Yeast cold.  I was nervous and apprehensive about pitching yeast without a starter, but I am putting my faith in the product.

*I did learn that my O2 tank emptied in the process and this wort did not receive the full oxygen treatment I generally give.

The Fermentation:

I allowed the fermentation temperature to rise from 60f to 64f overnight.  I typically see visible signs of fermentation after 12 hours, however I did not see activity when I left for work at 5:30 AM on Monday Morning.  This is not all that surprising, I began to run out of oxygen as I was aerating the wort and am not confident that I added the amount I would normally add. 

Despite the slow start, fermentation was pretty standard for this strain. The beer completed to terminal gravity of 1.008 by about day 5.

After day 7, I moved the beer under CO2 to a second carboy with our first dose of dry hops.  Using a secondary fermentor is not something I normally do, unless I am planning to reuse the yeast (as was the case with this beer).  Pushing the beer with CO2 into a carboy flushed with CO2 will reduce the chance of exposing the beer to oxygen post-fermentation (a major factor in staling).
The beer received a second and final dry hop dose just three days from packaging.  Again, I pushed the beer using CO2 to the keg, ensuring a clean (oxygen free) transfer.

After carbonating the beer to a typical level of carbonation for a US craft pale ale, the beer was ready to serve.

The Final Product:

The beer took a while to clear up. I typically see beers using this yeast strain clear up a little quicker.  However, I did dry hop this beer, which can lead to some haze.  

The beer had an amazingly creamy mouthfeel and enormous head stability. This is largely due to Mecca Grade's malt, as well as some contribution from the layered dry hop additions.

The aroma was perfumy and sweet. I could definitely pick up a lot of aroma from the hops, but there was also a pretty strong contribution from the malt. It was a pleasant aroma that really accentuated the flavor of the beer.

Finally, the taste. 

Bottom line with any beer I brew is, "Does it taste good?"  And I can say, without question, this beer tasted good. 

In all honesty, it was not 100% what I envisioned when I drew up the recipe. I was aiming for balance, but assumed that the hops would come out slightly ahead of the malt and yeast contributions. 

In reality, it was the malt that stole the show. Typically, the base malt I use is designed to be almost transparent, a blank slate to showcase character grains and hops.  The Mecca Grade Pelton malt contributed enormously to the final product of this beer.. and it tasted great.  There was a nutty, creamy flavor that was further enhanced by that amazing mouthfeel mentioned earlier.  For a beer that finished this dry, with an ABV over 6.8, I was surprised to find such an easy-drinking creamy beer.

I passed bottles around to #pdxbeergeeks founder Michael Umphress as well as some of our profile participants. The response was favorable all around.  But, as always, my wife's critique mattered most...and she hit that tap over other draft options in the kegerator more than the other options.  That is normally how evaluate the success of a beer.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all our profile subjects along the way. Writing this series was a fun exercise that I found tremendously educational and I hope the same for you.

The plans are in place for one more Locally Grown Beer this winter... Stay tuned for a truly local lager in Spring '16 on www.portlandaleblazer.com