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The Complete History of the IPA: Part 1 The First IPA

There is no style more emblematic of the American Craft Beer Revolution than the IPA. It’s a  style that dates back to pre-industrial brewing, perfected during the industrial revolution, and revived to become one of the most important, dynamic styles in our modern age. It’s born of brewing techniques as old as beer itself, the latest advances in biology and genetics and the ambition and ingenuity that are changing the landscape of the beer world as I write this.

So it occurred to me to write a complete history of the IPA. I hope your comfy because in order to do this, I’m going to cover a few hundred years of brewing history.

Welcome to pre-1700’s England. Would you like an Ale?

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, brewing was done at just about every conceivable level of society. On larger scales, inns made beer for their guests. Estates made beer for their workers. Villages had alehouses. But most homes, especially in agricultural communities, made beer for the family and their workers. And far from being considered the domain of surly, beardy dudes, as it is today, women -known as brewsters or alewives- did most of the brewing.

But recently, or since the 1500’s or so, a debate had been raging about this strange new ingredient that was appearing in more and more beer every year. Flemmish immigrants started cultivating a vine earlier in the century and it’s little green flowers were increasingly finding their way into England’s ale.

What is this ‘beer’? And why is it so bitter?

So there’s been a slight change in terminology in the past 700 years or so. Go figure.

Nowadays the term ‘beer’ refers to any fermented alcoholic beverage that uses barley as its base.  Ale refers specifically to a type of beer fermented with yeast that works at warmer temperatures.  But in the 1700’s if you asked the local drunk what he was drinking at the alehouse he would say… well… ale.  Ale was the term for fermented grains and water.

And before hops became common, brewers spiced their ale with anything and everything. Mugwort, wormwood, heather, sage, rosemary and yarrow were common ingredients. Occasionally even poisonous ingredients like hemlock, foxglove, or even deadly nightshade found their way into the ale barrel. (You’d think the name of the last one would have been a clue) But, just as often, ale used no herbs or flavorings whatsoever except for the barley, oats and wheat that made up most brews.

But there was this new type of ale going around brewed with hops. This hopped ale became known as ‘beer’ and was causing a bit of a stir. 

So just to be clear, for the purposes of this article. Beer has hops. Ale doesn’t.

Cool?

Cool.

Debates raged in the 1600’s over whether hops were even an acceptable ingredient for ale. I don’t know what what those debates were like but, for some reason, I feel like it would be remarkably similar to the arguments over hazy IPA’s today.

But gradually hops became more and more accepted as a means of preserving beer. Brewers noticed that beer brewed with hops didn’t go sour nearly as fast as ale brewed without. In England, brewing had always been a seasonal activity as the summers were too hot to ferment ale with any consistency. As hops became more mainstream, however, brewers began producing hoppier beers in late spring so they would survive the long, hot summer.

And as the world drifted toward the industrial age something else happened that changed the face of beer production.

Wait… Why Is This Beer… Yellow?

Okay quick primer on how barley becomes beer. Before a brewery can use barley it has to be malted. To make malted barley, the grains fresh from the field are covered with water until they germinate. Once the little seedlings start to emerge the barley is quickly dried over low heat. At this point the barley is considered ‘malted’ and is now ready to be milled and made into beer.

But drying was a problem in the age before industrial processes. It has to be done fast so the barley doesn’t rot. But not so hot that it ends up roasted.  And in the pre-industrial world, they did this one of two ways. Maltsters laid out barley to dry in the sun, or it was dried over a wood-fueled fire. And if you know anything about the weather in England, then you can guess what method was most popular there.

The problem is that it is hard to control the heat of a wood fire and so the barley tended to be brown by the time it was done. Not to mention that anything cooked over a wood fire tends to end up rather smokey. So in England, in this time period, literally every beer was dark brown to black and had an intense, harsh wood smoke flavor. It was better than drinking the water since that could have you strapped to Ye Olde Privvy for the rest of the day. But even by the standards of the time, the heavy smokey flavor was a bit much. Barrel-aging was a common method of letting these flavors smooth out before consumption.

But in the 1600’s the people of Britain started drying malt over coke fires. No not that kind of coke but sounds like fun, right?

So coke is coal that has been heated to the point that all the sulphur, hydrogen and other nasty gasses one would normally get from burning it are driven off. The result are nuggets of almost pure carbon that burn with no appreciable smoke. It was also easier to control the exact temperature of the fire so that now barley could be dried over lower heat which would leave it a nice, light color. And, thus pale malt was born.

So we’ve got pale malt. We’ve got hops. We’ve got the basic ingredients of an India Pale Ale. Britain has yet to play Game of Flags in Asia but that doesn’t mean that the basic idea of a hop-forward pale ale didn’t enter someones head.  And, in fact it did. In the 1700’s a new seasonal style emerged that is probably the earliest incarnation of an IPA. Brewed in October and November, this October beer was an intensely strong, intensely hoppy beer that was brewed and aged for at least a year. 

So hoppy beers did exist long before anyone took them to India. But before a Pale Ale could be brought to India it still had to be invented.  And in a couple of weeks we will talk about the English Pale Ale.

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Your Second Batch: Partial Mash Brewing

So you brewed your first extract beer.  And it’s nice. Hopefully. Let’s just assume it’s nice. You crack open the bottle, pour in a glass and enjoy it a little more knowing that you brewed it. You are, in fact, it’s creator.

And yet… something is missing. Somehow you just know it can get better. Sure, your deadbeat friends can’t suck it down fast enough but there is something else out there… You somehow know there can be more flavor, more body, more hops, more… just more. 

Maybe the words ‘All Grain’ are echoing in your head like the last notes of a symphony in a great hall.  But every time you start looking into the realities of actually stepping up to brewing beer with grain alone you find yourself lost in a sea of blogs and youtube videos where beardy guys use words like ‘diastatic’ and ‘efficiency’ and other words that make you go a bit light headed. And then you start looking into how much an all grain set-up can cost and you can actually hear your debit card screaming inside your wallet.

Relax. There is a middle route. And it requires no extra equipment.

I Call Him… Mini-Mash.

Also called partial grain or partial mash brewing. The technique is just like it sounds. You will do a mash. Some of your sugars are going to come from your grain.  The rest are coming from extracts. It’s a way of getting a lot of the benefits of all-grain brewing without the mash tun, hot liquor tank or really much extra knowledge.

What you will need: 

Muslin Grain Sack:

That thing you used to steep the grains in your extract batch?  One of those. Possibly a bigger one.

A thermometer:

Your kit probably came with one but if you don’t have something that can be put into a pot of near boiling water, you’ll need that.

Colander:

“What you mean that thing-a-majiggy I use to make pasta” you ask? Yep. Haul that bad-boy out. It will come in handy.

Hydrometer and test jar:

Okay this absolutely should have come with your kit. You just might not have used it.  Well now, you’re gonna. 

The Procedure:

So remember how to do an pure extract brew? If not, here’s a reminder.  

Got it? Good!

Same basic thing but now we are going to do a mash before hand.

Wait What Is A Mash?

Glad you asked. 

In short a mash is the process of taking grain and turning it into sugar.

Barley is kinda amazing like that. This grain, and this grain alone, contains enzymes that will take that little bundle of carbohydrates and starches contained in the kernel and convert it into sugar. It is, in fact, the only grain that does this which is why barley is the key ingredient in beer. Obviously other grains can be used as anyone who’s ever enjoyed a German hefeweizen can attest.  But without at least some barley, all you have is a glass of Cream of Wheat that’s been sitting around for a while.

That’s a less appetizing pint to share with friends.

Let’s Mash

So take a couple of gallons and heat it up. You’re not going for boiling here. You want somewhere in the 150’s. 152 to 155 to be exact.  

Once your water is all warm and toasty, drop in your grains. 

They look comfy don’t they? Like they are hanging out it a tiny little hot tub. Almost makes you want to join them.

SAFETY NOTE: Please don’t bathe in your beer.

ANYHOO!

So now you got your water and your grains sitting at about 152.  Now time to hold it there. There’s one of two ways to go about this. The first is to take the pot off the stove, wrap it in towels or some other insulator and just let it sit. The other is to occasionally apply heat using the stove or burner.

It’s up to you! Choose your own adventure, Manny!

Now wait an hour. Do whatever time killing thing that will take an hour. Make a mix tape of whale noises and thrash metal. Learn a dirty song in Sanskrit.  Build a living being out of toilet paper and the stuff scrapped off the bottom of the refrigerator.  WHATEVER! 

Just let it sit. For an hour.

The Sparge

It’s also a gosh darn good idea to get another pot of water heated up while you are waiting. Not a lot. Like a half a gallon or gallon. Trust me, it will come in handy in a few minutes.  Again, not boiling.  Like 170 this time.

After an hour you should have a pot of slightly sweet barley water.  Now using some tongs, a large spoon or some bizarre Rube Goldburg device you’ve rigged up, remove the bag of grain and place it into the colander over the pot.  

Oh, I didn’t tell you to put the colander on top of the pot? Well do that. Colander on pot. Grain bag in colander. That way the extra sugar water contained in your bag slowly drips back into your pot.

Now. You are going to have the urge to squeeze the bag.  It’s is very squeezable. RESIST THIS URGE!!

Instead, remember that water I told you to heat up?  Well take that water and gently pour it over the grain bag. Let it wash some of the extra sugars out.  In the ‘Biz we call that a sparge. I don’t know why. Some German thing, I’m guessing.

After you’ve poured that water over the bag o’ grain let the water finish dripping out. Again, resist the urge to squeeze the bag. I know you think there might be lots of precious, precious sugar in there. And sugar means BOOZE!  Well, in this case, squeezing the bag could add strange grassy, husky flavors.  That is no bueno. So let it be.

Once your grain has dripped dry, feel free to toss it. It has served its purpose. Maybe hum taps while you dump it in the garbage. Those grains died so you could live. And maybe get a little tipsy later.

Now you’ve got a pot of some barley sugar. Bring it up to a boil, add your liquid or dry malt extract and proceed as normal.

That’s it. A partial mash. It’s not all grain. But it’s not strictly extract either.  It’s a little bit of both.

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Homebrew Recipe: Prohibit This! Cream Ale

So a few weeks back we finished up our story behind the American Lager. So it seemed only right and appropriate (appropriate and right) to share our recipe for the Prohibit This! Cream Ale

Wait, I hear you say, that piece was on the American Lager. WTF is a cream ale?

Well, remember how, in the 1800’s lager beers started becoming popular in a big, bad way?  This shift in popularity made ale producers drop a little poo poo in their pantaloons in fear. They couldn’t compete with these lagers so what could they do?  Well a lot of them started experimenting with a style of ale that had all the characteristics of a light lager but with ale yeast or a mix of ale and lager yeast.  And, hence, the American Cream Ale was born.

But wait, I hear you say again, the piece was on the AMERICAN LAGER.  So why not do a recipe for an American Lager?

sigh… 

It’s like this.

American Lagers are really hard to do.  Like REALLLY hard.  Like REALLY REALLLY REEEAAALLLY hard.  They require a level of control that most home brewers simply don’t have.   And the result is… well… an American Lager.

It’s like scaling Everest except that instead of getting to the highest peak in the world you find yourself having tea in an old lady’s living room. The only reason for most home brewers to attempt an American Lager is just to see if they can pull it off. To test the extent of their skills in order to make a beer bland enough to qualify as an American Lager. Otherwise American Lagers are available literally anywhere. It’s more of a challenge not to drink one. 

But a cream ale.. well there’s something different there. They’ve got a little more hop flavor and a little more boozy-booze than your typical American Lager. And there’s more room for interpretation by each individual brewery. 

Here’s how we make ours.

Grains:

First get yourself 6lb of 2 row.  6 row is more traditional and totally an option but it’s it is a little harder to work with.  And it was traditional because that was all there is.  But we live in the future! We little computers in our pockets and 3D printing and access to 2 row barley! So, bugger it, use 2 row.  

I also like to add a pound of Munich Malt.  Not a lot. Just enough for a hint of some doughy, malty tastiness. 

That covers the barely. But remember, we are out to brew something very light. Which means adjuncts! In this case flaked rice.  2 pounds of the stuff.

You can also use corn. Corn will add a little bit of… well… corny sweetness. Which is fine if that is your bag. I don’t judge. 

*Judges the living hell out of you*

But I like rice in this case for a cleaner, lighter flavor.  BUT YOU DO YOU, BOO!

And one more thing.

Flaked barley.  This is an unmalted barley that’s been rolled into flakes. It will help our beer’s head retention as well as give the beer a… well… creamy mouthfeel.  That’s not where the beer gets it’s name.  I don’t know where the beer got it’s name. It’s A BLOODY MYSTERY!  But that’s my personal nod to the style.  Flaked barley. For the cream.

The Mash:

Low and slow is the name of the game here. Again, you want something light and drinkable so I like 148 degrees for about 75 minutes.  Though you can totally get away with a standard 152 degree mash for an hour and get yourself a little extra body and sweetness.

If you want to really bring out the big German-style guns, you can even do a step mash to maximize the fermentables and give it a cleaner finish.

Extract version:

It’s hard to replicate some of the nuances of this beer with extract but one can get close.   You’ll need 3 pounds of Pilsen LME, 2 pounds of Pilsen DME and a pound of rice syrup extract.  It would also be gosh darn diligent to steep a pound of cara pils for some extra head retention.  You could also drop in a touch of light caramel for a bit of color and body, but don’t over-do it. Remember, this was supposed to be an ale version of an American Lager. Light touch there, John Henry, light touch.

Hops:

Again, put yourself in the shoes of an ale brewer in the 1800’s. Business is in the privy, you probably have some form of consumption, and you got teetotalers singing hymns outside your door. These damnable lagers are all the rage and you need to figure out a way to make your beer as light and drinkable as possible with ale yeast.

What I am saying is, just a touch of hops.  A smige. Like an an ounce of Nobel hops.  Think Saaz, Tettnang, Fluverd or Hallertau. The point is you only want a touch of a spicy bite to balance the malt.

And yes, I totally made up one of those hops. You caught me. Hallertau is a stupid name.

If you want to put a little modern twist on it there are some hop varieties that will add a bit of nice flavor late in the boil or even as a dry hop.  Hulle Melon or Mandarina Bavaria come to mind. But anything that could impart a nice hop flavor would work. But, again, keep it light. We’re not making a session IPA here, George Hodgson. 

But if you want to keep closer to style, keep it simple. Noble hops. Like 30 IBU’s max.  Probably more like twenty or so.

Yeast:

Here you’ve got a bit of leeway.  Personally I like the Cream Ale Blend from White Labs. It’s a blend of both ale and lager yeast that produces a nice clean flavor at a range of temperatures.  Failing that, there’s Wyeast 1056, White Labs California Ale Yeast.  There are some strains of lager yeast that produce good clean flavors at higher temperatures like Cable Car from Imperial or San Francisco Lager Yeast from White Labs.

What you want is something that will finish off dry and clean.  Maybe a touch of fruity esters but, again, you’re trying to compete with those damn kids and their damn lagers. 

BUT NOT ALWAYS!

Its helpful to remember that the Spotted Cow from New Glarus out of Wisconsin is consistently regarded as one of the worlds best cream ales and it packs a hell of a fruity, funky fermentation wallop that’s right on the verge of being a full-on saison.

But still drinkable.  Drinkable is the key.  

There you have it. The ale that was meant to pass as a lager. 

Prohibit This! Cream Ale

Grain

  • 6 Lb: 2 row
  • 2 lb: flaked rice
  • 1lb Munich malt
  • 1lb flaked barley

Hops

60 Minutes: 1oz Saaz

Yeast 

White Labs WLP 080 Cream Ale Yeast Blend 

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Oktoberfest!

We are coming into my favorite time of the beer calendar. The long, hot summer has ended, giving way to cool, crisp nights and with it a veritable parade of seasonal styles.

The first among them: Oktoberfest!

… and then realize that not a single person here is sober.

What Is Oktoberfest?

Well it’s a party. And a beer. And a beer you drink at a party. And a beer that is kinda associate with the party… listen, it’s a whole bunch of things. More than anything else it’s an excuse for the beer community to don some lederhosen and swill those nice, light drinkable German lagers until the curse of the bierleichen sets in. 

But more than that its when a particular style of beer appears on tap lists all over the Craft Beer landscape. 

Why is Oktoberfest in September?:

It’s… a whole thing.  

Essentially the whole idea of a German party at the end of September came from the 1800’s when Crown Prince Soandsos married Princess Whoreallycarsabouzen.

Not their real names.

They were rich. They were powerful. So their subjects threw them a hell of a party when they got hitched. And the Germans, enjoying a party as much as anyone decided to do it again the next year only with more beer.  And the next with even more beer.  

But the Germans are also a very practical bunch. After a few years, the royal couple became irrelevant to the celebration at hand. They were, presumably, still married but they didn’t need to be to celebrate. So, even though they were married in mid October, organizers decided to move it a few weeks earlier into September when it was a little warmer and the days were longer.

And then, in 1994, the schedule was tweaked one more time so that the anniversary of the reunification of Germany, October 3rd, would always be included in Oktoberfest. Because what better way to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunion of a divided people than with an epic drinking party.

But they kept the name. And they added more beer just to make people forget.

So… What is Oktoberfest?:

Like I said. It’s a party. Specifically a Volksfest (think of it as a German county fair. Except for way more drinking. Well… public drinking anyway) held every year in Munich, Germany. There it is a celebration of all things German. Food, beer, culture, beer, music, beer, beer and let’s see… oh yeah, beer.

In fact beer is such an important feature that the Munich breweries took to producing a special lager for the occasion that was about 2% stronger than their usual offerings. It was a touch darker than their regular fare, rich malty and dangerously drinkable. The brew was traditionally brewed in March and cold-stored until the festival giving the special brew the name ‘Märzen’.

Festbier vs. Märzen:

Finally someone brings me the beer I ordered. How hard was that?

Germans make everything complicated. This is a national trait that I don’t think any amount of beer will remedy. 

So if you go to your local beer shop and pick up a few bottles of Oktoberfest produced by Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Spaten or other Munich brewery (because a proper Oktoberfest must be produced by a Munich brewery) and pour it into a glass you will probably notice that its a touch… lighter than one would expect. In fact, when compared to ‘Oktoberfest’ beers produced by your local brewery it might be downright… pale.

Well, over the past few years the beer rolled out for Oktoberfest has gotten progressively lighter. It’s still a touch on the strong side but it’s rich, caramel toasty sweetness has given way to some lighter honey, baked bread flavors. Nobody knows why, it’s just what happened

Because of this there is distinction among beer aficionados between ‘Festbeir’ ‘Oktoberfest Beir’ and Märzen.  It breaks down like this:

Oktoberfest: 

Must be produced by a brewery in Munich specifically to be served at Oktoberfest.

Festbeir: 

Any beer produced by a brewery that is similar in style to an Oktoberfest.

Märzen: 

This is the darker, amber colored beer you’re probably more familiar with.

There you have it. Now go forth and get some delicious German beer. I mean, I guess it’s available always, but if you need an excuse, there. You have it. Oktoberfest. Prost!

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Extract VS All Grain

So a few weeks back, I laid out the basic procedure for brewing a batch of beer using malt extracts.  And in the coming weeks I will start talking about moving to All Grain.

But you might be asking yourself.  Wait, what exactly is the difference?  What is Extract?  What is All Grain?  What is LIFE?! WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN??!

Okay well, calm down there, Existential Crisis Man, I’ll Explain

What does it all mean?

All alcohol is essentially fermented sugar water.  Where that sugar comes from determines what we call it.  If it comes from barely or other grains, we call it beer.  If it comes from apples, we call it cider, if it comes from grapes we call it wine, if it comes from honey we call it mead and if it comes from the tears of the damned cast in Eternal HellFire, we call it White Claw.

Boom! Take that, White Claw!

When brewing beer from an all grain recipe it means we process the grain in a way that lets us extract the sugar from it.  In an extract recipe, that first step has been done for us.  Think of it as the difference between making mixed drinks from scratch vs making mixed drinks from store-bought mixers.  One is defiantly faster and easier but there is a level of craft involved in the other.  

Brewing With Extracts, The Pros:

A lot of home brewers, like to deride extract brewing as the exclusive realm of the novice brewer. They will loudly proclaim to anyone listening that the serious home brewer (said in tone where you can actually hear the italics) doesn’t brew with extracts at all.  All grain is The Only Way.

Extract brewing does have it’s limitations but it has some definite advantages:

Time:

A brew day with extracts is easily half as long as an all grain brew day. Those with serious scheduling issues can whip out a five gallons of beer in two or three hours verses four or five when brewing with grains.  Good for those times when the kegs are dry and the calendar is packed.

Cost: 

All the equipment needed to start brewing extract batches start at around $70.  Compare that to even the most modest all-grain set up where one is looking at $150 easy.  It’s a comparatively simple way to see if the idea of brewing beer appeals; if it’s something one would like to devote time and energy to.

Space:

If you live in an apartment, duplex  or hidden bunker in the middle of the woods, it might be difficult to fit all he equipment you need for all grain into a limited space (especially for living in the bunker. The heat from the burner can be picked up by the Black Helicopters and is a dead give-away)

But all the equipment for an extract batch can easily fit into a relatively small closet and can be produced on a standard kitchen stove which makes it much more versatile for those with space consideration.

Makes it easy to brew decent beer:

Extract brewers have less control over the process but, in a way, that can bee a good thing. With fewer levels to pull, it makes it easier for one to consistently produce good beer.  Can you make better beer with all grain? Sure. Can you make worse? Absolutely. Think of it as one less thing that can go wrong.

That being said, of course extract does have some distinct disadvantages. What are those limitations? I’m so glad you asked….

The Limitations:

Cost:

Wait, you might say, wasn’t cost listed above as an advantage? It was. But here we are talking about the cost of ingredients. You need far less equipment. But the actual extract costs a little more than the equivalent amount of grain.

Limited Options:

Brewing all from extract means you got about seven to ten different bases to choose from. You can tweak and enhance these by mixing, matching and steeping certain types of grain but, for the most part, you’re saddled with one of those base extracts. If you are rounding up the grain yourself, you have basically infinite options. The only limit is what you are willing to grind and put in a mash. 

Control Your Body:

Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Perv.

*Checks notes*

Oops, wrong type of body.

No we’re talking the feeling of thickness in your beer in the sense of mouthfeel. It’s one of the things that makes a big, bold imperial stout different from a pilsner.

Since you have no control over the type of sugars you are using, its hard to make adjustments. Extracts are notoriously fermentable so trying to brew a beer with some chewiness to it is going to be difficult with extracts. 

That ‘Extract-y’ Flavor:

Okay, I don’t actually believe this is a thing. But I’ll include it because I have met some who report being able to taste some residual fermented quality of extracts. I’m skeptical, but it’s something to consider.  

So there you have it. Really the trade-off is pretty simple. Extract brewing is easier but comes with specific limitations.  All grain requires more equipment and finesse, but gives the brewer a little more space for the craft.

Choose your path. But choose wisely.