Brew date 28/7/14
This was my first attempt at making a really high strength beer and it was a special request, with the finished result destined for my mate Nick's 40th birthday weekend.
I wanted to make a big double or triple IPA, with multiple dry-hop additions and dextrose in the boil, to boost the ABV while keep the body light. I called the beer "Divine Hammer" after the song of the same name by excellent 90's band The Breeders.
With the strength so high, it was always going to be a bit of a step into the unknown so I wasn't going to get too precious about hitting numbers spot on. The starting point was simply to make an educated guess about the maximum amount of grain I could fit in my mash tun. I'd used 7 kilos before and there was some room left, so I guesstimated at 8.5 kg being the limit.
I came up with a simple recipe: 8200g of low colour Maris Otter and 300g of Caramalt (that's 3.3%). I added 700g of brewing sugar to the boil, to make 9.2kg of fermentables.
The mash tun looked like this:
Pretty full. It was all dribbling over the edge at the beginning so I'm satisfied I've found the limit. I did the usual big 0 min addition and 60 minute bittering addition to make up the IBUs. The bittering addition was really big: 314g of Cascade, Columbus and Citra, using up a few bag ends along the way. Added to the kettle, it looked like this:
I stirred it in and let it all stand for 20 minutes before turning the cold tap on for the cooling coil. The OG was 1.088 and I used 3 packets of US-05 yeast for the fermentation. That's still probably nowhere near enough but it's what I had and this brew was also an exercise in using up some old ingredients.
The fermentation went ok, if maybe a bit slow, taking about 10 days to bottom out at 1.008. This was much lower than I'd been expecting, giving 10.5% ABV. In hindsight, I think I got carried away with the dextrose in the boil, resulting in wort which was a bit too racy.
I'd figured that this beer would be made or broken by what happened after fermentation finished, with good dry-hopping technique being really important. I did two separate additions, all T90 pellets, with the first being 100g of Columbus and 100g Citra into the primary FV and the second 100g of Citra and 100g Ahtanum into a secondary vessel after doing a transfer.
I cold-crashed in the second vessel and didn't add finings as I wanted to retain every last bit of flavour. The beer tasted brilliant at this point; like an orgy of hops.
Unfortunately, it went a little wrong from then on. I transferred into an open bucket for bottling, adding enough priming sugar to get 2.4 - 2.5 vols of carbonation. However, the tap got clogged up with hops and after trying in vain to find another way, I ended up having no choice but to blow down the tube to clear the blockage if I was going to get the beer out. The bottling went fine but I tasted a bit of the beer at the end and sadly it was already a bit tired and oxidised; definitely not as good as it had been a day or two before.
Fast forward two weeks and there was no sign of any carbonation. I emailed Dom Driscoll from Thornbridge and he confirmed my fears that 10.5% ABV is just a bit too big an ask for tired US-05 to bottle-condition. He suggested opening the bottles and dropping some fresh champagne yeast in each one.
I'm a bit annoyed with myself for not seeing the problem coming but as they say, you live and learn. I'll do the champagne yeast thing but I'm already itching to just re-do the brew with the schoolboy errors ironed out.
For the record, next time I would:
- Aim at a little lower ABV, say 9%, for the next one
- Use less dextrose in the boil
- Use wet yeast - a big dose of WLP001
- Do all the dry-hopping in primary
- Be more careful not to oxidise the beer during transfers
- Possibly re-seed with fresh yeast before bottling
In hindsight it was probably a bit ambitious to try and make a beer over 10% this early in my home brewing career and I've learnt that it's definitely not the sort of brew you can just do on a whim, with loads of careful planning needed if you want the best results. There is certainly a lot to catch you out when venturing into this territory and the one thing that stands head and shoulders above the rest is the importance of dissolved oxygen control. It's always important to minimise O2 takeup after fermentation is complete but these super-hoppy beers really show you up if you don't.
This is one area where a homebrewer has a serious disadvantage over a professional. It's so much harder to keep oxygen out of a small batch than a big batch because the small batch just has a higher surface area-to-volume ratio. There are steps, such as purging tanks with CO2, that can be taken to help minimise the problem but it'll always be a struggle.
There is one key advantage a homebrewer does have over his or her professional counterpart though: we don't have to make a profit. This beer had a stupid amount of hops in it: 21g/l in dry-hopping and 12g/l in the late kettle addition. Sadly though, if the technique isn't spot on, the amount of hops counts for nowt.