I've been excited to write about this beer for a little while now, as I've been trying to craft a session IPA recipe for well over a year. Session IPAs (or whatever you want to call them) are polarizing beers. Personally, I love the concept, as I love a good IPA, but want something I can drink on a weeknight. Those 9% DIPAs take their toll. So I set out to create a really tasty low-gravity IPA, although I didn't realize quite how hard this style would be to get right.
My first attempt was last May, and while it was a decent start at the style, it was far from great. The beer was dry, lacked any form of body, had no malt character, and came across way too bitter. The aroma was great, but that was about the only thing I got right with that beer. I quickly realized that I really needed to crank up the specialty malts in efforts to give this beer some much needed body.
Roughly 5-6 months later I brewed my second stab at this style. I added an entire pound of C20 and 8oz of Carapils, but kept the mash temp around the same range, thinking 1.5lbs of dextrinous malts would be plenty. It wasn't. The beer still finished way too low (1.008), and lacked the body I was looking for. So against everything I know about brewing IPAs, I threw more specialty malts at this beer, and mashed it higher yet.
That brings us pretty close to the current batch. This summer I got back to work on this recipe, and finally found something that worked. I decided to bump up the gravity some, throw more dextrine at the beer, add some rye, and bring the mash temp up to 160. I figured I might over do it, but after two tries, I'd rather be on the high-side than the low-side this time. As it were, this batch turned out fantastic. So much so, that I rebrewed nearly the same recipe here, with just a couple hop tweaks.
For this batch I decided to play around with Equinox some, and peppered it in where I could. I've bought about a half pound of it over the past year, and I really like the hop so far. Other than that, the hop schedule is pretty similar to the recipe from earlier this summer. The grain bill is also the same, as it's pretty close to where it needs to be.
The brew days are starting to become really nice here in AZ. This one was a bit more involved, as a storm decided to roll in. I brew under a covered patio, but wind and rain always make things interesting. Despite that, things went reasonably well, especially compared to my recent batch of Pumpkin Porter (stuck sparge). I mashed for 60 minutes, boiled for 60, and whirlpooled the flameout hops for 15 minutes before I began to chill the wort. The gravity came in a couple points high, but nothing I was going to lose any sleep over. I oxygenated the wort, and pitched a small starter of WLP090 before buttoning everything up in the fermentation fridge. I fermented this at 64F for the first few days before ramping it up to 68 when fermentation slowed down.
I dry hopped this directly in the primary while there was still some yeast activity. I'm starting to find that minimizing oxidation outweighs hop/yeast contact. This is pretty much the reverse from what my mindset was a couple years ago. For my IPAs and DIPAs, I still rack the beer into a keg to dry hop, but for low gravity IPAs and Pale Ales, I'm dry hopping in the primary to take advantage of the oxygen-scavenging properties of active yeast. Anyway, the dry hops went in day 6, and I chilled the primary and kegged the beer on day 13.
1oz Centennial @ 15
1oz ea Citra/Mosaic + 0.5oz Equinox @ 0
Dry Hop: 0.5oz ea Citra/Mosaic/Centennial/Equinox + 0.25oz CTZ
I dropped this beer in my spare keezer, and allowed it to carb up while I waited for space to open up in my main kegerator. I want to say it was in there untouched for about two weeks before I finally cracked into it.
I'll lead off by saying I'm really happy with how this beer turned out. The malt bill could still use a little bit of tweaking, but it's leaps and bounds better than the others I've brewed before. The appearance is a sparkling clear yellowy-orange; there's no avoiding a bit of the orange color with a pound of carastan in a 1.045 beer. The fluffy white head lasts for days and days, which I attribute to the rye. The aroma is super fruity with some citrus mixed in as well. The Citra and Mosaic clearly lead the way, but it's a pretty complex hop nose. There's no malt to speak of in the aroma.
The flavor is sweet, fruity hops, with some bready malt character. The malt profile of this beer is night and day different from the last beer; it's amazing what some dextrines will do. Lots of fruity and citrus hops in the finish, with a nice bitterness that doesn't linger long. The mouthfeel is probably the biggest difference maker in this beer. It ranks about medium, and is perfectly in line with what you'd expect from a standard gravity IPA.
I'm extremely happy with how this recipe is progressing, and how this beer turned out. It drinks just like an IPA despite the 4.1% ABV. I'd also wager that it can stand toe-to-toe with any of the best commercial session IPAs I've had. With that said, there's still some tweaking to do, so where do we go from here? First, with the extra carapils, I can probably back off on the carastan just a touch now. I'm thinking 12-14oz might be just about perfect. The hop profile is good, but I'm not thrilled with the Citra/Mosaic combo. I'm going to replace Mosaic with Amarillo across the board, as I like what the pair of Citra and Amarillo have tasted like in the past. Finally, I think I'll bump the 2-row up a touch to account for my mistake of gravity. I intended this beer to be a 1.042-1.043 beer, and while I overshot that a bit, it was a happy accident. I'll likely bump the base malt up just enough so that I can consistently hit 1.045 or so with this beer. As much as I want to make a super-low alcohol beer, sometimes there's just no replacement for the ethanol.
I'll likely brew this again sometime shortly after the new year, so stay tuned for the next iteration of the recipe.
PS: Yes, that is a hop mistletoe. My wife found it on Etsy. Pretty cool, huh?