Brewing a 120 Minute IPA clone is much like having a newborn: It’s very temperamental, and it needs fed twice a day. In all seriousness, this beer is a lot of work. You need to be very organized, and very sanitary, as you’ll be messing with your fermenting wort daily. So here are a collection of tips and tricks I learned along the way that will help should you want to tackle this beer.
This is a big one. Simply shaking your carboy isn’t going to cut it. You need an oxygen wand.* You’ll want to gas the wort before you pitch your yeast, and then gas it for the first two to three days after you pitch the WLP099. This beer is a grueling marathon for your yeast, and you need to keep them as happy as possible.
*The alternative to injecting pure O2 into your wort is olive olive. New Belgium did a huge study with a University in Belgium, and they found that a tiny amount of olive oil can replace the role of oxygen in wort aeration. I won’t get into too many details, but the process is: Sanitize a needle or pin, and dip it in some olive oil. We’re looking for the tiniest of drops; this isn’t something where more is better. Then stir the tiny drop into your yeast starter, and then repeat the process for the primary ferment. It works.
Take gravity readings during primary fermentation daily. It’s incredibly useful to know how active your yeast are when you are pushing them to the ragged edge. You’re already going to have the fermenter open to add sugar, so take a gravity reading while you are there. It takes 60 extra seconds, do it. This leads into the next point….
Cleaning and Sanitizing
If you want to take gravity readings everyday, you’ll need to put your samples back into the fermenter, otherwise you’ll lose 1-2 gallons of wort. That means your hydrometer and test tube need to be sanitary. You’re also going to be pulling off 1-2 quarts of wort twice a day and whisking in dextrose. So keep a pitcher of Star San, I kept mine by the kitchen sink. Soak your hydrometer, test tube, whisk, wine thief(stainless steel turkey basters are awesome), and stirring spoon in star san whenever you aren’t using them.
The process I followed was: move the items into a clean empty pitcher, then fill that pitcher with star san, then pour it back out leaving an empty sanitized pitcher containing the whisk, hydrometer, stirring spoon, turkey baster, and test tube. I’d first take a hydro sample with the turkey baster, then stir up the primary with the spoon to get the yeast off the bottom. Next pull off 1-2 quarts into the pitcher with the baster, whisk in the dextrose, dump that back into the primary, and gently stir it in. Finally seal your fermenter back up.
Now clean everything before putting it back in the star san. Yes, it’s a total pain in the ass to do all that twice a day. Thankfully it’s only about 12-15 days, so suck it up. I can’t emphasize how critical it is to ensure everything is cleaned, then sanitized. You’re going to be sticking crap in your fermenter 24 to 30 times, so even the smallest amount of bacteria will get a 24x chance to get into your wort. It’ll just become routine after a few times. A spray bottle full of sanitizer helps for those objects that are longer than your sanitizer pitcher is tall.
Oxidation is always a concern with hoppy beers, and I’m telling you to pour, whisk, and stir your wort daily; that doesn’t sound like the a good idea. Don’t be too concerned with oxygen pickup as long as you are still adding fermentables. Every time you add sugar, the yeast will gladly scrub any oxygen that made it’s way into the wort. The second you stop adding sugar, oxidation becomes an immediate concern, so no more pouring, whisking, stirring, or doing anything that will mix oxygen into your beer.
Calculating the Gravity
A beer like this requires a healthy amount of math. It’s easy to calculate your original gravity at the end of the boil, but how do we calculate the gravity after all the sugar additions? It’s actually fairly easy assuming you keep accurate notes. 1lb of dextrose adds .007 gravity points to a 6 gallon batch, and .008 points to a 5 gal batch. So the math says each ounce of dextrose adds .0005 for a 6gal batch. Multiply .0005 by the number of ounces you add. Then add that value to your gravity. Say your OG was 1.100, and you add 12oz of dextrose. You’re OG is now 1.106.
The daily gravity readings are there to tell you how active the yeast are. If you measure the gravity at 1.020 in the morning, then add 12oz of dextrose, you know the gravity should be 1.026. Later that night, if the gravity is back to 1.020, you’ll know the yeast fermented all the sugar you feed them. This is very useful information because once the ABV starts to climb high, it’s a balancing act. You’ll need to feed the yeast to keep them active, but you run the risk of them tiring out and stalling the ferment.
Managing the Ferment
One of the biggest tricks in attenuating this beer is to manage the gravity. The WLP007 will tear through the malt-only wort in a matter of a few days. You’ll want to pitch the WLP099 once the gravity falls to around 1.020 or so, and start the sugar additions. The trick is to add enough sugar to keep the wort around 1.020 to 1.028, never much more, never much less. This reduces the osmotic pressure on the yeast, and keeps them much happier. Plus, should the yeast crap out early, you aren’t left with an overly sweet beer. Anything under 1.030 is drinkable, under 1.020 is ideal.
So how did my batch turn out? Rather well I’d say. The original gravity after all the sugar additions was 1.182! And the final gravity settled in at 1.021. Final calculated ABV of 21.1%, which I called 20% for good measure. I was fortunate enough to get a few bottles of the real 120 Minute, so we could do a side by side tasting.
Mine: 21.1%: A little more of that sticky, candied raisin-like malt aroma than the Dogfish. A little less hop character. Bitterness was spot-on. carbonation was quite a bit less. This was carbonated to around 1.5 vols, the Dogfish version was quite a bit more, which might explain the more pronounced hop aroma.
Dogfish: 15-20%: Exact same sticky, candied raisin quality in the aroma, but it’s a little more balanced with hop. Much more carbonation, I’d guess around 2.0 vols. Bitterness is the same, as is the alcohol character: dominate, but not biting. It’s possible this had 5% less alcohol than mine, which would be a big difference. That would also explain why mine had more of that pronounced malt character, and less hop character. I’ll never know for certain though.
All in all, I’m definitely splitting hairs; the two beers tasted identical. I’m pretty confident I could have Sam taste mine, and he would say: “Yep, that’s 120 Minute.” Despite it’s tedious nature, this beer was a blast to brew, and I’m definitely looking forward to brewing my next version, which will be a little more to my taste. I’ll say that brewing this beer gave me a new-found respect for 120 Minute. I completely, utterly understand why this beer costs $10 per 12 ounce bottle.
That’s about everything I can think of. Hopefully this post, and the last will help someone else brew this beer. I have to give some props to a few of the guys on HomeBrewTalk who paved the way before me, as well as Sean Paxton and the folks on the Brewing Network. Their two hour show is a wealth of information, and is well worth listening to. Good luck to anyone who attempts this beast of a beer, and please let me know how it turns out should be brew it. Cheers!