Having recently emptied both kegs in the kegerator (and after not brewing for several months over this past seemingly endless winter) I got determined and made time to brew an American IPA and a few weeks later, a British ESB. For the IPA, I went with a basic grain bill (2-row, carpils and C40) and a hop bill reflective of one of my favorite New England IPA’s, Maine Beer’s “Another One.“ Warrior to bitter, 20 minute and 1 minute additions of equal amounts of Simcoe and Citra. after 12 days in the primary, I then racked off the yeast into my 5 gallon Better Bottle secondary, dry hopping with 2 oz of Simcoe and 1 oz Citra. 10 days in secondary, then racked into a corny keg and gassed it up over 2 weeks.
About 10 days after kegging it I pulled a small sample that was, as expected, very cloudy with sediment. Dumped that and eventually got a clearer sample a few days later. The initial pour and sniff was nicely hoppy, but that’s when the hops fell short. I noticed this aroma and flavor that has been showing up in many of my lighter colored hoppy beers. I’ve been noticing it for about a year now. In the last couple of beers, a robust porter, and a rye IPA, it wasn’t relays noticeable. Not a t all in the porter, and I don’t recall it being as evident in the rye. The porter’s dark malts obviously masking it, and my rye IPA uses a fair amount of crystal malts (carapils, C60, C120, and aromatic). But still that rye IPA was lacking in bitterness and hop flavor, considering the amount of hops I used.
This time it really pissed me off. I was looking forward to this batch. Almost 5 oz of hops used in the boil, and 3 more oz dry hopping, and there was this other flavor over-riding the hops. So, I decided to throw my dilemma out to the masses, via Twitter and a Facebook page called Seacoast Beer, focusing on the craft beer market in the NH seacoast area. I had specifically asked if anyone who was a BJCP certified judge, or a professional brewer, would be able to taste my beer for me and provide some feedback. I got a lot of responses right off the bat. But, at least from the Twitter responses, most would have required me shipping beer. I’ve stopped bottling since getting the kegerator, so the thought of bottling and shipping wasn’t too appealing. Then, Pete M. on the Seacoast Beer page recommended bringing a sample up to SoMe Brewing in York, Maine. He said the head brewer there, Dave, loved to talk brewing and would be up for helping out. York is two states away, but only about a 40-minute drive. Surprisingly I managed to make the time on Sunday to drive up, with a growler full of my IPA.
First of all, if you are in this neck of the woods, be sure to make the time to go try out SoMe. Hit the outlet stores in Kittery and then drive a few minutes north into York. They had a nice selection on tap, ranging from a really solid gateway Hefeweizen, to a rye pale, an all Crystal hop double pale ale, milk stout aged on cocoa and vanilla beans, and on and on. About 8-10 taps I believe.
Pete met me there with his pooch Rosie. It was great to meet Pete in person after several emails and texts setting up my excursion. He then introduced me to SoMe’s head brewer Dave and Jonathan, who was tending to the taps and clearly an experienced homebrewer as well. After all the niceties, they had be pour them samples. Watching them trying to figure this whole thing out was great, and it was reassuring as well… reassuring in that what was tasting off in my beer wasn’t some sort of obvious home-brew error. Not diacetyl, not green apple, or cider, or cardboard. The cardboard thing was a concern of mine, because it’s not something I’ve tasted before.. but was wondering if what I was tasting here is what is referred to as the indicator of oxidation.
I ran down the ingredients, my process, my numbers hit with this particular brew, etc. When I explained the amount of hops used, they both were pretty shocked. As they noted, the variety and amount of hops I used should have created a hop bomb of a beer, and what we were tasting was anything but. Dave went so far to say if he was given the beer without the recipe info, he would have guessed all I had used was a bittering charge, which gives no aroma or flavor, just bitterness to balance the beer. They couldn’t believe they weren’t tasting the hops remotely as they should.
I spent a good hour at the bar, tasting a few of their samplers and eventually leaving with a growler of double IPA and a bottle of Dunkelweizen. The whole time Dave and Jonathan continued to taste and examine my brew. One possibility is old hops. But considering how often this has happened, and with a variety of recipes and hops from different sources, it seems unlikely. What seems to be the most consistent part of all these beers is my water. I have private well water. I will need to finally get the Ward Labs water test to get all the details on my water supply, but in the meantime, then next step is to rebrew this IPA, exactly as before, but with spring water. They want me to save a growler of the current beer, and bring it along with some of the next batch once it’s done. And they meant it. These guys were seriously interested in troubleshooting my beer and they want to see the difference from changing up the water source. I am blown away with their willingness to help out like this.
When we bought our house about 12 years ago, we had the water tested for general knowledge as it was our only water source. I do recall it being fairly high in sulfur (I think) and also fairly soft. If I’m correct, and the water is very soft, it would mean there are things I would need to add (like gypsum) to my water to make the hops pop more. I’ve used gypsum in the past, as my first few all grain batches seemed like they should have been hoppier. It helped. But this seems even more evident than those early batches, so I don’t know how much my well water has changed over time. Also, what I was tasting as an off-flavor is actually most likely my base malt coming through. The guys at SoMe felt like they were tasting the 2-row malt specifically. The hops so masked that the base malt was coming through more than anything else.
So, I now have a plan. Just need to get the ingredients, and plan to brew this batch again, soon.
I owe a great deal of thanks to the guys at SoMe Brewing, and to Pete from the Seacoast Beer FB group for hooking me up with them.