Saturday, May 2, 2009

fifth brew (light ale), part 1

While having a stout lunch at the Pike Brewing Company the other day I picked up a copy of Northwest Brewing News. The Homebrewer's Corner column had a brief but interesting history of light beer. Over 40 years ago an enzyme was discovered that causes yeast to digest all of the start in malt, which produces a beer without residual carbohydrates and with fewer calories. That process was acquired and successfully marketed by Miller, with Miller Lite. Many modern light beers are actually malt liquors, which are a poor substitute for because enzymes are used to force ferment the beer, which produces alcohol but doesn't produce the flavors that natural fermentation of fermentable goods does.

The article also had a recipe for a beer, "Lars' Light", with the attributes of lightness, cheapness, quick turnaround time, and use of an ale yeast. Larry Connor, its creator, wanted something that was both a quaffable summertime beer and markedly superior to commercial products. The latter seemed quite achievable after he organized "The Great American Light Beer Challenge" last year and found that only one person in 10 could identify his preferred brand of light beer.

Something light and summery and simple sounded like a good spur-of-the-moment project, so I thought I'd try it. It's not at all what I normally drink, but I've been assaulted by the occasional Bud Lite. I'm curious to see what a good light beer might taste like.

The claimed price tag for a five gallon batch of all-grain is $13: $3 for malt, $1 for rice, $6 for yeast, $3 for hops. I'm not set up for all-grain yet, so it was extract for me. The ingredients for the extract-based recipe are:
  • 2 pounds light dry malt extract
  • 2 cups rice syrup
  • 0.5 ounce Simcoe hops, 12% - 14% AA, +20% if 3 gal boil, 60 minutes
  • White Labs WLP008 East Coast Ale yeast
Unfortunately, The Cellar did not carry rice syrup, Simcoe hops, or White Labs yeasts. They had dry rice extract, so I bought that. The best we could come up with as a Simcoe substitute was Chinook. And there was no documented mapping of WLP008 to a Wyeast product, so I went with an American Ale yeast, which is also low on the ester production. Out of pocket expense was closer to $31: $12 for DME, $3.75 for rice extract, $7 for yeast, and $8 for a two ounce package of hops. I guess I hadn't realized how much cheaper all-grain brewing might be.
Here is an interesting article about Simcoe hops. It is a recent hybrid with high alpha acid content but low cohumulone. This produces big bitterness without big astringency. It's described as "Cascade hops on steroids" but also different enough that there is no clear substitute. It has a pine-like aroma and citrus-like flavors. Chinook has a pine character and Cascade and Centennial both have a citrusy component. Incorporating some of the Cascade and Centennial hops left over from the African Amber clone may get me closer to the Simcoe effect.

Speaking of which, what a fine time to enjoy said brew. I am still extremely pleased with it.

The recipe says the original gravity should be 1.035 - 1.040. Assuming 44 PPG for DME and 45 PPG for the rice extract I would be at 1.026 OG with two pounds of the former and one pound of the latter. I guess the rice syrup may contribute a lot more than the dry extract. I have a half pound of leftover Pilsen Light DME; including that will bring the OG to 1.031. I guess that's the closest I can come with what I have on hand. I could try steeping some crushed rice but I think I'll pass this time.
The IBU equation is:

IBU = AAU x U x 75 / V

Assuming 0.6 ounce of the Simcoe hops at 13% AA, an original gravity of 1.035, a three gallon boil gravity of 1.058, and a utilization of about 0.215 (per the table on p 58 of How To Brew) for a 60 minute boil, that gives an IBU of 7.8 x 0.215 x 75 / 3, or 42.

My three gallon boil gravity will be 1.052 and the Chinook hops are 11.4% AA. Utilization should be 0.227, so I'll need about 0.65 ounce to hit 42 IBU.
So, my somewhat mutated recipe looks like:
  • 2 pounds light dry malt extract
  • 0.5 pound Pilsen light dry malt extract
  • 1 pound dry rice extract
  • 0.65 ounce Chinook hops for 60 minutes
  • 0.2 ounce Cascade hops for 2 minutes
  • 0.5 ounce Centennial hops for 2 minutes
  • Wyeast Labs 1056 American Ale yeast

Although I came as close to a boilover as I ever have, it's sure an easy operation with all dry extracts, pellet hops, and no specialty grains.

Sink cooling didn't go as well as I'd hoped. I hadn't frozen enough cold packs and ended up using a bunch of ice, too. And while the thermometer was telling me the wort was at 80 I don't think I believe it. The kettle felt distinctly warm and it was only after I'd added another 2.5 gallons of tap-temperature water that the fermentation bucket thermometer read 76. I'm a little puzzled. The upshot is that I may have poured and aerated it while it was too warm.

I poured into the fermenter through a strainer and removed pretty much all the hop residue. This should be quite clean by the time fermentation is complete. I think I'm going to just leave it in the primary and bottle directly from it.

Original gravity, corrected for temperature, appears to be 1.031! I don't recall very many physics lab assignments where I achieved that kind of agreement between prediction and measurement! The expected final gravity is 1.0 - 1.005, which would be in the 3.3% - 3.9% ABV range.

As for flavor... whoa... that is some bitter wort. I'm shocked, actually. I think it's by far the most bitter I've made, and that is not at all what I was expecting. It is also the lowest gravity wort, so I guess I'm seeing the concomitant utilization increase. I should go back and try to figure out the IBU values for some of my other brews.

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