This is the second beer I'll be talking about for a national competition called the BrewUnited Challenge. As a reminder, the point of the challenge is to make very disparate styles of beer from only 4 grains and 6 hops. Each recipe has to use all 4 grains and only 2 of the 6 hops. This beer is for the Balanced Category of the competition, and I chose to make a Blonde Ale. A light, slightly malty, slightly hoppy beer and you can drink for days.
With the style for beer two decided, I went of the Blonde Ale style guidelines, I came up with the following recipe for a 5.5 gallon batch of beer:
- 6lbs German Pilsner
- 1lb Munich - light
- 1lb Flaked Wheat
- 2.5oz Crystal 60L
Mash at 150F for an hour and boil 90 minutes
- 0.5oz Challenger @60 minutes
- 1oz Northdown @5 minutes
- White Labs WLP001 – California Ale Yeast
- Ferment at 65F for a week, then raise to 70F for a week
Initially I was going to make a very low ABV blonde ale, hoping to punch up the maltiness and body with a good percentage of Munich and flaked wheat, with only the smallest touch of Crystal 60L. It had a very simple hops profile, most of my IBUs would be taken care of at the 60 minute addition, with a small amount of flavor coming in with the Northdown at the 5 minute addition. With a low projected OG and FG, I figured this should be enough hops to peak through and say hello. And I was going to use boring, plain, simple California Ale yeast because hey, why not? After punching in everything into BeerSmith and re-reading the guidelines to refocus on the style, I made some minor-ish to semi-major tweaks. I upped the pilsner malt mostly to get the ABV into the high 4% range, dropped the wheat and Munich a touch, and dropped the Crystal 60L even further, barely above the 1% minimum required for the competition. For hops I swapped out Northdown for Northern Brewer, staggered the additions more, and paired up the hops both for FWH and at the 5 minute addition to get both hops contributing flavor, bitterness, and aroma. I decided to read up on more yeasts to see if something piqued my interest. Upon seeing California Ale V yeast, it looked to be a perfect yeast for a blonde…it supposed to give a nice soft maltiness with a slight sweet finish, lots of body, and a touch of fruitiness. The fruitiness should play well with the late addition of Challenger, and the increase in IBUs to the edge of the style limits should help tame the slight sweet finish a bit, so I had a recipe for a Blonde Al…looks at the Crystal 60L in the recipe…so I had a recipe for a Blondish Ale all ready to brew.
Finalized recipe for 5.5 gallons of Blondish Ale:
- 7.5lbs German Pilsner
- 12oz Flaked Wheat
- 10oz Munich - light
- 2oz Crystal 60L
Mash at 150 and boil for 90 minutes
- 0.25oz each Challenger and Northern Brewer FWH @90 minutes
- 0.5oz Northern Brewer @30 minutes
- 0.5oz each Challenger and Northern Brewer @5 minutes
- White Labs WLP051 – California Ale V Yeast
- Ferment at 65F for a week, then raise to 70F for a week
This beer is the first beer I’m brewing in the great state of Massachusetts using my very own well water that has no chlorine or chloramines to worry about and has a great balance of sulfates, carbonate, magnesium, calcium, and chloride. It’s the 2nd best drinking water I’ve ever had on tap next to the water I grew up with, but that may just be nostalgia talking. I made very small additions of CaCl2 and gypsum to the mash water, and then added a touch of baking soda into the boil kettle when I started draining the wort. I measured out 10.5 gallons of water for brew day straight from my tap (no driving to get RO water, no letting it sit, no campden tablets, it was glorious), and started heating up my strike water so I could mash in at 150F for 1 hour. I hit my target temp spot on, which is nice, and 15 minutes before the mash was done; I heated the rest of the strike water to boiling so I could raise the mash up to 168F for mashout. After stirring in the water and letting sit for 5 min, I vorlaufed a bit and began collecting wort. I added the rest of my water that had cooled down to 170F, repeated the vorlauf and collected the rest of my runnings.
The hops were added as directed above, and I followed the gravity along the way to make sure my boil off rate was good. I’ve actually found this to be very useful, taking refractometer readings every 10-15 minutes to make sure my boil rate isn’t too fast or slow. It’s a neat little QC measure that’s become routine now. Plus it’s much more humid in MA than CA, so I didn’t know how that would affect my normal rate, and this little measure helped me make sure everything went smoothly. I ended up hitting my OG spot on, well 1.046 instead of 1.045 but who’s counting, and started to chill. Now, in San Diego, in the middle of August, tap water runs in the mid 70s for temperature, but here, with a fairly deep well, my groundwater is at around 58F during the hottest part of the year! That’s two amazing bonuses for having my own well. I cooled the wort down to the low 70s in no time and placed it in my fermentation chamber to get it down to 65F, at which point I pitched my 500ml yeast starter I got going 24 hours earlier. After a few hours there was already visible activity, so I sat back and waited 2 weeks before checking out what I had made.
After checking FG (1.009, which was what I was hoping for) I kegged it, carbed it, chilled it, and drank it. My first official brew in Massachusetts using house water was done and, I must say, I was impressed. It’s very lagerish (thanks to the pilsner malt) with a subtle sweetness and a hops crispness that becomes more and more evident as the beer warms. This is something I can share with anyone that likes beer, from macro beers drinkers all the way to the most esoteric nanobrew snobs, and they’d enjoy it. I’m starting to feel pretty confident about my chances for this competition now with 2 really solid beers ready to bottle and ship.
Final Numbers on my Blondish Ale:
- Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
- Original Gravity: 1.046
- Final Gravity: 1.009
- ABV: 4.9%
- IBU: 34