Ambah Ale

 Another beautiful start to a beautiful brew day to make another beautiful beer.

Another beautiful start to a beautiful brew day to make another beautiful beer.

The third and final beer that I brewed for the BrewUnited Challenge was an amber ale. This was my entry to the hoppy category. Part of the reason I picked the amber ale over a more traditional IPA was the fact that our hop choices were a bit limited and I guessed that there would be fewer entries in this category too. The fact that I could actually use a bunch of Crystal 60L and not have to try and hide it also was appealing to me.

As always, I started off looking at the Amber Ale Style guidelines to guide my recipe design. I came up with this recipe fairly quickly for a 5.5 gallon batch of beer:

  • 6.75lbs German Pilsner
  • 2lbs Munich - light
  • 1lb Crystal 60L
  • 0.25lbs Flaked Wheat (toasted at 300 until golden)

Mash at 152 for an hour and boil 90 min

Boil additions:

  • 0.5oz Centennial @60 minutes
  • Irish Moss @15 minutes
  • 1oz Northdown @5 minutes
  • 1.5oz Centenial @140F for 25 minutes

Fermentation plan:

  • White Labs WLP007 – Dry English Ale Yeast
  • Ferment at 65F for a week, then raise to 70F for a week

This was the only recipe where I locked in the grain bill pretty quickly and didn’t make much of a change. I really only dropped the pilsner a touch and increased the wheat while deciding to keep it untoasted because I was a bit worried about some toasted flavors coming through in the final beer. The hops to use and the hop schedule though, that was a different story. Centennial was an easy, obvious choice for a hop forward beer, but what was going to be my second hop? Besides Saaz (which I didn’t think would stand up to the flavors of the beer I was making in my head), the other 4 hops are all intertwined and related to each other, so I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide which of the 4 hops to use when all can pretty much be substituted for each other. Reading more about Northdown, a few places brought up its more spicy/piney characteristics with fruity undertones and I felt that would go well to also cut some of the inherent sweetness that would be coming though with the Crystal 60L. After reading a bit more about the style guidelines, I decided to punch it up in the hops department by quite a bit more than I initially decided (this was the “hoppy” category after all). I tossed in a 20 minute addition of both hops to get some deeper flavors/aromas/bitterness into the beer, and adjusted the steep/whirlpool addition slightly. I added less total hops for that addition, but didn’t chill the wort down before adding them. Based on various observations from a slew of homebrewers, a long steep after flameout is akin to a dry hop without the potential grassy off flavors. Most of the time these steeps push 60-80 minutes, but those are for big, full, dank IPAs and I didn’t want to completely blow out the malt on this beer, so I dropped it to 30 minutes. I kept WLP007 because it attenuates really well, adds a touch of fruitiness that should again play well with the hops (I used in a split batch IPA recently with Vermont Ale Yeast in the other half of the beer…and I may have preferred WLP007), and drops clear fast. I also upped the boil time by 30 minutes hoping to drive a bit more color and add some more flavor.

Finalized recipe for 5.5 gallons of Ambah Ale:

  • 6.5lbs German Pilsner
  • 2lbs Munich - light
  • 1lb Crystal 60L
  • 0.5lbs Flaked Wheat

Mash at 152F and boil for 120 minutes

Boil Additions:

  • 0.5oz Centennial @60 minutes
  • 0.5oz Centennial @20 minutes
  • 0.5oz Northdown @20 minutes
  • Irish moss @15 minutes
  • 1oz northdown @5 minutes
  • 1oz Centennial @ Flame Out, steep for 30 minutes before cooling
  • 1oz Centennial and 0.5oz Northdown dry hopped for 7 days at 38

Fermentation Plan:

  • White Labs WLP007 – Dry English Ale Yeast
  • Ferment at 65F for a week, then raise to 70F for a week

Before I talk about the boring details of the brew day, I’d like to talk about the joys of a great local homebrew shop. I just moved 3000 miles from San Diego to rural Massachusetts where there are like 2 shops that are in close-ish proximity to me (one 40 minutes away and one 20 minutes away). In San Diego I was in walking distance to an amazing shop that had every grain you could wish for, a nice friendly staff, and a working brewery where they brewed stuff to sell in a little tasting attached to the store. I was pretty spoiled there and felt resigned that I’d probably not find anything close to that out here. For the Blonde I made for the competition, I ended up going to the one 40 minutes away because the closer one was closed the week I was wanting to brew (I hadn’t found that out until I made the drive down the day before, which already made me dislike that shop). My experience at the 40 mile one was frustratingly slow and annoying. There was one scale (not even digital), the worker had to weigh everything out, and when I showed up to get my stuff, there were two people ahead of me with insanely complex recipes that took forever for the guy to prepare. Then they didn’t have one of the hops I wanted so I had to make a quick change which really bugged me, the guy working wasn’t one to really talk about anything, so I just sat there in silence while he very slowly weighed everything out.

Now, fast forward to two days before Ambah’s brew day, I made the 20 minute drive down to the other homebrew shop (after calling to confirm that they were open), walked in around 6:15pm, and see 4 guys sitting at a table in the middle of the store sharing beers and shooting the breeze. They’re talking about how they make their beers and I wonder if I stumbled on a little homebrew club meeting and suddenly I feel a little out of place. The owner was behind the counter talking with another customer so I looked around the shop until he was free and I’m starting to think this place is going to annoy me too. When he was done, I asked him what the protocol was for his shop, he told me he weighs the grains, gets the hops, grabs the yeast, and while I’m waiting, I can have some beer with the guys. Well that started to swing things in their favor! He grabbed me a little tasting glass, one of the guys poured me a dry, crisp saison finished with Nelson hops and hibiscus that was quite good. All the while the owner talked about his shop, why he carries only certain company’s specialty grains, how he’s been at that location for like 20 years, the pride he takes when his customers win awards, and other random stuff (all the way from Patriots football to music to Star Wars). I ended up leaving an hour later after having sampled 2 homebrews and a few commercial beers that I’d never had before and knew I found a shop that I’ll be going back to whenever I need anything.

 Who's the grains behind this operation?

Who's the grains behind this operation?

I suppose I should talk about the beer I brewed before this gets too long, but I want to focus more on some stuff I learned about dry hopping, so to speed things along, brew day went ok, I missed my target temp by 2 degrees (cooler morning than normal and I didn’t make strike water heat adjustments), ended up doing a no sparge day so I could get the proper temp for my mashout, and ended up with an OG of 1.049 instead of 1.052 because I added a bit more water than I was supposed to. Fermentation kicked up quickly, went all according to plan, and I was soon ready to dry hop the beer.

Now, for the dry hopping of this beer, I was going to get the beer to 65F, add the hops for 4 days, then cold crash before kegging, but I read this cool paper on hop compound solubilization during dry hopping at cold (40F) or warm (70F) temps using pellets or whole cones. They saw that linalool extraction was identical at the two temps (aroma compounds) but the alpha-acid extraction was faster at the warmer temp than the cold temp, though at 70F, they started to see alpha-acid amounts in solution start to fade after a few days with the hops in solution, whereas at 40F, alpha acids go slower into solution, but continue to rise during the 18 days they tested. Both linalool and alpha–acid extraction tend to flatline after around a week at 40F. Also of note, whole cones and pellet hops vary dramatically on linalool extraction during the dry hop, with pellet hops having 2 times the amount of linalool released vs whole cones. The alpha-acid extraction is identical. Based on all this, I decided to add my dry hops (pellets like I always use) at 40F for 7 days before racking to a keg and force carbonating.

 Fill 'er up!

Fill 'er up!

After carbing up the beer and pouring my first pint, I was a bit worried. It had an astringent bite to it that really left me bummed. The flavors were good, I liked the sweetness from the malt profile, the hops had a nice bite to them but weren't harsh, aroma was a bit lacking, but the finish really got under my skin. It was drinkable, but not super enjoyable. Obviously I kept drinking it, and after about 2 weeks in the keg, that bite was gone and I was left with a smooth hoppy beer with a nice caramel touch. I'm guessing there was some carbonic acid that built up those first few days in the keg, but whatever it was, I'm glad it was gone before I bottled this guy up and shipped off the beers for judging!

 She glows so pretty.

She glows so pretty.

Final numbers on my Ambah Ale:

  • Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
  • Original Gravity: 1.049
  • Final Gravity: 1.013
  • ABV: 4.7%
  • IBU: 44
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