Better Beer in the New Year
As we start the new year, lots of folks resolve to set new goals. I think a lot of these may fail due to unrealistic expectations. Small (more realistic) goals may be less glamorous but are much more attainable. To improve my beer and hopefully gain more insights that help others around me, one of my goals is to heavily focus on process controls and repeatability. Some questions I want to explore include ‘What makes a particular recipe shine vs. others?’ , ‘How can I better manage and track/capture my brewing process?’ , ‘Are there some intangibles in commercial beer i may be able to replicate?’
In an effort to answer these questions and ultimately make better beer, I will be brewing recipes primarily from those I have experimented with in the past. Luckily, after several years of homebrewing I have a few hundred recipes under my belt to draw from.
I’ve begun the year with what I consider the iconic American craft beer: American Pale Ale. My version of this style begun in 2009 and I’ve brewed something similar at least 10 different occasions. I like to call it Guzzle Bunny. It’s a very flavorful, hop-foward take on the style with a rich malt backbone which combines for a pleasant intensity at the high end of the BJCP spectrum of the style.
To track/capture my brewing process I developed a excel spreadsheet that captured more information about the recipe and results (i.e., Efficiency, Pre&Post Boil Gravities, Mash pH, Attenuation, ABV, etc.) which consolidated a lot of the information from online calculators. (Note: Possibly another post, email if interested)
Most importantly, I wanted to compare available yeast strains commonly used for this style. I believe fermentation is at the heart of great beer, so this experiment provided some very useful insights. Here’s how the experiment was designed:
- Made 3 starters:
- 2L Stir-Plate of American Ale Blend WLP060 (Liquid)
- 1L of SafAle05 (Dry)
- 1L of Mangrove Jack Workhorse (Dry)
- Brewed 12 gls (final quantity) of Guzzle Bunny Pale Ale (Recipe Here)
- Split batch into 6gl, 3gl, and 3gl fermentors @ 66-68F.
- Kegged and force carbonated.
- Tasted side by side in the same glassware after a few weeks of conditioning.
My assumption was that there would be small differences in attenuation, flavor, and possibly clarity/fermentation speed. WLP060 was used as a control because it is my yeast of choice for this recipe which I have successfully used in the past. SafAle05 was chosen because it is widely available, described as neutral, and sometimes seen as an equivalent to WLP001 or White Labs 1056 (WLP001 is reportedly one of the strains in the WLP060 blend). Finally, I choose the relatively new Mangrove Jack Workhorse as a new dry yeast alternative that was report-ably neutral and suitable for a wide range of styles. Starters were prepared to ensure there was an adequate level of healthy, viable yeast for each strain.
- WLP060: Fermentation Complete: 6 Days; Attenuation: 83% (O.G. 1.053, F.G. 1.009, ABV 5.7%)
- SafAle05: Fermentation Complete: 14 Days; Attenuation: 84% (O.G. 1.053, F.G. 1.008, ABV 5.8%)
- Workhorse: Fermentation Complete: 6 Days; Attenuation: 70% (O.G. 1.053, F.G. 1.016, ABV 4.8%)
Note: Each beer’s specific gravity was checked for a number of days at the end of fermentation to verify it had reached its final gravity.
- WLP060: Great beer, Decent clarity w/ slight haze. Medium-High aroma of citrusy hops w/ prominent caramel malt highlights. Good balanced flavors throughout that show depth of rich toasty biscuit-like maltiness with slight caramel accent and lingering hoppy and slightly bitter finish. Layered. Medium mouth-feel, slightly chewy. Good drink-ability.
- SafAle05: Very good beer, Good clarity. Shows many of the same traits as WLP060 but less hop aroma. Less body and depth as WLP060. Perhaps more drinkable. Very familiar (brewpub) finish and crisp aftertaste.
- Workhorse: Very good beer but distinctly different from 05 and WLP060. Decent Clarity similar to WLP060. More neutral malt and hop character. Bitterness is present throughout (more than 05 and WLP060). Medium mouth-feel, surprisingly not much fuller than WLP060. Good drink-ability.
This experiment was very useful and helped me gain a few insights, they include:
- Good beer is likely with any appropriate-to-style yeast strain if you practice good brewing practices. All beers turned out very well, the intangibles in flavor were significant but none of the beers had any detectable off-flavors.
- All “neutral” or “American” yeast strains are not the same, and only very vaguely interchangeable
- Recipe design and tweeks should account for a particular yeast strain.
- WLP060 is still one of my preferred yeast for American Pale Ale. I would use SafAle05 in a pinch, but i would probably not go back to the Workhorse due to this experiments poor attenuation (which is also consistent with some online forums)
- My setup produces typically highly attenuated wort (not a bad thing in my opinion: I typically prefer drier beer). Having WLP060 and 05 both finish over 80% is a good indication this is not entirely strain dependent. Other experiments also support this assumption.
- Fermentation speed is strain dependent. Even with the same quantities of healthy yeast, 05 needed over a full week more to ferment under the same conditions as WLP060 and Workhorse.