Sunday 23 December 2012

A Christmas Experiment

For several months I've been planning a brew for Christmas, the one time of year when I can have 10-14 days off work straight without using up lots of precious annual leave. I'd quite like to fit in a few brewdays between now and the new year (a classic English nut-brown ale and another saison are high on the list), but this is pretty much the only time of year when I can fit in something really labour-intensive.

What I have in mind is something like a really big barley wine, something that will keep for years and develop, but which is interesting to drink now. There were so many BWs at the festival in Toronado in February that were offered as verticals - 2009-2012 versions being poured alongside each other - and it was fun to see how they'd developed. Along the same lines, this year I've loved drinking Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA (not a barley wine per se, although the DFH site doesn't seem to know what it is) and Brewdog's Anarchist/Alchemist (which they claim is a 'triple IPA', although who knows what that even means apart from 'it's really strong'), which are both hugely hopped when fresh but which mellow out nicely to bring out sticky, candied fruits. If I can get in that territory I'll be very happy, although more than likely I'm going to end up with a big hot fusel mess.

Those two aforementioned beers have enormous ABVs - 20%-ish for the original 120 Minute, 14% for AA - which are way beyond anything I've brewed before, hence why I've been saving this 'experiment' for when I have some time on my hands. All of the yeast strains I've used so far only have a tolerance of up to 10%, so the plan here is to follow a trick Sean Paxton, The Homebrew Chef, used when trying to 'clone' 120 Minute for a Can You Brew It? - his blog on this is here. He pitched two yeasts - WLP001 to start with, then the super-tolerant WLP099 high gravity yeast a few days in - then fed the second yeast dextrose on a twice-daily basis to bump up the ABV. I'm not sure I want to take my beer up as high as 20%, but then I doubt I'm going to be able to look after my yeast well enough to get it close to that anyway.

Someone else who has done something similar to this is Scott of Bertus Brewery, except for extra authenticity he went with WLP007, the Dry English Ale strain, instead of WLP001. He has some great tips for brewing with the high gravity yeast in this blog - I'll definitely be referring to this over the next few days. He rightly points out that Sean's SG of 1.050 is ridiculously high and aimed for 1.020 - again, I doubt I'll be able to get my yeast to attenuate down to 1.020 but anything under 1.030 should be okay. I plan to measure the SG every day and control the dextrose additions to manage the sweetness.

So those were the starting points for pulling the recipe together. A simple malt bill with a few % amber malt, and using WLP099 part-way into the ferment to kick up the gravity. Sadly, the availability of hops in the UK isn't quite as good a over in California and Arizona where those guys are brewing, so I'm going to do my own thing on that score. By huge coincidence though, The Malt Miller just took stock of a load of fresh 2012 Amarillo hops. I'm going to partner it with some Columbus pellets that Mel brought me from San Francisco, and some terrific Galaxy hops from Australia. I'm not going to faff about with hop additions every 3 minutes either (I've done it once with a 60 minute boil and it was incredibly tiresome), so I may instead do 5, one every half hour through a two-hour boil.

So the broad outline for the ingredients for this 5 gallon batch of doom...

8kg Pale Malt (!)
500g Amber Malt
(Aiming to mash on the low side, mid 60s, to help with attentuation)
350g Amarillo, Columbus and Galaxy hops, mixed and split into five 70g batches and added every 30 mins from start to finish
Target post-boil gravity of 1.100 or thereabouts

The most important thing about this brew is going to be looking after the yeast. For the initial yeast, I'm going with WLP007 - two vials went into a huge 5l starter a few days ago and there's a nice big cake forming at the bottom (I don't have a stir plate, hence the size of starter and length of time I've given it for growth). Mr Malty recommends about 350 billion yeast cells for a 1.100 gravity beer, and I reckon I should have at least that in there now. I'm going to make a similar size starter for the WLP099 on brewday to give me the same number of cells again to start attacking the dextrose.

Finally, I've been worrying about how to get enough air into the wort before I pitch. I asked on Twitter for advice and the ever-awesome Broadford Brewer linked me to this video from Wyeast:

I don't have an aquarium pump (or any fish - the two are connected) or any pure O2, so I'm going to have to get shaking. My plan is to run off into the FV, seal it up, shake it well for a full minute (with help from my brother - this is going to be heavy) and then pitch the yeast cake from the starter. It probably won't be optimum aeration, but it's the best I'll be able to do.

Right. Time to go and put the HLT on!


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