Beer Tasting: Azacca Session IPA

My first intentional attempt at a session IPA has been in the keg for about a month. A perfect time for a tasting!

Azacca Session IPA

  • The Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.045, final gravity = 1.015, abv = 3.9%, estimated IBU = 38.
  • Appearance
    • The head is white and fairly thin, but still pretty persistent. The beer itself is slightly hazy and light gold in color. Quite pretty!
  • Aroma
    • Fairly weak, considering that it was dry-hopped for so long. There are slight tropical fruit notes, with perhaps a whiff of citrus.
  • Flavor
    • Light and hop-forward, with a pleasant floral and tropical fruit taste; very smooth on the finish. The bitterness is noticeable but restrained; I might up the hops a bit for any future iterations. There is a slight (but not unpleasant), rounded mineral taste at the finish. The malts are very much in the background, perhaps too much so.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Pleasant and fine carbonation; the body is adequate but perhaps a touch thin. 
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes, but with some modifications. I quite like the concept of session IPAs, which hit all of my buttons (hop-forward, not numbing in alcohol content). Truth be told, I was a little disappointed with Azacca hops. My personal preference for an IPA is to have a big nose punch, and Azacca just isn’t there. It has pleasant aroma and great flavor, but is restrained to the point where it might be better suited for light dry hopping in a blonde or perhaps plain pale ale. Next time, I’m going to try something different from the hops, and perhaps a little more for bittering. I also would like to up the maltiness on this just a touch–a small amount of crystal malt (perhaps crystal 60) might be what I need. Finally, I’m thinking about a little wheat to aid with head formation and retention. All in all, I feel like I’m on the right track with this brew, but have a little work to do to dial it in.
  • Overall rating
    • 5.75/10

Azacca Session IPA Update

Today (July 15), I kegged five gallons of my Azacca Session IPA, which was brewed 12 days prior. I added 2 oz. of Azacca hops pellets for dry-hopping, and will let it condition at 68° for five days before carbonating at serving temperature.

Gravity was 1.015, down from 1.045. This works out to 3.9% abv, nearly exactly as calculated. The beer is incredibly clear (as expected from the WLP005 yeast strain) and light gold in color. At least on initial tasting, the beer was only moderately bitter (hopefully to be accentuated as the beer conditions and carbonates), with a clean and definitely malty backbone, although not overly malty.

Azacca Session IPA

A few weeks back, I attended the National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego. One of the highlights (among many) was a lecture on “Brewing Session Beer” by New Belgium Brewing’s Andy Mitchell, focused on brewing low-alcohol but high-flavor beers. My overall tastes (particularly for stuff I am going to put on tap in 5 gallon quantities) tend towards beers in this domain. I like to be able to enjoy a beer or two without ending up completely buzzed (and I want my liver to hold up for a few more decades of enjoying homebrew). One of the really interesting parts of Mitchell’s lecture focused on brewing session IPA’s, with a particular eye towards getting a beer with some nice body and flavor while avoiding watery mouthfeel.

Tips for brewing a session IPA (taken from my notes) included:

  • Malt
    • Less malt means less flavor! Instead of reducing the amounts of all malts in the beer (relative to a higher gravity grain bill), just scale back the base malt and leave the specialty malt as usual. If you scale back everything, it may result in a watery beer. 
    • As another alternative, use a more flavorful base malt, with as Vienna or Maris Otter.
    • Use a higher temperature mash rest, up to 158°. This will result in a greater proportion of unfermentable sugars, which will result in a bigger body for the finished beer.
    • Consider a shorter mash time. [my question is if the mash is cut too short, is there a risk of an over-starchy beer?]
  • Hops
    • Balance is key; due to the lower starting gravity of session beers, you don’t want to overhop. A smaller addition of hops in a session IPA can result in perceived bitterness equivalent to that of a higher gravity IPA with more hops.
    • The bitterness ratio (IBU/SG) can be a useful tool to guide you. For an IPA, you might want to aim for a ratio of around 0.8 (e.g., 35 IBUs / 1.044 s.g.).
    • Use a “hop burst” technique instead of a bittering addition. This gives increased aroma and avoids over-bittering the beer. In practice, this means adding hops only for the last 10 to 15 minutes of the boil.
  • Water
    • Avoid adding sulfate to the water; adding chloride can be OK. (oops, I forgot to follow this guideline in my recipe)
  • Yeast
    • A strain with relatively low attenuation is worth using. For this, consider stepping outside the box of what you normally brew. For instance, if you normally are aiming for American yeasts, look into the British yeast toolbox, because many of these finish less dry.
      • Thames Valley strains are good for fermenting at lower temperatures with good character and relatively low attenuation.
Using these guidelines, I set out to design my own session IPA. Thanks to the AHA and BSG Craftbrewing, I had recently acquired 5 oz. of (free!) Azacca hops. It is a very North American strain, with lots of tropical and citrus (according the descriptions I’ve read). Additionally, the American Dwarf Hop Association suggests that it fares well in a single-hop beer. That’s all the excuse I need to center my beer around this variety!
While designing this recipe, I used a few basic principles: 1) a simple malt bill utilizing a strong supplement to my usual 2-row base malt; 2) a high temperature mash to maintain a robust body for the beer; 3) hop bursting to maximize aroma and achieve a balanced bitterness; and 4) a British ale strain selected for comparatively low attenuation. In short, maximum body with balanced hoppiness. Thanks in part to all of the free hops, this batch was also pretty inexpensive: only $15 in raw materials. I’ll find out how successful I was in a few weeks!

Azacca Session IPA

  • 6.5 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western Malting Co.)
  • 3 lbs. 10° Munich malt 
  • 1 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), 15 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), added at flame-out, steep for 5 minutes before cooling
  • 2 oz. Azacca hops pellets (10.3% alpha), 2 week dry-hopping
  • British Ale yeast (White Labs, WLP005), prepared in 0.75 L starter
  • 1 tbs. 5.2 pH stabilizer (added to mash)
  • 1 tbs. gypsum (added at first hops addition)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (10 minute boil)
Procedure
  • I mashed in with 15 quarts of water at 169.8° and stirred for two minutes. The mash stabilized at 159°. After 50 minutes, the mash temperature was down to 157°.
  • I added 1.1 gallons of water at 180°, to bring the mash temperature up to 160°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 3.25 gallons of wort.
  • Then, I added 3.75 gallons of water at 180°, to bring the mash up to 165°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the wort.
  • All told, I collected 7 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.038. This works out to 77% efficiency.
  • I brought the mixture to a boil, adding the hops per the hopping schedule in the recipe (at 45 minutes, 50 minutes, and flame-out). This is essentially the “hop-burst” method, to gain all of the bittering units (with extra aroma) at the end of the boil.
  • At flame-out, I let the beer sit for 5 minutes before starting cooling. This was with the intent of maximizing the hops aroma from the final addition.
  • I cooled the wort and transferred it into the fermenter, aerating per usual with the Venturi pump. I pitched the yeast, sealed up the fermenter, and placed it in my fermentation chamber. The initial setting was for 68°. I had visible fermentation when I checked it seven hours later, and vigorous fermentation within 12 hours. At this point, I dropped the fermentation temperature to 66°.
  • I brewed this beer on July 3, 2015. Starting gravity was 1.045, with an estimated 6 gallons of wort into the fermenter.
Azacca IPA reaching high krausen