Hell Creek Amber Ale 1.1

What? It’s time for another batch of my Hell Creek Amber Ale? Count me in!

The latest version–incorporating wild hops that grew directly out of the world famous Hell Creek Formation (home to T. rex and Triceratops)–is only slightly modified based on my tasting of the previous version. For this time around, I replaced the Special B malt with crystal 120, to tone down the raisin-y notes of Special B. I also upped the biscuit malt just a touch. As before, the base malt was from Montana, and the Cascade hops were from South Dakota.

Hell Creek Amber Ale 1.1

  • 9 lbs. 2-row American pale malt (MaltEurop)
  • 1 lb. Munich I malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.75 lb. Victory (biscuit) malt (Briess)
  • 0.5 lb. 120° crystal malt (Briess)
  • 0.5 lb. 40° crystal malt (Briess)
  • 2 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 2.05 oz. wild Hell Creek hops, 10 minute steep after boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. California Ale Yeast (White Labs, WLP001), in 1L starter

Target Parameters

  • 1.059 o.g., 1.014 f.g., 5.9% abv, 36 IBU, 13 SRM, 5.5 gallons into the fermenter

Procedure

  • The day before my brew, I made a 2L starter, with a plan to set aside 0.6L. I note that the starter wasn’t quite going when I pitched it here. It probably could have used an additional day or two, and as a result it took two days for the beer to really get fermenting after I pitched the yeast.
  • I mashed in with 3.9 gallons of water at 168.5°, to hit a mash temperature of 156.5°. This was hotter than I wanted, so I stirred until it was down to 155°. It was down to 151° after 50 minutes. I added 1 gallon of water at 185°, to raise the mash temperature to 156° or so. I vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. I sparged with 3.5 gallons of water at 180°, let it rest for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the wort.
  • In total, I collected 6.5 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.052, for 79% mash efficiency.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, adding hops per the schedule above. At flame-out, I added the wild hops and then let them steep for 10 minutes before chilling the wort.
  • Starting gravity was 1.060, and I fermented the beer at 68°.
  • This beer was brewed on 14 April 2017.
  • I kegged the beer on 7 May 2017. It had a final gravity of 1.016, for 5.8% abv. The beer was force carbonated.

Beer Tasting: Wild Times Pale Ale

20161226_163216The Wild Times Pale Ale is no more…but I did get a tasting in before the 2.5 gallon keg was all gone!

  • The Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.046, final gravity = 1.011, abv = 4.7%, estimated IBU = 45
  • Aroma
    • Faintly floral hop aroma, with a very light caramel malt aroma.
  • Appearance
    • Brilliantly clear and light yellow in color, with a low white head that is pretty persistant.
  • Flavor
    • A lightly grainy and bready malt aspect; the hop flavor tends towards the distinctly (but not overly) bitter. The bitterness is fairly uncomplex, and the hop flavor has a slightly grassy aspect to it with a faint edge of citrus pith. It’s not bad, just not exceptional.
  • Mouthfeel
    • A pretty dry and light-bodied beer.
  • Overall
    • This is a pretty average pale ale. It’s not bad; it just doesn’t have much that pops out at me. It needs a bit more body and malt complexity; this probably would entail a bit of crystal malt and/or a second base malt (Munich or Vienna, perhaps) to round things out. I also ended up with a slightly lower gravity than expected after the boil, which doesn’t help matters much either. The aroma hop attributes have definitely diminished a bit over time. At their peak, they were surprisingly good, particularly as a novelty item. For an experimental beer, this was certainly a worthy attempt, but any future pale ales will need a different malt base.
  • Score
    • 5/10

Wild Times Pale Ale

I recently acquired a pound of wild hops from the Seattle area of Washington state, courtesy of a generous friend who found them on his property. The plus side of wild hops is that they have a definite “cool” factor. The negative side is that wild hops are indeed wild (or naturalized, if they are “feral” versions of cultivated hops)–you have no real published guidelines to constrain expectations for aroma, flavor, and bittering properties. It’s all lab analysis and careful sensory evaluation. In other words–a grand opportunity for a motivated homebrewer.

My first order of business was to figure out the chemistry of these things, particularly alpha acids. Because I had a good quantity of the hops, I didn’t mind sending them off for analysis. My go-to place has been BrewLaboratory; they are relatively inexpensive, fast, and supportive of homebrewers. They use HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography), and their turn-around time has been less than 2 or 3 days from receipt of the sample.

I was pleasantly surprised by the alpha acid values–5.8%! Beta acids clocked in at 3.2% and cohumulone at 30%.

2016-washington-state-wild-hops

HPLC Profile for Washington State Wild Hops

The analysis nicely covered the basic chemistry, but what about the more complex aromas and flavors? When rubbing the hops between my palms, I noted a dominant, very perfume-like aroma! Behind that is a bit of vegetal/allium aroma. To help formalize my thinking on the matter, I roughed out the hop profile using spider diagrams. There are two slightly different formats that I found in my research, included below. Each breaks out the aroma descriptors slightly differently–for instance, one specifically has an “onion/garlic” category, whereas in the other that is lumped in with “vegetal”.

Wild Hop Spider Diagrams

Wild Hop Spider Diagrams, Showing Level of Intensity of Different Aroma Components

With nearly a pound of thoroughly analyzed wild hops in hand, I wanted to put together a nice and simple batch of beer to highlight their flavor and aroma. After consulting with some friends, I settled on an American pale ale. The goal was for something that was clean and not overly malty, to let the hops shine. Because I didn’t want to commit to five gallons of beer for the first round on these hops, I settled on a 3 gallon batch, which will fit into a 2.5 gallon keg that I have on-hand.

The weather is turning cool, and I didn’t want to deal with the thermal loss of brew-in-a-bag. So, I also elected to do a full-volume, no-sparge mash in my mash tun.

Wild Times Pale Ale

  • 5.5 lbs. California Select 2-row malt (Great Western Malting Co.)
  • 0.5 lb. 10°L caramel malt (Briess)
  • 0.25 oz. Galena hop pellets (13.8% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1.5 oz. Washington wild hops (5.8% alpha, 3.2% beta), 10 minute boil
  • 1.5 oz. Washington wild hops (5.8% alpha, 3.2% beta), 1 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Washington wild hops (5.8% alpha, 3.2% beta), 5 minute whirlpool
  • 0.5 tablet WhirlFloc, 10 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Safale American dry yeast (US-05)
  • 1.5 oz. Washington wild hops (5.8% alpha, 3.2% beta), 10 day dry-hop

Target Parameters

  • 152° mash, no sparge, 60 minutes
  • 1.051 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 5.2% abv, 43 IBU, 4 SRM, 3 gallons into the fermenter

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 5.3 gallons of water at 168.8°, to hit a mash temperature of 152.4°. The mash was down to 149.5° after 25 minutes and down to 147° after 50 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I drained the mash tun. I collected 4.5 gallons of wort at a gravity of 1.036, for 74% efficiency. Not too bad!
  • I started the boil, and added the hops per the recipe specifications.
  • After 60 minutes, I turned off the flame, added the whirlpool hops, and chilled the beer down to 76°.
  • I transferred the beer to the fermenter while aerating, and pitched the yeast. I’ll be fermenting this at 68°.
  • Starting gravity was 1.046, a bit less than expected. However, I am not surprised because I kept a gentle touch on the flame to avoid overboiling with the smaller volume of wort.
  • I brewed this beer on 21 November 2016.