Homebrew Diaries: Closet Hophead 2, Honey Belgian IPA

Sparging the grains for Closet Hop Head 2

A while back, I tried my hand at brewing a Belgian IPA called “Closet Hophead“.  It turned out OK, but I thought I could do better.  Now to brew a better beer, I certainly could delve deeply into books on brewing science and work hard on improving my brewing techniques.  But it’s a lot easier to simply steal ideas from better brewers.

At the Bistro Double IPA fest during SF Beer Week last February, I got to talking with a home brewer who suggested using two types of yeast for a Belgian IPA.  According to him, Belgian Ale yeast gives a beer nice aromatic qualities but tends to suppressed the hop flavors.   Yeasts such as California Ale yeasts are better at bringing the hops to the forefront.  Later on, I spoke with Hermitage Brewmaster Greg Filippi about Hermitage’s Single Hop IPA series, and discovered Greg used a lot of late hop additions to the boil to bring out bright hop characteristics.

Armed with this stolen knowledge, I set out to brew a second iteration of Closet Hop Head.  I brew 2-gallon batches using two 1-gallon glass jugs as fermenters, so it was easy to simply pitch Belgian Ale yeast in one, and California Ale yeast in the other, to get both the best of both yeast strains.  Then, I tweaked the recipe to increase the hop additions later in the boil in an attempt to bring out the hop flavors. 

The result was the most complicated brewing recipe and process I ever tried.  Here’s the recipe:

4 lbs. 2-row Malt
1 lb Munich Malt
1/2 lb organic wildflower honey (added at 5 minutes)

Mash with 1 1/2 gallons water

Sparge with an additional 1 1/4 gallons water

0.3 ounces Amarillo hops 60 minutes
0.3 ounces Amarillo hops 45 minutes
0.1 ounces Amarillo hops 30 minutes
0.2 ounces Cascade hops five minutes
0.2 ounces Chinook hops five minutes
0.2 ounces ground coriander, five minutes
0.2 ounces Cascade hops, steeped at flame out for 15 minutes
0.2 ounces Chinook hops, steeped at flame out for 15 minutes

Add 1/2 gallon cold water at flame out

White Labs Belgian Ale Yeast in 1-gallon fermenter
White Lab California Ale Yeast in a second 1-gallon fermenter

Original Gravity: 1.066
Final Gravity: 1.010
ABV: 7.4%

The result was a good, not great homebrew.   The brew is a good mix of honey, aromatics from the yeast, and a floral hop character.  The malt is crisp, simple and dry, and which works as a good canvas for all the different flavors.  It doesn’t have the hop bite I was hoping for and while the brew is definitely complex, it’s also a tad muddled.  A nice beer, but still needs a little tweaking with a little more hops……and a couple more swiped brewing secrets.

Home Brew Diaries: Closet Hop Head Belgian IPA

I never quite saw the point of taking notes as I home brewed, as I barely knew what I was doing.  And taking notes is something I do a lot during work.   Taking notes is a great way to improve brewing skills but since home brewing is hobby, I was a bit loathe to make it seem more like work and less like a hobby with obsessive note taking. 

Do you have any idea hard it is to take a
picture of a beer beer inside a closet.

But one of the best ways to learn something is to organize one’s thoughts so you can tell other people about it, so I’ve decided to commit my home brewing exploits to electronic papers here in periodic installments I’ve brilliantly named “Home Brew Diaries”.  Which is a signal to you, dear reader, to skip these posts if your not into reading about my home brewing exploits as I readily admit, these posts are more about me than they are about you.  Then again, some of you out there home brew, and part of my satisfaction from home brewing is the insight gained from understanding how hops, yeast, malt, and water come together to create what we all know as “beer”.

And so we start with my first attempt at a Belgian IPA, Closet Hop Head.  I’ve brewed beers inspired by son Brandon and daughter Verona, so it seemed time to brew a beer in honor of my wife Linda.  One of the most memorable times in her life was whiling away the afternoons long ago on a trip to Belgium with one of that countries many wonderful beers.  Back here in the States, her favorite beers are the most hoppy ones.  So a Belgian IPA seemed a pretty obvious as a tribute beer for her, and since I sometimes joke “Don’t let her good looks fool you, she’s a closet hop head!”, that’s where the name comes from.

For this beer, I chose Chinook hops in an attempt to give it that nice grape fruity peel character Linda always likes and Cascade to give it additional citrus-like notes.  Linda always loves a beer with great hop aromas, so used a little additional Cascade for dry hopping.  To let all the hop goodness shine through, I used clear Pilsner malt.  The two gallon recipe:

Closet Hophead

Makes approximately two gallons.

10 ounces 40L Crystal Malt
4 lbs. Pilsner Malt
0.5 ounces Chinook Hops 60 minutes
0.5 ounces Cascade Hops 30 minutes
0.2 ounces Cascade Hops 5 minutes
0.2 ounces Cascade Hops, dry hopping
3 twists of ground pepper from a pepper grinder (An impulsive decision near the end of the boil!)

White Labs Belgian Ale Yeast

OG 1.064
FG  1.018
ABV 6.25%

The Final Results
As with a lot of my home brews, this didn’t turn out the way I expected.  I’d characterize the final results as more of a Belgian Pale Ale, as it just didn’t quite have the hop bite one expects from a good IPA.  The ground pepper was a weird last minute thought while brewing, and like a lot of impulsive last minute thoughts, it doesn’t seem like a good idea in hindsight.  Maybe next time I’ll use a different spice like coriander to make the brew more “Belgian”.  The White Labs website indicates with their Belgian Ale Yeast strain “phenolic and spicy flavors dominate the profile”.  That was certainly true here, with those flavors at the forefront and the hop flavors unfortunately muddled and too far back in the background. Not cooling the wort down enough before pitching the yeast may have caused that.   I could certainly use more hops to ramp up those flavors, but having recently read hops available at most home brewing stores tend to be low quality, that might be the real problem.

The brew is a bit cloudy and has a nice meringue-like head to it.

While the end result was a bit of a letdown, Closet Hop Head started growing on me the more I drank it, which is always a positive thing.  I’ll just tweak the recipe, possibly find a better source of hops, and give it another go sometime.

Linda drinking something hoppy.