Saturday, December 22, 2012

Color-blind: An American Black Ale

Color-blind: An American Black Ale

American-Style Black Ale. That’s the name the Brewers Association has settled on in their 2012 Beer Style Guidelines for the artist beer formerly known as Black IPA, Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA) and India Black Ale (IBA) (as well as some lesser known variants such as American Dark Ale and Avery’s New World Porter).

First off, we can all drop the suffix “style” from the name, given its unhelpful redundancy (it is a style by way of its inclusion in a style guideline). That leaves us with American Black Ale (ABA).

When I first heard the new name, I was a little unsure about it. It’s generic and boring, unlike the paradoxical beverage that it refers to. It’s also descriptive and absent of any regional ties within the U.S. This is a subject that I won’t get into because it has already been argued by Matt Van Wyk in favor of CDA, and then rebutted by Greg Koch in favor of Black IPA.

ABAs seem to parallel their IPA cousins in how they are expressed regionally (
I’d like to state my bias: most of the American Black Ales I have tried have been on the left half of the country, and to this date none that I have tried have called themselves American Black Ales).

In the Pacific Northwest, they hold firmly to the moniker Cascadian Dark Ale (a name reserved almost exclusively for this region), and generally have a more “balanced” Northwest approach to the malt/hop bill. Even if the beer is hopped to high heaven, in most cases there will be a distinguishing malt character supporting the beer. Pacific Northwesterners are not afraid to let a little bit of roast and dark crystal malts party in your mouth with the citrus and pine flavors of regionally appropriate “C” hops.

Just like how West Coast IPAs tend to be dry on the palate, lighter in malt character, ludicrously dry-hopped, and then dry-hopped again, Black IPAs from California not-so-shockingly embody the same characteristic as their IPA cousins. They just wear a black suit to the party. “Balanced” isn’t often used to describe a good example of a Black IPA from the West Coast.

It’s likely that the American Black Ale style will be included in the next revision of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) style guideline (used by the American Homebrewers Association), which is due for a revision if they keep with their self-proclaimed 3-5 year revision cycle (last revision was 2008). The 2012 Brewers Association style guideline (used at GABF), gives us the following description:
American-style Black Ales are very dark to black and perceived to have medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute character. The style is further characterized by a balanced and moderate degree of caramel malt and dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent.
The marriage of roasted malt flavors with the tropical/citrus/stonefruit hop flavors that I seek in an IPA, produce an ugly kid with an annoying personality. The flavors are not complimentary and detract from each other. For a dark, hop-forward beer to keep my attention, the roast, chocolate and even the darker crystal malt characteristics need to be subdued.

In my first stab at this style of beer, I took an IPA recipe that I’m familiar with and then added Midnight Wheat by Briess, a 550°L bitterless black malt that has the lowest “roast” character of any black malt that I could find. It was specifically created to limit the bitter, astringent and roasted characteristics found in dark roasted malts. The goal was to create a beer that would fool a blindfolded taste tester into thinking the beer was an IPA.

Color-blind: An American Black Ale
Batch size: 12 gal
Estimated OG: 1.067
Estimated IBU: 59
Estimated SRM: 31.7
Estimated ABV: 5.7%
Estimated total efficiency: 75%

84.0% (24.76 lb) - Rahr 2-Row - 1.8°L
6.0% (1.77 lb) - Midnight Wheat - 550°L
4.0% (1.18 lb) Carapils - 2.0°L
3.0% (0.88 lb) Crystal 60 - 60°L
3.0% (0.88 lb) White Wheat Malt - 2.4°L

Hops: (all pellet)
60 min - 1 oz Millenium (15.9% AA)
10 min - 1 oz Zythos (10.9% AA)
10 min - 2 oz 7Cs (9.9% AA)
10 min - 1 oz Falconer’s Flight (11.4% AA)
10 min - 1 oz Amarillo (10.3% AA)
10 min - 1 oz Galaxy (14.0% AA)
0 min - 2 oz Zythos (10.9% AA)
0 min - 4 oz 7Cs (9.9% AA)
0 min - 2 oz Falconer’s Flight (11.4% AA)
0 min - 2 oz Amarillo (10.3% AA)
0 min - 1 oz Galaxy (14.0% AA)
+25 min - 1 oz Zythos (10.9% AA)
+25 min - 2 oz 7Cs (9.9% AA)
+25 min - 1 oz Falconer’s Flight (11.4% AA)
+25 min - 1 oz Amarillo (10.3% AA)
+25 min - 1 oz Galaxy (14.0% AA)
dry hop - 2 oz Zythos (10.9% AA)
dry hop - 4 oz 7Cs (9.9% AA)
dry hop - 2 oz Falconer’s Flight (11.4% AA)
dry hop - 2 oz Amarillo (10.3% AA)
dry hop - 2 oz Galaxy (14.0% AA)
dry hop - 2 oz Cascade (6.4% AA)

WLP007 Dry English Ale Yeast (decanted 1.7 L starter +1 vial)

50 minutes @ 152°F (Midnight Wheat added 20 minutes into the mash)
Mash out @ 168°F and fly sparge for 35 minutes.

90 minute boil.
0 minute hop additions added at flameout.
+25 minute hop additions added after 0 minute additions had been whirlpooling for 25 minutes, then stirred in hop spider for 5 minutes with a sanitized stainless steel spoon before recirculate through chiller to drop temp.
15 minute rest to allow for settling of trub, then transferred to conical fermenter at 70°F. Conical was put in fermentor fridge and dropped temp to 64°F before pitching 2 liter yeast starter. Held at 65°F for 2 days before allowing to naturally rise to 67°F until completely fermented.

Results/Notes: (tasting notes)

  • This was the first time since getting my mill that my pre-boil and original gravity readings were exactly on the numbers. I added the Midnight Wheat about 20 minutes into the mash to further reduce any potential astringency that might come from the malt.
  • The hop bill on this recipe was big (38 oz). I’ve realized that for beers with massive hop additions, my hop spider isn’t an ideal solution for getting good extraction of the hop oils into the wort, while keeping the hops out of the plate chiller. I need to work on new solutions for future batches that allow me to recirculate back into the boil kettle while chilling (my ground water isn’t cold enough to go straight out, even in the winter).
  • I seem to have found my limit for my continuously recirculating dry hop setup. 12 oz of hops in my conical chokes the pump. It also leaves such a large hop pile at the bottom of the conical that I can’t properly dump enough of them out of the ¾” ball valve before it clogs.
  • I need a rotating racking cane for my conical that can be turned up and out of the hop pile. A lot of dumps were required before I could get hopless beer to transfer into kegs.
  • I designed the recipe as a 12 gallon batch expecting I would end up with 10 gallons of beer. After hop losses in the kettle and several yeast and hop dumps, I netted 8.5 gallons of beer in kegs.

Tasting notes can be found at this post.