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Homebrew #25: Birdwatcher

by Rob Friesel

I experienced something of a miraculous windfall. A kind of homebrewer’s waking dream. My friend Donnie texted me one day and basically said: I have a garbage bag full of Cascade hops. Do you want them? And the rhizomes? We’re done with these.

Um… hell yes.

Thus was born Birdwatcher:

Birdwatcher

So first things first, this beer wasn’t in my original 2016 plan. 2016 was all about experimenting with different yeast strains and trying my hand at a few different styles but… how can you say no to several pounds of the freshest hops?

4, almost 5, pounds of Cascade!

Four pounds and 10.6 ounces (once the bines were picked clean), to be precise.

And at this point, I had a decision to make. Do I make a wet hop beer? Or try my hand at drying them? Partly due to timing (I received the hops on a Sunday) and partly due to taste (I can’t recall a wet hop beer that I liked1), I decided to set them up on some unused window screens in the basement and run the dehumidifier at full blast. (That would practically simulate a dehydrator, right?)

All laid out for drying. #hops #homebrewing

In any case, that bought me enough time to get together a hasty recipe for a red IPA and identify a clean yeast strain that I hadn’t worked with yet.2 Fast-forward one week: the hops are dried3 and portioned out, and I’m ready to brew.

Brew day itself is… Not particularly noteworthy. I mashed in at 147.9°F and tried to hold that for 90 minutes.4 I got the wort to boiling and did my six hop additions. Chilled it. Took my gravity readings. Shook it to aerate. Pitched and… into my (new-to-me) fermentation chamber.

Brewed Birdwatcher today

Brief Aside About Calibrating Equipment

Now, I’m still making a study of mashing. And I’ve got plenty of learning to do there. But I’m getting the hang of it, and tweaking my process as I learn new things. But as far as yeast and fermentation goes, that’s what I’ve made the most study of over the past two or so years. And one thing that I’d learned was that these billions of hard-working little cells are actually kind of sensitive to their working conditions. And having seen those hard-working cells work themselves up into a frenzy and raise the wort temperature 10°F above the ambient temperature… I was glad to finally have a chest freezer to use as a fermentation chamber.

But this was also why I was so confused when, after almost two weeks, and a healthy dose of yeast energizer, and even raising the temperature for the tail end there… that the gravity was pinned to 1.021. And while this wasn’t horrible (BeerSmith estimated an F.G. of 1.018) it still seemed to be… it was over 1.020. And that seemed wrong.

So I (finally!) took some advice that had been given to me a couple of times before: Calibrate the damn hydrometer. A few ounces of distilled water at 60°F later and… my hydrometer is off by +4 S.G.

Ignoring how that throws almost a year’s worth of gravity readings into question, it does give me some relief in the moment. It means that this beer’s final gravity is 1.017 and not 1.021.

Finishing Up the Beer

My gravity-related anxiety now behind me, I could finish up the beer. The first order of business? Dry-hopping it with 3½ oz. of whole cone Cascade.

3½ oz. whole come Cascade just went into Birdwatcher for the dry-hopping stint. #Homebrewing

Three days of that and then 24 hours of cold crashing. And then, because both kegs were tied up, and because I intended to gift a few of them to my friend, I bottled them up.

Birdwatcher all packaged up

I took some of the left-over beer from the bottling session, and used it to christen the recently planted hop rhizomes.

Fast-forward another two weeks and… we’ve got a drinkable red IPA! By the numbers, Birdwatcher has 5.8% ABV and about 52 IBUs. It’s a 14 on the SRM scale — “copper”, if you will. It has a lively mouthfeel and is decently clear considering the dry-hopping and bottle conditioning. The nose has the faintest bit of pine but otherwise reads like citrus blossoms. The palate has a bit of malty sweetness from the crystal but otherwise it’s grassy and floral. I was afraid that it would get some vegetal notes (having done an amateurish job of harvesting and drying the cones) but those are mercifully subdued, when they show up at all. Overall? Perhaps not my best work, but pretty good considering my haste, and I’m hopeful that those rhizomes will give me a serviceable crop in 2017.

Recipe

The partial mash recipe for Birdwatcher is as follows.

Mash Grains

  • 6 lb. 2 oz. PQM Heavy Base
  • 1 lb. PQM Provenance Pale
  • 6 oz. PQM Provenance Pils
  • 6 oz. PQM Provenance Wheat
  • 3 oz. PQM Crystal 250
  • 3 oz. PQM Crystal Mid

Fermentables

3.3 lb. (1 can) Briess Sparkling Amber LME (15 min. late addition)

Hop Schedule

  • 1 oz. Cascade (whole cone; 90 min.)
  • 1 oz. Cascade (whole cone; 75 min.)
  • 1 oz. Cascade (whole cone; 60 min.)
  • 1 oz. Cascade (whole cone; 30 min.)
  • 1 oz. Cascade (whole cone; 15 min.)
  • 1 oz. Cascade (whole cone; 5 min. steep/whirlpool)
  • 3 oz. Cascade (whole cone; dry-hop 3 days)

Yeast

Mangrove Jack’s M44 U.S. West Coast Ale (2 × sachets)

Brew Day

  1. Collect 14.33 qt. water and heat to 157.1°F. Mash in; hold at 147.9°F for 90 minutes.
  2. Mash out. Heat to 168° over 7 minutes; hold for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove filter bag from water. Squeeze filter bag to extract as much liquid as possible for wort. Sparge with 1 L. water.
  4. Top off as necessary to approx. 2.98 gal.
  5. Bring to a boil. Boil for 90 minutes, following hop schedule described above. Add 3.3 lb. Sparkling Amber LME with 15 minutes remaining.
  6. At knock-out, add 1 oz. Cascade hops and steep/whirlpool for 5 minutes.
  7. Cool to 70°F as rapidly as possible and top off the fermenter to reach 5 gal.
  8. Aerate wort and pitch Mangrove Jack M44 yeast.

Beyond Brew Day

  1. Allow fermentation to complete (approx. 1-2 weeks).
  2. After reaching terminal gravity, mature as needed. Add dry hops for 3 days.
  3. Remove dry hops; consider cold crashing for 1-2 days before packaging.
  4. Rack to bottling bucket. Add 4.28 oz. corn sugar priming solution and bottle.
  5. Allow at least 2 weeks to carbonate.
  6. Enjoy.

Details

Birdwatcher, a red IPA by Tilde Gravitywerks

Original Gravity 1.061
Final Gravity 1.017
ABV 5.8%
Attenuation 70.9%
IBU 52
SRM 14
Links Untappd
Flickr
  1. Which, let’s be fair, doesn’t mean that I necessarily don’t like wet hop beers; rather that none were memorable enough for me to say “Oh let’s make one of those!” []
  2. My go-to clean yeasts are US-05, which already made an appearance in Honestatis (Mk. IV), and 1056, which fermented Boo Beer. The next logical choice would be WLP001 but that was unavailable at my local HBS. []
  3. 21.6 oz. in all, once dehydrated. []
  4. I tried not to mess with it and by the time the mash had ended, it had come down to 144°F. So it’s not like it fell below the beta amylase activation range but maybe it needed an even longer rest? []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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