American Pale Ale

Today I bottled my latest beer. This one’s an American Pale Ale, and is the first all grain brew I’ve done that isn’t my own recipe. The recipe is from David Heath, an excellent homebrew youtuber and in this post I’ll be mostly writing about how to ham-fistedly follow a great beer recipe.

So I normally make up my own recipes from scratch using tools like BeerSmith to give me an idea of what might come out the other end. While I consider the results to be mixed, all of the beers I’ve brewed have actually gone down pretty well. But the best way to learn is from as many sources as possible so it is always good to have a crack at someone else’s recipe.

When I put my last order in at the home brew shop, I aimed to make two beers. I knew one of them was going to be a bitter, as it is my favourite style and relatively inexpensive to make. But what about the other? Well I’ve never made an APA before and it would be nice to have something on the hoppy side but more sessionable than the IPA I brewed a little while back.

So I decided to use David Heath’s APA recipe. He is an excellent Youtuber with a huge amount of brewing experience both professionally, and as a home brewer. So it’s fair to say that I have pretty high expectations for this recipe. The recipe can be found at the link above along with a video about the style itself. It’s fair to say that this recipe uses a far more subtle blend of malts than I usually go for. This is something I want to move towards doing more often in the future but the home brew supplier I used to use only sold malt in pre-weighed bags so I tended to try to use entire bags. Obviously this lead to the Slightly Darker Black Stout that, while is overcarbonated and is certaintly not my favourite brew, does have its fans.

So armed with my two recipes, one of my own and one from a stranger on the internet, I went about ordering my supplies. And I immediately ran into an issue. My tried and tested Bitter recipe requires hops that were painfully out of stock. So I looked up replacement hops and changed my Bitter recipe accordingly… I think all that really changed was a late addition of Mosaic got changed to Simcoe. Given that neither of these are in keeping with the style it really wasn’t a big deal anyway. Also I replaced Belgian two-row with Marris Otter which was a very welcome change and has made an even better Bitter than my previous attempt. I think people (myself included) have a tendency to splash out on specialty malts and hops but don’t really put much thought into their base malt. Your base malt is most of your beer, and quality ingredients make better beer. It is well worth spending a bit more on your base malt – you’ll not regret it if you do!

Given that the recipe for the APA was designed for a GrainFather and my setup is quite a lot cheaper and less efficient, an intelligent human being would have used BeerSmith or Brewfather or some other tool to take that lower efficiency into account before ordering the malt… Not this guy though! Yeah, I messed up. To be honest it didn’t even occur to me until during the brew day. By then it was too late. Also my grain crush was off. And it was off on the previous brew but I then forgot to adjust my malt mill. Which I still haven’t done. So my efficiency was even lower than normal. Balls.

That said, I was then pretty sensible and I did something I’ve never really bothered doing before. I actually took regular gravity readings throughout the mash. Whats more, is that I then altered the amount of sparge water I used and continued to take gravity measurements as I sparged to make sure I hit my pre-boil gravity. And I did. Success! And because of that I was able to hit my planned starting gravity.

So I hit my numbers gravity-wise. But this means that I ended up with a smaller volume to take into account the lower efficiency of my system compared to that which the recipe was designed for. So naturally that means I should also adjust my hop quantities to take into account the smaller volume. And of course if I’m clever enough to realise I need a lower volume on the day I’d realise that right? … Right??? Of course not! I just took the hop quantities straight from the recipe (didn’t even adjust for different alpha acid content, and no, my hops did not have the same alpha acid percentage as those used in the recipe). This means that my beer will be a bit more bitter than planned, but worse things happen at sea I suppose.

Three weeks later:
Today was bottling day! So I did the usual stuff of cleaning and sterilising my secondary fermenter, my autosyphon, bottling wand and enough bottles for the total volume (15 L). So I decided to go for 2.2 volumes of CO2 as, according to Brewer’s friend, that’s the lower end of the carbonation range for american ales. So that meant boiling up my sugar solution of 83 g glucose (dextrose/corn sugar to Americans) in 100 ml of water for five minutes in my conical flask. If you don’t have a flask, a pan will work just fine but these flasks are great for priming and for yeast starters for heavier beers. Note that the amount of priming sugar is to use is temperature dependent so don’t just use my numbers if you’re making your own.

The beer itself had a pretty sizable cake floating on top, even after 3 weeks in the fermenter, but I think that’s normal for US-04 American Ale yeast. Once transfered into the secondary, the beer has a beutiful golden colour though. Measured the final gravity at 1.009, which is one point above the target of 1.008, but that’s not a big deal. This just means 4.9% ABV instead of the 5% target. As usual, while bottling I also had a sneaky little taste. So you can never get the proper taste of the beer before conditioning but I have to say I think that this is going to turn out to be a very sessionable beer.

So now the beer is bottled with nice navy blue caps that look purple on the picture above. At least I think so… I’m not great with colours so maybe they don’t. Anyway, my last top tip is to use different coloured caps for your different beers where possible. This way you don’t need to spend ages making labels! And you can make a cool beer (and in this case cider) map like in the picture above. Turns out I still have a few bottles of that Rhubarb Cider kicking about.

The end. If you have any thoughts about this blog post, whether positive or negative (let’s face it, negative is more likely), feel free to voice your concerns in the comments below. While you’re here why not check out this other post about mead or something. Bye then.

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