Category Archives: Beers

Anatomy of a Nelson Sauvin-Calypso Belgian IPA

For months, I shared my home with the most beautiful carboy I’ve ever created, a work of art in red. Hop’s End Belgian IPA was meant to be an experience of the fruitier-grapier end of the hops spectrum, featuring Nelson Sauvin, Calypso, and a touch of Cascade and “Magic Hop Dust” from Austin Homebrew Supply for backbone (full recipe here).

Even the cat thought it was stunning.
Even the cat thought it was stunning.

It went through a true secondary and an additional racking into tertiary, where it dry hopped on yet more Nelson Sauvin, and there it sat for the winter.

Unfortunately, on bottling day, a heavy sulphury aroma greeted us. I’d noticed it in earlier manipulations, but kept hoping it would dissipate. It seems to be DMS, dimethylsulfate, which can hang around if you don’t have a rolling boil happening during the brewing (though I’ve never experienced it before). Fortunately, it seems to be dissipating as the beer bottle conditions, though unevenly.

On bottling day, thus the lack of carbonation.
On bottling day, thus the lack of carbonation.

At its best, this beer has a wonderful, clean bite, with a rounded fruityness and a white grape note that lingers in the aftertaste. It’s a great marriage of the mango-y flavor of Calypso, the clove-banana spectrum of Belgian yeasts, and Nelson’s forthright grape tones. The DMS issue may or may not fully clear, but we were aiming for a big IBU beer – it came in around 100 IBUs – that wouldn’t be bitter, and we hit that mark dead on.

Calypso and Nelson Sauvin are two great hops that taste great together, and I can’t wait to play around with them again.

Status Report: Hop’s End

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Hop’s End, guarded by the ever vigilant Harm the Bitey Cat

Hop’s End continues aging on Nelson. On warmer days, I continue to see signs of fermentation. I may move it outside for early December for an old school cold crash, but as you can see, it’s a gorgeous red color that’s cleared up beautifully. I still wish I hadn’t ended up with Pilsner malts for the secondary fermentation, but this’ll be a lovely beer.

No, but there sure is an “I” in “IPA”

If you look at the world today – the conflicts in the -stan nations, tyrants, wars, and underdevelopment in countries that were once colonies of the European powers – you really have to wonder if all that was such a good idea.

But the age of Empires (the British one, to be precise) did gift us with one true bright spot, the India Pale Ale.

According to Ray Daniels’s “Designing Great Beers,” the IPA developed in large part because of a trade imbalance between England and its colony, India. I’m sure there’s no PERFECT DESCRIPTION OF EMPIRE inherent in noting that ships would arrive in England full of pilfered goods from India, and then, because India didn’t actually need England in order to be a fully functioning civilization was a terrific, mature colony, would often return to India empty.

Needless to say, freight costs from London to Mumbai (which the British, apparently hard of hearing, called Bombay) were pretty reasonable, and if you had a product that would sell, it would be hard to dream up a better scheme for producing profits. An East London brewer named George Hodgson saw the opportunity, but first he had to deal with some technical issues.

I know we’re all used to a pretty standardized product when it comes to beer, but imagine a world without refrigeration. Beer is produced by microbial action, and every home brewer understands that there’s a small risk of infection – “spoilage organism” – in every batch we make. Not only do we have access to sanitizing solutions and basic hygiene items like soap and toothpaste to keep our bodies (sort of) clean, we also have a lot of control over how our beers are stored. It’s likely that every bottle or keg has a certain level of spoilage organism in it, but these factors, along with the hops and ABV of the beer itself, prevent them from achieving sufficient numbers to thrive.

But imagine putting hundreds of cases of your homebrew onto an unrefrigerated ship, then sailing it along the equator for weeks at a time. That’s the situation the brewers of England were facing, and their innovations to meet that challenge created a new breed of beer.

The first change was to dramatically increase the amount of hops in the beer. Hops aren’t just a bittering agent, they also have anti-microbial action that helps to prevent the growth of bad germs in the bottle. There’s actually a good amount of research right now into the use of hops or hop extracts to replace antibiotics in poultry and cattle, a change that might give us a few extra years of utility on existing antibiotic strains.

The second change was to drop the amount of sugars used in the fermentation. By starting with a lower specific gravity, the brewers were able to fine tune the fermentation to leave fewer sugars in the bottle – and less food for spoilage organisms.

The result was a very dry, very hoppy beer that would remain stable throughout the long, hot voyage to India. And once it arrived, it was a huge hit.

It would be a few centuries before craft brewers in the former colony of America, armed with hops grown in the west coast regions that were just opening up when the style was born, would transform the IPA into the broad spectrum of flavors that American beer drinkers crave – citrusy, grassy, floral, bitter.

So next time you’re watching the news and wondering how in the hell the world got into this mess, crack open an IPA. Think of it as drinking the silver lining, or a little taste of the brighter side of empire.

Yeast being maniacs

Yeast and solids flinging around in the churning insanity that is the interior of a carboy during primary fermentation. I think it’s the equivalent of a giant storm system passing through. This time tomorrow, it’ll have dropped back to almost nothing.