By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Pushing the limits and finding new ways to tackle big problems is what drives many a passionate homebrewer. In the Pacific Northwest, a lot of innovation also revolves around the hop. Brewing huge IPAs can test our equipment and general knowledge about yeast. For instance, once you have that 1.095 starting gravity, getting the yeast to perform can be a challenge. Knowing how to approach common problems when making double IPAs will help you avoid a bad final product and possibly even create a great one.
Brewing Big IPAs
There are a few things to remember when crafting your own version of these big brews. As the name implies, you want to double everything: hops, malts and even yeast. If you’ve never made this style, you can simply start by doubling all of the ingredients in your favorite Northwest IPA recipe. Make sure you have enough grain or malt extract to hit a starting gravity of at least 1.065. Any starting gravity above 1.085 is considered “out of style.” Feel free to experiment. The mash will require a bit more water than normal to ensure a good extraction, so get a boil kettle that’s large enough to handle the extra volume.
When using extract, don’t exceed approximately 10 pounds for a 5-gallon batch. Non-fermentable sugars in the extract will add too much sweetness to the finished product. To make up any extra gravity, there’s no harm in using a small amount of sugar. This technique can also be used if you don’t quite hit the numbers you’re going for when brewing all grain. Add the sugar during the last five minutes of the boil to avoid caramelizing and stir frequently so that it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the pot and scorch. Due to the extra volume, boil for 90 minutes. That also provides 30 more minutes for hop additions. When timing this out, remember that anything incorporated in the first 45 minutes will significantly increase the bitterness of the beer.
Finessing the Yeast
Come yeast-pitching time, be sure you’re using a strain that will be able to tolerate the higher alcohol content you’re shooting for. This information should be available at your local homebrew supply shop. Additionally, it’s advisable to use two packets of yeast. The average yeast pitch has about 100 billion cells. According to yeast companies, this is sufficient for a 5-gallon batch with a starting gravity of 1.050, however, anything below 1.060 should lead to good fermentation.
The biggest problem with brewing higher-gravity beers is the yeast not doing its job. Make sure you help create a wort that’s the perfect, cozy home for those little yeasties to thrive and get to work. After your boil is complete, chill it quickly by using an ice bath or a chiller to avoid the production of dimethyl sulfide (DMS), a common off-flavor that can resemble the taste of cooked vegetables. It’s also important to ensure the yeast is the same temperature as the wort. Too much of a difference will cause the yeast cells to rupture. Take your yeast out of the refrigerator and allow it to warm up to room temperature. Before pitching, introduce oxygen to the wort to help get the yeast started.
Shaking the fermenter is adequate, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can purchase an oxygenation assembly system that injects oxygen into the wort as it travels into the fermenter. You’ll also need a bottle of oxygen, which can be found at some hardware stores. Take care to not go overboard when adding oxygen.
Even after giving the yeast a fighting chance, it won’t always perform. In the event of stuck fermentation, when the yeast has gone dormant, there are still a few options. Adding more yeast to the fermenter is the quickest and easiest fix. However, the best time to do this would be before the wort has fermented at all because a later introduction could create off-flavors. If fermentation has gotten underway and then come to a halt, transfer the beer from the primary fermenter to a secondary. This will rouse some of the yeast and get the beer away from the dead yeast and protein.
Don’t focus solely on the activity in the air lock because many things can make it bubble. The only way to know whether fermenting has stopped prematurely or finished the way you’d planned is by taking a gravity reading. Even if you didn’t hit the numbers you’d hoped, the test of the tongue is, perhaps, most important. Only you can decided if your method needs adjustment or if you’re on the way to brewing an award-winning double IPA.
Jake's Wedding Imperial IPA [AG]
Jake's Wedding Imperial IPA [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.