Here at WrongSide, we've been spending some time developing a stable of tried-and-true "house" recipes--staple beers that we can brew consistently time and time again. The first in this series is our House Pale Ale. The first version was brewed over the summer, and version 2 just a couple of weeks ago. The first iteration was good, but a little too malty and it lacked some of the citrusy hop punch that typifies the American Pale Ale style. So we went back to the drawing board and tweaked the recipe, simplifying the malt bill (from 3 base malts and crystal malt down to just 1 base malt and crystal) and switching out the Meridian hops (lovely fruity flavor, but not very aggressive) for Cascade (the prototypical citrusy American hop, most familiar to beer drinkers from Sierra Nevada Pale Ale). Come mid-September, it was time to brew.
We use the brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method for our all-grain beers. This enables us to brew all-grain without an equipment-heavy (and time-intensive) three-vessel system. Traditionally,brewers combine hot water from a tank and crushed grain malts in an insulated container, or mash tun, for the mash (process that extracts sugars from the grains), then drain from that container into the boil kettle. BIAB uses the boil kettle as the mash tun, by means of lining it with a fine mesh bag. Once the mash is complete, the bag (containing the grains) can just be lifted out of the kettle and then the boil can start. You can see the edges of the bag around the top of the kettle in the image below (the grain and water mixture is in the bag, hidden by a layer of foam).
For this beer, we mashed at a temperature of 153 F, which yields a medium-light bodied final beer. Mashing at higher temperatures creates more complex sugars (which tend to stick around after fermentation, lending a thicker body to the finished beer). Lower temperatures create more simple sugars, which get almost entirely converted to alcohol and lighten the body.
After the mash is over and the spent grains removed, we fire up the kettle for a 60 minute rolling boil, during which hops are added at various times. Boiling hops longer creates more bitterness, while adding them closer to the end of the boil preserves more flavor and aroma compounds (these volatile compounds tend to get driven off during a boil, so "late additions" are used to ensure a beer with lots of hoppy goodness). Below you can see one of our late additions of Centennial and Cascade hops, about 15 minutes from the end of the boil.
Of course, you can't make beer without drinking beer (it angers the gods), so I poured myself a pint of our homebrewed IPA during the boil.
Once the boil is over, we use an immersion chiller (copper coil that sits in the hot liquid while we run cool water through it) to cool the wort (beer before the addition of yeast) from 212 F down to a temperature that's more hospitable for yeast. In the winter, we can generally get the wort down under 75 with just tap water, but in the summertime the best we can do is about 85. Since yeast will throw all sort of undesirable flavors if pitched at too high a temperature, we let the wort sit in the fermentation bucket in our temperature-controlled chamber (read: converted minifridge) for a few hours until it gets into the mid-60s. Then we add yeast, seal it up, and wait patiently for the yeast to do their thing. Once fermentation is completed (generally 7-10 days later, with special considerations for particularly high-alcohol beers), we perform a brief cold crash (chill the beer to near freezing for a day or so) to help settle out yeast and other hazy particulates, then transfer to a keg. After a few days under CO2 pressure, the beer is ready to rock. You can see a sample of the finished pale ale below (that's Gracie, our brew dog, in the background).
This particular batch went off to Richmond to be served at the opening of a friend's photography exhibition at Gallery5. The 5 gallon batch was drained in short order, and reviews were good, so we were quite pleased. Our changes to the first version of the recipe had the desired effect--the malt was de-emphasized and the hop character substantially more prominent. This recipe may get tweaked a bit more before the next version, but we're pretty pleased with where it's at now.
House Pale Ale version 2 recipe (for our fellow brewers):
Brew it up and let us know what you think!