Tips and tricks for making better IPA's at home
We are going to go over several tips and tricks in order to make better homebrew IPA's
There are two area's here that we should cover, 1st is proper yeast pitching. Many IPA's that homebrewers are making are pushing the ABV into more of the double IPA category. Most all yeast packets that are made are geared toward a 5.5 - 6.0% ABV beer. If you are making a beer that is above 6% and creeping up to the 8% ABV you need to ensure that you are pitching the correct yeast amount. The easiest solution is getting two yeast packs and "double" pitching. This ensures two things, 1st you're going to get a nice fast fermentation of your beer. Most ales should not be fermenting for more then 7 days, we want to ensure fast, complete, healthy fermentation. Next if you underpitch your yeast most likely the yeast will tire out before fermentation is complete, leaving you with an incomplete fermentation, you can tell not only by the gravity of the beer, but also by tasting it, does it taste sweet?
The second part of yeast is picking the right yeast strain. There are three factors you need to look at. Each strain has unique flavor profile, attenuation level, and flocculation level. For most IPA's people either choose a more neutral flavor profile or an English style (for its esters). Attenuation level will tell you how much sugar will be consumed, higher attenuation levels (80%) will result in a fully fermented beer, leaving little residual sweetness. Flocculation level will will tell you if the yeast will stay in suspension. If you want a clear IPA, use a high flocculation yeast strain, if you want a cloudy IPA, use a low flocculation yeast strain.
There are three sections to the hops, how much to use, how long to use them, and are they fresh?
How much to use?
Most breweries when brewing typical IPA's will measure lbs / BBL (31 Gallons). Typically if i am making a pale ale i target roughly 2 lbs / BBL, and with IPA's 3 lbs / BBL, this equates to roughly 5 oz's of hops per a pale ale (total boil plus dry hop) and roughly 8 oz's of hops for an IPA (total boil plus dry hop). typically i will use very little in the boil probably under 5% in the boil, 35% in the whirlpool and 60% in the dry hop. Of course this may vary depending on the hops you have, how bitter they are etc. But overall its a good guideline to understand how much hops to use, and when to use them.
When dry hopping my next rule of thumb is typically only dry hop for 3 to 4 days max. Hops sitting in beer for extended periods of time is never a good thing. I remember an article written by Russian River Brewery talking about how hop oils are extracted within 22 hours of dry hopping, so just remember they do not need to be left there for a while, the more disciplined you are with your dry hopping times, the fresher your beer will be.
Next is how fresh are your hops. If you open up your hops especially your dry hops and whirlpool hops and there isn't an amazing aroma there, they the hops are stale and will not really pass on any flavor or aroma. If you don't smell it in the beginning you won't smell it at the end! Some homebrew shops repackage hops in cheap small plastic bags, and the hops end up degrading fast. Use professionally packaged hops, oxygen purged, oxygen barrier bags, this will help maintain freshness!
We want to limit the amount of transferring that happens. Every time you transfer your beer you are exposing it to oxygen. After fermentation, oxygen is very bad and will over time oxidize your beer and make it taste like cardboard. My recommendation is dry hop in your fermenter, the rule of thumb i have is you need to get your beer off the yeast by 21 days, thats my universal rule with most all alcohol. Ferment your beer for 7 days, dry hop for 4 days in your primary, at this point there should be no sugar left if you used a proper amount of yeast as well as proper fermentation temperature for your beer. Next place the fermenter in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Next transfer to a secondary bucket, stick that in the refrigerator for another 3 or 4 days, all your sediment should drop to the bottom, now transfer directly from your secondary to either bottles or kegs, if bottles use carbonation drops. This eliminates a 2nd transfer to a bottling bucket with a sugar mixture. The sugar mixture i believe is inconsistent and again reduces transfers and reduces oxygen exposure. Some important notes here are its a hard balance, we want to speed up the process when brewing IPA's because they deteriorate faster so we don't want them to sit in secondary at room temp and wait for sediment to fall, but we do need to have the sediment fall because if your bottles are full of yeast and hops that will KILL the shelf life of your beer. bottling or kegging an IPA and is mostly void of yeast and hops will ensure a better lasting beer.
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