Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Brewday: SMaSH Pale Ales - Apollo and Cascade

SMaSH - Single Malt and Single Hop.

The best way to see exactly what a hop or a base malt tastes like, without any distractions.

Recently I've been looking for a new base malt. In the past I used Great Western 2-Row Pale, which I liked because it's from Washington and it's cheap. But I was unsatisfied with the grain uniformity, chaff levels, and I was getting really inconsistent grinds off of it. Moving the rollers closer together did a better job, but ended up pulverizing the other malts in the grain bill. As a result I was getting a fairly low yield and, dissatisfied, I started looking around.

I was gearing up to brew Free Ballard! and went shopping for a sack of Pilsner malt. My preference is to use Weyermann. It is simply fantastic malt. But you'll also pay through the nose for it. Unfortunately most shops around here carry Best, which I have not been as happy with. Well, I came across a sack of Gambrinus Organic Pils that had mistakenly been delivered to my LHS. Got it at a steal and gave it a try.

Excellent. Kernels are nice and plump, and quite uniform. Much closer to Continental malt. Which is interesting, because Gambrinus is in Canada. Low protein levels, so no rest was needed. Nice. Brewed a little lager up using just it, some Horizon for bittering, and Sterling for Flavor and Aroma. Free Ballard! came out great, there's a lovely maltiness to it, with just a hint of sweetness. Big fan. And it's way, WAY cheaper than Weyermann. Sweet.

So I decided to give their ESB malt a try. Picked up a sack down at Larry's for about $40, and brewed up some pale ales.

Now, one thing that I freely admit in my brewing is that I suck at brewing hoppy beers. I don't know what it is, but my pale ales and IPAs have always seemed lackluster. Maybe I'm just really picky about it, and maybe I'd been guilty of using hops that were free but less than fresh. So I decided to try and do it right this time. A decent pale ale and a decent IPA, or bust!

The first step was getting some decent hops in. Now, it's great that I live in WA and that most of the country's hops are grown about three hours away. But I also feel that the really choice hops tend to go to breweries, and we homebrewers seem to get the next grade or two down. I've also seen hops from two years or more ago floating around. Not much you can do about that other than get to know the difference between fresh and not-so-fresh hops yourself and get picky. Also, the shops charge a huge markup. I was sick and tired of paying $6-$8 for two ounces of hops.

Fortunately, I got a vacuum sealer for Christmas. (I know, just what every kid wants!) So I went to HopsDirect and ordered in six pounds of hops for about $70. Got a representative selection, covering all my bases:
  • Cascade - the classic NW hop. Piney and citrusy. High cohumulone levels.
  • Centennial - more alpha acid (AA) than Cascade, similar flavor, lower cohumulone.
  • Willamette - I really like Willamettes. They've got a pleasant British hop character, reasonable AA level, and as a very heavily planted hop, they're cheap!
  • Sterling - Back before I brewed lagers I never really had much use for Sterling. But now I love this hop. It's like Super Saaz. Same noble, perfumy, floral thing going on, but with twice the AA levels so you don't need loads of it.
  • German Hallertau Hersbrueker - Wanted to get another noble variety in to do a little side by side comparison later on.
  • Apollo - Rare new variety released just a couple years ago. One of the latest "Super Alpha" varieties. These clocked in at 19% AA! I was a bit skeptical. The last time I used a Super Alpha variety it was Summit, and I'm never using those again. Whew, the onion and garlic of hops. But looking further Apollo has low cohumulone levels, around 26%, and basically three-way split in its hop oils. This means it should have a clean bitterness, with flavor and aroma qualities across the Noble/American spectrum. Very interesting. Clearly worth a try.
Whipped out my vacuum sealer, repackaged into smaller bags. Hops Direct is usually somewhat generous on their measurement, and now I've got a freezer full of hops for the year.

I was really curious about the Apollos. Would they be useful as a flavor and aroma hop, or are they only good for cheap, effective bittering? SMaSH time!

The idea would be to pull enough wort for a 6.5 gallon batch, but split it into two different batches of 3.25 gallons. One would be the fancy new Apollos, the other would be Cascade, as a classic 'control' group. Normal American Pale Ale, somewhere around 5% ABV and 40 IBUs, with a flavor addition at 10 minutes and flameout, and a dryhopping. Then I'd keg them in my two 3-gallon kegs, carbonate and compare.

SMaSH Pale Ale - Gambrinus ESB and Cascade/Apollo

Calculated at 6.5 gallons, All Grain
About 5 SRM, O.G. 1.052
  • 12 lbs Gambrinus ESB malt
Mashed in at 154 with 6 gm gypsum, 3 gm CaCl2, and 5 gm Epsom salts. Mashed out at 168 and collected 8.5 gallons of wort.

Divided the wort into two 4.25 gallon batches and added 1/2 gallon more water to each for a starting boil volume of 4.75 gallons each. Kettle geometry means an hour boil will be very vigorous for a 3.25 gallon batch, estimated (quite accurately) a 1.5 gallon boil-off.

Each got a 60 minute boil. Hop Profiles:

  • 1/4 oz Apollo (leaf) @ 19% AA @ 60 minutes
  • 3/8 oz Apollo @ 10
  • 3/8 oz Apollo @ 0
  • 3/8 oz Apollo @ Dryhop (3 days)
  • 1 oz Cascade (leaf) @ 7.3% AA @ 60
  • 3/8 oz Cascade @ 10
  • 3/8 oz Cascade @ 0
  • 3/8 oz Cascade @ Dryhop (3 days)
Fermented both with Safale 05 American Ale yeast, at around 66-68. Kegged and carbonated to 2.5 volumes.


Both beers are young but I can draw a few conclusions.

Appearance. Both (surprise, surprise) have the same pale straw color verging on gold. Both have a slight haze from the dryhopping. Holds a decent enough head, but not fantastic. Maybe a little CaraHell next time I brew it as a non-SMaSH beer.

Aroma. Noticeable hop aroma. The Cascade is distinctly piney, while the Apollo is much more complex. Pleasantly hoppy, slight floral.

Taste. The Cascade, again, has a distinct piney edge to it. A little bit grassy too. The Apollo seems much cleaner, more just generally 'hoppy' and less assertively bitter. They're both quite drinkable, but a little light crystal malt would help balance the hops better. But that would miss the point of a SMaSH beer. Slight biscuityness from the ESB malt.

Conclusion. We'll have to give them another week or two cold to rest, but to my tastes the Apollos are a real winner. I also think though, that I am really turning against high cohumulone beers, so if that's your thing you might like the Cascades more. I'm going to bring both to my homebrew club meeting tonight and see what the jury thinks. I do like that I could brew twice as much of the Apollo version using the same amount of hops as the Cascade version. Go 19% AA!


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