Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to make a ridiculous Imperial IPA... Part 1 the pitfalls

Ok, here it is, the series you have all been waiting for.  The big one.   How to make a ridiculous double India Pale Ale.   This is the first in a 3 part series on this topic.  Part 1; the pitfalls, Part 2 Hop Oils and how to use them, Part 3 The Counterbrew dIPA recipe "Hoptonite".  I wont bore you with too much information and history about dIPAs.   But give me just a little leeway.   Until 1974 American beer was bland.  Bland, bad, yellow, fizzy lager. And not even great lager.  Then Fritz Maytag of Anchor brewing said, enough.  He came out with an English style pale ale hopped with Cascade hops, called Liberty Ale.   Liberty Ale was off the charts hoppy, clocking in at a reported 31 - 35 IBUs.  In a world where most beers were 12 to 16 IBUs, this was a game changer.  Fritz was soon followed by Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada and his gift to the world, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Vinnie Cilurzo the father of dIPA
and probably still the best brewer of the style!
But the world really changed in 1994 when a young brewer at a winery named Vinny Cilurzo came out with a high alcohol, high IBU beer called... Pliny the Elder right?  Wrong.... Blind Pig actually came first and is widely considered the first double IPA.   He took his IPA,  doubled the hops, increased the malt bill by 30%, and kept dry hopping  for a year while storing on oak chips.   And the revolution that was preserved by Anchor, Minhas, and Frankenmuth, and fueled by Boulevard, Sierra Nevada, Stone, and others got the turbo charge it needed.  The Double India Pale Ale, or Imperial IPA.

So, double India Pale Ales are a bit of a misnomer.  They are an American invention.  They are incredibly hoppy.   Believe it or not they are easy to make taste decent.  But really hard to make taste incredible.  This is why they are so very popular with home brewers.   Even if you don't absolutely nail it, it will still be pretty damned good.

But today, for this day only,  we here at Counterbrew will break open the secrets of making a great double India Pale Ale.   We will explore the pitfalls, we will explain techniques, and we will give some good guidelines to follow when making a dIPA.  At the end of the series we'll make a great dIPA and post all about it.

First the pitfalls.

many, many aftershool hours were wasted playing this
iconic game. Good Ol Atari, and Activision!
Guys get excited when they are making a dIPA, and really why shouldn't they?  A good dIPA is something we all long for.  The ability to create one gives a brewer great satisfaction, and pride. Sharing it with other brewers gets a brewer respect and a bit of brew geek glory.   But there are potential pitfalls to avoid when making a dIPA.  Today we focus on the pitfalls.

  1. Over complicated grist! -  Remember it is just a beer. You do not need 14 types of grain.  You do not need organic Himalayan spelt, malted by monks in a temple.   Keep your grain bill simple.  We here at Counterbrew (mostly me and John) have examined winning dIPA recipes from all over the internet.   Most winning recipes we have examined have no more than 4 grains.   Almost always those grains include pale ale malt and dexterine malt.  Often they include a crystal grain 20 to 40.  It is the attention you pay to the mash, and your skill as a brewer that will determine your mash quality, not some freaky ingredient.  
  2. Over complicated hop bill -  dIPAs tend too get muddled when you use to many hops, or you combine your hops carelessly, or you do not have a good schedule for adding your hops.   Muddled is a term that means... the hop flavor is there, but it is not definable, it's all mixed together.  The individual flavors offered by the hops can not be identified.  They have just kind of mixed together into a big conglomeration of hoppy goodness.   Still delicious.   But not at all what you want from a world class dIPA. That muddled taste can be what you want sometimes, especially in a pale ale, but not in a ridiculous dIPA.  
    1. A good rule of thumb is 1 flavor or aroma hop at a time, separated by 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Over pitching yeast - yes over pitching yeast.   There has been so much focus in recent years on proper pitch rate.  Some of you missed the point.  Proper pitch rate, not ridiculous over pitch.  I recently fielded a question from a guy who put a 1 gallon starter in a 5 gallon batch of 1.050 beer.   He wondered why it didn't attenuate... duh!  Because it didn't need to attenuate.   The colony was already at its desired healthy population level.  Yeast only "eats" sugar to have energy to reproduce and colonize.  The population was already at its maximum density.    Remember yeast only "wants" to survive.  When the colony is healthy and full it is genetically coded to move into a "maintenance" cycle.    (Not exactly how it works, but a useful way to view things)
    1. Use a trusted calculator and stick with what it says.  I like homebrewdad/brewunited yeast and starter calculator.   I also like the pitch rate calculator on Brewtoad.  It never lets me down.   
  4. Underpitching yeast -   I feel like this has been covered very thoroughly on this blog.   But underpitching can create off flavors and keep the beer from attenuating completely.  dIPAs are supposed to be crisp.  The sweet flavor, if there is any, comes from the hop oils and sugars in the hops (yes there are sugars in hops).  A dIPA that is too sweet is cloying and gross. 
  5. No temperature control -  Once again if you spend $2000 to $5000 on a wort production machine and you can not control the temperature of your fermentation, you missed the point!  Many of you fancy boys would find our equipment ghetto.  Many of you new and intermediate brewers would be blown away by our toys.  But any of you who can't control fermentation temperatures would be jealous.  John has a Cold Chamber, and a Hot chamber (for sours and saisons), I have an ale chamber and 2 individually controlled lager chambers.  You see?  we didn't miss the point!  You must be able to ferment at the correct temperatures for your yeast.  Period!   There is really nothing more to say on this topic.  
    1. If you do not have temperature controlled fermentation, I strongly suggest you use a yeast that is very forgiving, US05.  WLP001  WY1056.  
    2. If you can't control fermentation temperatures, this should be a high priority, right after full volume boil, and before switching to all grain.  
    3. By the way, don't even talk to me about specialty liquid yeasts (other than those I've mentioned above, if you can not control fermentation temperatures)
  6. Chilling too slowly - As you all know I sometimes make batches of "no chill" beer.   But you may have noticed, I never do this with hoppy beers.  No chill works fine with a house cream ale.  It doesn't work with hop monsters.   You must chill your beer quickly.  If you do not have an immersion chiller it may not be time to try this recipe yet.  (Or message me and I will scale it down to 2 gallons that you can chill in your kitchen sink with ice)
    1. With a dIPA it is critical to get the entire batch to under hop isomerization temperature quickly.  We believe an immersion chiller is the best option for this.  We believe Jaded makes the best chillers.   It is the only method by which you can quickly bring the entire volume of wort down at once.  
      1.  Why is this so critical?  Hop Oils continue to isomerize above 140 F.
      2. What the heck is isomerize?  Isomerization is the process by which a molecule rearranges its atoms due to an outside force like temperature.   Still the same number of atoms but they are in a different arrangement.   It literally changes into a different molecule.   With hops exposure to high temperatures for long periods of time causes the oils in the hops to change.That is literally how we use hops in beer. The longer the exposure the more the change.
        1. Change from the bright herby, spicy, citrusy, etc... to just plain ol bitter.  
        2. You want some bitter in a dIPA but you also want clearly defined hop flavors.    
    2. If you can recirculate you could use a counter flow chiller, or a plate chiller to bring the temperature down as quickly as possible while recirculating. 
  7. Lack of attention to detail during brewing -   This is the number one thing brewers do wrong.  It isn't water chemistry, it isn't pitch rate, it isn't lack of temperature control.  It's not paying attention when brewing.  Believe me I understand, family, friends, other chores, a great game on television, a Doctor Who marathon, and Verdi's Othello (I love opera) have all distracted me on brew day!  But when you are brewing a dIPA there is no room for distraction. (Really when brewing anything there is no room for distraction).  Keep a brew day log.  Put every step of your brewing on the log.  Follow it.   Basic brewing has a great log book. 
Those are the common pitfalls when brewing a dIPA, and really almost all beers.  Some beers are more forgiving, some are less forgiving.  But in general these are the pitfalls of brewing a great dIPA, and good practices to follow with any brewing session.  So as you plan your recipe, don't just plan the ingredients take the time to plan out everything.   It will dramatically improve your brew day. 

In our next installment we will be looking at hop oils... what are they, and what flavors do they create?  How can you use them best... notice I did not say maximize them... Use them best...


  1. Great idea on this series. I can't wait for the next post on hop oils- there is a lot to learn about in this area. I think that there is such a big difference between a regular IPA and an impressive one.

  2. So are you saying a hop stand is not good for a dipa? (At least above 140)

    1. Dustin, that is exactly what I am saying, kind of... What I am saying is that recent research by actual brewing scientists (wish we knew there was such a cool job when we were in college) indicates that there is no difference that the human tongue can distinguish between a whirlpool hop stand and a flame out addition. Especially in home brew. Well dive deep into hop oils, hops, and techniques in the next post. It has changed how we brew, and especially how we dry hop.

  3. This is great information. I had no idea about the Isomerization temperatures of hop oils. This is something i will be working into my brewing moving forward.