Sunday, February 28, 2016

Strong's Classic Blonde Ale Recipe

Some time ago, I received the book Modern Homebrew Recipes by Gordon Strong as a gift.  As I browsed through it, I found Strong's recipe for a Classic Blonde Ale.  Strong says this is one of his go-to summer beers and that he doesn't like to make it overly aggressive or strong.  His recipe meets the BJCP guidelines for the style and sounded good.  I decided to make it.

A local homebrew shop provided all the necessary ingredients, but did substitute one as noted below.

Strong's Classic Blonde Ale Recipe

3.5 pounds of 2-row Brewer's Malt (US)
2 pounds, 10 ounces of German Pilsen Malt
2 pounds of Munich Malt I
8 ounces of CaraRed Malt (which was substituted for Carahell in Strong's recipe)
1 ounce Centennial hops pellets (instead of an ounce of whole hops in Strong's recipe)
0.15 ounces of Citra pellets (instead of whole Citra hops in Strong's recipe)
0.35 ounces of Citra pellets (instead of whole Citra hops in Strong's recipe)
1 Whirlfloc tablet
1 Tbsp. PH 5.2 Stabilizer water treatment
0.5 tsp. Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
1 package of Wyeast London Ale III yeast (approx. 3 months old at time of purchase)

This recipe was brewed using iMake's The Grainfather RIMS system.

Per The Grainfather manual, I put 4 gallons of water into The Grainfather along with the PH Stabilizer and had it heat the water to 151F.

All the grains were added, along with 0.15 ounces of Citra pellets, and the wort was recirculated through the grain/hops bed for 90 minutes.

After the 90-minute mash time, the temperature was set to 167F.  The mash spent 10 minutes at this temperature before the grain basket was removed.  The grain was sparged with 3 gallons of water at 167F.

For this recipe, I used a 90-minute boil with the following schedule:

  • 15 minutes left in the boil:  Added 1 Whirlfloc tablet
  • 10 minutes left in the boil:  Recirculated wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it, and added Wyeast yeast nutrient
  • 5 minutes left in the boil:  Added 0.35 ounces of Citra pellets
  • 0 minutes left in the boil:  Turned off the heat and added 1 ounce of Centennial pellets, while also beginning to flow the wort through the counter flow chiller into the fermenter
Wort entered the fermenter at approximately 64F, which was ideal for the yeast.  The yeast was pitched when the packet showed swelling and an airlock was then installed.

Using BeerSmith, the pre-boil gravity for this beer was estimated to be 1.042.  I managed to achieve 1.045.  The final gravity is estimated at 1.048, which I achieved at the end of the 90-minute boil.

Approximately 4.5 gallons of wort made it to the fermenter. The rest stayed in The Grainfather kettle along with the trub.  The fermenter was sanitized using Star San and topped with a standard canister style airlock filled with Star San.

About 24 hours after pitching, the airlock on the fermenter bubbled every 20 seconds or so.  At the 48-hour mark it was bubbling approximately every second.  It sounded a lot like a coffee maker if you stood close enough.  At 36-48 hours, the bubbles were down to every 3-5 seconds.  A week later the bubbles slowed to about every 30-45 seconds.  I take it that the London Ale III yeast is a little bit of a slow starter but gets going pretty quickly.  I am fortunate in that the heat generated by the fermenting yeast and the lower ambient temperature of my basement kept the beer in the 64-66F range (at least when I've checked on it).  I haven't had to resort to heating or chilling yet.

Per the original recipe, this beer will ferment at approximately 65F for two weeks or until its final gravity of 1.012 is achieved.  It will then be bottled and conditioned for two weeks or more before serving.

The recipe is expected to finish at 12.1 IBUs, 5.6 SRM color, and 4.8% alcohol by volume.

Final yield was a 64-ounce growler, 10 12-ounce bottles from a gallon that was separated and dry-hopped, and 20 bottles (mostly 22-ounce size) that were not dry-hopped.  It should be ready to drink around March 10, 2016.  I'll add more notes at that time.

Post-Mortem and Other Notes

This brew actually went off without a hitch.  Finding Carahell malt and whole hops in the varieties called for in Strong's original recipe proved difficult locally.  If I did this beer again, I'd probably order the Carahell grain online along with the whole hops, and try to source the rest locally to support the local home brew shops.

For this brew, The Grainfather performed as designed and generated a wort that was at or above the required gravity for the recipe.  I wouldn't change anything about how that part of the process went. Cleanup went relatively quickly as well.

Early taste tests based on a force-carbonated sample were underwhelming.  Don't get me wrong, it was very drinkable.  I finished a growler full in a single session.  It's just that I think I expected more from it.  It was well balanced between the malt and hops, but wasn't substantially better to me than some off-the-shelf macro brews.  Perhaps I didn't get something right in the recipe, or perhaps the Carahell malt makes a huge difference.  I don't know.

As an experiment, I took one gallon of the beer out of secondary and dry hopped it with Emerald (Smaragd) hops for three days. This yielded 10 bottles of 12-ounce size.

I'll be back to update this when the beer is finished.

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