Monthly Archives: March 2015

Simcoe/Pilsner SMASH IPA

Northern Brewer keeps having 20% off sales, so what are we supposed to do?  Clearly we’re supposed to buy expensive items like sacks of imported malt and 8lbs of PBW.  When you buy it in bulk, it’s already cheap.  When you buy it 20% off, it’s stupid cheap.

So after we bought a sack of Best Pilsen malt, we needed something brew.  We also have a lot of Simcoe hops lying around.  Why not a SMASH?  Doing a Single-Malt-And-Single-Hop beer lets you taste each ingredient by itself and experiment with hop schedules to determine the best amounts for bittering, flavor, and aroma.

The Recipe

Name: Simcoe/Pilsner SMASH IPA
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.065 (75% efficiency)
Expected FG: 1.016
Expected IBU: 85 (60 boil, 25 whirlpool)
Mash: 90m @ 152°F

 12.5 lbs Best Maltz Pilsner malt

  0.7 g canning salt (mash addition)
  1.8 g pickling lime (mash addition)

  1.0 oz Simcoe 12.7%AA @ 60m
  1.0 oz Simcoe 12.7%AA @ 10m
         Whirlfloc & yeast nutrient @ 10m
  2.0 oz Simcoe 12.7%AA @ 0m
         Whirlpool 20m @ 180°F
  1.0 oz Simcoe 127.7%AA dry-hop 5 days
1 pack Safale S-05 dry yeast

Simple, right?  Just one malt to measure out and one kind of hop to find in the freezer.  Buying them in bulk saves money too.

Obviously, the only brew-day variables you can change are mash temperature and hop schedule.  Since there’s only one kind of malt, you can experiment with hop additions to figure out how much bitterness, flavor, and aroma you get at different times without malts getting in the way.  For example, how much harsher bitterness do you get when you add 75% of the IBUs in the first addition?  How much flavor do you get from a whirlpool addition for 10 minutes versus 20 minutes?  That kind of thing.


On the subject of bitterness, there’s a concept in brewing called the Bitterness Unit (BU) to Gravity Unit (GU) ratio, which expresses the bitterness and maltiness of common styles of beer.  Hoppier beers are typically 1.0 or higher while malt-forward beers are less than 1.0.  For example, an aggressive American IPA with an IBU of 75 and an original gravity of 1.065 has a BU:GU ratio of 75:65, or 1.2.  A typical Oktoberfest with an IBU of 25 and an OG of 1.055 has a BU:GU ratio of 25:55, or 0.45.  Thus the BU:GU ratio is one number that gives you an idea of how hop-forward or malt-forward a specific beer is.

But not all IBUs are created equal, especially when whirlpooling gets involved.  An app or an IBU calculator always gives you an estimated IBU, but you still need to play around with the recipe to get the right balance of punch vs. flavor.  For example, this SMASH recipe has an estimated IBU of 85 (from the Brewer’s Friend app) but it has nowhere near the punch of a Stone Delicious IPA with 80 IBUs.  We’ve found that the IBUs that are attributed to the whirlpool seem to be less “bitter”.


Different hop compounds isomerize (that is, rearrange their chemical structure to become soluble in water) at different temperatures. The acids which create bitterness must be boiled to isomerize, but boiling drives off more volatile compounds that typically contribute flavor and aroma, which isomerize at lower temperatures.  A temperature-controlled whirlpool strikes the right balance between boil, time, and possible infection, extracting as much flavor and aroma from the hops as you need.  Experimenting with multiple temperature steps and hop additions can achieve some unique flavors you won’t find elsewhere.

Since we’re trying to keep this IPA simple we chose a single whirlpool temperature of 180°F and a single whirlpool hop addition.

The Brew

Prior to the mash, we’re experimenting with higher strike temperatures than normal since our mash tun looses a significant amount of heat when transferring strike water despite Reflectix insulation.  The Brewer’s Friend app we use usually estimates our strike water temperature around 165°F, but we’ve found this causes too low of a mash-in temperature.  This time we heated our strike water to 180°F which dropped to 168°F in the mash tun.  After adding the grain the mash temperature dropped to 156°F which was still too high.  So we over-compensated with a cold water addition and ended up at 150°F, slightly lower than we hoped for.  Next time we’ll lower our strike water temperature slightly, and manage any cold water additions better so that we hit our mash temperatures dead-on.

Since the grain bill contained no roasted or crystal grains, our mash pH started too high at pH 5.6.  We adjusted with lactic acid to drop into the optimal range of 5.2 to 5.4 relative to mash temperature.

The sparging process yielded 8 gallons at 11° Plato (1.044), so we boiled off about 1 gallon to end up on target with 7 gallons at 12.5° Plato (1.051).  Then we started the boil clock and added our bittering hop addition.  Our boil ended an hour later almost on target at 15.5° Plato (1.063), whereupon we added our 0m/whirlpool hop addition recirculated through our counterflow chiller until the temperature dropped to 180°F.  After setting the boil kettle PID’s temperature to 180°F we let the whirlpool circulate for 20 minutes.

The Fermentation

Fermentation was uneventful.  Unlike many of our experiences with Wyeast 1469 (East Yorkshire) the Safale S-05 yeast we used for this brew did not blow out the airlock.  After two weeks in primary, we kegged almost 5 gallons of 1.014 beer for an ABV of 6.4%.  The hydrometer samples exhibited floral flavors but not much bitterness, and almost none of the pine tree and cat pee notes that are characteristic of Simcoe hops.  We hope dry-hopping will bring more of that out.

For dry-hopping we use a stainless canister designed for kegs (like this one) to contain the pellet hops, which is quite easy to remove once the desired level of dry-hopping is achieved.  Multiple dry-hop additions are also easy without fear of contamination.  This gets dropped into the serving keg before racking the beer from primary.

Will it taste like an over-hopped Czech Pilsner?  We’ll find out soon enough…

Beer in the Czech Republic 2015

This year on our annual trip to Brno in the Czech Republic, we were impressed by the rising beer scene for two reasons.  First, we noticed more new micro-breweries on tap in pubs, and second a lot of the micro brews aren’t Czech pilsners.

For example, Pivovar Lucky Bastard was mere blocks from our hotel, and while we couldn’t get away from meetings to visit the brewery during its small, small bottle sales window (11 – 4 on Tuesday), we did sample their Dubbel at Ochutnávková pivnice.  We also had a stout from Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf, an American IPA from Pivovar Nomád, a DIPA from Pivovar Slavkovsky, and an English IPA from Beskydsky Pivovárek.  And as always, classic Czech Pilsner of all varieties.

Next year we hope to see even more variety, and even more pubs serving even more kinds of beer.  It can only get better, right?