March 20, 2016

Donner Pass Vermont-Style Pale Ale ...sorta

If you didn't drink craft beer then your first thought when you hear "Sierra Nevada" might be the morbid tale of alleged cannibalism as the nineteenth century Donner party found themselves trapped on the Sierra Nevada mountains in the dead of winter after taking a dangerously meandering route across the west to California. An important pass through the mountains--one the Donner party found blocked by snow--came to be named Donner Pass after the party. This particular pale ale recipe is also a dangerously meandering path to Sierra Nevada. It's something of a frankenbrew that started life as a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone that took on a life of its own and became something that more closely resembles a Vermont-style pale ale. It's not quite a Vermont-style pale ale but definitely not SNPA either.

Initially this recipe was supposed to be SNPA plus one gentle manipulation but went way off track. I've wanted to experiment more with hoppy beers as I have very little experience in this realm of brewing and figured this would be a good place to get my feet wet. Then I thought maybe I would try converting SNPA into one of these milkshake/tubid AF pale ales coming out of the northeast with the softer mouthfeel and overloaded fruity hop flavor; basically making SNPA into the exact opposite of itself. But then I decided I didn't want to buy more hops and looked at what I have on hand that I need to use up. I picked a very unusual hop--Celeia--plus the Cascade in SNPA and a little Belma to create a kinda fruity hop flavor that certainly isn't SNPA anymore but doesn't sound like any of the NE IPA or pale ales I've seen. That style also relies on using a softer ale strain than the Chico strain but again I didn't feel like buying ingredients I didn't have on hand so I'm going to ferment this beer with 34/70 but at warm temperatures.

So where does that leave this recipe?

A strange beer for sure. Could be good, could be terrible, could be just unmemorable. I've adjusted the grain bill towards a Vermont pale and less SNPA with some oats and cutting down the specialty grain and adjusted the water profile to go heavy on chloride as is usually used for this style. The hops will have a mix of grapefruit and lime from Cascade and Celeia respectively with that soft melon and strawberry from Belma underneath and just a touch of the grassy and floral notes from Celeia that will make the hop presence a little complex than fruit juice on more fruit juice. Honestly I'm not sure what happens with the yeast. Lager strains fermented warm can throw esters that should play well with the fruity hop flavor. I think lagers have a softer mouthfeel which is a huge target for this style. So it could be a very suitable alternative to using the typical Conan or London Ale III strain. However, it could be totally off the mark and produce a beer as though a cleaner ale strain had been used. One way to find out I suppose...

Donner Pass Vermont-Style Pale Ale -ish Recipe

Batch Size: 2.5
Est. ABV: 5.3%
Est. IBU: 35
Est. OG: 1.050
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 3.4
Grain BillPounds
Pct. Grist
Pale Malt40284.10%
Flaked Oats415.30%
Unmalted wheat425.30%
Munich Malt495.30%

Water Profile
Custom NEPA profile
PH: 5.4

Water Additions

Epsom Salt1g1.9g
Canning Salt0.2g0.4g
Baking Soda0.2g
Calcium Chloride1.4g2.6g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.9ml

Mash Schedule
Step Temp.

Step Time
Single Infusion at 154F
Mash volume: 6.17qt (1.485 gal)
Sparge volume: 2.86 gal
Infuse 6.17 qt at 169F154F75 min
Sparge 2.86 gal at 180F
First Wort Hop 0.10 oz Belma [12.10%]8.4 IBU

Boil Schedule
60 minute boil
Belma [12.10%]0.35oz60 min.26.6
Celeia [4.5%]1.2ozFlameout0
Cascade [5.5%]1.5ozFlameout0

Fermentation Schedule
# Days
Yeast: W 34/70
Pitch half dry packet
Dry hop 1 oz Belma, 1.5 oz Cascade and3Ambient
1 oz Celeia hops
Bottle to 2.1 volumes with 1.4 oz table sugar
Bottle condition14Ambient

Brew day & fermentation notes

Brewed 3.19.16

Cut a gallon short on sparging. Realized as I was sparging that I set beersmith to the wrong equipment profile.

Preboil volume: 3 gallons
Preboil gravity: 1.043
Mash efficiency: 75%
Postboil volume: 2.25
Postboil gravity: 1.048
Total efficiency: 62%

Rough efficiency but not because the brew went poorly just lost a good amount of liquid to the hops.

Gravity check 3.24.16: 1.011 -- Suspect gravity is pretty much at its final destination. Will wait two days to add dry hops. Hop flavor more gentle than expected but definitely present with bright citrus fruit and some floralness. Soft mouthfeel, definitely tastes like a lager. Slight sulfur presence that I expect to dissipate soon. So far pretty happy with this.