Fresh Hop Red Lager Recipe & Brewday - Brain Sparging on Brewing


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May 13, 2022

Fresh Hop Red Lager Recipe & Brewday

After years of unsuccessful hop growing in Texas my hop plants are settling in to Colorado and starting to produce large crops. So far the cascade, chinook and mount hood hops are in full swing with my sterling just starting to produce. I expect within the next two years the cascade, chinook and mount hood will be at full production with the sterling hopefully getting there a year or so behind. Like last year I've taken the opportunity of having hops growing in my backyard to brew a fresh hop beer. Also like last year, I've opted to brew a fresh hop lager instead of a more typical pale ale or IPA which would flex more hop aroma and flavor. Opting for a lager allows for a more delicate beer that can showcase a slightly less aggressive hop profile from having a limited volume of fresh hops. When you consider that fresh hopping requires four to six times the weight of hops over dried hops this is a beer that requires a lot of my meager home hop harvest to produce a single three gallon keg of beer. 

This is my 2021 fresh hop harvest beer if you're curious about the timing. I felt a little weird posting a fresh hop beer post in the spring too far removed from fresh hop season in the fall and too early to start planning a fresh hop beer for the next year. 

Thinking about this year's fresh hop lager recipe

I've continued the trend of making a fresh hop lager but making a change in line with the hops I've selected for this beer. Last year's fresh hop lager employed a mix of my three productive hop plants because I needed the mount hood added in to have close to enough volume. This year I've opted to use just the cascade and chinook hops so I can dry the mount hood and small sterling harvests for later use. Cascade and chinook together is a classic C hop combination found across the 1990s and 2000s in craft beer. Keeping in line with that decision I thought about the other characteristics of beers that paired well with the grapefruit, pine and orange flavors in this hop combination.

A classic cascade and/or chinook forward craft beer usually comes in the form of a hoppy ale like an American pale ale such as craft beer stalwart Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, IPA, or strong ale like Stone's former flagship Arrogant Bastard. These beers typically used crystal malts in line with the pre-2010 view that all craft beer needs crystal malts. Brewing mythology aside, those sweet caramel flavors actually pair quite well with the flavors of these hops. A case can even be made that these sharper citrusy flavors and piney flavors fit better with a little sweetness. You can certainly find older breweries pumping out overly sweet classic pale ales and IPAs with too much crystal malt draped over cascade hops but it's harder to argue SNPA or Arrogant Bastard were sticky sweet. Personally I think those beers would be considerably less pleasant without those flavors. A SMASH style pale ale with 100% pale malt and cascade hops would be a very different beer from Sierra Nevada pale ale. So with an all cascade and chinook lager I can't avoid some addition of crystal malt for that caramel sweetness.

Remembering the red IPA and how we got here

With that in mind I needed to fit a lager style with crystal malt which leaves a small set of options. On one hand I could have taken a caramalt-driven German lager such as vienna lager, dunkel, or the heavily Americanized oktoberfest style and blasted it with hops. That could have worked but would not have added anything to the style and none quite fit what I wanted. Instead I dredged up a rare lager style born out of the very early 2010s which is a great fit and that's a red lager. Red lagers were the last salvo of the year or so of red beers which were naturally launched and driven by the red IPA. Red IPAs and their slightly earlier companions hoppy red ales were an attempt to modernize amber ales that represented the earliest American craft beer style. Amber ales have been almost completely eradicated from the market but even in 2010 they were a dying breed. Red IPAs and the styles that flowed from that trend tried to revive the amber ale concept by leaning out the heavy-handed crystal malt additions in favor of less crystal malt and more complimentary biscuit, apple and stone fruit flavors created by mixing less crystal malt with small amounts of dark malts and lighter non-crystal specialty malts. These beers adopted the classic Irish red ale technique of taking a fairly light beer and making it red with a pinch of an extremely dark malt like black patent. Even amber IPAs popular in the 2000s with dank Columbus type hopping were cast aside for these leaner IPAs. Red IPA and their progeny like the Imperial Red Ale were mostly cast aside after a brief run as the trendiest new beer style along with black IPA, white IPA, imperial-everything and Belgian yeast-everything around the late 2000s and early 2010s. 

The lessons learned from the red IPA era are a perfect fit for what I want to do with this beer. While opting to brew a lager instead of a hoppy ale style I can take the red ale techniques of mixing small amounts of crystal malts with a dark grain to produce a beer that has sweet flavors but a lean body. In this sense it is closer to a vienna lager or dunkel but perhaps drier like some Mexican renditions of these styles. This will allow for keeping the classic American crystal malt flavors with the hops but I can make a dry, quaffable lager that enhances but does not compete with the cascade and chinook hops for attention. 

Getting into the details of this fresh hop red lager

With the idea in mind it was time to piece together the recipe. As usual I my goal is to create a lighter ABV and drier beer with a complex but balanced flavor. The red ale concept builds most of the recipe out but I needed to put that together with lagerizing the red ale style. For this recipe I built it along a fairly typical 2010-ish hoppy red ale but blended the pale malt with pilsner malt to further lighten and dry out the beer. Often these hoppy red ale recipes use pale malt, munich malt and a couple crystal malts which is a little too much sweet flavor on sweet flavor. Dialing the knob back on color choices lets pilsner malt slide into the role of pale malt and pale malt slide into the role of munich malt making a drier beer but keeping a little maltiness behind it. 

Helping dry down this lager I opted for a Mexican lager yeast which is a new yeast choice for me. I was pretty happy with the earlier oak smoked lager using the Andechs strain but I am interested in the good results I hear with Mexican strains to produce crisp lagers. Further drying out this beer will help add crispness which should allow the hops to stand out better and perhaps lean this beer towards perhaps a fresh hopped red IPL. Or maybe we need to call that a fresh hopped red cold IPA if we've swapped out IPL for cold IPA as further IPA-ing every beer. 

As far as hopping I've elected to go straight 50:50 with the two hop varieties. Chinook is a more aggressive hop than cascade but the piney chinook hop flavor is a better fit with the historical legacy of hoppy amber ales and dank IPAs that blossomed into red IPAs. So if this beer ends up more chinook forward that would certainly be an acceptable outcome for this beer. I'm a little more of a chinook fan than cascade anyway so I'm always down for a chinook-forward beer. 

Fresh Hop Red Lager Recipe

Batch Size: 3.1 gallons       
Est. ABV: 5.0%       
Est. IBU 28       
Est. OG: 1.046       
Est. FG: 1.009       
Est. SRM: 15.7       
Expected Efficiency: 72%       
Grain BillPounds Ounces SRM Pct. Grist
Pilsner malt2 0 2 36.30%
Pale malt3 0 2 54.40%
Crystal 20  4 20 4.50%
Crystal 120  2 120 2.40%
Black patent malt  2 500 2.40%
Water Profileppm      
Bru'n Water Amber Dry       
PH: 5.45       
Water Additions    Mash Sparge
Gypsum    0.7g 0.9g
Epsom Salt    1.2g 1.5g
Canning Salt    0.3g 0.4g
Baking Soda       
Calcium Chloride    0.4g 0.4g
Pickling Lime       
Lactic Acid       
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.   Step Time  
Single Infusion Batch Sparge       
Mash volume: 8.27 qt       
Sparge volume: 2.61 gal       
Infuse 8.27 qt at 160.5F148   75  
Sparge 2.61 gal at 180F180      
Boil ScheduleVolume Unit Time IBU
60 minute boil       
Cascade [5.5%]0.75 oz 60 28
Fresh hop cascade11.25 oz Whirlpool  
Fresh hop chinnook6.75 oz Whirlpool  
Fermentation Schedule# Days Temp.    
Yeast: Omega Mexical Lager       
Starter: NA       
Pitch at 53F21 53    
Lager 32F30 32    
Carbonate to 2.3 vol      

Fresh Hop Red Lager Brewday and Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 8.29.21.

Preboil gravity: 1.044
Preboil volume: 4 gallons
Mash efficiency: 88%

Postboil gravity: 1.046
Postboil volume: 3.1 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%

Added approximately six ounces of fresh hops per gallon of wort which was my entire chinook harvest and about two-thirds of my cascade harvest.

Kegged on 12.21.21. The small sample I tasted was slightly vegetal with pine, melon, grass, lychee. 

Fresh hop red lager tasting notes

Fresh hop red lager

Appearance: The lager pours a red, nearly brown color with a dense off white head. It's slightly darker than many red beers, going more brown until held up in the light where it becomes a rich red color. A generous amount of lacing sticks all the way down the glass. 

Aroma: Cascade grapefruit pours out of the glass but more grassy than typical cascade. Lychee, blackberry, black pepper, rose, tangerine and a hint of pine. Definitely smells more cascade than chinook.

Flavor: The flavor is less citrus forward. Soft grassy and floral notes mix up front with lychee and fresh bread with a well caramelized crust. As the beer opens up the grapefruit appears with pine, orange, saltine cracker. As the beer continues to warm it develops more of a graham cracker flavor. The aftertaste mixes the floral, grassy and grapefruit notes more like the aroma. The flavors are crisp and distinct. Not impressionably bitter but not sweet. Crisp.

Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is crisp as expected with a Mexican lager yeast. The beer is dry but not thin. A touch of roundness up front with a touch of tannin at the end. 

Overall: Overall I am really happy with how this beer turned out. It is exactly what I planned for minus being a touch too brownish in color which is the least of my concerns. The fresh hops work really well with the grain bill and lager yeast to form a beer that is complex but I don't feel bad pouring a pint and drinking through without the need to ponder over and savor every drop. It feels like it should be a bigger beer than five percent because the flavors are bold but it goes down easy. At times it feels like a pale ale but not, a Mexican lager but not, and an amber lager but not. It's a bit of its own thing and I really like that. I have some other fresh hop beers in mind but this might evolve into the annual fresh hop beer for me. 

The nice thing about this beer is I drank through most of the keg in the cooler months but it didn't feel out of place. Some of the grain flavors are a little winter beer reminiscent especially like Boulevard Nutcracker or Sierra Nevada Celebration which are both hop forward winter warmers. This might not be my favorite beer for a blistering hot July day but I wouldn't turn this away on a cooling July evening in Denver.

I am posting this in May and still polishing off the end of this keg which is holding up surprisingly well. It is slightly less impressive almost six months later but still a lot of bright flavors. I always thought of fresh hop beers as more delicate than the typical hoppy beer but it doesn't seem to be much different from other beers this old. 

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