Fresh Hop Black IPA Recipe & Brewday - Brain Sparging on Brewing


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October 3, 2022

Fresh Hop Black IPA Recipe & Brewday

IPA--there's a beer term you don't see a lot on this blog. While most of the craft beer and homebrewing world continues to revolve around IPA, it's just not my thing and I don't feel compelled to brew an IPA when I don't want to. I felt compelled to brew an IPA again so here we are. It's also hop harvest time in Colorado, which also means it's fresh hop beer time. IPAs and pale ales are common platforms for fresh hop beers and this time I've relented to the masses--sort of. Rather than brew the standard west coast IPA I've opted to veer off a little a brew a black IPA. (Incidentally my one and only other IPA was a black IPA almost a decade ago.) 

Let's reminisce briefly about black IPA

Black IPA came, went and now is having a little heyday once again. Black IPA's history is chaotic and controversial. The IPA style emerged out of the pacific northwest in the 2000s as Cascadian Dark Ales (CDAs) before falling victim to the first everything-is-IPA repackaging as black IPA. The style took off in the early 2010s which itself launched the wave of IPA variants including white IPA, red IPA, brown IPA, session IPA, Belgian IPA (although technically already a style), farmhouse IPA and IPL (India Pale Lager now cold IPA I guess). Most of these styles were short lived and by the mid-2010s black IPA fell victim to an equally opaque hoppy beer in the hazy IPA. 

In addition to hazy IPA slowly squeezing out the older IPA styles, breweries killed the style with poor brewing and perpetual disagreement over the style. I'm not an expert in Cascadian Dark Ale history, but from the early versions of the style it seemed to have emerged as a sort of remix of the classic American stout. Before imperial stout did to American stouts what hazy IPA did to American IPAs, American stouts were often 5-7% stouts with a bigger hop presence than English versions and certainly more than modern imperial stouts. A few of these hang around (like Crux's excellent take). While American stouts maintained the usual roast character of a stout, Cascadian Dark Ales put the roast in the backseat behind crystal malt sweetness. Smoother dark malts like carafa III and midnight wheat played more of a role than black barley, black patent malt and chocolate malt. Classic citrus and pine hop flavors were pumped up in an admittedly IPA-like fashion.

By the time the style gained attention and renaming as black IPA the parameters of the style expanded towards virtually any dark, hoppy beer. Disagreement over the meaning of black IPA produced beers that ranged from hoppier American stout, to more of the original CDA parameters, to a typical American IPA with steeped dark malt to make it black. This debate continues on today. So many breweries produced black IPAs during its heyday across the spectrum that nobody seemed to know what it was but they were getting tired of it quickly. The longer breweries pushed the style the more wonky they got. Hop combinations didn't make sense, the beers were produced in summer months where people tend to avoid darker beers and just a lot of throwing it out to put another IPA on tap. By 2016 black IPA was a shadow of itself quickly fading from the market. 

Out of covid quarantine we decided we missed that mysterious IPA style after all. 

Designing my fresh hop black IPA recipe

One of the things I like about black IPA over the traditional west coast IPA is that it requires a certain balance and nuance between the dark malt flavors and the hops. Go too far with any part of the beer and the beer seems disjointed and unpleasant. Black IPA also gets right down to the part of American hoppy beers I like--citrus and pine--while leaving some of the other classic American hop flavors I don't enjoy out of the equation. So the goal here is to balance the best parts of the style against the softer, grassy fresh hop flavors. Too much roast and it's burnt grass. Too sweet and it's going to taste like a brown ale gone wrong. Too bitter and the burnt edge turns acrid. A lot of work here to get this rendition of black IPA right.

One thing that makes the job a little easier is the hops I have to work with. Among the four hop varieties I grow (cascade, chinook, mount hood and sterling), the two C hops are the most prolific and easy targets for my annual fresh hop beer. Unfortunately, my cascades got beat by a late cold snap and the harvest looks to be pretty small. The mount hood are prolific so I'll use a huge amount of mount hood to see if I can get enough flavor out of them to create a dank-ish black IPA.

For the grain bill I've tried to lean more towards the classic CDA character but pulling down the sweetness with a lighter crystal malt. I feel fresh hops add a softer flavor that comes across slightly sweeter than dried hops so I want to give the hops room to add that soft character. Otherwise the recipe is fairly typical to black IPA. I've designed this beer to peak over 6% ABV which is barely in IPA territory, perhaps more of an extra pale ale (XPA) if we're enjoying old craft beer styles. The one weird twist here is I've opted to use London Ale III instead of the typical Chico strain. That decision is one part personal preference for the yeast strain and one part attempt to round out the beer with those subtle bready yeast notes. 

Fresh hop black IPA recipe

Batch Size: 3.2 gal       
Est. ABV: 6.2%       
Est. IBU 62       
Est. OG: 1.060       
Est. FG: 1.009       
Est. SRM: 37.8       
Expected Efficiency: 72%       
Grain BillPounds Ounces SRM Pct. Grist
Pale malt6 0 2 79.90%
Crystal 40  10 40 8.40%
Chocolate wheat malt  8 400 6.70%
Chocolate malt  4 350 3.30%
Black patent malt  2 500 2.10%
Water Profileppm      
Bru'n Water Black Dry       
PH: 5.29       
Water Additions    Mash Sparge
Gypsum    0.4g 0.5g
Epsom Salt    1.5g 1.9g
Canning Salt    0.1g 0.1g
Baking Soda    1.2g  
Calcium Chloride    0.5g 0.6g
Pickling Lime    0.4g  
Lactic Acid       
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.   Step Time  
Single infusion mash       
Mash volume: 10.39qt       
Sparge volume: 3.19 gal       
Infuse 10.39 qt at 164F150   60  
Sparge 3.19 gal at 180F180      
Boil ScheduleVolume Unit Time IBU
60 minute boil       
Cascade [5.5%]2 oz 60 62
Fresh mount hood8.3 oz Whirl  
Fresh chinook22 oz Whirl  
Fermentation Schedule# Days Temp.    
Yeast: WY1318       
Starter: 800ml       
Pitch at 66F14 64    
Keg at 2.3 volumes


Fresh hop black IPA brewday and fermentation notes

Brewed 7.31.22.

I started the day beforehand picking hops. It's a little early but with the dry weather we had this month most of the hops were ready to go. In future years I might have to consider two separate harvests to max out all four plants. I ended up with half a pound dried of cascade, two ounces of my slowly growing sterling and six ounces of dried mount hood. All the chinook harvest went into this black IPA. We had a late snow which beat up the chinooks a bit as well, and I lost a few of the good bines resulting in a small harvest. Nevertheless, the harvest ran about five hours in the sun. Here is just the chinooks (the large metal bowl in the back) and mount hood (all the other bowls). 

Preboil gravity: 1.045
Preboil volume: 5.25 gal
Mash efficiency: 88%

I accidentally added an extra half gallon of water to the mash which resulted in excess wort. A quick adjustment to the boil time will take care of that. 

Post boil gravity: 1.058
Postboil volume: 3.3 gal
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%

These readings are pre-whirlpool when I unloaded the enormous charge of hops. After the hops came out I ended up with approximately 2.75 gallons of wort. 

Thirty ounces of fresh hops ready to go. 

The beer fermented at 66F down to 1.017 at which point I spunded the corny keg-turned-fermentation-vessel. By day six the spunding valve stopped showing an increase in pressure. I let the beer mature at 70F until day ten. Then the beer was cold crashed and transferred to a new keg to sit at serving pressure at serving temperature to make sure it is fully carbonated. 

Fresh Hop Black IPA Tasting Notes

Appearance: Opaque black beer with only a hint of dark chocolate brown around the edges when held up to the light. The foam is a dark tan, almost brown. It's big and frothy with excellent lacing down the glass. 

Aroma: Old pine forest, day old cut grass and herbal Indonesian coffee dominate the smell. In the background there is clove, nutmeg, grapefruit, orange, lychee, dark chocolate, darkly baked bread crust. Subtle hints of marigold, saltine cracker and fruit punch.

Flavor: Cold brew Columbian coffee, pine, grapefruit, tangerine, clove, herbal tea, bitter chocolate. The coffee taste lingers in the aftertaste with more herbal tea, tangerine and black cherry. As the beer warms a slight vegetal note appears in the end like raw herbs, which isn't exactly out of place here. There's a lot going on here but flavors are distinct. It's easy to zero in on different aspects of the flavor and not feel like everything is competing for center attention. The flavor is so smooth that the moderate bitterness almost feels out of place. It keeps the flavors structured and bright and avoids bitterness for bitterness's sake. Overall, this beer might not stand up to the assertiveness of many west coast IPAs but you can't drink this beer and wonder where all those hops went. Chinook is there, but that herbal mount hood character appears from start to finish.

Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is smooth with moderate body. It has a little heft but nobody would mistake it for a stout. The bitterness gives a little pop that avoids the slightly too easy drinking feel of a lot of porters. There is a slight chalkiness which may be a product of getting a little too much yeast into the keg. 

Overall: I'm really happy with the way this turned out. I hate to give my beer over the top praise but this is one of the best hoppy beers I've had in a long time. This beer also hits my kind of hoppy so I'm a biased judge. I'm so surprised that the mount hood delivered such an interesting beer, although used at an obscene volume. That chalky note is really my only complaint here but it's sort of par for the course with London Ale III. I think this beer could have been good with a traditional west coast strain like Chico but I am London Ale III delivers a great flavor experience here. 

In craft beer's zeal to chase the most aggressive and fruit-forward hop I think we've missed an opportunity to explore these older hop varieties like mount hood and how they perform when added with a heavy hand. This beer takes an appreciation for grassy/herbal hop flavor--which I definitely am--but there are really interesting things going on in this beer. 

My goal with my annual fresh hop beer is to brew something different every year but I'm so happy with this, I will have a hard time next year not rebrewing this. Certainly going to have to go in rotation every few years. Who knew I could be this excited for an IPA. 

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