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Caramel Chameleon

Ordinarily, I post recipes as soon as they’re brewed, but with there being so many question marks on this one I felt that I needed to wait at least until I pulled the FG sample to weigh in. My first brew session in Colorado was full of other firsts too:

  • First time using a new base malt. From a recipe design standpoint, this is huge. How much residual maltiness will it leave in the beer? How does its fermentability respond to changes in mash temperature? I reduced the Munich slightly to compensate for the darker kilning, and dropped the mash temp by 1°C. Since I hit my attenuation target exactly, and the gravity sample tastes more less like I was hoping, it seems like I dodged a bullet on both counts. Besides, free malt trumps a lot of concerns.
  • First time using White Labs’ yeast. I know that WL know their shit when it comes to yeast, but my first experience was not pleasant. I started the yeast Friday night, and when I started brewing Sunday morning it had just started to show signs of activity. OK, so bum yeast cultures happen, and I’m sure it was due to mishandling at the point of sale (more on that in a minute). Had it been a Wyeast pack, though, I would have had a visual indication of inactivity far enough in advance to actually do something about it. As it happened, I had to dilute my already larger-than-planned batch with over a liter of nasty starter beer.
  • First time boiling at altitude. There are two separate concerns here: hop utilization and boil-off rate. A simple Arrhenius relation would suggest that the roughly 9°C reduction in the boil temperature would result in hop utilizations slightly more than half of what I’d see in Indiana, but I wasn’t really wild about the idea of doubling up on the hop additions for a first trial. So I made a WAG of about half of that, and set my utilizations to 80% of Glenn Tinseth’s values. Based on the gravity sample, I think I’ll need to reduce them further in the future – probably to 70% next time. I’m simply not getting “35 IBU” from this beer.

    The boil-off rate was the biggest surprise of the day. I had assumed that between the low pressure and low moisture content, I would lose significantly more volume in the boil than before. In fact the opposite turned out to be true – the losses were about two-thirds of what they were in Indiana. The only explanation I can come up with is that humidity and pressure effects are more than offset by the overall decrease in molecular motion at the reduced boiling temperature.

  • First time using whole hops in the boil. By way of a PSA for anyone else in SW Colorado, do not buy any supplies from Ska Brewing. Even if their selection wasn’t abysmal (which it most assuredly is) the prices are such that it’s cheaper to order online and pay shipping. At any rate, I don’t have anything against whole hops – pellets are simply my default option. I wasn’t overly concerned, though, since I thought my kettle pickup would be sufficient to block any hops from getting in. Not so much, it turns out. I actually had to disassemble the pump head to remove a single cone that had made it through. The whole hops also didn’t form a neat cone in the whirlpool the way pellet “sludge” would.
  • First time fermenting at altitude. It’s been pretty widely reported that static pressures can have a significant impact on yeast flavor, with high pressure suppressing ester formation. The effect is well-known in commercial brewing, where pitching rate and/or fermentation temperature may have to be tweaked to account for fermenter geometry. Based on today’s gravity sample, though, I believe the impact is negligible at any reasonable atmospheric pressure. It may be that flavor development is only altered at pressures significantly above atmospheric, or that the difference (~38 kPa) is too small to be noticeable. Either way, the ester profile is more or less what I’d expect from this strain at these temperatures.

So there you have it. Like I said, the gravity sample is good, and dry-hopping should take care of the slightly malt-forward balance the beer has right now. Expect tasting notes in a couple of weeks.

Caramel Chameleon Recipe (PDF)

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