Date Style IBU Boil Target OG Actual OG FG ABV %
1/31/2014 Irish Red 35.2 60 min. 1.050 1.041 1.002 5.1%

The Recipe:
I’ve tried a couple different recipes for Irish Red ales so far in this experiment, but both batches came out quite different than what I was expecting. Both times I ignored the accepted standards on what makes for a good Irish Red, choosing instead to simply sit down with BeerSmith and tweak the malt bill and hop additions until I had something resembling a red ale in both color and bitterness. And not surprisingly, both times I ended up with beers that, while tasty in their own right, were not anything close to what I’d consider a ‘Good Irish Red’. Extra malty, very dark, and almost sweet in flavor, these beers were much closer to a brown ale or a sad excuse for a porter. They were drinkable, and much-enjoyed by my friends, but they were not the red I was looking for.

When I think of the “Ideal Red Ale”, the biggest factors for me are the color and the aroma. The color needs to be ruby clear, shimmering and deeply jewel-toned. I want to be able to look through the bottom of the glass and see the world through rose-colored beer goggles. And the aroma should be sour, fruity, and grassy – it should remind me of that day each spring when you go out to mow your lawn for the first time since autumn. It needs to wake up the tongue with a bitter pinch, but still be light enough to quench the thirst.

For this recipe, I decided to actually do a bit of research into typical red ale recipes, and learned that my previous attempts were far more complicated than they needed to be, and that I had used far too heavy a touch on the color front. Where I previously had used a quantity of Crystal 120L to get some color into my Dark Phoenix, this time I was going to pull my punches a bit and let the roasted barley handle most of the color, complemented around the edges with a bit of Crystal 40L. I decided to add a bit of Vienna malt for flavor, mostly, to temper the burnt flavor that roasted barley often brings. And the hops I chose, Galena and Challenger, should hopefully bring in the grassy fruit aromas I want without making the flavor too unpleasantly bitter. It’s my first time using these particular hop varieties, so it’s a bit of a gamble. But experimenting with new flavor combinations is what the Beer Lab is all about!


Grain Qty %
Maris Otter pale malt 7 lb 74.7%
Caramel/Crystal Malt 40L 1 lb. 10.7%
Vienna Malt 1 lb. 10.7%
Roasted Barley 6 oz. 4.0%
Hops/Additions Qty Time IBU
Galena .75 oz 60 min. 32.6
Challenger .5 oz 5 min. 2.6
Irish Moss .25 tsp. 10 min.
Yeast/Fermentor additions Qty
Wyeast 1084: Irish Ale 2 pkg.

The Brew Day:

The most exciting part of any brewday - the anticipation!

The most exciting part of any brewday – the anticipation!

Brew day started around 10:00 am as I set all of my equipment out and loaded up my HLT/Boil Kettle with the strike water. Since I only needed to heat up about 3 gallons for the mash, this part went very quickly – only 19 minutes – and I barely had enough time to set up the mash tun (!) and pick out a playlist before it was time to mash in. Mashing in went fine, maybe a little too quickly (is that even possible with a 10-pound grain bill?), and I only lost about 15° when I added the grains. I only mashed for 45 minutes, and I think this was a mistake – all of my gravity measurements were about .005 lower than they should have been, and I can’t help but think that an extra 30 or even 15 minutes in the mash would have helped that a bit.

Sparging into the new Mash Tun couldn’t have been easier, though! Collected back about 2 gallons of first runnings, then added in five gallons of sparge water over the grains. I let those soak for another 30 minutes before stirring them up and collecting the second runnings. My measured pre-boil gravity hit about 1.037, and then I couldn’t fit anything more in my 6-gallon boil kettle. There was maybe a half-gallon of unused wort left in the grains that I just couldn’t do anything about. Ideally I’d have been able to collect that as well, and then just boil off the excess liquid to reach my target gravity. Maybe next time I’ll try boiling the dregs in a second kettle and then adding it to the main boil kettle when there’s room for it.

Not quite the red I was hoping for - maybe that will come from clarifying it?

Not quite the red I was hoping for – maybe that will come from clarifying it?

For this beer I went with a 60-minute boil, as is my typical boil. I probably should have let it boil an extra 15 minutes before adding in the hops just to try to get the gravity up a bit. Next time I’ll consider that as an option. Since this brew was running so smoothly, I also decided to get a bit ahead of myself and start cleaning up while the boil was on. Not surprisingly, there were very few hassles here, other than nearly throwing my mash tun into the dumpster when trying to dump my grains. Ha ha, woops. Before I knew it the timer went off and it was time to check my gravity one final time and chill the wort. Sadly, the last sample drops I pulled showed that my post-boil gravity was only at about 1.041, when I was aiming for a gravity of 1.050. I began to worry that my new refractometer hadn’t been properly calibrated, since the readings were consistently about 5-10 points lower than they should have been, but I verified the gravity using my hydrometer on a freshly-chilled sample.

Speaking of chilling, this batch was also the first test of my new(used) immersion chiller! I picked this guy up on Craigslist from the same homebrewer who sold me my meager kegging setup. I can’t remember how many batches he said it’d been used for, but he estimated it should take about 40 minutes to cool my wort. Color me pleasantly surprised when it dropped from 220 to 70 degrees in just twenty-five minutes! Racked the wort straight into my freshly-sanitized carboy, pitched in a couple packets of Irish Ale yeast, and popped on an airlock. Now for the fun part!


The night before…

The night before…

I began seeing some decent activity before I even turned in for the night, with a good inch or so of fine white foam built up on top of 5 gallons of wort. The new cat was very curious about the bubbling from the airlock, so my girlfriend went ahead and covered the whole thing with a nylon tub she had, just to keep the cat away.

Cut to the following morning, when I was faced with this spectacular flow of krausen, erupting from within the carboy, dense enough to have pushed the airlock right out of the bottle. I spent very little time cleaning out the airlock and putting it back in, only to have it immediately fill up again with murky brown liquid and begin foaming out the top of the airlock.

The Morning After!

The Morning After!

ANOTHER quick cleaning, and I decided to leave the airlock off for a bit, counting on the constant movement of CO2 and foam out of the bottle to prevent any oxygen from getting in. For safety, I also put a plastic cup over the mouth of the carboy to keep anything heavier from accidentally falling in.

Activity finally slowed enough after a couple hours that I was able to safely replace the airlock without it foaming up anymore, though I did change the water again later that afternoon. For all the hassle and mess this one has given me in fermentation, the aroma is absolutely fantastic! If the final beer tastes at all like it smells, I’ll be extremely pleased.

By the fifth day, airlock activity had ceased completely, so I pulled a quick sample. Not surprisingly, the gravity was STILL about 5-10 points lower than it should have been – 1.002 (target FG for this recipe is 1.010). So, I’m still on track to reach my 5% ABV for this beer, but I fear I’m losing a bit of flavor in the process. I may be able to put this in the keg a day or two early, which will make me feel a lot better about hitting my Feb 14 deadline.

Dark as it was, I was actually surprised with how weak this one tasted. Possibly I’m actually getting used to the local variety of +40IBU beers, but this one had very little hop flavor. The aroma was perfect – smelled exactly how I was hoping, but the flavor needed a good kick, in my opinion. Like most of my batches, it’s not a bad beer – everyone at the party where I introduced it seemed to like it quite a bit – but I had a hard time recommending it. The recipe needs some work (or my process does, probably both).

The flavor itself is burnt, with a good malty base from the Maris Otter. Seriously, I’ve never not liked using Maris as my base malt, it always comes out great. I definitely need to start using a lighter touch with the roasted barley when I’m trying to make a red, though.

I still have a couple gallons left over, I’m looking forward to seeing how this one ages.