Brewing IPA, Part 2: Formulating an IPA Recipe

There are a lot resources that teach the mechanics of brewing. From calculating strike temperature to hitting target gravity, there’s probably something for you. Having sad that, it’s much more difficult to find anything about the art of brewing. That is, how to find ingredients and combinations that suit you as opposed to the brewers of yore. Formulating an IPA recipe is a particular challenge because of a seemingly endless selection of hops that gets bigger every day.

One of my original goals as a new brewer was to design my own unique IPA recipe. Despite my best efforts I was quickly overwhelmed with the difficulty of knowing the best way to use hops. I came up with my own way to stay organized, which revolved around using single hop beers as a learning tool. In this method, formulating an IPA recipe is a 3 step process based on a slow and patient discovery process with single hops beers, followed by evaluation of hop combinations and shaping the “rest of the beer.”

Here’s a visual representation of the 3 step process:

A flow chart for IPA recipe formulation

Basically each of the arrows in step 1 represent a single hop beer. In step 2 the best flavours from the single hop beers are tested together, and recipe ideas slowly evolve to get closer to the final vision. Consistency in the base recipe and brewing methods become more important the further along in the process you might be.

The IPA recipe goal

Crucial to this process is having an end goal. In Part 1 I brewed and reviewed a boat load of single hop beers to get a sense of what I wanted my recipe to taste like. I wrote a description using my favourite hops as a guide:

Balanced impressions of delicate fruit, including grape, apple, melon, and blueberry, are layered together to create a complex wave of hoppiness from start to finish. Big aroma. Restrained bitterness. Mysterious but elegant. Hints of honey-caramel sweetness support the delicate hop bouquet and present a lightness on the palate that invites another sip.

A Hoppy Battle Royale

Having spent enough time tasting single hop beers, I was excited to get started on the meat of formulating my IPA recipe. With a fairly complex range of hops under my belt I felt good about my chances of brewing something special. I knew this would involve brewing a lot of batches, so keeping things organized was my main focus. I was thinking about a playoff type of structure like this:

An IPA recipe playoff chart

All the single hops are the ones I liked the most in the single hop testing so far. I’ll evaluate the dual hop beers and decide if one or both of the hops work well, and what adjustments should be made. I hope to end up with a multi-hop candidate in the center if all goes well!

Just to keep things interesting I plan to look at Delta and El Dorado as single hop beers at the same time as the combos above. The melon and tropical character of Delta and El Dorado, respectively, both potentially fit with the vision of “delicate fruit.”

The “Rest of the Beer”

Hops are the star of the show in an IPA recipe, so I wanted to choose a malt bill that was simple and unfussy. I had really enjoyed Bairds Maris Otter Pale Ale malt in the past, but I also appreciate the clean simplicity of Prairie Malt Two-Row Pale malt. The two-row pale malt is a bit bland (“clean”), so I planned on including up to 2% crystal malt for a touch of character. Both base malts would be supplemented with 5 – 10% flaked oats for haze and mouthfeel.

Fermentation duties will be handle by the reliable GigaYeast Vermont IPA. It strikes a nice balance between malt and hop character, and has a nice peach-like ester that complements fruity hops. For all these beers I’ll pitch 200 billion cells propagated from a starter, and maintain between 68 and 72 F during fermentation. I can normally hit this range at room temperature, so won’t be “actively” controlling it unless I need to.

Brewing with Consistency

An important part of evaluating these beers would be consistency in the brewing process and water composition. Evaluating the hop combos and adjustments in the base malt won’t leave any room for experimenting in those areas.

Brewing water treatment

This water profile is a go-to for me, as it comes across crisp and clean to my palate. There’s just enough sulphate to keep residual sweetness in line, at least when using hop-forward yeast strains. There’s also enough sulphate to add depth, but it falls well short of what I see in typical New England IPAs these days. A bit of sodium rounds out the water profile, which is summarized in the table below:

CalciumSulphateSodiumChlorideResidual alkalinitysulphate:chloride ratio
83 ppm117 ppm26 ppm93 ppm-561.3
Hazy pale ale brewing water profile

The water treatment process is very simple. I’m using brew-in-a-bag, so I add the full volume of water to my pot and add all salts to the water as it’s heating to strike temperature. I’ve included a small amount of phosphoric acid for pH adjustment. The process is summarized in the diagram below:

Brewing water treatment steps

Wort Production

I really like single infusion mashing and brew-in-a-bag, and didn’t feel I needed to change either one. The process is similar to the Easy Ale recipe, and is summarized in the diagram below.

Mashing steps

This is an uncomplicated wort that can be made in any all-grain setup, but I love brew-in-a-bag for this batch size.

Boiling and Hot Side Hopping

Hot-side hopping consists of a small bittering addition and a single flavour/aroma addition. The singe addition is boiled for 2 minutes and carried over into a 20 minute hop stand. I use a short 30 minute boil, and add a small bittering charge of Warrior to top up to about 35 IBU. The bittering charge will vary depending on the alpha acids of the hops. This process is described in the diagram below:

Wort boiling and hopping steps

Cold Side Hopping

Dry hopping is where the process gets a little more complicated, since oxygen is a killer for hoppy beer. The main focus is ensuring there’s no aeration of the fermented beer. I keg my beer, which makes the job a lot easier. For these batches I’m aiming to transfer the beer into the keg as fermentation is coming to a close (3 days after pitch) so any oxygen uptake is metabolized by the yeast.

Dry hopping also starts at the time of transfer with the help of muslin bags to contain the hops. The hops are added to a muslin bag (soaked in Star San), which is then added to a sanitized keg. The keg is in turn thoroughly purged with CO2 before transferring the beer. This process is described in the diagram below:

Dry hopping for an IPA recipe

I’ve usually dry hopped in the primary fermenter and cold crashed the beer to drop the hops to the bottom. I made this change to get the beer off the yeast before dry hopping to keep the oils in the beer where they belong. It’s probably a little less work overall, but the change is really for beer quality.

Summary: Making the Wort

This table summarizes wort production for all the beers brewed for this phase. There are some minor variations from beer to beer, but nothing that competes with the hops for attention. The goal is to get something clean and pleasant on the malt side for the hops to do their job.

24 L brewing waterInclude: 5.0 g gypsum, 1.5 g table salt, 2.0 g calcium chloride, 13 g of 25% phosphoric acid
4.5 kg base maltBairds Maris Otter or Prairie Malt 2-row
0.5 kg flaked oatsFrom the grocery store
0.1 kg crystal malt (used with Prairie Malt)C120 or C60
Target volume~20 L (5 gal.) into the fermenter
Target OG~1.060 @ 75% efficiency
Mash styleSingle infusion, brew-in-a-bag
Mash temperature/time147 F (63.9 C) for 45 minutes

The following flow diagram describes the whole brewing process from grain to glass:

Brewing process flow chart

Brewing and Reviewing Hop Combinations

Finally, brewing some tasty experiments! To me an IPA recipe doesn’t have much to do with the malts and brewing process, even though they’re important considerations. The hard part of this project is evaluating hop combinations and their synergistic effects in the glass. I’ve never been able to evaluate a beer in a small taster glass, and I’d say that’s even true of a pint glass. To get around that problem each combo gets a whole batch! Time to start the battle royale!

An IPA recipe playoff chart

Beer #1: Mosaic/Centennial @ 50:50

The goal with this beer is to combine the citrus qualities of Centennial with the complex fruitiness of Mosaic. My main concerns were the floral and pine qualities of Centennial and Mosaic, respectively, as these might distract from the goal of a complex fruity profile.

FermentablesPrairie Malt 2-row, flaked oats, crystal 120
Mosaic (10.8% AA)56 g kettle / 42 g dry hop
Centennial (7.8% AA)56 g kettle / 42 g dry hop
Original/final gravity1.054/1.011
Alcohol %5.6%

Beer #1 review

There’s a nice blend of fruit flavours. Tropical fruit, floral, citrus aroma, blending into floral/orange flavour notes. I pick up something of an earthy note in the finish (from Mosaic). There’s also a lingering pungent “citrus rind” type of aroma that detracts from the overall quality of the beer (but that is common to Cascade/Centennial dry hops). There’s decent complexity here but it’s not quite a complete hop experience.

Beer #2: Nelson Sauvin/Mosaic @ 63:37

The goal with this beer is to mash together 2 hops I know I love. Based on my experience I felt that Mosaic was stronger than Nelson, so I adjusted the ratios to reflect that. I have high hopes for this batch!

FermentablesPrairie Malt 2-row, flaked oats, crystal 120
Nelson Sauvin (12.0% AA)70 g kettle / 70 g dry hop
Mosaic (10.8% AA)42 g kettle / 42 g dry hop
Specific/final gravity1.058/1.014
Alcohol %5.7%

Beer #2 review

A delicious mix of grape, blueberry, gooseberry and other more delicate fruits. Makes me want to take another sip! The flavour seems to be relatively stronger than the aroma from the hop schedule. It’s a good mix for a pale ale, and I could see adding some more delicate fruity hops like Hallertau Blanc to get a refreshing summery beer. The ratio of Mosaic to Nelson is about right. Overall this is a winner.

Beer #3: Mosaic/Simcoe @ 50:50

The idea for this beer is to combine the intense fruitiness of Mosaic with the impressive depth of Simcoe. The main memory I have of Simcoe is wanting to use it as the anchor hop for a big IPA recipe.

FermentablesPrairie Malt 2-row, flaked oats, crystal 120
Mosaic (10.8% AA)56 g kettle / 56 g dry hop
Simcoe (13.0% AA) 56 g kettle / 56 g dry hop
Specific/final gravity1.057/1.013
Alcohol %5.8%

Beer #3 review

This mix is very citrus forward, with the pine I remember in Simcoe taking a back seat. Is that a difference in usage? Orange/tangerine is most evident. It’s good, but I miss the mild piney character I remember. At 50/50 usage Simcoe overwhelms Mosaic until about 3 weeks after brewing (2 weeks after cold crashing). Mosaic = medium intensity, Simcoe = high intensity. Simcoe could work with Mosaic/Nelson but at much lower rates than I have here. 

Beer #4: Nelson Sauvin/Mandarina Bavaria @ 50:50

I’ve read good things about Mandarina Bavaria, and hope that it can contribute a mellow citrus to the mix. I’ve become more convinced that Nelson Sauvin will be a signature flavour, so that’s my frame of reference for this beer. I’m guessing at the hopping ratio since I haven’t tried Mandarina Bavaria before.

FermentablesPrairie Malt 2-row, crystal 120
Nelson Sauvin (12.0% AA)56 g kettle / 56 g dry hop
Mandarina Bavaria (8.6% AA)56 g kettle / 56 g dry hop
Specific/final gravity1.058/1.012
Alcohol %6.0%

Beer #4 review

There’s a pretty solid mix of more laid back citrus and delicate Nelson grape. I’d like the Nelson to sing a little more though. The citrus is orangy with some clean bitter pith in the mix. It’s a much nicer citrus character than can be found in Cascade/Centennial/Simcoe to my taste buds. It’s not as good of a mix as Nelson/Mosaic but this could be a nice supporting addition to those core hops.

I’m quickly learning that if the hop ratios are off the character ends up being muddled and generic. This could have been a better beer if I’d used relatively less Mandarina to let Nelson shine. Around the 3 week mark an herbal “noble hop” character appears. It’s a nice addition to the Nelson, making the beer more pleasantly hoppy. The citrus has calmed down a bit and the overall Mandarina balance works well. It might be an option to keep the current levels and just increase the Nelson, but it’s probably too herbal.

Beer #5: Nelson Sauvin/Hallertau Blanc @ 50:50

I’m really excited to this combo! I’ve enjoyed Nelson a lot when supplemented with other flavours, and Hallertau Blanc shares a lot of the “elevated complexity” I’m aiming for. My goal with this batch is to make 2 impressive hops sing together.

FermentablesBairds Maris Otter
Nelson Sauvin (12.8% AA)56 g kettle / 56 g dry hop
Hallertau Blanc (10.3% AA)56 g kettle / 56 g dry hop
Specific/final gravity1.060/1.013
Alcohol %6.2%

Beer #5 review

My initial impressions are of sharp clean citrus zest and pineapple layered on top of the Nelson grape. Bright and vibrant. Subtle melon in the finish. Nelson is a bit overpowered, but this combo could work very well at a higher Nelson ratio. The impression of citrus is helped with the bitterness and sulphate levels, which are spot on. 

A few days after tapping the flavour eases off citrus and develops a mild earthy-herbal undertone. There’s also a pleasant fruitiness in the finish with more Nelson presence (this is a good argument for increasing the Nelson ratio). There’s a noble hop character that elevates the flavour above the other beers so far. It probably edges out beer #2 (Nelson/Mosaic) for pure enjoyment. I could see these hops forming the base together, to be decorated by the more pungent hops. 

IPA Recipe Battle Royale: Round 1 Results

Testing these hop combos has been an interesting and informative experience so far. I’ve brewed multi-hop beers before, but this is the first time I’ve tried to use the experience in a meaningful way. The main lessons for me so far are:

  1. Hop ratios are critical. An IPA recipe that should be good can be put off by an imbalance created by a strong hop overpowering a weaker one. The Simcoe/Mosaic beer is the best example of this concept – I didn’t really enjoy the beer, but I should have! Simcoe overpowered Mosaic despite Mosaic being pretty potent itself.
  2. The more delicate flavours continue to win me over. Maybe it’s because they’re less “in your face,” but I find I’m more likely to stop and consider what I’m tasting.
  3. Maris Otter is winning the malt battle, though I haven’t mentioned it much in the tasting notes. It’s got a unique honey-caramel sweetness and subtle cookie dough finish, which creates far more depth than 2-row with crystal malt.

With those points in mind let’s revisit the summary diagram. I’ve included some colour coding to track the results.

An IPA recipe playoff chart with colour coding

Brewing and Reviewing Single Hops

Time to switch gears a little and see if I can add to the pool of hops I like. These are both well reviewed hops and should give me something to think about.

Beer #6: Delta

There are some good review of Delta out there, and it’s one of the many hops included in Stone’s Enjoy By IPA. With such a solid track record I was excited to try this one!

FermentablesPrairie Malt 2-row, flaked oats, crystal 60
Delta (6.0% AA)112 g kettle / 112 g dry hop
Specific/final gravity1.058/1.013
Alcohol %5.8%

Beer #6 review

My initial impressions are of sweet melon. It mellows after a few days on tap into a more balanced mild melon-earthy hoppiness that’s enjoyable. I could almost see Delta playing the same role as Hallertau Blanc in forming a base of hoppiness with Nelson Sauvin. Delta favours melon vs the citrus of Blanc. I wonder if Delta could be used as a “bittering” addition at 10 or 15 mins instead of the neutral bittering charge of Warrior I’ve been using at 30 minutes. That could be a good way to incorporate it without crowding the whirlpool. Aroma and flavour potency is roughly in line with Nelson Sauvin at about 5/10 on the pungency scale. I taste this hop in Hillbilly Ninja from Parallel 49. 

On the malt side, crystal 60 is surprisingly sweet at only 1%. The sweetness is a blend of honey and sweet caramel. It’s good, but borders on too sweet and assertive for the fruity hops. A mix of C60 and C120 might be an option, but I’m not sure it’s an element I need, or one I should spend time on. I do like the colour, which is a light straw gold that looks inviting. 

#7 El Dorado

FermentablesPrairie Malt 2-row, flaked oats, crystal 60
El Dorado (13.3%)112 g kettle / 112 g dry hop
Specific/final gravity1.050/1.013
Alcohol %4.9%

Beer #7 review

My initial impressions are of a tropical orange drink. The first day or 2 it’s got a vivid, almost synthetic quality, like Five Alive or Sunny D. This relaxes into a well rounded and complex tropical fruit profile. Sweet citrus is a component, hints of mango as well. Very enjoyable. I can imagine El Dorado playing a supporting role for a Nelson/Blanc base along with Mosaic. I wonder if the synthetic candy-like character would be a negative though. A mix with Mosaic alone could be very good. 

The C60 doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue with El Dorado as with Delta. The honey sweetness isn’t all that identifiable. The balance is towards fruit and away from “sweetness.” 

A Triple Hop IPA Recipe Attempt

After all this brewing and tasting I can start to feel the hop knowledge coursing through my veins. I’m pretty excited to try a little more complexity as I build this IPA recipe, and I have an idea what hops I’ll use.

Both the single hops beers I brewed – Delta and El Dorado – are interesting, but I have reservations with each one. El Dorado is a bit “synthetic” and I don’t want that to interfere with the other flavours. Delta is tasty in an understated way, though I’m not sure the melon angle will complement my favourite hops so far. What are those hops? You guessed it:

  1. Nelson Sauvin
  2. Hallertau Blanc
  3. Mosaic

Beer #8 Nelson Sauvin/Hallertau Blanc/Mosaic

I was excited and a bit nervous to brew and taste this beer. Would all my hard work pay off with a finely tuned IPA recipe?

Nelson Sauvin, Hallertau Blanc, and Mosaic would be my stars. I loved Nelson and Hallertau Blanc at 50:50 but wanted to elevate Nelson just a little. I also knew that Mosaic had to be at a lower usage rate than either of those to keep it from dominating. That left me with Nelson:Hallertau Blanc:Mosaic at 70:56:42 ratios. This is complex hop science! Let’s get into it!

FermentablesMaris Otter, flaked oats
Nelson Sauvin (10.6% AA)70 g kettle / 70 g dry hop
Hallertau Blanc (8.6% AA)56 g kettle / 56 g dry hop
Mosaic (12.6% AA)42 g kettle / 42 g dry hop
Specific/final gravity1.060/1.014
Alcohol %6.0%

Beer #7 review

The first sips give me notes of all 3 hops – Nelson grape, Hallertau pineapple, and supporting fruit from Mosaic. I expect the flavour to continue to improve as these separate notes all mingle together. The malt character is close to spot on, with some supporting sweetness/cookie dough without getting in the way. The bitterness could probably go up a few IBUs (and sulphate?) to offset some of the residual stickiness though. The colour is very nice, a light gold with orange hues.  

A beer brewed using a triple hop IPA recipe

The flavours become well integrated about 3 weeks after brew day. Nelson leads the aroma with bright grape, and there’s a unified flavour profile behind it. There are delicate qualities that almost make this beer work as a centerpiece, something like a pre-dinner aperitif.

Despite the positives I have doubts that I’m getting the best possible beer out of these hops. There’s a dullness to the profile that doesn’t jibe with my vision, or even the fond memories I have of the Nelson-Hallertau combo. After the buildup I can’t but feel a bit disappointed.

Is it the recipe? Or the process?

After an initial disappointment with the last batch I wanted to further understand where I could improve things. I had such a good experience separating the hot side hops from the dry hops in the Centennial IPA experiment that I decided to try it here. My idea was to brew the beer exactly the same but dry hop at serving temperature in the keg instead of during conditioning.

In the next post for this project I brew the separated beer and learn a lot about the brewing process and IPA recipe formulation in the process. The journey continues!

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