Big hops homebrew

I’ve been doing a good amount of homebrewing lately—three batches within a week of each other—and while some of that brewing is earmarked for specific purposes (helping some people out), I brewed up a big batch of beer for myself this past weekend: an insanely-hopped Imperial Red Ale.

The idea was this: I have this accumulating collection of hops that keeps going into my freezer each year, between a small amount I harvest from my own vine, the free-fresh-hops-for-homebrewers that Deschutes Brewery gives out each year, and leftover hops from various homebrew recipes, and a number of those were at least a year old. In an effort to clear out the freezer and yet not waste any hops, I decided it would be a neat idea to brew up a big beer using all of the old hops I had laying around—anything a year or older.

This amounted to 11.5 ounces of hops:

Lots of hops!
What you don’t see here is the additional 2 ounces that went into the first wort hopping!

In my mind I was sort of thinking along the lines of Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid, but to me what seemed like an appropriate recipe was an Imperial Red Ale, something big enough to stand up to the insane amount of hops I was would throw at it. I settled on a suitable recipe that would pencil out to 1.074 OG and (ideally) be about 7.5 to 8% (or more) alcohol by volume.

After calculating out a hop schedule (including two ounces of hops going into the wort as I drew it from the mash tun—first wort hopping), I (roughly) figured that this beer would end up with a mind-boggling 183 IBUs!

(Of course, this is a calculation only, made more complicated by the fact that I had to guess at alpha acid percentage in a number of the hops I had (some homegrown). The reality is the palate can’t detect anything over a threshold of something like 85 IBUs so this becomes just an academic exercise.)

For those interesting, the variety of (leftover) hops used were:

  • Galena at 14.2% AA
  • Galena at 12.5% AA
  • Crystal from Deschutes – estimating 5% AA
  • Tettnanger from Deschutes – estimating 4.5% AA
  • My own grown hops – possibly Willamette – estimating 5% AA
  • Hops from my parents’ bines – possible Cascade – estimating 5% AA

Of course I tasted the wort before sealing it up to ferment and all I can say is… wow. Sweet malty base packed with so much hoppy essence and bitterness that it’s… quite hard to describe actually. It’s going to be beyond hoppy and pretty much exactly what I was shooting for.

As an additional first I decided to re-use the yeast from the batch of IPA I had just brewed the week before and that I was racking to a secondary: I’ve read quite a bit about yeast re-use but frankly I had never done it and for simplicity’s sake (and for sake of experimenting) I decided to rack the finished wort directly onto the yeast cake in from the IPA in the carboy.

It worked like a charm—the beer was fermenting busily away within six hours or so.

But I miscalculated—and nearly had a disaster!

For awhile now I’ve been doing the primary fermentation for a five-gallon batch of beer in a seven-gallon carboy, and rather than a blowoff tube I’ve been using normal airlocks and haven’t had a problem: there’s been plenty of headspace and even the active fermentations haven’t gotten within striking distance of the top. But! This was the first time I’ve re-used yeast, especially the yeast cake of a just-racked IPA, and apparently the yeast were not only viable, but extraordinarily vigorous.

(You can see where this is going.)

Yesterday afternoon my wife heard some noises and found this:

Clogged airlock!

Yes, the krausen is reaching the top and clogging the airlock. I haven’t had this happen for oh, about 16 years when a stout did this same thing and exploded right in front of me, geysering fermenting beer all the up to the (eight-foot-high) ceiling and generally creating a huge mess. (Of course I was lucky, I’ve heard of the glass carboy itself shattering in similar situations!)

Fortunately I was able to talk my wife through replacing the airlock with a proper blowoff tube and that remedied the situation. But it could have potentially been disastrous.

The beer is happy now, and still fermenting extremely well. I’ll report on how it actually turns out when it’s ready to drink.

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