Pints for Prostates

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Session IPA Debacle

India Pale Ale is my favorite style; that’s what I drink the most. I like a beer with lots of citrus and pine resin hop flavor. A beer with 70 IBUs doesn’t daunt me. Understandably, that is the beer style I like to brew the most. A five gallon Cornelius keg of a tasty IPA is sure to be emptied.

The BJCP style guide has an ABV of 5.5 to 7.5% for IPAs. That doesn’t stop people from making more session-able IPAs (or hoppy blond ales) that have less alcohol, but good flavor. Founders All Day IPA is an example of a session ale with 4.7% ABV. Lagunitas DayTime is another, with an ABV of 4.65%.

This fall I brewed a session IPA. Unfortunately, the beer did not come out well. I created the recipe, but I don’t think the recipe is bad. I think the problem derives from one process decision I made that proved to be a critical mistake.

I had read somewhere that one way to bring down the amount of fermentables in the wort (and therefore get lower gravity) is to just take your first runnings and then add water to get to your pre-boil volume, as opposed to couple batch sparges. That sounded easy and it was sure to cut at least a half hour off my brew day. I didn’t realize the house of cards I was playing with.

After the fact, I can see that this chosen method had a few consequences:
  • The straight water that was added did not get treated with the same water additions (Epsom salts, Calcium Chloride, etc.) as the mash water. That means that my water chemistry and ph was off. The yeast probably wasn’t happy about that.
  • Because I only used the first runnings, the gravity was low; lower than the calculations in my BeerSmith software. To make matters worse, I added about a gallon more water than I needed, which made the gravity even lower. The low gravity meant that the yeast did not have as much fermentables to grow on. Again, the yeast was not happy. The carboy had extra yeast residue on the inside walls of the carboy and on the surface of the beer.
  • The hops that I added were based on a recipe with a certain grain bill and gravity. The lower gravity meant that there were too many IBUs (bitterness) for the resulting beer.
The beer ended up cloudy, yeasty, and bitter. Undrinkable. I tried it each week, and it improved slightly, but not good enough.

It’s a bummer that the beer went bad. But, I can say that I learned something from the experience. I might wait for the sting to wear off some before I try to brew that recipe again.


  1. Nothing I hate more than a brewday that feels like a waste. I've made a few beers that didn't turn out as expected due to these types of problems.
    I don't think I'd be terribly worried about chlorine, since I'd think the boil should get rid of that, but chloramine isn't going to boil off, and needs to be filtered out.
    Gravity, on the other hand can be an issue. You didn't mention in your post, but what mash temp did you use? From reading some other session ale recipes, you often want to hit high mash temps, as the extra long chain sugars provide body that can be missing in lower alcohol beers. Just another method to get the full body you are looking for.
    Good luck, the low abv, high hop flavor beer is what I'm targeting as well.

  2. Hey, thanks for commenting! It is my understanding too that the higher mash temp helps with body (from longer sugar chains). I mashed at 156F for 60 min. I'll post the recipe I used. Good luck to you. BTW, The Mad Fermentationist has a nice article on brewing session ales:

  3. Thanks for the link, and recipe. Just noticed a timely blog post from Brad Smith of beersmith. Funny how that works out.