Homebrew DC: Uniquely American

Photo courtesy of Poncho Equihua
Hops and Yeast, lupulos & levaduras
courtesy of Poncho Equihua

This is another in a series of articles about homebrewing in the DC area by Carl Weaver of RealHomebrew.com. Want to learn about making your own beer? Keep an eye out for Friday homebrew features.

America’s biggest contribution to the beer world, at least in my opinion, is a very good jumping-off point for homebrew: the American ale. It is safe to say that the majority of beer enthusiasts have enjoyed an ale at one time or another. Despite the commercial popularity of pilsners in America, the craft brew community has brought about a rebirth of this uniquely American style.

American ales are generally a bit more hoppy than their cousins from across the pond and often have a bit higher percent alcohol by volume (ABV). A great deal of the unique hoppiness is due to the floral and citrus characteristics of the hops grown in the United States, especially those developed in California and the Pacific Northwest. In addition to the increased hop characteristics, American ales are generally medium bodied with a lighter malt flavor than than European-style ales. Some of the more notable American ale styles are the American pale, amber, brown, and IPA.

Let’s get brewing! All the below basic recipes are for a five gallon batch using liquid malt extract and hop pellets. Remember, American ales have slightly more hop characteristics than their European counterparts, therefore the hops are important in setting the American ale apart. Look for U.S. domestically grown hops for your American ales. Though I use domestic hops as a guide, their use is not by any means a hard rule. Feel free to substitute the hops with other hop varieties with similar Alpha Acid Units (AAU) to meet your personal taste or hops availability. You can use any ale yeast of your choice for fermentation. For the below styles, I recommend fermenting for at least two weeks before bottling or kegging, though fermenting for longer periods is often preferred.

If you are worried at all about clarity in any of the above styles, try adding 1 teaspoon of Irish Moss to the last 10 minutes of the boil.

The American ale styles are easily adaptable to your particular homebrew tastes. The American pale and amber ales can also serve as a great base to develop various seasonal and fruit beers. For instance, try reducing the bittering hops in the American pale ale recipe to 1.0 ounce Cascade hops and adding 10 pounds of well washed and chopped strawberries to the fermenter for a nice strawberry ale. Enjoy your own personal style of American ale!

American Pale Ale.  The American pale ale is light in color, medium bodied, and has a distinct hop flavor and aroma.

Malt Extract: 6.6 pounds pale malt extract
Bittering Hops: 2.0 ounces Cascade (60 minutes)
Finishing Hops: 1.0 ounce Cascade (5 minutes)

Use two 3.3 pound cans of pale malt extract.  Boil 2.0 ounces Cascade hops (2.5 oz for a slightly more bitter flavor) in the wort for 60 minutes.  Add an additional 1 oz Cascade hops in the last 5 minutes of the boil.  This will give you a classic American Pale Ale style.

American Amber Ale.  The American amber ale flavor is very close to the American pale ale and, as its name implies, has an amber color.  The American amber ale has a bit more toasty flavor which can be accomplished by using a darker malt extract and/or adding about a pound of 60L crystal malt as a specialty grain.

Malt Extract: 6.6 pounds pale malt extract
Specialty Grain: 1 pound 60L Crystal malt
Bittering Hops: 2.0 ounces Cascade (60 minutes)
Finishing Hops: 1 ounce Cascade (5 minutes)

Start with two cans of 3.3 pound amber malt extract.  Steep 0.75 to 1.0 pound of milled 60L Crystal malt for 20 minutes between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit and add to the wort.  Boil 2.0 oz Cascade hops for 60 minutes and add 1.0 oz Cascade hops in the last five minutes of the boil.

American Brown Ale.  The American brown ale should have a bit more toasty and nutty notes than the lighter American ales.  It should have a brown to dark brown color.  The nutty flavor and darker color is achieved by adding specialty grains to the boil.  It still keeps to the American Ale style by having higher hop characteristics than a brown ale you would find in England.

Malt Extract: 6.6 pounds pale malt extract
Specialty Grain: 0.5 pounds 80L Crystal malt, 0.5 pounds Chocolate malt
Bittering Hops: 1.0 ounce Cascade, 1.0 ounce Liberty (60 minutes)
Flavoring Hops: 0.5 ounces Liberty (10 minutes)
Finishing Hops: 0.5 ounces Cascade (2 minutes)

Start with two 3.3 pound cans of pale malt extract.  For the specialty grains, steep 0.5 pounds milled 80L Crystal malt and 0.5 pounds milled Chocolate malt for about 20 minutes at 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit and add them to the boil.  For bittering hops, add 1.0 ounce Cascade hops and 1.0 ounce Liberty hops for 60 minutes.  For flavoring hops, add 0.5 ounces of Liberty hops for the last 10 minutes of the boil and finish with 0.5 ounces of Cascade hops in the last two minutes of the boil.

American Indian Pale Ale. I am a hops lover and the American adaptation of this British classic is one of my favorites.  For this style, think back to the American pale and make it hoppier and stronger.  IPA’s in general are action packed with hops, American IPAs even more so.  They also tend to have a bit higher percent ABV than the other American ale styles and have just a slightly heavier body.  A bit of warning, this style has very high hop flavor and aroma!

Malt Extract: 7.5 pounds light malt extract
Specialty Grain: 1.0 pound 40L Crystal malt
Bittering Hops: 2.0 ounces Centennial (60 minutes)
Flavoring Hops: 1.0 ounces Cascade (20 minutes)
Finishing Hops: 1.0 ounce (5 minutes)

For the American IPA, you will want to start with 7 to 7.5 pounds light liquid malt extract.  Steep 1.0 pound milled 40L Crystal malt for 15 minutes at 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit and add to the boil.  For bittering hops add 2.0 ounces Centennial hops.  Add 1.0 ounce Cascade hops for flavoring hops in the last 20 minutes of the boil and finish with 1.0 ounce Liberty hops in the last 5 minutes.  Indian Pale Ales tend to turn out better with longer fermentation periods.  Try fermenting your American IPA for a month or primary ferment for two weeks and then move to a secondary fermenter for an additional two weeks.

This post first appeared on RealHomebrew.com.

Carl Weaver is a writer and brewer for RealHomebrew.com and has been making beer and wine for more than 20 years. He is also an avid photographer and writer and just finished his first book, about a trip he took to Thailand to live in Buddhist monasteries. He considers himself the last of the Renaissance men and the luckiest darned guy in the world. Follow him on Twitter.

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