Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Big Beer Week(s) - Capital US Pale Ale version 2.0

A little birdy whispered into my ear that Capital might be changing the recipe on the US Pale Ale. Really? That sounds interesting. A General Beverage rep was quoted as saying that the hops in the recipe have gone up "on a 1 to 10 scale, from a 3 to a 6 or 7." What? Not 11?

I sent my best buddy Kirby Nelson, Brewmaster of Capital Brewery, an email asking what was up and he was kind enough to respond.
Those rumors are true and yet that has been the case since this beer’s beginnings. Understand we don’t pilot brew per se, any ideas we come up with we produce in our brewhouse (except for the occasional Dane brew) and 1,200 pounds is the minimum amount of grain we can use. So we will end up with about 40 ½ bbls on the average of any trial we do.
I find this to be relatively fascinating. No pilot batches. New recipes are all or ... well ... all. Minimum batch size: 40.5 bbls. And it better make it into a bottle.
We have always prided ourselves on selling every “trial” we have done. So whenever I formulate something I tend to approach the first brew on the conservative side, knowing the flavor profile we are after and tweaking/evolving the brew as we feel it needs it. And to be honest at the risk of sounding arrogant (which I am) the majority of the brews we do are usually pretty much as I want them out of the chute. You do something long enough you better know how to hit what you are targeting without a whole lot of fucking around.
And, not to poke a sleeping liger, but "Capital Experimental"? Nailed that one, eh.
With U.S., we did a brew basically for the hell of it and served it at our retailer appreciation party. And all of the attendees seemed to really enjoy it. So we decided to release it. The first brews got the majority of their hop character from dry hopping, which I am not a fan of (although I am very proud of the Hop Bazooka I invented to disperse the hops in a horizontal tank). So over time I replaced the dry hopping with post boil additions.
I found this pretty interesting at first blush. Not a fan of dry-hopping. I didn't really think it was something you could be a "fan" of. I mean, it's a technique for deriving aroma from hops without isomerization of the alpha acids and causing increased bitterness. But, it turns out, dry-hopping is a mess and steeping, or whirlpooling the hops, is equally effective at deriving the desired aroma and flavor without increasing bitterness or causing such a damned mess.
I was very happy where that was heading (even though I recall some fuck [ed note: I think he's referring to me] saying after reading Robin’s review in the Isthmus [ed note: Robin Shepherd, beer writer for The Isthmus] that the approach I took towards this product made for really boring beer).
My stance on this hasn't really changed. I still contend that the biggest problem that I had with the first incarnation was that the body was too thin. A thin body, combined with less-than-aggressive hopping, makes for a boring beer. Not that that is a bad thing. Kirby and I have talked about this - not every beer needs to be a flavor monster that leaves the kids moaning in perpetual orgasm. But, it's also not really worthy of spilling bytes of data writing about, either. But, even still, I thought the body was a little thin for what he was going for.
Then last years Cascade crop was a bit of an anomaly in that the alpha acids were about 30 some per cent higher than normal. So to keep the same bittering the amount of post boil hopping had to decrease, moderating the hop flavor.
In other words, the hops became more bitter, so he had to decrease the amount he used. Good for the pocket-book, but makes recipe consistency difficult. But, this is where the light-bulb comes on.
Although this beer sells okay, it is far from being one of our best sellers. And with the audience for Pale Ales really enjoying elevated hopping levels we decided to continue the evolution. The OG has been boosted and a bit more specialty malts added to the grain bill. The bittering has been elevated via post boil additions and the dry hopping rate is being increased.
So, basically, they kept the increased-bitterness hops, but went back to the original hopping schedule. The "specialty grains" he's referring to are caramel grains to add a bit of complexity and robust sweetness. And the body was increased to support the increased hoppiness. This man is speaking my language.
And to make things more interesting in a couple months we will be into the ’09 crop of Cascade (the only hop used) which has the alpha acid level back to the low 5’s, giving me the ability to jack the post boil amounts but if we are happy with where it is before then I will probably not take advantage of this opportunity.
So, it's an evolving process that could have the hop profile even more up-front, depending on where the balance for this beer levels out. Kirby and Carl invited me out to the brewery to try a bit of the new recipe (and the new Hopbock) before it went out to the canning facility. And while what I had was relatively young and straight out of the fermenter, it is much more in-line with what I like about Pale Ales.

To me, Pale Ales are about balance and flavor. One component shouldn't shine more than another, but each should be present and accounted for. In this case, you have a nice malty body that is noticeable and flavorful, and a Cascade hoppiness that provides a citrus nose and slightly pine-y flavor. The bitterness is fairly moderated, but the hop flavor is more present here, which is more pleasing than just plain bitterness.

The other thing we, Kirby and I, talked about was the point. That is to say, what's the point? This beer is not about being showy; it's a work-day beer. A beer you buy by the six or twelve pack and just keep around. I've been talking about this a lot lately, with Dave's BrewFarm Select in particular. To me it is far more difficult to make a beer that has the flavor and complexity to hold up to scrutiny, but that is subtle enough, is moderated enough, that it can be ignored. Stone cannot be, will not be, ignored. Even Sierra Nevada Pale is big enough to warrant attention. Imperial Pale Ales, if you will. Hopalicious is, to me, a slightly more moderated version of Stone's Pale with a slightly hoppy balance that is quenching and enjoyable. The US Pale is more malt-forward and overall balanced.
Is it a Pale Ale? An IPA? Fuckin’ swill? I’ll leave that to the great beer rating minds of our times to tell me……………


  1. I'm excited to read this. The previous incarnation of US Pale was always a good choice for a tailgate or the like. A twelve-pack of cans fit perfectly in my soft-side cooler. Adding more body and increased hoppiness can only make it better, in my humble opinion.

  2. I'm excited about this too. If I were Kirby, though, I'd compensate for alpha acid changes by adjusting the bittering hops instead of the flavor/aroma hops.

  3. Just a note to the editor, the way this article was laid out is really choppy. It makes for tough reading.

    Capital should stick with what it does best - lager beers. Their Pilsner and the other ambers, bocks and OFest are wonderful. Ales might be the flavor of the day, but lagers require more attention and care. Off flavors can be picked more easily in a clean lager. It doesn't have the esters to cover up mistakes. Kirby is a brewmaster who has mastered lager beers.

    If you really want a good pale I would recommend Sierra Nevada (bottle) or Dale's Pale Ale (cans).

  4. Invited to the brewery? It looks like you and Kirby are getting along a little better...


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