PM#11 – Big Dawg Imperial Amber Ale

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It’s funny. I had a blog post all ready to go about how I was going to make improvements to my “Big Dawg Amber IPA” – to lighten the colour, reduce the bitterness, increase the attenuation etc. Well, it’s supposed “flaws” drove me to re-designate the amber IPA to “Big Dawg Imperial Amber Ale” as the dark malt flavours made it seem much more like a super-charged American amber. I entered it in the “Specialty” category of Ireland’s first national homebrewing competition where it scored a very respectable 40 points and took the bronze medal in that category. While I’m sure there’s still room for improvement, it seems a bit silly to go tinkering with the recipe now. Here, for posterity is how I was planning to turn the recipe around to make it more like an IPA:

  • I’ll be omitting the Crystal 100 altogether. Even though there’s only a small amount of this grain, I think the heavy caramel flavour comes through and I don’t think it’s appropriate here.
  • I do still want this to be an “amber” IPA, but I’m going to be much more conservative with the colour adjustments this time. I’ll sub the chocolate malt with the pale variety and use half the amount.
  • I’ll be reducing the Crystal 40 to 150g but adding 200g of Crystal 15. This will lighten the colour considerably I hope.
  • I’ll be upping the amount of base malt to 2kg, up to the limit of my mash pot capacity. Instead of taking the easier option by drastically increasing the amount of corn sugar in an attempt to dry out the beer, I’m going to try to achieve this by decreasing the mash temperature. I’ll be aiming for 65C. However, I’ll also be increasing the amount of corn sugar slightly from 180g to 250g.
  • The hop schedule will stay the same as the hop flavour and aroma is fantastic. I’ll be shooting for the same level of IBU aswell, even though I’ll have less residual sweetness in the beer. Hopefully it will work out. I’m going to aim for 7 days of dry-hopping this time.

There’s a lot of merit in these changes I think and they will prove useful when I get around to actually doing an amber IPA again.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to do a re-brew of Big Dawg Imperial Amber Ale, an exact copy if I can. I got some feedback from the judge in the competition who said that it was just slightly too bitter for the gravity. I went back and looked at my recipe and realised the AA rating on my Summit hops was incorrect. When I adjusted the AA, the IBUs in the beer climbed to 72.5. So I’ll be paying close attention to my hops this time and I’ll also be reducing the IBUs to around 67. I also want to reduce the carbonation ever so slightly, as the beer was just a bit too lively.

Recipe

Boil Size: 16.00 l
Post Boil Volume: 14.11 l
Batch Size (fermenter): 15.00 l
Bottling Volume: 15.00 l
Estimated OG: 1.071 SG
Estimated Color: 16.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 66.9 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 65.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 65.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 2.200 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM), 52.5 %
  • 0.350 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM), 8.4 %
  • 0.160 kg Wheat Malt, Ger (2.0 SRM), 3.8 %
  • 0.120 kg Biscuit Malt (23.0 SRM), 2.9 %
  • 0.039 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt -100L (100.0 SRM), 0.9 %
  • 0.039 kg Chocolate Malt (530.0 SRM), 0.9 %
  • 10 g Summit [16.80 %] – Boil 60.0 min, 34.1 IBUs
  • 1.100 kg Light Dry Extract [Boil for 20 min](8.0), 26.3 %
  • 0.180 kg Corn Sugar (Dextrose) [Boil for 20 min], 4.3 %
  • 0.50 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins)
  • 24 g Cascade [6.80 %] – Boil 15.0 min, 8.0 IBUs
  • 24 g Summit [16.80 %] – Boil 10.0 min, 16.4 IBUs
  • 24 g Cascade [6.80 %] – Boil 5.0 min, 5.0 IBUs
  • 24 g Cascade [6.80 %] – Boil 0.0 min, 0.0 IBUs
  • 24 g Summit [16.80 %] – Boil 0.0 min, 0.0 IBUs
  • 1.0 pkg Safale Fermentis US-05
  • 28 g Cascade [6.80 %] – Dry Hop 5.0 Days, 0.0 IBUs

Notes

16/04/2013 Mash Day – Mashed at 67-68°C.

17/04/2013 Boil Day – Nothing much to report. Used my 15 litre fermenter to sparge. Didn’t bother taking an OG reading.

24/04/2013 – Dry-hopped with 28g of Cascade leaf hops. I used my new marbles to weigh down the hop bag! I used 300g of marbles which was over half the bag, but it still didn’t make the bag sink. I guess I’ll be going for the full bag of marbles next time. Surprising for such a small dry hop. I’ll give this 4-5 days before bottling – depends on when suits best to do my bottling.

28/04/2012 – Bottled with 85g of glucose. The beer was a total of 11 days in fermenter,  just one day less than the first batch. Had no problems with clogged siphon this time and I got 12 x 750ml swingtop bottles and 8 x 500ml regular bottles. Fantastic hop aroma from the dry-hopped Cascade.

18/05/2013 – Pretty good, but it still tastes a little young as it’s not even 3 weeks in the bottle. Will give it another 2 or 3 weeks. Definitely the same beer I brewed before, but the darker crystal malts need a little more aging. Looking good though.

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21/09/2013 – Comparison with Brewdog 10 Heads High – I was very excited to see a few weeks ago that Brewdog had not only released what they were calling an “Imperial Amber Ale”, but that it was 7.5% ABV, the same as “Big Dawg”. I snapped up a bottle as soon as I saw it in my local offie.

Appearance – The Brewdog beer is a definite shade darker than the Big Dawg. Much better head formation and retention in the home brew. Huge globs of yeast in the Brewdog bottle. Please, oh please Brewdog, tell us when your beers are bottle conditioned rather than filtered. This is the third time this has happened to me with BD bottles. We seasoned Brewdog drinkers are just not used to unfiltered beer from yourselves. Sort it out.

Aroma – A little stronger in the Brewdog. Aroma is of dark caramel and tangerine fruitiness. The Big Dawg is quite old at the moment though, and is likely to have lost much of it’s aroma.

Taste – The first difference that hits you is the whack of roasted malt in the Brewdog. That’s not present in the Big Dawg. The difference in hop character is not huge but the Brewdog has slightly more residual sweetness, perhaps lots of that CaraMalt that Brewdog likes using in a lot of their beers.

Mouthfeel – the mouthfeel is pretty much the same in both beers, as is the level of carbonation.

Overall Impression – my chief taster, in a blind taste test, preferred the Big Dawg and pointed out the “smoky” note in the Brewdog which is the roasted malts I referred to earlier. I quite agree, the Big Dawg trumps the pro beer just slightly, though I’d love to taste both beers with a little less age on them.

That’s the last bottle of Big Dawg. I’ll definitely be doing many rebrews of this beer. Excellent.

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