Sunday, January 11, 2009

Columbia Pale Ale

Q: Whom or what is the city of Columbia, S.C., named for?
A: Famed explorer Christopher Columbus. Columbia, as it happens, is the poetic form of Columbus.

How appropriate, then, that this Columbia resident would name a recent Pale Ale, hopped with 100 percent Columbus hops, in honor of both the varietal it showcases and the city where it's enjoyed.

Real quick, a history of this beer: I had purchased a bunch of Columbus hops and wanted to get to know them. Few better ways of doing that than using them as the sole hop in a beer. This beer was also a little experimental in that I made only two hop additions: first-wort hops (FWH) and dry (keg) hops.

The recipe:

OG 1.053 FG 1.010
ABV 5.6% AA 80%
IBUs 46 SRM 9

90% Canadian two-row
5% Crystal 40
2.5% Crystal 60
2.5% Crystal 80

46 IBUs (1.38 oz.) Columbus FWH
1 oz. Columbus dry hop (keg)

Wyeast 2450 "Denny's Favorite 50"

At first I thought this beer was much more bitter than its calculated 46 IBUs. (Calculating IBUs from first-wort hopping is something many homebrewers debate, but there is at least some consensus that the while the real number may be higher, FWH imparts a "gentler" bitterness such that the perceived IBUs are equivalent to a hop charge two-thirds through the boil. So, for a 75-minute boil, I and many others calculate FWH IBUs as if the hop charge came at 25 minutes.)

Before long, however, I came to regard the 46 IBUs estimate as accurate enough for my purposes. At any rate, I entered this beer in a recent competition as an American Pale Ale and it did rather well; one judge noted the bitterness was a little on the high side, consistent with my initial impression. But no way is this an IPA.

It could use a little more hop flavor (through some alchemical process first-wort hops are said to have their flavor fixed in a beer despite going through an entire boil, and I'd say that's true – but when does a little extra hop flavor ever hurt?) and also aroma. I'm a little surprised at how low the hop aroma is (something else the judges picked up on) considering there's a full ounce of hops in the serving keg. But on the other hand, there were no late hop additions in the kettle to help bolster that aroma.

I really like Wyeast 2450 for American beers that have a dash of character – in other words, basically anything APA and up. I used 2450 in a Blonde Ale not long ago and found the yeast's esters, while not unpleasant, were just a little too much in such a simple style like that – to my tastes, anyway. But with hops and a dash of malt thrown in the mix, this yeast's mostly clean, smooth profile is a great match. I've also used it in an IPA and a Smoked Porter, all with fine results. Definitely one to keep in the rotation.

As for the Columbia Pale Ale, this beer reinforced what Adam Avery had already taught me by way of his glorious Hog Heaven Barleywine – that there's no reason you can't lean on Columbus hops start to finish. Sure, I'll ramp up the dosage next time, but only because I know it's a good idea. Until then, here's to an intrepid adventurer, a town that honors him, and a hop that just embodies New World goodness.

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