I got the word yesterday morning (last night Beijing time) that the Black IPA took first prize at the 2012 Beijing Craft Beer Festival. This is really exciting news and I am jazzed. The turn out was big too, and that means a lot in terms of where craft beer is going in Beijing and China in general. I would really look for this to snow ball, and for home brewing to grow quite strongly in the next year. It is too bad that the regulatory situation is so difficult, because there is a huge market that could be opened up to small, regional craft breweries in China.

It was really a proud moment for both Yin Hai and myself to win first place at the first Annual Beijing Craft Beer Festival. There were lots of beer lovers along with some very experienced brewers, and to get that kind of respect is really great. This post will explain a little bit more about how the beer was brewed, the ingredients and some lessons learned.

One of the most interesting things about this beer is that it was brewed from an Northern Brewers extract kit. Many people will say that it is not possible to brew first rate beer with an extract kit, but we have proven that is not true. In China we typically brew using the all grain method, and that is mostly because quality extract kits are not available in China. This particular kit was purchased from Northern Brewer in February and then carried back to China by Annie during a visit to New York.

The Black IPA kit utilizes specialty grains and four types of hops along with the extract to create something really unique. The description on Northern Brewers site says, “An ebony pint with a beige head is surrounded by an aromatic citrus-and pine force field, backed by a smooth roastiness redolent of cocoa and French roast coffee. Full-bodied, hop-bitter, and boozy, this beer is compelling enough to both fuel and quash the argument of its stylistic integrity, and it goes great with a blue-cheese stuffed sirloin burger or steak.” It is certainly all of that.

--113 grams / 0.25 lbs Weyermann Carafa III
--113 grams / 0.25 lbs Chocolate Malt
--226 grams / 0.5 lbs Briess Caramel 80
--1.43 kg / 3.15 lbs Dark malt syrup (60 min)
--2.72 kg / 6 lbs Dark malt syrup late addition (15 min)
--454 grams / 1 lb Corn Sugar late addition (0 min)
--28 grams / 1 oz Summit (60 min)
--28 grams / 1 oz Chinook (15 min)
--28 grams / 1 oz Centennial Type (10 min)
--28 grams / 1 oz Cascade (5 min)
--28 grams / 1 oz Centennial Type (0 min)
--28 grams / 1 oz Cascade (dry hop) (Yin did a 33g hops addition instead, as he felt it would push more of the IPA qualities that he likes)

--WYEAST 1272 AMERICAN ALE YEAST II. Fruitier and more flocculant than 1056, slightly nutty, soft, clean, slightly tart finish. Apparent attenuation: 72-76%. Flocculation: high. Optimum temp: 60–72° F.
--DRY YEAST ALTERNATIVE: SAFALE US-05. Optimum temp: 59-75° F.

When we reviewed the recipe prior to brewing it was pretty clear to us that the key to making an exceptional version of this was to time the hops additions precisely, and control our boils. The Brewtong’s facilities are slightly primitive, and to get the brewing process exact takes some work. Not only that but we brewed it at the end of a long day that had two full all-grain batches brewed prior to this. We setup a stopwatch for this batch using a digital timer and began the boil using purified water. The first round of ingredients included the specialty grains which were poured into a mesh bag and suspended in the water as we brought it up to boil. Once we got a vigorous boil going these were removed and discarded (about 20 minutes).

When you are brewing multiple batches a timer with an alarm is essential because often times you are doing multiple things. In this case, once we had the initial boil going and the first round of ingredients added, we were busy filling a fermentation vessel with the previous all grain batch, and sterilizing our equipment for the next batch. Things can get hectic at the Brewtong on brew day! The timers keep us informed at a glance exactly where we are in the brewing process and how long we need to go before the next ingredient addition.

One of the different things about this beer style is the addition of 454 grams (1lb) of corn sugar at the end of the boil. This helps us to hit our target O.G. of 1.075. Once the wort was cooled using our coil chiller we racked it to the fermenter and pitched the Wyeast 1272 American Ale II. Unfortunately we did not activate the package until brew day, about 2 hours prior to pitching. In the future we hope to refine our yeast starters and really get a well documented system for handling our yeast. With Jacob Wickham’s knowledge it is for sure that we will only get better and better in this area.

We also deviated from the primary recipe by not racking to a secondary fermenter. With the limited facility and time it was not possible. The original recipe calls for it to be held in secondary fermentation for 2-4 weeks before dry hopping 5 days prior to kegging. Instead we chose to skip the entire secondary fermentation step and dry hop (28 grams Cascade) to the primary fermenter 1 week before kegging. This allowed the beer to be conditioned for a couple of weeks prior to the festival.

Again, many thanks to all of the people who tasted the beers from the Brewtong. The feedback is extremely valuable to us as we work to develop our brewing process and beers.