All-Citra Pale Ale (all-grain)

Citra pale ale

A few weeks ago, my local homebrewing store hosted a free talk by award winning homebrewer and beer judge Gordon Strong. I’d never heard of him before the talk, but his experiences and mindset towards experimenting and making better beer really resonated with me. A very structured, logical, engineering-like approach to to not just brewing but problem solving.  He provided a recipe that encompassed a host of things he’s picked up on for making an excellent pale ale that’s not harsh and bitter, but still has a nice rounded hop flavor. I’ve never used some of these techniques in the recipe but I’m eager to see how they come out.  The original recipe called for a mix of Galaxy/Amarillo hops (which my store was out of), so I subbed for all Citra since it’s supposed to be a close fit (and, I’ve never done an all-Citra beer before!). Citra has an incredible aroma; most people describe it as tropical fruit – mango, passionfruit, orange, pineapple – take that as you wish, but you really just have to taste/smell it to believe it.

  • 6 lb Pilsner malt (briess)
  • 6 lb 2-row Pale malt (briess)
  • 1.5 lb Munich Malt (briess)
  • 0.5 oz Citra hops (first wort) 14.5% aa
  • 1 oz Citra (20 min)
  • 1 oz Citra (10 min)
  • 1 oz Citra (1 min)
  • 1.5 oz Citra (whirl pool)

The first thing to note is the first wort hopping. This is where you add the hops to first runnings of the mash, before you sparge and before even bring everything to boil. Supposedly, adding the hops at this point will lend a unique, smooth hop flavor to the beer, despite adding it before the boil even starts. Seems counterintuitive, since boiling the hops longer should yield more bitterness and not so much flavor. Gordon compared adding hops at first wort as equivalent to a 20 min addition, but slightly more potent. We’ll see how my experience compares.

Also, notice that no hops are added at 60 minutes, like nearly all recipes.  All late-additions at 20 minutes and later.  This was another suggestion and should lend only to hop flavor and aroma.  Lastly, I’m not going to dry hop. I’ll use 1.5 oz in a “whirl pool” (basically just stirring for about 10 minutes) after the wort has been cooled and before I pitch my yeast.  This should hopefully yield similar amounts of hop aroma without the vegetal, plant-like side effects of dry hopping for a week in the secondary.

// BEGIN BEER NERD INFO // 17 qt water @ 156 (1.25 qt/lb), wound up at 146F for 20 min, added 5 qt boiling water, brought up to 152-150F for 40 min.  Sparged (single batch) w/ 4 gal @ 166F, collected ~7.5 gal pre boil, 1.033. after boil: 5.5 gal, 1.047 OG, cooled to ~80F and pitched a starter made 3 days prior (most of the yeast had settled, so I poured ~1/2 of the liquid off, shook and pitched). Cost to brew: $36. // ENF BEER NERD INFO //

UPDATE:  Fermentation was quick, starting a few hours after pitching and finished up in about 3 days at ~78F. My whole basement smelled like hops while this thing fermented.  I was concerned about the final gravity being a little too low since I undershot my mash temps a little, so I racked a little earlier than normal to try and save some body in the beer before it was eaten up by the yeast. The gravity was 1.011 when I initally racked, then, after four days in the secondary, it dropped to 1.009 anyway. Right now the yeast cells are laughing at me, like, “nice try, sucka.”

THE VERDICT:

Man, this beer turned out amazing. It pours a golden yellow / light orange with a fluffy white head that lasts a good two minutes in the glass.  After a few days in the keg, the all-citra-ness seemed a tiny bit overwhelming. You taste it and you’re like, “Yep, that’s some Citra alright”. But, after a few more days it mellowed out really nicely and just tastes outstanding.  The all-citra gives it a very pure, hoppy sensation; simplistic, yet you really get a sense of all this hop strain can do.  The first-wort hopping is pretty noticeable in my opinion.  I recognize the type of flavor it gives off from other commercial IPAs/Pale ales I’ve tried – it’s a sort of smooth, deeper hop flavor than what you get from the boil additions.  In a way, this beer reminds me a lot of Yards Philly Pale Ale, though theirs is a little more piney than fruity, a little more bitter, and with slightly subtler late hopping.   The malt profile is on point; very lightly breaded flavor with just enough character to support a beautiful hop aroma and flavor, which is absurdly fruity and tropical.  Thinking very critically about what I could change to make this better, I’d say that a mix of Amarillo and Citra would play pretty well together, but I’d remain predominantly Citra. Also, part of me wants just a *hint* of caramel in the malts, but I’m sort of afraid to touch it because it’s so good as is, so I likely won’t. Enjoy!

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