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Oct 25, 2014

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GABF brewers' diaries

Bill Madden

Capitol City Brewing - Sept. 16

Back to the beer style choices for GABF.

After Kolsch we decided to go with our other award winning beer, Wee Heavy. This brew we have been doing for about seven years on three different brewing systems within Cap City. It has been the most successful of all, winning a GABF Bronze in 2001 and a Silver in 2002 and also has done well at the Real Ale Festival with a 2002 Gold in category and Silver Best of Group Awards, British Ales, and Gold in category in 2003. It went from being our Christmas Ale to almost being brewed year round. We chose to give it a break this summer and put the brewers stash under wraps. This beer did not do well at judged events until we started to age it. The longer the better I find, but I must admit we cannot seem to hold a keg or cask longer than two years. Each year we try to lay down a keg for GABF or a cask for RAF at least six months beforehand so the brewing and thinking process for these events happens months before. The Wee Heavy is brewed with all English malts with huge sums of Pale, some crystal and a touch of Roasted Barley. The hops vary but all are English and the yeast used is our "house" strain from the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich, UK. The yeast does need a little help with some yeast nutrients and never gets pitched again. This is our BIG malt showcase beer to demonstrate that we are not just hophead brewers.

The next beer we entered is our Prohibition Porter, yes I know, another one of our "house" beers. We have been sending this beer for years and it never seems to do well in judged events but as a category it is very attractive. There are many wonderful Porters brewed in this country which is really amazing to me since it is a beer style that nearly became extinct in the country that founded it. The American Craft Beer movement really saved it as a beer style. So the historical factor with a Porter and all that goes with it makes it a challenge to us. We made the decision since last years GABF to tweak and adjust the recipe to make it something that is ... well ... maybe more attractive to the judges and to the public hopefully as well. We adjusted the malt and hop grist and made the beer a little bit bigger. It was funny to me when I asked our regulars how they liked the new recipe, one, Larry said "Really? I did not notice." The brewers thought the change was for the better and fortunately our brewpub regulars did not take notice.

The next beer sent to the GABF is the Trippel. The reasons for sending this beer is simple. We think it is a good example of the style and we would like to have an award in an elusive category for Capitol City Brewing Company. Something in a Belgian style! This beer, like the reasons for sending it, is simple in design. A pallet of German pils malt, many kilos of light candi sucre and a great yeast strain from White Labs. No filtering, easy. I love these kinds of beers.

The next beer sent we wanted to send as a poke in the eye to the West Coast brewers who say they know all there is to know about brewing hoppy beers (wink, wink, say no more Govn'r ... hear me Lupulin Slammers!).

IMPERIAL IPA.

Yep, we also decided to send one of the same beer styles another of our brewers is doing but what the #@&*. I have to admit though, and I am being truly honest, I got a lot of pointers from the West Coast brewers on this one when starting out, including Vinnie Cilurzo and many others. They were all helpful in helping to shape something that only existed in rumor here on the East Coast, at least at that time. It was about a year or more ago that I started researching this elusive style. I was told by one West Coast brewer that it was a fraud since no one brewed a "Double" IPA (this style's other name). This brewer went on to give me the example of a typical IPA at say 16 plato and 70 IBUs then imagine a 32 plato, 140 IBU Double IPA if the "double" really applies. I saw this brewer's point and decided then and there to refer to it as Imperial IPA, heck it sounded more regal anyhow. We started with a huge amount of English pale malt and then a huge amount of German Vienna malt (just to make it American!), then the kettle hops were all American varietals. The dry hop was dictated by Hopunion, whatever a quarter bale was became the amount used in a 15 barrel batch. Yields were low and the product precious. We would only tap a keg a week so our regulars would not drink it up so fast. We never advertised the Imperial IPA in the brewpubs, but still people in the know heard about it and would call ahead to be sure it was on tap. Stealth beer we call it and the effect was the same. What a huge amount of work for a beer but it was worth it.

We were pressed to get a fresh batch of Imperial IPA brewed in August for GABF. The dry hopping was done incorrectly and the whole leaf nylon bags ripped from the clamps holding them to the temp probe. If any dry hop character got in the batch it was minimal. I was not happy. I decided to use the first batch brewed of this nectar, which was in brewers stash since January. My concern was for what I felt the style might dictate for the judges which was "Fresh dry hop character." But, I had no choice, the latest batch was not up to it and the aged batch was all we had.

Off to the GABF the Beers went.

For Capitol City Brewing Company in Arlington, Virginia where I brew with Mike Morris and Sam Fernandez, we sent:

Capitol Kolsch Ale, Wee Heavy Ale, Prohibition Porter, Belgian style Trippel and Imperial IPA.

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