Matt Murphy

Lautering my mind. Code and Brewing.

American pale ales

Over the past year I’ve brewed more APAs than any other style. I also entered my first homebrew competitions, and American Pale Ale has been the style I’ve had the most success with. I’ve made small changes to the grist, experimented with different hop varieties, and spent too much time trying to second guess what the judges are after. I’ll go over the general approach I’ve taken to the style, share the recipes, and unashamedly gloat about the accolades.

Yeast

I’ve stuck with the ever popular Safale US-05 for all my APAs. It is reliable and is easy to achieve a clean flavour with good attenuation.

Grist

Most of the APAs I brewed this past year had a combination of an English base malt, Munich, and small amounts of crystal malts. The Munich adds some nice dry maltiness without adding the sweetness of crystal. Varying the amount of Munich and Crystal was a good way to tweak the balance (Hops vs Malt) based on competition feedback.

Hops

I used some classic American hops, as well as newer American, NZ, and Australian hops. Nelson Sauvin, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe, and Galaxy all got a turn. I found Centennial a good constant to pair with the newer, more distinctive hops. The general approach I took to kettle additions was a small bittering addition and a whole lot of hops in the last 15 minutes of the boil (Common additions were at 15,10, and 0 minutes). For dry hopping, I added hops after the first week of a two week fermentation.

Water

All brews had the water adjusted to something close to the ‘light and hoppy’ profile in this excellent calculator

Newcastle Show Brews

I entered two very similar APAs in the Newcastle show, one of which placed 2nd in a broader Ale category, the problem is I have no idea which one. The other one did quite well as well, so both were good beers. Both shared the same grist and yeast.

grist:

  • 0.3kg Munich Light
  • 5.0kg Pale Ale (Perl) (Bairds UK)
  • 0.2kg Medium Crystal 145 EBC (Thomas Fawcett UK)

hops brew 1 - All Nelson Sauvin

  • 10g @ 60 min
  • 25g @ 15 min
  • 25g @ 10 min
  • 25g @ flameout
  • 30g dry hop

hops for brew 2:

  • 10g Centennial @ 60 min
  • 15g Centennial, 15g Citra @ 15 min
  • 15g Centennial, 15g Citra @ 10 min
  • 15g Centennial, 15g Citra @ flameout
  • 15g Centennial, 15g Citra dry hop

The all Nelson Sauvin brew was delicious, but definitely pushed the style limits when it came to IBU and hop balance. It is a potent hop with a flavour that I love, but a little odd. Gooseberry seems to be a common descriptor; definitely unique and worth a try for something different. The Centennial/Citra combo works really well. I think the Centennial softens the impact of the Citra a little so it is less overwhelming. It was my favourite of the two, it tastes like flowers and lychee in a good way.

I loved these beers and they scored well; however, the feedback suggested I needed to aim for a more balanced beer.

NSW State Comp

In hindsight, this might be the tipping point from hobby to obsession. I brewed a similar beer to the Citra/Centennial brew above, with some tweaks to address the malt/hop balance criticism. The grist was similar, a bit more Munich and a little less pale:

  • 0.4kg Munich Light
  • 4.8kg Pale Ale (Perl) (Bairds UK)
  • 0.2kg Heritage Crystal (medium) (Simpsons UK)

Backed the hops of slightly:

  • 10g Centennial @ 60 min
  • 15g each of Centennial, Citra @ 15 min
  • 10g each of Centennial, Citra @ 10 min
  • 10g each of Centennial, Citra @ flameout
  • 15g each of Centennial, Citra dry hop

This turned out pretty nice; however, the judges feedback called for a bigger beer. More hops, more malt. It won the APA category in the NSW comp and I qualified for the Australian Amateur Brewing Championships. I even got a fancy ribbon.

fancy ribbon

AABC

I brewed a few pale ales leading up to this and decided to enter one that was pretty much just within the style guidelines for ABV and IBU. Citra was hard to come by so I tried a couple of hop variations. I replaced the Citra with Simcoe, hoping for something a little less fruity, but still distinctively an APA. It was a nice beer, but the hop combo was a little bland. I did like what Simcoe added to the beer so I kept that in the mix and added some Australian Galaxy. For The grist I increased the base and Munich malts:

  • 0.6kg Munich Light
  • 5.1kg Pale Ale (Perl) (Bairds UK)
  • 0.2kg Heritage Crystal (medium) (Simpsons UK)

hops:

  • 10g Centennial @ 60 min
  • 10g each of Centennial, Simcoe, Galaxy @ 15 min
  • 10g each of Centennial, Simcoe, Galaxy @ 10 min
  • 10g each of Centennial, Simcoe, Galaxy @ flameout
  • 10g each of Centennial, Simcoe, Galaxy dry hop

I forgot to add the dry hops at the usual time an they only got 2 days in the fermenter. The beer certainly lacked aroma when compared to the previous brews. The beer is nice and placed 7th in the APA category. It did lack the hop impact of the Citra brews and finished a little sweet. Due to my hit and miss temperature control, I mashed this one a bit higher (67deg C), so this might have been a factor.

Spending some time focussing on the APA style has certainly helped me improve my attempts at the style. Iterating based on the feedback from competitions has been useful and I’ve learnt a few things about bringing balance to a brew. Quality base malt and a bit of Munich malt does wonders and trying similar grists with different hops has helped me identify what each hop brings to a beer.

pale ale

I live in Maitland, NSW. You will find me writing about software and brewing.