Designing a beer recipe with Thomas Larsen is a snap. There’s nothing to it. You tell the guy what you want, and he does it.
Larsen, head brewer at Ska Brewing Co., clearly knows what he’s doing. Asking him to design an imperial red ale is a bit like asking a short order cook for scrambled eggs: It’s not exactly stretching the guy’s creativity.
That said, I had a great time working on the recipe, the last step before brewing.
A few weeks ago, Ska President Dave Thibodeau invited Beer at 6512’s own Soggy Coaster and Beer N Bikes blogger Jeff Hammett to collaborate with the Durango brewery, each brewing a beer.
We tell Ska what style we want to brew, we work with them on a recipe, then we actually brew it on Ska’s 10-gallon pilot system. Ska supplies the ingredients and puts it on tap at the brewery. We get to blog about it, with no restrictions from Ska, and bask in the brewery’s reflected glory.
I met with Larsen on Monday to devise the recipe at Ska HQ, with music pounding from the ether above. I’m brewing an imperial red ale based on Ska’s Pinstripe, essentially taking the popular red ale up a few notches in malt body, hop taste and aroma and alcohol. I was inspired to brew an imperial red by an Oregon beer, Ninkasi Believer.
Larsen uses a software program called BeerSmith to design beers. He started with the Pinstripe recipe and did a lot of clicking the “increase amount” button.
The challenge with this beer is to make it different enough from Pinstripe to be interesting, but not so big and boozy that you can’t have a few pints.
This is why I appreciate the Ninkasi beer, which comes in at 6.9 percent ABV and 60 IBUs. It strikes a good balance. I’ve had imperial reds of 10 percent booze that were thick as syrup and not much fun to drink.
Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale, as I’ve come to call it, shoots for 7.95 percent ABV and 60 IBUs. (Pinstripe, by comparison, is 5.6 percent ABV and 27 IBUs).
Larsen said Ska’s pilot system is not as efficient as its big tanks used for commercial brewing, and we can expect the ABV figure to fall short of what we design. It all depends on how hungry the yeast are. Aiming for 7.95 percent ABV gives us some room. If the beer lands between about 7-8 percent ABV, that’ll be fine by me.
We brew Monday. I’ll put in essentially a full day of work at Ska. The beer will have to sit for awhile, but I’ll let you know when it goes on tap.
(Jeff, by the way, is brewing a Belgian-American IPA. His beer was brewed first and will go on tap first).
Now, to the recipe. The Soggy Coaster recipe is essentially Pinstripe taken up a notch, with a few tweaks. Pinstripe is typically spiced with Liberty hops, but apparently they are not to be had. So we’re using German Tradition and Crystal hops instead.
I also asked Thomas to get Willamette hops in the recipe somehow because I’m from the Willamette Valley in Oregon – Corvallis, specifically - and the town name translates from Latin as “Heart of the Valley.” So I wanted to represent for the home team, as they say. The Willamettes serve as aroma hops, replacing Tettnangs in the original Pinstripe recipe.
(I also considered calling the beer Hellafied Gangsta Lean Imperial Red, in homage to that secular prophet of our time, Snoop Dogg, but I figured that would just be confusing. Soggy Coaster is my nom de plume, the result of happy hours with happily overfilled pints soaking the cardboard coasters used by all the Durango breweries).
Without further ado, the recipe for Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale:
32.5 lb. Two-row pale malt (2.0 SRM)
2.75 lb. Cara-Pils/dextrine (2.0 SRM)
2.5 lb. Caramel/crystal malt 80L (80 SRM)
1 lb. Caramel/crystal malt 120L (120 SRM)
1 lb. white wheat malt (2.4 SRM)
4.5 oz. German Tradition (90 minutes)
4 oz. Crystal (30 minutes)
3 oz. Willamette (5 minutes)
2 oz. Cascade (5 minutes)
Like Pinstripe, Soggy Coaster Imperial Red will use Ska’s version of Ringwood Ale Yeast 1187.
Hilariously, this beer is going to come in at 364 calories per pint. If you want diet beer, look elsewhere. If you want tasty beer, keep your eyes on this blog for news of the keg tapping.