Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

This is actually a copy of my first post over at beerporn (completely SFW).

This is a review of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale from the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California.

Though it is only available seasonally, and marketed “especially for the holidays,” this beer is used by the Beer Judge Certification Program as an example of an American IPA and not a spiced or specialty beer. At 6.8% alcohol by volume this beer will give you a nice warm feeling of cheer on a cold winter’s night.

Sierra Nevada lists the ingredients as two-row pale and english caramel malts with chinook hops for bittering, cascade and centennial to finish and dry hop. They just say they use a “top-fermenting ale yeast,” but it’s probably the Chico yeast. If you look at some of the more popular clone recipes, you’ll see that’s really all there is to it.

The beer pours a clear copper color with a thick, creamy off-white head. The aroma is hoppy with hints of flowers, spice, citrus, and pine with a faint malt sweetness. The beer feels smooth on the tongue with the right carbonation for an American IPA and a crisp finish that leaves you wanting another. It has a good hop bitterness with a nice malt backbone, with hints of unsweetened chocolate and cherry, like biting into a Godiva cherry cordial.

Overall I really like this beer. The wife an I stock up on it every year between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Making a Beer Yeast Starter

Follow these steps to make a beer yeast starter:

  1. Calculate the beer yeast starter volume required to achieve the number of cells required for the desired pitching rate.

  2. For each quart of beer yeast starter required, add 3.5 ounces (1 cup) of DME and 1/40 teaspoon yeast nutrient to a quart of potable water.

  3. Boil for 20 minutes to sterilize.

  4. Cool to 70°F.

  5. Pour into a sanitized container with a stopper and airlock.

  6. Shake well.

  7. Add yeast culture.

  8. Let the starter ferment at or near your target fermentation temperature for 24–36 hours.

  9. Periodically agitate the beer yeast starter to resuspend the yeast, aerate, and remove CO₂.

  10. Chill the beer yeast starter for 24 hours to flocculate all of the yeast.

  11. Decant the beer from the yeast cake.

  12. Allow the yeast cake to warm to fermentation temperature.

  13. Swirl the container to suspend the yeast in a slurry.

  14. Inoculate the target wort using the slurry.

(10) Thanksgiving 2008 Brew Day

I brewed a milk stout on Thanksgiving this year. It was the Triple-X recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. Jamil talks about it at length in the Sweet Stout episodeof his podcast. Things went really well.

It was my first full-boil. My first use of my wort chiller. Gretchen made me a really great meat pie for lunch. I had one of my Irresponsible Blonde Ale’s while I brewed. Everything seemed to go well.
Almost everything, that is. I forgot to crush my steeping grains. It was funny. When I finished the brew — Yes, I got all the way through without noticing — my wife said, “So, the grain mill worked all right then?” Eh? Grain mill. Right. Grain mill. OH SNAP!
Also, after the steeping I tried to rush the boil by starting the flame while I was topping up. Unfortunately, when I added the liquid malt extract, the bottom was already hot and some of it burned before I could get it all dissolved.
Finally, I forgot to measure my boil volumes. I think I boiled off one gallon in an hour, but I’ll have to be more careful next time.
I did manage to nail the target gravity and the brew is happily fermenting at 67°F at the moment. I plan to let it continue to do that and bottle it on the 17th.

(6) Saturday, July 26, 2008 Brew Day

I made a number of mistakes while brewing this beer. Keep this in mind while you read this. If you follow my instructions to the letter you will make the same mistakes, but you may have a beer that tastes as good as mine did.

In February 1980 the movie American Gigolo hit the big screen. The studio released its main theme as a single to promote the film. That song reached number one on both the US and UK singles charts. Deborah Harry composed the song and her band — Blondie — performed it. “Call Me” was the name of the song.

So, what does this MTV moment have to do with anything?

I am trying to get back into home brewing. My goal is to get to the point where I grow and harvest all the ingredients myself, dry the hops, malt the barley, roast it, toast it, mill it, mash it, sparge it, brew it, ferment it, package it, and drink it (of course). For now, though, I am just doing extract brewing. I bought myself a copy of Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer. I have read a few places that blonde ale is one of the easiest to brew. Lo and behold — on pages 96–97 — there is an award-winning recipe for blonde ale. “Call Me!” is the name of the recipe. Jamil talks about it on The Jamil Show. He describes it as “a very approachable beer for people new to craft beer.”

So here is the thing. I lived through the 80s. I remember watching that video on MTV when MTV still played music videos. I swear it took me weeks to realize that there was a connection between the name of the beer and the name of the song. “Call Me!” sounds like an emphatic way of reminding someone to call them. The first thing I thought of was the scene in the episode “The West Coast Delay” of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip where Matt tries to get one of the Bombshell Babies to sign one of her stiletto boots with “Call me, baby,” to get back at Harriet.

When I started rounding up the ingredients and plotting out how I would brew this beer, I realized I was not going to be able to precisely reproduce Jamil’s recipe. So, I needed a new name — something similar, but reflecting that it was not the same. It would be irresponsible for me to do otherwise. Wait a moment! Call Me… Irresponsible! Is that the name of a song? Off to Google. Yes, it is. What is this other song in the search results? OMG! Blondie! That is the connection. Blondie. Blonde ale. Get it? Well it took me weeks and I found it quite by accident. I am a little slow, I guess.

Anyway, my beer continues the play on song titles with Call Me Irresponsible, written in 1962 for Jackie Gleason’s lead role as an alcoholic father in the 1963 film Papa’s Delicate Condition.

What is Different?

A few things are different about my recipe.

First, Jamil based all of the recipes in the book on a seven-gallon boil. I do not yet have the equipment to do a full boil, so I did a partial boil with late extract to reduce caramelization of the extract and darkening of what is supposed to be a very light colored beer.

Second, Jamil has sources for ingredients that I cannot match. The original recipe calls for 8.3 pounds of 2.2° Lovibond liquid malt extract (LME). I would guess that Jamil has something particular in mind that I am simply too new to the hobby to recognize. I used what is as close as I could find which is 2–6°L. Plus, I have to work with amounts I can actually purchase, so I converted that 8.3 pounds of liquid into six pounds of liquid and two pounds of dry. It was actually Briess CBW® Golden Light, which has some Carapils in it. That helps with head retention, which is good, but the original recipe does not call for any. The original also calls for 15°L crystal malt. All I could find was 10°L or 20°L1. I thought about mixing half and half, but since my base malt was a little darker than Jamil called for, I went with 10°L. That was convenient because I could actually purchase the exact quantity I needed, already crushed.

Third, Jamil calls for 0.98 ounces of 5.0% AA Willamette hops. Multiplying these numbers together, we find the bittering potential of the hops — 4.9 AAU in this case. I do not have a local homebrew store. I order online and take what I get. I ordered one ounce of Willamette hop pellets. What I received was 4.6% AA, so I had a 4.6 AAU bittering potential.

Fourth, I would normally go with liquid yeast and make a starter, but it was July and I am more than two states away from my local homebrew shop, so I went with dry yeast.

Fifthly, and this is the smallest one, I do not have any way to control my fermentation temperature — and it was mid-summer. It went in the closet in the basement, which thankfully was around 69°F. That is pretty good, but the yeasties add a little heat, so the fermentation was a little warmer. The range for the yeast is up to 75°F, so that is probably okay, but it is not the 67°F the recipe calls for.

Finally, I made a tiny little screw-up and missed the part in converting to a partial boil that my volume at pitching was only going to be 5 gallons, while the recipe calls for 6 gallons going at the end of the boil. That makes my statistics significantly higher than Jamil’s, and actually not quite within the style guidelines.

How Does It Measure Up?

Here are the BJCP style guidelines for Blonde Ale, the Brewer’s Association Style Guidelines, and the calculated values for my version of this recipe.

Style: Category 6. Light Hybrid Beer — 6B Blonde Ale
  BJCP Guidelines BA Guidelines Calculated
OG: 1.038-1.054 SG 1.045-1.056 SG 1.065 SG
FG: 1.008-1.013 SG 1.008-1.016 SG 1.016 SG
IBU: 15–28 IBU 15–25 IBU 25 IBU (using Rager)
Color: 3.06.0 SRM 3.07.0 SRM 5.9 SRM (using Morey) — Light Amber
ABV: 3.8–5.5% 4.0–5.0% 6.6%
  • OG: 1.065 (1.038–1.054)
  • FG: 1.016 (1.008–1.013)
  • IBU: 25 (15–28)
  • SRM: 5.9 (3.0–6.0)
  • ABV: 6.6 (3.8–5.5)

BU:GU ratio: 0.38

Comparing the calculated values to the guidelines helps us know what to expect from the beer before we brew it.

Looking at the original gravity (OG) — a measure of how much dissolved sugar there is in our wort — pure water being 1.000 — we see that this recipe is right at the top end of the style. That makes it a big beer for this style. It is not as big as some other styles — like Stout, say — but as big as you can get for the style.

Turning to the final gravity (FG) — a measure of how much unfermented sugar the yeast leave in the beer after they have eaten their fill — we see that this recipe is also at the top end of the style. That means that there will be as much flavor and mouth feel components left as the style permits.

This style allows a range of bitterness, measured in international bitterness units (IBU), of 15–28. At 25, this recipe is at the top end of the range. Bitterness alone turns out to be a misleading value because our ability to taste bitterness seems to be a function of the gravity of the beer. The ratio of bitterness to the 65 points of original gravity is 0.38. That makes it a mildly bitter beer. Or as Jamil put it, “just enough hop bitterness to keep things balanced.”

As I said earlier, my base malt is a little darker than Jamil called for. The calculated color number bears that out. However, it is still in the range for the style and I can be as happy with a “dirty blonde,” as with a “platinum” one.

Finally, with an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 6.6%, this beer is above the top end of the range for the style.

Here is the recipe as I make it:

Call Me Irresponsible Blonde Ale

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Ingredients

  • 8 ounces crushed Briess Caramel Malt 10°L (steeped)

  • 2 pounds Briess CBW® Golden Light Dried Extract (start of boil)

  • 6 pounds Briess CBW® Golden Light Liquid Malt Extract (15 minutes from end)

  • 1 ounce Willamette Hop Pellets (4.6%) (start of boil)

  • 1 teaspoon Irish Moss (15 minutes from end)

  • 1 packet Fermentis Safale US-05 Dry Ale Yeast (in fermenter)

  • 5 ounces Corn Sugar (for priming)

Boil Duration: 60 minutes

Fermentation Temperature: 67°F

Carbonation: 2.5 volumes

The “Extra” Water

Since this procedure calls for a split boil, pre-boil and cool four gallons of water. If you can, it would be a great idea to do this the night before. That way you can cover it and let it cool naturally rather than going to the effort of force cooling the water while you are dealing with brewing your beer.

Rehydrating the Yeast

I had not used dry yeast since the last millennium. As a refresher, I went with what the manufacturer — Fermentis — had to say:

Re-hydrate the dry yeast into yeast cream in a stirred vessel prior to pitching. Sprinkle the dry yeast in 10 times its own weight of sterile water or wort at 27°C ± 3°C (80°F ± 6°F). Once the expected weight of dry yeast is reconstituted into cream by this method (this takes about 15 to 30 minutes), maintain a gentle stirring for another 30 minutes. Then pitch the resultant cream into the fermentation vessel.

This yeast comes in an 11.5-gram packet. Ten times that weight is 115 grams, which is about a quarter pound. Since a pint is a pound the world around, use a quarter pint — or half-a-cup — of the pre-boiled water to rehydrate the yeast.

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Rehydrating Yeast

If you do not pre-boil your extra water, bring a few cups of water to a boil for one minute. Cover it and allow it to cool to between 74°F and 86°F.

Add half-a-cup of the sterile water to a sanitized bowl. Open the dry yeast packet and sprinkle into the water. Allow this to stand for half an hour. After half an hour, periodically give the bowl a gentle stir over the course of the next half-hour.

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Rehydrated Yeast

Steeping the Specialty Grains

John Palmer provides an appendix in Brewing Classic Styles on steeping specialty grains. It is very similar to the section on his How to Brew site. He does make the suggestion, though, that the ratio of steeping water to grain should be less than one gallon per pound. This helps control the pH of the wort in areas with alkaline water. That reduces the likelihood of tannin extraction, which causes an astringent flavor. Since I have not had my water tested, I just play it safe. This recipe calls for a half-pound of specialty grain, so use a half-gallon of steeping water.

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Steeping Specialty Grains

Place the half-pound of crushed caramel malt into a grain bag. In your brew pot, heat a half-gallon of water to 160°F ± 10°F. Turn off the heat. It is not necessary to keep the water at temperature. Immerse the grain bag in the steeping water for 30 minutes. Occasionally, move the bag about to ensure all of the grain is wet and help improve the extraction efficiency. At the end of 30 minutes, lift the grain bag and allow it to drain. Do not worry about getting every drop. Discard the spent grain.

The Partial Boil

John also includes a chapter at the start of the book that includes a section on how to convert a full-boil recipe to a partial boil. The basic concept is to use a smaller volume of water with part of your malt extract to try to reproduce the gravity of the full boil so that you get the same hop extraction efficiency.

The original gravity of the full boil recipe is 1.050. The resulting wort from the steeped specialty grains, combined with the two pounds of dry malt extract dissolved in enough water to make two gallons has a gravity of 1.051. This is close enough. This forms the partial boil and allows for the correct hop extraction efficiency.

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Hop Addition

To the brew pot, add the two pounds of dry malt extract and enough water to make two gallons of wort. Stir to dissolve the dry malt extract. Bring the wort to a boil. When initial foaming subsides, add the one ounce of Willamette Hop Pellets and start a 60 minute timer.

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Late Extract Addition

With 15 minutes left in the boil, turn off the heat and stir in the six pounds of liquid malt extract and the Irish moss. Stir until the extract is dissolved, then resume heating. Keep the boil clock running. When the boil clock expires, cover and remove the brew pot from the heat.

Cooling and Aerating the Wort

In order to be able to pitch the yeast without killing it, you need to chill the wort. As when we rehydrated the yeast earlier, you really want the water temperature below 86°F. Ideally, you would want it close to fermentation temperature.

As with much of my other brewing equipment poverty, I do not have a fancy whirlpool immersion chiller (though I lust after one). I cool my wort in the sink in cold water. I take a two-liter soda bottle or a half-gallon milk jug filled with water and stick it in the freezer a day or two before brewing. Then I use it to give me a little extra cooling power in the water in the sink around my brew pot. I do recognize, though that it is important to cool the wort quickly. Here are a few of the dangers that are minimized by rapid cooling:

In addition to these, while the wort is still warm, you are still cooking off the aromatics from your hops, so the quicker you can cool, the more hop flavor and aroma you will have.

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Wort Cooling

Cooling Instructions — Tub or sink filled with cold or ice water. Two liter soda bottles filled with water and frozen. Stir the wort with a sanitized spoon. Change the water in the sink when it warms up.

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Adding Concentrated Wort

Once cooled to the desired temperature, transfer the wort to a six-and-a-half gallon glass carboy. Leave the majority of the sediment in the brew pot behind. I use a funnel with a built-in screen that catches most of the hops. Of course, they also quickly plug the screen, so I have to scrape it with a spoon to let the wort through. Once all the wort is in the carboy, shake it to aerate. Then, from the pre-boiled water, add enough to make five gallons and pitch the yeast.

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Rocking to Aerate
Infection in three… two…
You really need to get a solid Universal Carboy Bung!

Scientist Fred Johnson, of the Cheddington Brewery, Apex, North Carolina, has written a paper comparing various aeration methods. He found that simply shaking a carboy for five minutes will take dissolved oxygen levels in the wort to over 90% of saturation. This is about as efficient as you can get. James Spencer interviewed Fred on 8/7/08 episode of Basic Brewing Radio.

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Topping With Water

Pitching Instructions — Fill with the two gallon wort, add the yeast, then rock to aerate, top off with pre-boiled and cooled water to make five gallons. What about an air lock/blow-off tube? six-and-a-half gallon carboy, vigorous fermentation, but safe for airlock. How about some gravity readings? Hydrometer, quantity required, waste, chance of infection, refractometer.

Fermentation

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Fermenting

I do not have a fermentation chiller. In the summer I ferment in a closet in the basement. The ambient temperature in the basement is around 69°F. Yeast do not care about the ambient temperature. They care about the temperature of their environment, which is the beer. The fermentation activity generates about 8°F, so the beer actually runs about 77°F. Which might cause some ester — banana — or even some fusel — hot — alcohol issues. The air temperature would have to be about 59°F to have 67°F inside the fermenter. Live and learn.

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Fermentation Temperature

Place the fermenter in a cool dark location where it can ferment at 67°F until fermentation completes. Two weeks should be a reasonable guess. How about some gravity readings?

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Final Gravity: 1.015
(1.016 after temperature correction)

I let the fermentation go on for four weeks. Once the activity slows down in the carboy a bit, it stops generating so much heat. In addition, we hit a cool spell weather-wise, so the ambient temperature was a bit lower, as well, and the beer ended up fermenting the last couple of weeks at about 68°F.

Bottling

This recipe calls for carbonating with a fairly standard 2.5 volumes of CO2. John Palmer has a handy nomograph on his How to Brew site, also there are a bunch of web-based calculators out there, but the basic rule of thumb comes down to “boil ¾ cup of corn sugar (4 ounces by weight), or ⅔ cup of white sugar, or 1¼ cup dry malt extract in 2 cups of water and let it cool.” Once cool, put the simple syrup in the bottom of a sanitized bottling bucket. Then rack the beer from the fermenter on top of it using a sanitized racking cane and hose, being careful not to splash. Then hook up a hose and bottling wand to the spigot on the bottling bucket and start filling and capping bottles.

Put the bottled beer back where it had been fermenting. Leave it there for another two to four weeks. At that point it should be ready.

As sometimes happens, there was not quite enough to fill the last bottle, so I got to sample. It has a very nice nose. Not hoppy at all, but nice. I suppose it is malty. It is amber in color, slightly cloudy. Like apple juice. The flavor is pleasantly sweet with a bit of a honey taste at the end. The beer has surprisingly good body and is not thin, or watery, as I had feared it would be. I cannot wait to try it properly carbonated and chilled.


  1. I have since located 15°L Crystal at MoreBeer who gets it from Great Western Malting Company