Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Shah Mat

For the few who live locally (in SoCal) and show interest in trying my homemade beers, you'll probably notice that it's been a while since I last revealed a new creation. In part, that's because my latest brew is by far my most ambitious and creative endeavor as of yet. But it would only be fair to say that with every great endeavor comes a unique set of problems, and this beer was certainly ripe with them.

After trying Stone's Self-Righteous and Deschuttes' Black Hole Sun, I thought it would be fun to try my own hand at a Black IPA. For those who are unfamiliar and don't wish to read some of my former posts, a Black IPA is a beer brewed with the potency and in the style of a regular IPA, but has a dark or black appearance like a stout. It's just one of the many new inventive styles that are being created by craft beer makers on the bleeding edge. I searched for a bit on the internet and was surprised at the relative few black IPAs that have been attempted. As such, there were only a handful of recipes, none of which I liked. So I decided to take the basic structure of my recipe for Gamma Ray's Bitter Burst (an IPA I made in the spring and was quite happy with) and replace the grain bill with higher luvibond grains.

The recipe:

9 lbs of pale ale malt extract

Grain bill:
8 oz Crystal 40L
4 oz British Chocolate
4 oz Carafa III

White Labs WLP001 California Ale yeast
Rounding out this creation were some relatively fresh hops I got from the Alpha Beta hop farm, which is an organic hop farm in Ashland, where I'm from. I visited the farm back in the fall, and wrote a short post about it here. Steve was nice enough to give me about 3 oz of Cascade and 2 oz of Nugget. Since I had whole hops to work with I decided to try the additions in multiple stages throughout the boil. I've heard of Dogfish Head doing similar types of additions with their 60, 90, and 120 minute IPAs and thought I'd give it a try.
My hop schedule:
80 min 1 oz Nugget
60 min 1/2 oz Nugget
45 min 1 oz Cascade
25 min 1 oz Nugget
10 min 1/2 oz Cascade
0 min 1/2 oz Cascade
Finally, I added about a 1/2 oz of Nugget to dry hop after about a month of fermentation. Since these hops weren't completely dry, you could call it a wet hop, but since they were no longer fresh, I think it's more accurate to say dry hop.
I dry hopped for a month before bottling, and then let the bottles sit for an additional month for a little extra aging. I finally tried this beer in mid-December and was pretty disappointed at the skunky taste that could be best described as drinking a wet moldy sponge that dominated the beer. Now I've made bad batches of beer before and to be honest it took me four tries before I was able to eliminate the skunkiness that often dominates novice home brews. But this taste was very strong and entirely different than the trouble I'd had early on. If I had used a Belgian yeast I could have attributed the taste to the effects of a wild strain, but I had used the California Ale Yeast, which I've had a lot of luck with in the past.

I noticed with my first dry hop, The Resistance, that it really took about a month or more in the bottle to even out the taste and it continued to round out over the following months. With that in mind, I decided to play the waiting game with my Black IPA, hoping that the wet sponge, processed avocado taste would eventually work itself out of the beer.  Here's a picture of me tasting it.  For those curious about the mustache, you'll have to wait until the reveal of my next beer to find out what that's about.

So while we wait, here's a little background on the name I chose. Shah Mat comes from 6th century Persia meaning "the king is helpless/ambushed." It is the origin of our much more well-known phrase, "checkmate." A big motivation behind, and ingredient in, this beer was the fresh hops I received from Alpha Beta. While their name undoubtedly refers to alpha and beta acids found in the hop flower, I wanted to credit them indirectly for making the beer possible. Alpha beta can also refer to alpha beta pruning, which is a search algorithm commonly used in machine playing of two player games, notably, tic tac toe and chess. Since my preferred color of play in chess is black, it only seemed natural to name this black ipa after the hops and algorithm that made it a winner.

One problem though, so far it wasn't a winner. After two more weeks in the bottle there was some improvement in the taste, but not enough to my liking. I waited an additional two weeks, and saw continued improvement, but still lingering hints of a taste I didn't like. I was just about to cross this brew off as a failure, when I happened to stumble across the Brewdog Bashah at the Daily Pint. Brewdog Bashah is a double black belgian IPA made by Brewdog and Stone. I can't say I was a huge fan of the brew, however, it did have the same funk that I had been finding in my beer. Not a huge consolation because it still tastes how it tastes, however, interesting to know that it may have been a grain hop combination that brought it about rather than a mistake on my part.

You may also notice that this is my first attempt at labels.  I based my rough design off some beautiful Dutch beers I saw while in Amsterdam and in that vein named my "brewery," Brouwerij De Isser.  In case you can't read the text in this picture, the labels say: "Shah Mat comes from the Persian phrase meaning 'The King is Ambushed,' and is thought to be the origin of the word checkmate.  This handcrafted ale is brewed and dry hopped with organically grown Cascade and Nugget hops from Alpha Beta Hop Farm in Ashland, Oregon."

And that's the story of the Shah Mat. Love to get peoples' thoughts on the beer and the possible reasons for the taste.


Jesse said...

I tried the one you gave me about a month ago and noticed the off flavor. I do think it would have tasted better if my bottle had had one of those sweet labels. :)

David said...

I made two batches of black IPA (or imperial stout, depending on which side of the world you're on) a couple months ago. They were both made with American Ale II Yeast (which I've never noticed to leave a flavor) and both batches have strong yeast notes. Maybe mine need a couple more months in bottles, but I think the yeastiness adds something to the flavor.