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Old 08-28-2012, 12:36 AM   #1
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Default How to design a great session beer?

Hey guys,

I would like to brew some great flavorful low ABV beers. However I tend to prefer strongly flavored beers like IPAs and Belgians. So how do I pack that big flavor into a small beer? Do I just cut back on the base malt in a recipe and adjust the BU/GU ratio to match? How would one convert a standard recipe to a session ale recipe? What would be great would be if someone could post a "standard" recipe and how they would modify it to be a session ale.

Thanks in advance.

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Old 08-28-2012, 01:02 AM   #2
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That is probably an unanswerable question in it's broadness. When you take something away, I think something else has to be added to account for the missing taste bud stimuli.

I too am interested in smaller beers, like scottish ales, ordinary bitters, and cream ales. Not sure what the technical definition is for session and if those all fit, but I think the underlying theme is that you accentuate one part of the beer to account for the missing alcohol. Balance is always necessary.

I know I'm rambling, but as I try to make session beer recipes, I just stick with the style and see how I like them. For example, with an ordinary bitter, corn is added sometimes to get that mellowness and mouthfeel to offset the high bitterness. Otherwise you would just have an out of whack balance of IBU:OG.

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Old 08-28-2012, 01:19 AM   #3
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It's going to be a balancing act and will probably take a while to perfect so you might want to consider doing a bunch of 1 gallon batches to get there.

In general, I think you are going to need to scale down the whole recipe then mash a little higher to give it more body so it isn't all watery.

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Old 08-28-2012, 01:21 AM   #4
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A calculator like Hopville can help. It has a rough prediction on how malty/hoppy and given recipe will be.

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Old 08-28-2012, 01:37 AM   #5
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I've found that keeping the specialty malts about the same (maybe a slight decrease), and cutting primarily base malt, coupled with higher mash temperature, generally does the trick.

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Old 08-28-2012, 01:42 AM   #6
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You've hit on my Holy Grail! I also want to enjoy IPAs, but in a 5-5.5% ABV so I can have a few. I want big hoppy flavor, but with enough backbone to support the hops. That's hard to do in a small beer!

A couple of things I've learned- use more character malts. Instead of 12 pounds of two row, you could use 6 pounds of two-row and 2 pounds of Munich malt, and maybe even some aromatic malt (.25 pound) to enhance the perception of maltiness. Keep the IBU/SG ratio about the same, as well as the late hopping. Vienna malt is another base malt that can give the perception of bigger malt flavor while reducing the grainbill size.

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Old 08-28-2012, 02:07 AM   #7
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+1 Yooper!

I have been recently looking into this very thing, and have come to a similar conclusion. It seems that once you start to decrease 2 row, the ability to maintain the large taste/malt backbone of the "session IPA" gets harder.

I've been looking at doing just what you suggested, with mixing different base malts, to help "beef" up the perceived maltiness. This seems to work best with a blend of 2 row plus Maris or Vienna. By adding a small amount of a specialty grain to add more body to it, I agree, you could give it the malt boost it would need for the scaled down base malt bill.

I'm still working out the hop profile, as I'd like to have a base grain recipe for a variety of hops.

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Old 08-28-2012, 02:57 AM   #8
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Last year, I brewed one beer out of 20 or so batches that had an OG above 1.045 and I never once said "my beer doesn't taste of anything". The trick is to take the low gravity styles and beers for what they are and to brew simply recipes with a good, streamlined process and good, quality ingredients. There's no cookie cutter solution.

What I can tell you though is that yeast choice becomes more important (altough it always is) because it can make or break a low gravity beer. A too attenuative/clean strain can really make a beer feel watery and generic, especially when we're talking English bitters or milds.

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Old 08-28-2012, 03:07 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jfr1111
Last year, I brewed one beer out of 20 or so batches that had an OG above 1.045 and I never once said "my beer doesn't taste of anything". The trick is to take the low gravity styles and beers for what they are and to brew simply recipes with a good, streamlined process and good, quality ingredients. There's no cookie cutter solution.

What I can tell you though is that yeast choice becomes more important (altough it always is) because it can make or break a low gravity beer. A too attenuative/clean strain can really make a beer feel watery and generic, especially when we're talking English bitters or milds.
Which yeast strains do you suggest?
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Old 08-28-2012, 03:10 AM   #10
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A higher mash temperature will leave more unfermentable sugars, which is important for small beers. I also like to add some rye.

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