Great before carbonating, bad after
I have been having this issue for a while now. On bottling day I taste my beer and it is fantastic. A week into bottle conditioning, I taste it again because I taste it all through the process, and it's still great (but flat of course). At 2 weeks into bottle conditioning I taste it and the flavor has DRASTICALLY changed. This change always happens at the 2-3 week mark. After that it stays constant, no better, no worse with extended aging. The weird thing is it ONLY happens with my hoppy pale beers. My porters taste great on bottling day and even better after a month.
My first thought was oxidation. So I spent a few hundred dollars on a fridge/kegging setup. I brewed a Mission St Pale Ale clone from the CYBI show. It tasted spot on cloned on kegging day. I flushed all the air out of the keg with C02 then slowly transferred without any splashing. Again, flat but tasty after a week, one of the best pale ales I've ever had. The dry hop aroma filled the air. After 2 weeks the carbonation was getting there, but the hop aroma and flavor were virtually non existent, and the other flavors tasted watered down. It tasted the opposite of "clean," not really musty, just a bit dirty, muddled, and thin.
My second thought was oxidation. So I went with 100% RO water (9 gallons) with 2 tsp CaCl and 2 tsp Gypsum. Same exact bland off flavor.
My third thought was sanitation. So I replaced all my hoses. Soaked EVERYTHING in PBW for a few hours. Rinsed everything obsessively and soaked everything in Star San for an hour or so. No improvement.
This is driving me crazy. Pale ales and IPAs are my favorite styles to drink, and after about 40 extract brews and 10 all-grain, I've yet to brew but one or two that were enjoyable. Every single porter, stout, belgian, or wheat beer I've made has been great though. Please help me figure this out!!!
Oxidation usually occurs at bottling/kegging, when the beer is exposed to too much oxygen and it develops that wet cardboard mung flavor after a few weeks. I don't think that's your problem as you seem to be careful on your racking from primary to keg.
I think your issue is your hop additions. The secret to big hops aroma and flavor in your beer is by doing a lot of late addition hops at flameout/whirlpool, passing your beer through a hops rocket/randalizer prior to bottling, or just doing a nice big dry hop on your beer.
The volatile oils that are essential for that nice hops aroma and flavor tend to boil off and/or fade fast from your IPA's if you don't use enough, or add them too soon in the boil or don't use enough late hops additions.
Check out what Jamil Zanischeff has to say on the subject here: http://www.mrmalty.com/late_hopping.php
I've had the same experience - especially the 'missing hops' problem. I don't know what causes it, but it improved when I addressed my water. I got a water report, a copy of EZ-Water, and started adjusting my water chemistry. It made a big difference.
Thanks for the help guys!
b-boy, I've gotten a water report, and have done similar to you with EZ-water/Beersmith + salt additions. I was blending my water with RO water up until the last couple batches. For this APA I did pure RO water with 2 tsp each of CaCl and Gypsum. The previous IPA I did with pure RO water and 1 tsp CaCl and 3 tsp gypsum to accentuate the hops, to no avail. For now, I'm going to stick to RO water to help control the variables.
aiptasia, that article was very interesting and informative. I feel like I've been doing basically what they're suggesting (just not to such an extreme degree). Here is my latest recipe:
0.12 oz chinook - 90 min
0.25 oz chinook - 30 min
1 oz cascade - 0 min (45 min whirlpool/steep)
0.5 oz centennial - 0 min (45 min whirlpool/steep)
1 oz cascade - dry hop
0.5 oz centennial - dry hop
0.25 oz chinook - dry hop
I was skeptical of such a long whirlpool/steep, but the guys at the BN got this info directly from Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker. Maybe I'll do a modification of this recipe with no whirlpool/steep and adjust the late hop additions for my desired IBU.
I know hop flavor/aroma are the first to fade, I'm just puzzled at how amazing my APAs/IPAs have tasted right up to the point of carbonation.
What's your dry hop process? My first suggestion based on looking at the recipe would be more dry hops, and maybe more whirlpool hops as well.
FWIW I transfer into my serving keg after ~3-6 weeks in primary, and add my dry hops to the keg. The keg then gets purged and sealed, and allowed to stay at fermentation temps for 7-10 days. Then I put the keg in the keezer and carbonate and serve it. The hops stay in the keg until it's empty. One of the reasons I started dry hopping in the sealed keg was that the fermenter always smelled wonderfully hoppy during the dry hop process before, which made me think I was losing a lot of the aroma. For a lot of hop aroma and flavor, I use 3-6 oz of dry hops for each 5 gal keg.
I typically ferment for a week in primary. Then transfer to secondary on the dry hops and let that sit for 1-2 weeks then bottle/keg. This time I took the Tasty McDole approach of dry hopping in the primary right at the tail end of fermentation (the very tail end). His reason is to fight oxidation at every step. Essentially if you dry hop while the yeast is still getting that last couple gravity points it will also scrub out the oxygen introduced by dumping in the dry hops. The pro is that almost no oxidation occurs. The con is you need to use more dry hops since some of the volatile hop compounds will get pulled out by the yeast.
From all these helpful posts I'm thinking I just need to add more late/dry hops. The one frustration that remains is that the beer not only loses hop flavor/aroma, but just doesn't taste very clean at all. They have an off flavor i simply cant put into words aside from saying "not clean." It may be that my hoppy beers are built around very simple malt bills to accentuate the hops. Take away the hoppyness and its a pretty naked beer with nothing for the slightest off flavors to hide behind. Maybe this is why all my other beers (especially dark beers) taste fantastic.
I called our city water department and the guy emailed me a spreadsheet of the mineral content from monthly readings from the nearest water source to my house, but like I said, I'm sick of hassling with that and have been using RO water with CaCl and Gypsum.
Another strange thing I forgot to mention is I used WLP002 which should have a 63-70% attenuation. I got 84% attenuation! OG=1.051 and FG=1.008. I knew I was going to get good attenuation as I made a 2L starter and I'm still figuring out my mash system. So I mashed low at 43-45F for 60min then raised it to the low 50s for 15min then mashed out at 68F and batch sparged.
Could this low mash temp really get me 85% efficiency out of WLP002 or does there have to be some wild yeast at work? Man, this is frustrating. I cleaned/sanitized obsessively, but I guess I could have missed something.
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