Sharp Bitterness in my IPAs.

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chumpsteak

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I've been trying to figure out how to make my beers, specifically IPAs, taste more like commercial IPAs for months now and can't seem to figure out why the bitterness in mine is so much different than commercial or even local micro brewed IPAs. My IPAs are nice and bitter and have very nice hop flavor, and everyone who drinks my beers think they taste great and always ask why my beers don't leave a bad vomit like aftertaste in their mouth. The thing is, I want that vomit aftertaste. I want that deep, smooth, rich, lingering bitterness that I taste in almost all commercial IPAs. My IPAs have a very strong and sharp bitterness in the front and finish very smooth and even sweet sometimes. This happens no matter what recipe I make and no matter what hops I use. My IPAs also finish very clean with almost no residual taste. While this is nice and most people like it, I'm still frustrated when I taste commercial or local micro brewed IPAs that have a deep rich warm bitterness that lingers. I've made 20 IPAs in the last year or two with some being clone recipes and some being originals, and all have that same sharp early bitterness. It's almost a tart or sour taste as soon as the beer hits your tongue and then it usually turns fruity and pleasant. My IPAs usually end up tasting more like fruit juice than beer. I've had my water tested and it is slightly soft, but not too bad. It has low sulfate so I have experimented with making the beers with anywhere from 25 to 300 ppm of sulfate without getting my desired results. I batch sparge in a cooler and almost always do a 60 minute boil. I've tried first wort hopping, mash hopping, lots of early additions, lots of late additions, and everything in between with the hops. I don't have a pH meter, but I use the spreadsheets and usually add 1 to 2% of acidulated malt to all my IPAs to try and get the mash pH right. I dont do a proper mash out, but I usually batch sparge with about 190 degree water to get the grain bet up to 168 ish. I've batch sparged with 165 to 205 degree water with no noticeable difference in taste though. I do check mash pH with strips, but who knows how accurate they are. I'm never over 6 though, so I figure it's close enough. Also I have a temperature controlled fermentation chamber that I can keep within 1 degree of setpoint, so fermentation temps aren't an issue. I usually use S04 or US05 dry yeast or 1056 in all my IPAs too. I don't get any detectable off flavors in my beers either.

Anyway, sorry for the run on, just trying to include as much info about my process as possible. I'm not in a brew club and I really don't get to taste any other home brewed beers, so maybe this is normal for homebrewed IPAs, but as far as I'm concerned I should be able to make my beers taste just like the commercial IPAs I try to clone and that just isn't happening. In fact, since I get such a sharp bitterness at the beginning of my beers all my IPAs seem to taste kind of the same no matter what hops I use. I get different aromas and subtle hop flavors, but the central bitterness is sharp in all of them. Also, one more thing that separates my IPAs from commercial beers is that commercial IPAs typically taste like beer to me, like they all have some pilsen malt in them or something. Whereas my IPAs mostly taste like fruit juice with alcohol. Again, a lot of people prefer mine to commercial versions, but I am just frustrated because I'm not able to exactly reproduce the flavors I taste in commercial IPAs.

Again, sorry for the length of this, but has anyone had similar issues or possibly know what the problem might be? I was leaning toward water additions, but I recently asked a brewer at a local micro about their water and he said they use straight tap water with no additions at all.
 

theveganbrewer

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What was the last recipe you brewed that gave you results you didn't find comparable to a commercial brewery? Preferably a clone recipe for easier comparison on our part.

I'm wondering if you're tasting astringency or bitterness. Of course, the answer to all problems is more hops! FWH and whirlpool!
 

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http://www.winning-homebrew.com/astringency.html

Astringency is perceived as a dry grainy, mouth-puckering, tannic sensation (think of sucking on a wet tea-bag). Although astringent flavors may be caused by bacterial contamination, it is usually the result of processing.

There are many causes of process-related astringency.....

I'm actually drinking on an IPA now that is astringent. I think I sparged too hot. It gives you that feeling like you're drinking a really dry wine. I'm reading that sparging anything over 168 is a problem. I thought it was the grain temp, but what I read now is that the water shouldn't be more than 168. It seems like you have covered all of the bases with astringency, but I think that is your core issue here. What is causing it, I don't know. I'm going to stay tuned here to find out if anyone knows.
 
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chumpsteak

chumpsteak

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I'm also leaning towards astringency at this point too except that I'm not getting that tried out tea bag sucking taste at all, just sharp bitterness instead of deep bitterness if that makes any sense at all.

I also have done a lot of reading on the sparge water temp and thought I was supposed to get my grain bed up to 168 so that's why I normally sparge with near 200 degree water. I do 10 gallon batches so 200 is about what it takes to get the 25 or so lbs of grain up to 168.

My tap water runs about at about a pH of 8, so maybe I'm leaching some tannins or getting astringency out of the untreated sparge water? I always just add my brewing salts to the mash ton, so maybe I need to start treating the sparge water.

Like I said, I've not tasted any good examples of other peoples homebrew, so maybe the sharpness I'm tasting is normal for homebrew and I'm just overthinking this. I just feel like I should be able to make IPAs that taste just like commercial IPAs.

Thanks for the replies so far, anybody else have anything?
 
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I actually first wort hop almost all of my IPAs. The recipe I have on tap right now is a clone of a local IPA where the recipe came right from the brewer including the hops schedule. It uses 1st wort hops and 60 minute hops and their beer which is always young and cloudy when I get it on tap does not have the same sharp bitterness in the beginning like mine does. Flavors are the same, the only difference between mine and theirs is the sharpness of the bitterness.
 

unionrdr

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This may be a bit simplistic sounding. But maybe your process is giving you more bittering than flavor/aroma? Imo,bittering shouldn't overshadow flavor & aroma. just a compliment to them.
 
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chumpsteak

chumpsteak

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Maybe. The fact that most of my IPAs taste like fruit juice leads me to think that the flavoring/aroma may be out shining the bittering though. I made an IPA a couple days ago where I'm getting most of my IBUs from the 1st wort addition and then only doing a small 15 minute and flame out addition. My thinking on this is that due to cost savings and trying to hit a price point, this is probably what most commercial breweries do in order to save on hops. It still has a few days to ferment so we'll see if it makes any difference, but I really doubt it. Anyway it seems that most of the IPAs I've made and most recipes I see posted on HBT have a lot of IBUs generated from later additions which creates a more fruity/flavorful beer IMO.
 

unionrdr

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It sounds like you're a bit confused. The citrus or "fruity" flavors are what's sought after in IPA's. Some bittering will carry through the flavor/aroma additions if done right. I did flavor additions for my IPA starting at 25 minutes,& every 8min,30 sec thereafter in 3 additions of three different hops. Then dry hopped 1.5oz.
 

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Maybe I missed it, but what temperature are you mashing at? And are you sure your thermometer is accurate?
You might also try using a different yeast to mix things up - I use S05/1056 a lot, but it's very clean and doesn't tend to linger on the palate much in my experience. I currently have a double IPA made with WY1450 (Denny's favorite) that I'm really liking.
 
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Lol, I definitely agree that I'm a bit confused. Don't get me wrong, I really like the fruity hoppy flavors of my IPA's, but mine are lacking the initial deep bitter flavor that most commercial and micro IPAs have. Instead mine have an instant sharp citrusy almost tart bite to them and then they transition to the fruity/hoppy flavors and end with little or no residual bitterness. I'm no judge, so I'm having a hard time explaining what I'm tasting. Was just kind of hoping someone here could relate and maybe shine some light on what the issue might be if it even is an issue.

I would be perfectly content with my beers as they are very hoppy/fruity/tasty, if it wasn't for the occassional commercial IPA I purchase and try. As an example I went to a brew festival last month where every brewery in the state was represented. I tasted every IPA I could get my hands on and they all had the same deep rich (not sharp) bitterness character to them that was different than the sharp bitterness I taste in my beers. Maybe I'm just over hopping somehow, but my pale ales even seem to have the same bite to them.
 

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If you want less bitterness, I can think of 2 things to look at off hand:

1) The sulfate levels in your water - lower sulfates create less bitterness.
2) Your early vs. late hop additions - move more of your hop additions to 30 mins or less. Also you might look into using mash hops or whirlpool hops.

I've also heard that adding a little phosphoric acid to the finished beer can help smooth it out a little, but I've never tried it.
 

unionrdr

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Try just doing your bittering at the beginning of the boil istead of the fwh,etc. Too much boiling between fwh & the boil maybe? My IPA usually has that slightly bittered malt flavor up front right before the hops come in. How much are you bittering with & what?
 
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Three things I've changed since I started making IPAs:

1. Get half of my IBUs from the 30min point forward. Most IPA recipes get most of the IBUs from the 60 minute addition, but I have found (accidentally really) that moving them forward is better. This usually means you'll use more hops, but it's worth it.

2. Use several hops. I used to just use one or two hops, but that made an uninteresting beer. All amarillo, i.e., was a grapefruit bomb that I didn't like. Especially for the flavor hops (20min to flameout), mix up 2 or 3 or more different hops. BTW, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River says the same is true for dry hops... do several separate additions of different hops.

3. Flameout hops still stay in during chilling. This means that even though they are 0-minute hops, they have contact with the wort for 5 or 10 minutes as it cools. I use a hop spider, so I to pull these too early.
 
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I've mashed anywhere from 149 to 158 and normally mash at 151 or 152 for all my IPAs. I always check mash temp with 2 different thermos and my efficiency is always dead on so I don't think the problem is with the mash unless it's mash pH or something. Up until about 4 months ago I didn't do anything to control pH in my mash, but now I add a little accidulated malt to everything but stouts to get the mash down in the 5.4 range according to the EZ water spreadsheet.
 
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Thanks for the input passedpawn.

I typically bitter with magnum, warrior, or CTZ. Sometimes with a little simcoe or centennial mixed in. Most of my past IPA recipes have been with most of the hops coming after the 30 minute mark. The one I made a few days ago is the exception as most of the IBUs will be coming from the first wort hop addition. I also use a pump to whirlpool for about 20 minutes before I start chilling and my whirlpool/flameout hops stay in throughout the chilling process. The aroma on my IPAs is excellent, the hops are just a little sharp.
 

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I need to go get a tea bag and suck on it. I'm imagining what that tastes like and it's sort of tart and astringent, which sounds like what you're describing. I think the FWH might be doing this combined with some other things. Do you FWH everything? I will say, your process sounds like you're doing just about everything possible to get the hoppiest results, with the exception of a hopback.
 

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Try sparging with RO water. That made a HUGE difference in my pales. Alkaline water will extract tannins from the grain. You mentioned your pH was 8.0. Do you know your alkalinity?
 

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I think I have tasted something like this before. I had a lower IBU (~25) beer and it had this crazy bitterness that was more bitter than an IPA (side by side comparison). The bitterness was pin point sharp and didn't linger like normal hop bitterness and it just didn't make sense when you looked at the hops that went into the beer. How it got there...I have no clue.

Beta acids from hops are supposed to oxidize over time and contribute to bitterness but I have never had some sort of control sample to know what they taste like exactly. By chance do you have old hops that are stored warm and/or have a lot of exposure to air?

If your mashing / sparging technique seems fine, you can troubleshoot the malt contribution easily by doing an extract version of one of your recipes. Take the mashing right out of the equation and see what happens because there are a lot of variables that go into mashing.

I am a little baffled at the fruitiness that you explain and wonder if the two are related and point to an equipment contamination issue of some sort.
 

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Try sparging with RO water. That made a HUGE difference in my pales. Alkaline water will extract tannins from the grain. You mentioned your pH was 8.0. Do you know your alkalinity?
That's exactly what I was thinking of. What is the alkalinity of the water? This really sounds like a water chemistry issue, if you're using enough bittering hops for the recipe.

Can you tell us your water chemistry, and give us a typical recipe? I bet we could pick out the issue.
 
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I just looked at my water report and pH is 7.8. Total Alkalinity is 59 and Bicarbonate is 72. I dont cut my water with RO because according to the spreadsheets I've used I'm able to get my mash pH in the right range by adding some acidulated, and like I've said before I add some salts (mostly gypsum) to adjust my minerals. I only add to the mash though, and I assummed that the grains would still be acidic enough during sparging, but maybe not.

Although I keep falling back on the discussion I had with a local pro brewer who said they don't add anything to their water. Of course they're probably not batch sparging either so they are not hitting the grains with a ton of high pH water all at once.

Unless anyone else has any ideas I think I'll get some phosporic acid and add it to the sparge water to try and get the pH down next time. If that doesn't work maybe I'll try cutting it with RO.
 

unionrdr

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Here's another idea. Try mashing at 153-156F. That may give you a little more malt forwardness on the front. Combined with the PH adjustments,it might get you where you want to be. Mine are a bit malt forward,with the bitterness right there,but then the hop flavor hits you. just a suggestion.
 

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I just looked at my water report and pH is 7.8. Total Alkalinity is 59 and Bicarbonate is 72. I dont cut my water with RO because according to the spreadsheets I've used I'm able to get my mash pH in the right range by adding some acidulated, and like I've said before I add some salts (mostly gypsum) to adjust my minerals. I only add to the mash though, and I assummed that the grains would still be acidic enough during sparging, but maybe not.

Although I keep falling back on the discussion I had with a local pro brewer who said they don't add anything to their water. Of course they're probably not batch sparging either so they are not hitting the grains with a ton of high pH water all at once.

Unless anyone else has any ideas I think I'll get some phosporic acid and add it to the sparge water to try and get the pH down next time. If that doesn't work maybe I'll try cutting it with RO.
I'd go right with the RO dilution, as I think that's the issue. It's not terribly high, but it's more alkaline than what I found gives me the firmest/cleanest flavored IPAs. "Firm" not in the sense of harsh, but with a nice firm bitterness, if that makes sense. Before I used RO water to dilute, it was sharp in the sense it was a bit harsh.

I often now use 100% RO water in all of my beers, except for my stouts, and use a minimum amount of gypsum and chloride. The result is great beer, instead of just "very very good". I always made good to very good IPAs, but using RO water took it up to a new level.
 
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Thanks Yooper, I'll definitely consider it. Just hesitant because I know the local breweries make good IPAs with water right out of the tap. I'm really wondering if bringing my sparge water pH down and batch sparging at closer to 170 than 200 might do it.

What are you thinking might be too high with my water? Alkalinity or Bicarbonate or both? I don't claim to understand how it all works together, but I do get everything to balance nicely in the spreadsheets with some acidulated and gypsum/calcium chloride additions in the mash. The only thing I can't seem to get a straight answer on is why my RA goes to about -250 on the spreadsheet. From what I've read though, it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot depending on who you talk to.
 

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I often now use 100% RO water in all of my beers, except for my stouts, and use a minimum amount of gypsum and chloride. The result is great beer, instead of just "very very good". I always made good to very good IPAs, but using RO water took it up to a new level.
Yooper, what do you consider "a minimum amount of gypsum and chloride" when you are brewing IPA's with RO water?
 

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Thanks Yooper, I'll definitely consider it. Just hesitant because I know the local breweries make good IPAs with water right out of the tap. I'm really wondering if bringing my sparge water pH down and batch sparging at closer to 170 than 200 might do it.

What are you thinking might be too high with my water? Alkalinity or Bicarbonate or both? I don't claim to understand how it all works together, but I do get everything to balance nicely in the spreadsheets with some acidulated and gypsum/calcium chloride additions in the mash. The only thing I can't seem to get a straight answer on is why my RA goes to about -250 on the spreadsheet. From what I've read though, it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot depending on who you talk to.
I'm NO water expert at all! But I would encourage you to see if you can beg/borrow/steal a pH meter and check the pH of the mash and sparge. I've noticed a harshness in lighter colored beers without diluting with RO water, but my alkalinity is higher than yours. Perhaps a question in the brewing science forum on the water chemistry would be more helpful, as the water chemistry stuff is way above my comfort level.

Yooper, what do you consider "a minimum amount of gypsum and chloride" when you are brewing IPA's with RO water?
Pretty minimal- about 50 ppm calcium, 30 ppm chloride, 50 ppm sulfate. I've heard that some pale ale profiles are up to 250 ppm sulfate, but that only gave me a weird harshness that I didn't like.
 

Braufessor

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I don't like going for the 250ppm sulfate either. I have been cutting my high bicarbonate water with RO, but still putting additions in that bring it up to 100-150 or so on sulfate (which has dramatically improved my beer compared to using straight tap water.) But, I may try a 100% RO IPA with your method to compare in the future.

I agree on the water issue for the OP - I had all kinds of problems with my pale ales/IPA's until I started to get a handle on my water.
 
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I cold crash all of my beers for at least 3 days before they go in the keg. I typically will dry hop at term temps for 3-4 days then the carboy goes in the fridge to drop the pellet hops and residual yeast. I have used gelatin but since I've gotten my process down and my calcium upmy beers have been very bright within a week of being kegged.
 
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chumpsteak

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I think I have tasted something like this before. I had a lower IBU (~25) beer and it had this crazy bitterness that was more bitter than an IPA (side by side comparison). The bitterness was pin point sharp and didn't linger like normal hop bitterness and it just didn't make sense when you looked at the hops that went into the beer. How it got there...I have no clue.

Beta acids from hops are supposed to oxidize over time and contribute to bitterness but I have never had some sort of control sample to know what they taste like exactly. By chance do you have old hops that are stored warm and/or have a lot of exposure to air?

If your mashing / sparging technique seems fine, you can troubleshoot the malt contribution easily by doing an extract version of one of your recipes. Take the mashing right out of the equation and see what happens because there are a lot of variables that go into mashing.

I am a little baffled at the fruitiness that you explain and wonder if the two are related and point to an equipment contamination issue of some sort.
I missed this post earlier and wanted to reply because there are some valid points here. Mainly I think doing an extract beer would solve the possible astringency issue.

As for my hops I do usually buy in bulk but only a couple months worth at a time and they live in ziploc bags in the freezer.

The pinpoint bitterness you describe sounds like what I am dealing with. The bitterness is sharp and almost burns your tongue instead of being deep and steady.
 

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I missed this post earlier and wanted to reply because there are some valid points here. Mainly I think doing an extract beer would solve the possible astringency issue.

As for my hops I do usually buy in bulk but only a couple months worth at a time and they live in ziploc bags in the freezer.

The pinpoint bitterness you describe sounds like what I am dealing with. The bitterness is sharp and almost burns your tongue instead of being deep and steady.
I think I have the same issue. I just made my first 100% RO beer to test the hypothesis. I also acidified the sparge water to make sure my sparge pH doesn't cause problems.

I think the OP also mentioned a Sweetness - are your beers attenuating fully? I've also been trying to dry my beers out more lately, to see if that helps.
 
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chumpsteak

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My beers do always attenuate fully right to the number. I control temps and have never had attenuation problems.

Please let me know if acidifying the sparge water or RO fixed your issue. Thanks for all the input.
 

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Thanks Yooper, I'll definitely consider it. Just hesitant because I know the local breweries make good IPAs with water right out of the tap. I'm really wondering if bringing my sparge water pH down and batch sparging at closer to 170 than 200 might do it.

What are you thinking might be too high with my water? Alkalinity or Bicarbonate or both? I don't claim to understand how it all works together, but I do get everything to balance nicely in the spreadsheets with some acidulated and gypsum/calcium chloride additions in the mash. The only thing I can't seem to get a straight answer on is why my RA goes to about -250 on the spreadsheet. From what I've read though, it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot depending on who you talk to.
Are the Local breweries markedly closer or further away from your water treatment plant than you are? I know here in Columbus, that can make a difference if you are comparing very close to very far away.
 

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I didn't read your entire thread, but it's definitely your water. Balance your water for the style(s) and your beers will go from good to excellent.
 
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Thanks Bob. I have been balancing my water for the style and my blondes and Stouts have been coming out great, it's just my IPAs that I can't seem to get just right.

I did some research on my water today and I found that my subdivision is fed by several different wells and according to the spreadsheet I saw that lists details about the water coming out of all the wells, the alkalinity ranges from 50 to 300 and sulphites range from 5 to 200. Sounds like they change wells periodically throughout the year, so basically I have no idea what kind of tap water I'm getting on a daily basis. The water report I got from Ward labs is basically worthless and I can do all the spreadsheets I want but I'm not ever going to balance my minerals very well. Luckily the pH on all the wells seems to be in the high 7's, so my mash pH has probably been pretty good, but I think I'm going to start using RO water and build the water back up and acidify the sparge water to see if it solves my problem.

Also, word is in one of the local forums that the local breweries are all in an area of low alkalinity and not much water variability.

So looks like I'll be purchasing water for my next IPA.

Thanks for all the help!
 

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That's a helluva range, zero to infinity.

I hope you report back with good news.

Slainte
 

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I have my 1st PM kit lying in wait for the stove to get fixed. I'm thinkin of using distilled water for the whole batch. Not sure if I should add anything. I do have a goodly amount of Burton salts,but I don't think I wanna use that on a cascade pale ale.
 

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my biggest and best change for my ipa/iipa's have been first wort hoping my bittering hops..
I always FWH my IPAs, but it's for flavor, not bitterness. FWH doesn't give me the sharp hop bitterness I like in IPA. I do the normal 60 min. addition along with the FWH.
 
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I always FWH my IPAs, but it's for flavor, not bitterness. FWH doesn't give me the sharp hop bitterness I like in IPA. I do the normal 60 min. addition along with the FWH.
If you like sharp hop bitterness then you'd love my beers. I have a pale ale on tap right now that tastes great but its pretty much like biting right into a grapefruit. Once the early sharpness dies down it smooths out and tastes like a hoppy pale ale. Its only been on gas for 2 weeks but it is really sharp and really bitter for a supposed 50ibu pale ale. I don't know maybe it will smooth out a little.

On a side note I had a stone ipa on tap last night that had a little bit of the early sharp bitterness that my beers exhibit. I would say the stone bitterness was about halfway between my sharp bitterness and the deep smooth bitterness I am after.
 

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