The Harvest

The leaves are turning color, there is woodsmoke in the air, and the Tunbridge World’s Fair starts this morning. It’s fall, whether the calendar agrees or not. One of my favorite traditions of this season is the annual Harvest Ale. I love the idea of brewing with the product of my own agricultural labor. I don’t grow barley, so I can’t use my own malt, but at least I have my own hops.

Over the years, I have planted some 60 hop bines, 16 different varieties. I have had some great success (Cascades, Willamette, Chinook, Cluster, Hallertau and Tettnang have done very well, depending on the year) and some wastes of time (my first plantings of Saaz, Northern Brewer and Spalt never even sprouted, although I have replanted them and gotten better results since). Hop growing is labor-intensive in the beginning and at harvest, in between there’s not so much work. Being able to use my own hops in (this year) three or four different brews makes all the work worthwhile.

2009 Cascades...

A Harvest Ale is sort of the ale equivalent of an Octoberfest – indeed, many craft brewers who don’t lager release an Autumn or Harvest Ale when the others have their ‘Fests on the shelves. I do both, brewing my O-fest in March and lagering it deep in the cellar until mid-September. But why not have the Harvest Ale option as well? I like to make mine a dark gold to amber color, with a nice toasted flavor and aroma, hopped almost to IPA levels.

Harvest Ale 2010

Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs. Maris Otter 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. toasted Maris Otter
  • 1/2 lb. Biscuit malt
  • 1/2 lb. malted wheat
  • 2 oz. black malt
  • 1/2 oz. home grown Galena hops (whole)
  • 1/2 oz. home grown Nugget hops (whole)
  • 1/4 oz. home grown Centennial hops (whole)
  • 1/2 oz. home grown Brewer’s Gold hops (whole)
  • White Labs English Ale yeast (WLP002)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 12 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 14 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 24 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil. Add Galena and Nugget hops (in muslin mesh bags), boil 15 minutes. Add Centennial hops, boil 40 minutes. Add Brewer’s Gold hops, boil 5 minutes (60 total) and remove from heat. Steep 10 minutes, remove all hops and chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Add English Ale yeast, seal and ferment warmish (70°F) for six to eight days. Rack to secondary, age ten to twelve days. Prime with corn sugar and bottle. Condition ten to twelve days.

OG: 1051

IBU’s (estimated) 63

Note on hops: The hops I used were all grown, organically, in my yard. This batch used my entire harvest of the four hops involved. All four were first-year bines, so getting anything at all was a bonus. To be able to brew a batch using only the products fom four plants gives me a real sense of satisfaction. I did get a substantial harvest of Chinook, along with some Cascades, some Willamette, Tettnang, Perle, Cluster and Hallertau. I chose to dry and freeze mine, but my friend Chris recently brewed a “wet hopped” ale with some of his harvest (and he should have that story up on his new and improved website soon – check back later!). Alpha acid levels are a complete guess, but based on the lower end of the standards for the varieties. Therefore the IBU’s in this beer are a ballpark estimate only, your mileage may vary.

Note on yeast: WLP002 is, according to Kristen England of the BJCP, the strain used by the Fuller’s Brewery in England. It is a nice yeast to use when you want a balance of hops and malt. I find it can add a caramel (and sometimes licorice) aroma which fades in the bottle over time.

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