Vatted Stale IPA
In the old days, strong beers were always aged in wooden vats, often for extended periods of time. Under these conditions, certain wild yeast and bacteria wiggle their way into the brew and make themselves at home in the crevices in the wood. This “contamination” can make a valuable contribution to the beer, in the form of exotic musky, earthy, animal and fruity aromas, and sometimes more than a hint of acidity. “Stale” was the term used for this aged character, without the negative connotations we have today for the word. It’s a virtual certainty that most of the original IPAs had some of this exotic character. We can achieve this by brewing our favorite IPA recipe, preferably a fairly strong one, 1070+. If you’re trying to stay authentic, I’d recommend a really good British malt such as Marris Otter, and the traditional hop choice for such beers, East Kent Goldings. And remember, hops fade as the beer ages, so you might want to bump up the quantities by maybe 50 percent.
After fermenting through the primary with a conventional British ale yeast, add a package of either mixed lambic-style culture, or some pure Brettanomyces to the secondary. These are rather slow acting, and will take a few months to make a difference. Note that the mixed culture will give you some sourness, while the bret alone will not.
If you want to go the extra-authentic route and add some wood barrel character, a good way to go is with small oak “beans” sold to wineries to revive tired barrels. These are sold in several woods and degrees of toast by a company called Stavin (http://www.stavin.com). I would stay away from the American oak, as it’s very sharp and pungent, and will overwhelm a beer pretty quickly. Just add a small handful of these during the extended secondary.
With or without oak, the beer will show more “wild” character as the months pass. It’s up to you to decide when it’s ready to carbonate and drink. OG: 1085; 90 IBUs; color: deep gold.
India Black Ale
I know this gets kind of far afield, but, hey, that’s just the way homebrewing is.
It is definitely not a porter. Most of the color comes from a very large proportion of Munich malt, with just a little black malt, mostly for color, so the overall effect is deeply caramelly, rather than roasty-toasty. The effect is similar to a Kulmbacher-type (German) schwartz beer, rich and malty, only in this case with a lot more hops. Grist should be 95 percent Munich malt, with five percent European black malt, which is usually de-bittered. Northern Brewer hops will help accentuate the kind of soft cocoa-like flavors in this beer. Ferment it with a German ale yeast at relatively cool temperatures, and give it a couple months of cold lagering to smooth out the flavors. OG: 1065; 50 IBUs; color: deep ruby brown.
You’ll discover that tinkering with the tried and true IPAs can yield a beer that’s original, yet faithful to its roots.
And don’t get me wrong. I love Chet Atkins.