Monday, January 6, 2014

Tasting Conan the IPA

I usually schedule at least two batches for each pitch of yeast I buy, especially when I get my hands on an interesting strain. When I received a vial of East Coast Yeast Northeast Ale, I knew that I had to ferment something Heady-Topper-esque with it, but I started with a pale ale (Simcoe & Sons recipe). With how well that batch turned out, I had nothing but high hopes for the IPA recipe that followed (hopped with Apollo, Pacific Jade, and a touch of Nelson Sauvin).

Half pint of Conan the IPA.Conan the IPA

Appearance – The dry hopping contributed a minor haze to the golden body. The addition of Biofine Clear (silicic acid - a vegan-friendly alternative to gelatin or isinglass) doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference compared to the clarity of my usual IPAs. The thin white head deflates quickly, trailing coating-lacing behind.

Smell – Over-ripe tropical fruit and citrus are the leaders. The fruitiness is so intense that it almost reads artificial. Smells boldly hoppy, but clear that it is very different than the fresh peach aromatics I detected in Simcoe & Sons. There is also a mild peppery spice, hard to say if it is the Pacific Jade (which some sources describe as "fresh citrus and crushed black pepper") or the yeast.

Taste – Similar hop character to the aroma, big fruit, that is well saturated through the flavor. The phenolic (spicy clove and pepper) flavors are somewhat more pronounced, which makes the flavor palette come across like a subdued Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse. Not unpleasant, but not what I expected. Otherwise, clean, minimal alcohol presence, no diacetyl et al. Sticky, resinous, lingering bitterness, without much sweetness. Not over-the-top bitterness for an American IPA, but more aggressive than many.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, especially for an 8%+ ABV beer. Solid carbonation, enough to send out the aromatics without being too prickly on the tongue.

Drinkability & Notes – As I near the bottom of the half-pint the flavor seems to improve: the hops taste brighter, more citrusy, but a hint of spice always lingers in the finish. It is a mostly present beer, drinkable enough, but it doesn't wow me like the hop character of an IPA should. While the repitch attenuated like I hoped it would (1.075 down to 1.012), the flavor profile isn’t as magical as is was with Simcoe, Mosaic, and Citra.


  1. I'm sure it's the Pacific Jade that makes it spicy/phenolic. I just brewed a hoppy wheat beer with Pacific Jade as the bittering addition addition along with Motueka, Nelson, and Galaxy. I was very excited about it but something overly spicy is dominating the flavor profile. It's still somewhat young and I'm letting it condition in the keg a bit longer before I make a true judgement call.

  2. Do you think this might be more of a water profile matching problem than a yeast or hop problem? I notice that my IPA flavor profile has changed as I've moved between locations. Same recipe, same general procedure, same fermentation temps. Only real change is the tap water. Not any better or worse in the flavors, just a touch of difference in hop flavor or malt flavor.

  3. You mention the beer is hazy - I'm not surprised! Isn't Conan a notoriously poor flocculator? I don't think I've ever read a homebrew recipe with Conan that ever came out clear!

  4. "Isn't Conan a notoriously poor flocculator?"

    I think that is why they are the ONLY craft brewer, or non-European brewer, to tell you to drink it out of the can. I've never heard a winemaker say to drink it out of the bottle.

  5. I've got a nice culture that I've grown out of Heady cans. In trying to ferment with it, I haven't struck a balance between the yeast flavor and hop flavor. In the few times I've used it, it either comes out too peachy or too muted due a truckload of hops. I think it's part of the allure of Heady Topper that it can balance the two.

    Going forward, I'll resist the urge to brew another clone and try to use the yeast in more restrained styles and in some test batches side-by-side with Chico and English ale yeast.

  6. I used a similar water profile for both this batch and the Simcoe & Sons, with very different results. In my experience the influence of the water profile is on only a few limited areas of flavor (bitterness, crispness, saltiness etc.), and not at all on the aroma. What specific flavors did you notice change?

    The Conan fermented pale was a bit clearer. My note was more that the Biofine didn't seem to have any influence on the clarity. Conan is certainly known for leaving a delicious, but cloudy beer.

  7. Mike,

    I'm sorta glad to hear you got a clove note from Conan; I got that in my last Conan IPA and was afraid I either had contamination or that my palate was getting senile. My impression is that Conan gets spicier with each generation. It's always been assumed here in VT that Conan had English origins but I'm wondering if it didn't come from Belgium. Noonan too the secret to the grave...

    BTW, I've made a couple of brilliantly clear pale ales with Conan; gelatin works wonders.

  8. Thanks! Well, right back to where I started. Not really sure if the spicy flavor is from the yeast or the hops (probably both?).

  9. I got a lot of spicy/clove notes from my Conan starter. But I never got them when I was fermenting since I lowered the temperature. I think temperature has a really big affect on what Conan produces.

  10. My clovey IPA was fermented at 58-62F. Maybe it needed more (or less) oxygen, zinc or something...