In the early 1980s, John Maier said something many longtime homebrewers can relate to: “I want to make beers with taste!” Like other craft-beer pioneers, Maier had a thirst for fine beer at a time when it was hard to find. This passion transformed him from an avid homebrewer (he won the “AHA Homebrewer of the Year” award in 1988) to a legendary pro (his beers have pulled down a slew of GABF and World Beer Cup medals).
Maier’s first professional job was with the Alaskan Brewing Company; during his time in Juneau, he helped create Alaskan Smoked Porter, a beer now recognized as a microbrew classic. In 1989, he opened a brewpub in Ashland, Oregon and started making his now-legendary Rogue ales.
Today, Rogue is renowned for beers that are big in flavor and quality, made with generous amounts of the finest malts and hops. This philosophy even extends to the bottles. Maier likes huge 22-ounce “bombers” with brightly-colored labels silk-screened directly onto the glass. And on every bottle, you’ll find the details that beer enthusiasts love: malts and hops, starting gravity, IBU and alcohol levels. Even the names — Mexicali Rogue, Dead Guy Ale, Old Crustacean — will grab your attention.
John is still an ardent supporter of the homebrewing hobby. So in honor of BYO’s fifth anniversary, we asked him for five tips to help homebrewers recreate the big beers that made Rogue famous.
The Rogue Says: Use Different Kinds of Specialty Malt ... and Lots of It!
A look at the grist bill on a typical Rogue beer usually reveals a blend of four or more types of malt. And the proportion of specialty malts is sometimes more than 40 percent of the total grist bill! In most brews, specialty malts account for only 10 to 20 percent of the batch.
The Rogue rule means that, for a typical five-gallon batch and a beer of even modest gravity, you might use more than 3 pounds of specialty malt. This has several advantages. In beers where malt character predominates, it builds depth and complexity into the flavor profile. “Our beers are made with single-infusion mashes,” says John. “Creative blending of specialty malts can be used to adjust the sugar composition of the final wort.”
An example: You could use large amounts of caramel malt to provide additional dextrins (unfermentable sugars) in a beer where the mash temperature and pale-malt base would otherwise create a highly fermentable wort. With this technique, you can make beers with highly fermentable worts (in other words, big beers!) while still maintaining body. And you can do it without the hassle of a step mash.
This even works for beers in the lighter color range, providing you use light-colored specialty malts. Rogue’s MaierBock has a starting gravity of 1.066 yet maintains a golden color of 8 degrees Lovibond. To accomplish this, Maier uses a healthy dose of Munich and Hugh Baird Carastan malts. For beers like Rogue’s Brutal Bitter or Saint Rogue Red, styles in which the hops are more predominant, Maier says that “Increased percentages of specialty malts also allow for increased amounts of hops. This helps create balance in the beer.”
The Rogue Says: If You Brew Big Beers, Then Use Big Hops!
A look at the hops used in Rogue’s characteristic ales reveal many newer, non-traditional varieties — like Columbus, Horizon, Crystal, Sterling and Amarillo — alongside such traditional varieties as Saaz, Cascade, Centennial and Kent Golding. “When in doubt, use more!” says John.
Higher gravities and healthy amounts of specialty grains create a need for increased IBU levels — commonly 35 IBUs and occasionally in excess of 50 — to help maintain balance and prevent big beers from being cloying. That’s true even in styles where the malt character is meant to dominate.
On the homebrew level, with a hop of 13 percent alpha acid (such as Southern Cross), this can mean using as much as 1.5 ounces in the boil to obtain IBU levels in the 50 to 60 range. “Freshness is key in hop selection,” says John. “We rely heavily on pellet hops because they store better and retain the good characteristics of the variety.”
When selecting a hop, John looks for varieties that have low co-humulone levels, such as Crystal, Horizon and traditional “noble-type” hops like Hallertauer and Saaz. Some research indicates that higher co-humulone levels (over 25 percent) can result in the harsh bitterness and edge associated with high-alpha hops. On beers where hop bitterness, flavor and aroma are more prominent, John feels that low co-humulone hops help ensure a mellow flavor and bitterness, even in highly hopped beers.
The Rogue Says: A Hopback is the Best Way to Bitter
Rogue’s Brutal Bitter is a full-bodied, intensely hoppy brew that’s anything but brutal, with a clean hop flavor and big hop aroma typical of an American IPA. Yet this beer is not dry-hopped — a technique that means adding hops into the fermenter after the primary to create additional aroma. “Crystal hops are the only hop used in Brutal and it provides a massive amount of aroma without dry-hopping,” says John.
The drawback with dry-hopping is that typical fermentation and conditioning temperatures will not extract the maximum character from the hops. Late hop additions in the brew kettle also have a substantial effect on aroma, but the essential oils responsible for hop aroma vaporize into the air.
With a device called a hopback (see “Homemade Hopbacks,” April 2000), hot wort runs through a vessel containing flavor and aroma hops at the end of the boil. Then it’s immediately cooled to yeast-pitching temperature and sent to the fermenter. In this way, more essential oils stay in the wort. In addition, since hot wort is in contact with the hops, contamination — which can be an issue when hops are added into the fermenter cold — is not a problem.
A rule of thumb for dry-hopping: Depending on the gravity of the beer and the hop intensity you want, use from 0.5 to several ounces of the freshest hops you can get your hands on.
The Rogue Says: Ferment and Condition at Cooler Temperatures
“Yeast is a good thing, and cooler is better. Even with our proprietary ‘Pacman’ ale yeast, we ferment at temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit,” says John, adding that regardless of the yeast strain, constant temperature control will improve beer quality. With many strains, John suggests fermenting on the low side of the yeast’s optimum temperature range. This will create a smoother profile, with reduced fermentation esters —compounds that make a finished beer smell “fruity.”
Cooler fermentations will require slightly extended fermentation and conditioning periods, but this allows the flavors in big beers — styles with higher malt, alcohol and hop levels — to meld and mellow while remaining in contact with the yeast.
This philosophy extends to packaging. “By switching to Cornelius kegs and artificial carbonation, many homebrewers are missing out on the benefits of bottle conditioning,” laments John. Bottle conditioning is when the beer is carbonated by adding additional sugar at packaging time; the secondary fermentation occurs in the sealed bottle.
Many homebrewers feel the additional yeast in the bottle detracts from the finished beer. Wrong, says Maier: “With my homebrews, I would condition the bottles warm for five to seven days to build carbonation, then move the beer into refrigerated storage. After several weeks the beer would drop bright, and the extended cold storage in contact with the yeast allows the beer to maintain a positive flavor profile for a longer period of time.”
The Rogue Says: Start By Copying, Then Get Creative!
“As a homebrewer, it’s good to copy but it’s also good to play around,” says John. For starters, Maier says recreating commercial beers is a great way for homebrewers to learn beer styles and techniques. “Some of Rogue’s ales are based on my homebrew recipes,” says John.
By brewing repeat batches or splitting batches into multiple fermenters, homebrewers can make minor changes in ingredients and compare the results. That’s a fast way to understand how individual ingredients change recipe design.
“Don’t be afraid to try unusual methods and ingredients,” adds Maier. “Alaskan Smoked Porter was a variation on a homebrew recipe; we added alder-smoked malt and it turned out great.” At Rogue, ingredients like buckwheat (Buckwheat Ale), hazelnut extract (HazelNut Brown Nectar) and chipolte peppers (Mexicali Rogue) are examples of non-traditional ingredients being used to create new flavors in traditional beers.