Brewing a heady topper clone.

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For someone who drinks IPA like I do, it’s a little surprising that I’ve yet to actually brew one. I’ve always felt they are hard to brew well, and I can a good example locally. I’m also intimidated by the idea of brewing one. I like my ipa’s west coast style, or better yet, northern VT style (The Alchemist,  Hill Farmstead). I like them dry, lots of hop flavor, citrus aroma, medium bitterness, and balanced. So, when I found this recipe for a heady topper clone in a recent BYO,  I had to brew it. If you’ve had Heady Topper you know why I want to try to brew a beer like it. I’ve done a fair amount of research on the beer. There are a few threads on both Beer Advocate on HomebrewTalk, and blogs that discuss the topic Ad nauseam. Since this is my first attempt at it, I’m not looking to brew the closest recipe to heady. My goal is to brew a very hoppy double IPA, using the techniques outlined in the recipe, and I as much similar ingredients as I can. I’ll leave the brewing heady topper to John Kimmich. Here’s my recipe. The biggest change to the BYO recipe was to swap in Thomas Fawcett Pearl malt, I also made some minor hop substitutions, I am also using some Conan yeast grown up from yeast harvested from the bottom of a can of heady topper.

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This was not a typical brew day for me, I took the day off with the express purpose to brew. I felt this would be something I didn’t want to be brewing in the dark, rushed to finish in the wee hours of the morning. Despite taking a day off, it wasn’t the smooth calculated brew day I’d planned on. While outside filtering my brewing water, I managed to flood my kitchen. I was running water to preheat my mash tun, the sprayer jumped out of the cooler, and sprayed a few gallons onto the floor. After cleaning up, both up stairs and in the basement, I got down to brewing. Some how I managed to miss my strike temperature, Low, high, then low again. After all those gyrations to get the proper strike temp, my mash temp still ended up low. 146 instead of 150. Beersmith will tell me the correct strike temp if I’ve setup my equipment correctly, but I’m obviously still working out those settings. Since the mash temp was low, I mashed for 90 instead of 60 minutes. For a beer like this, my goal is to get a really dry beer, so the low mash temp isn’t concerning. I was just hoping to ensure I had complete conversion.

My sparge started off slow, so I thinned out the mash again, and gave it a big stir. With the run off going well. I decided mid stream to fly sparge. Without a real fly sparge setup, I just continually topped the mash tun up with water. I’m not exactly sure why, other than perhaps feeling a big rushed to get this beer underway. I collected just shy of my desired total runoff. At this point I should have had some additional available sparge water, but was  thrown off by two calculations. The strike water volume I measured wrong during the conversion from quarts to gallons, because dividing by 4 is hard (why am I still using imperial?). I also added a false bottom to my boil kettle which changes my volume calculation. It was just one of those days.

I got the kettle on the burner, and started my boil, with lower than expected runoff, I decided to go from a 90 to a 60 minute boil. I wasn’t using any pilsner malt, so I decided that shorter boil would be fine. The boil was uneventful, I managed to not boil over, and  added what felt like massive amounts of hops, 9oz on the hot side, 6oz’s come after flameout. One of the signature techniques of this beer is tons of late and whirlpool hops. I’m not sure if multiple additions are necessary, as I go from 210-180 pretty quick. I’m unsure if there is any detectable difference between the additions, but I have peers in that swear by the the 180* whirlpool hop addition. I let the 180* addition steep for 30 minutes, then chilled to 63, which took another 20 minutes.

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I was amazed how easily I was able to knock out, despite the large volumes of whole and pellet hops. The false bottom in the brew kettle does a great job of separating the whole hops. However my runoff was still filled with hop matter from the pellets. With the false bottom in place, whirl pooling won’t be effective. I need to rethink this setup for the future, but for whole hops, I’m really happy with it. I transferred a total of 6g. I then used my new aeration stone, and aquarium pump to aerate for 30 minutes. After which I pitched a decanted 2l starter’s worth of Conan yeast. I acquired a slurry of yeast from a homebrewing friend that harvested it from a can and grew it up. I was a little worried about the yeast, the starter was made nearly three weeks before pitching. The yeast was fine, it was blowing off vigorously w/in 24 hours (see video below).

At the 6 day mark it seemed that most of the fermentation was done, so I added the first dry hop addition in primary. It will sit on the first round of dry hops for 5 days, then I’ll transfer to secondary and onto a second set of dry hops for another 5 days. I’m considering if I’ll hop in the keg too, but that might just be a bit too much.

Changes for next time:

Try not to flood the house.

Hit my pre boil volume target with more sparge water.

Not fly sparge on the fly, improve efficiency.

Achieve better hop separation. This will require some process change or hardware change. A traditional whirlpool won’t work.

Convert to o2, for better aeration, my stone already seems clogged after one use.


My Recipe – Not a Clone recipe, but based on the recipe. (This site has unfortunately been taken offline)

About Aaron

Homebrewer, Cyclist, locavore, Craft Beer lover, husband, father, blogger, photographer, alpaca farmer, New England sports fan, all around Geek.

2 comments on “Brewing a heady topper clone.

  1. Very interesting write up. I’ve wanted to get into brewing and its things like this that will soon push me to get that fire under my mash….

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