Brew Day Log: Addictive Brewing – Young Europa

For the fourth entry in our Brew Day Log, we joined Horia from Addictive Brewing as he added a brand new beer to his repertoire. We’ve been following Horia and his brewing antics for several years now, and in many ways, we consider him one of the most influential characters of the current craft beer wave. We’ve seen him share his knowledge with homebrewers, introducing the concept of craft to newcomers on beer groups, posting very in-depth and insightful reviews, and brewing bold and experimental beers. So when we were given the green light to come to Oradea and document a brew day on July 21st, we were both honoured and humbled. Admittedly, we were hoping we’d get to see him brew something of the spontaneously fermented variety, but a session IPA worked just as well.

Young Europa stats:

  • Style: Session IPA
  • Grain bill: malted wheat, wheat flakes, pilsner malt, Munich Light Malt
  • Hops: Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado, Hull Melon
  • OG (original gravity): 1052
  • FG (final gravity): 1011
  • ABV: 5.5% ABV

Now, we have a confession to make: we don’t believe Session IPA is an actual thing. There just doesn’t seem to be a well structured definition for this style. It’s meant to combine the hop-forward IPA profile with the lower ABV of a sessionable beer – OK, we get that. But where do you draw the line? Last year, we were poking fun at Ground Zero’s Imperial Session IPA, which weighed in at 5%. Young Europa clocks in at 5.5% without any of the ‘imperial’ thrown in. Even if you go by the BJCP classification (which, although used for competitions, doesn’t acknowledge it as a style of its own, just a ‘specialty IPA’), it’s still off the required ABV mark. Perhaps we’re coming at this with too much of a purist approach. And as we’ll see in the next brew day log, reinterpreting and reinventing beer styles might just be the brewers’ prerogative.

Back to Young Europa, it’s worth mentioning that Horia is as much into his music as he is into beer – perhaps more. In the case of this beer, Laibach’s ‘Young Europa’ provided much of the needed inspiration, not just when it comes to the name, but as Horia claims, it even dictated the dry hopping.

A look around the brewery

Before we get the brew on the way, there’s a couple of things we need to show you that make Addictive Brewing stand out. For starters, unlike the vast majority of craft breweries, it’s not located on some desolate industrial site, but on a nice residential street that looks like this:

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Secondly, the brew house itself is a curious contraption, but we’ll show you that a bit later. On with the tour, the brewery is remarkably spacious, and it’s a mix of old and new brewing equipment.

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Horia’s original equipment came with a set of very large fermenting vessels, which have been replaced with 6 shiny new conicals that suit his needs better: 3 with a 1000 litre capacity, and 3 at 1700 litres.

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With only 70 hectoliters brewed in his debut year (2019), Horia likes to pace himself, and so far, he’s only used half of the fermenters in his menagerie.

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We hadn’t come across this design before, and at first we were somewhat confused as to why there are two exit pipes. It turns out that one of them has a racking arm that pulls clear beer from above the yeast and hops that have settled at the bottom of the cone.

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Horia’s state of the art bottling line – well, it’s not actually state of the art, but we like to tease him about it.

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When it comes to equipment, Horia uses a strange mix of old and new, streamlined and complicated. For example, this has to be one of the most needlessly complicated labeling machines in the history of brewing. And then, we have this:

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In comparison, the malt mill looks very meek and unassuming, yet it gets the job done.

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Beer twists time into flavour – that’s how the Addictive Brewing motto goes, and nowhere is this as obvious quite as in the case of barrel aging. These bad boys have previously played host to brandy, Cabernet Sauvignon and Fetească Neagră from a local winery, and are currently filled with a beastly beer of the dark persuasion, that should be ready in time for the colder months.

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As we delve deeper into the brewery, we also come across Horia’s old equipment: the bottling line (similar to the one Bere a la Cluj currently use), as well as several 3000 liter fermenting vessels that came with the brew house. Horia doesn’t use them because he would have to brew three batches just to fill one up, but he’s not emotionally attached to them. So if you’re interested in getting your hands on his stuff, do give him a shout.

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Last but not least, we can’t end our tour without acknowledging this little beauty: converted from a keg, with a gas burner underneath, this little contraption is used for heating up water, sanitizing and recirculating certain solutions, and it’s another example of Horia’s ingenuity.

Tour over and done with, let’s get on with the serious stuff.

9:10 – Arrive at the brewery

We actually arrive at the brewery 10 minutes late, because Oradea has a lot of street shops that sell local pies and we couldn’t decide on which one to go to. The entire time, we can’t help remembering the story Horia told us the night before, about how he had the audacity to be late for a brew day while doing an apprenticeship with De Glazen Toren Brewery, and got properly scolded for missing the mash. Luckily, Horia is more understanding than Jef Van Den Steen, so we’re forgiven. In fact, Horia already spent 8 hours at the brewery the day before, cleaning, milling, and generally preparing for the brew day. He also set the first batch of water to heat. Now, normally this would be the strike water, but at Addictive they use a 2 vessel combi-system that’s unlike anything most Romanian breweries use.

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This Hungarian-made, German style brewhouse is predominantly used for lagers, but it has been modified to suit Horia’s needs. It uses a vessel that functions as both the mash tun and the boil kettle, while the second one acts as lauter and sparge tun. With this type of system, you first heat the sparge water in the boil kettle, then transfer it to the sparge section of the lauter tun vessel. 

9:25 – Sparge water reaches temperature

As the sparge water reaches just over 80℃, Horia cuts off the heating and starts to transfer it to the sparge vessel. The temperature is expected to drop over the course of a couple of hours to around 78℃, perfect for sparging.

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9:30 – Strike water added to kettle

As soon as the sparge water is out of the way, Horia adds around 450 litres of cold water to the boil kettle/mash tun, ready to heat up to strike water temperature. With a powerful gas burner and oil system, the heating doesn’t take very long on this equipment. So, there isn’t much need for a separate hot water tank like most breweries use.

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With the strike water in, Horia adds in the water treatments. Like in Cluj, the water in Oradea is actually very good for brewing, in that it’s quite soft. Horia uses a touch of sulphuric acid to bring the pH down, and a little calcium sulphate (gypsum) and calcium chloride to gives the beer a stiffer body, accentuating the dryness and helping the hops shine.

9:50 – Wheat is mashed in

Horia normally uses a series of steps during the mash. Known as step mashing, it means that the mash will rest at different temperatures for different times, over the course of around 2 hours. It’s a rather old fashioned practice that many brewers no longer carry out due to the higher quality malt available these days. But with the equipment Horia uses and the speed at which it can heat up, the extra time taken to step mash is negligible. In fact, one of the benefits of taking that extra time is that the resulting wort will likely have a higher gravity, which ultimately means more beer!

As the strike water reaches 40℃, Horia takes a moment to inform us that there’s a tradition in Bihor demanding that, when brewing, one should always have Margo Timmins from Cowboy Junkies singing in the background. So after picking a rather ominous song, he proceeds to mash in just the wheat flakes and wheat malt. 

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Traditionally, brewers who make Weizen carry out what is known as a ‘ferulic acid rest’ at around 35-40℃. This releases the acid from the wheat, which creates distinctive phenolic notes of cloves and spice when reacting with certain types of yeast. We know Horia likes to mix things up, from hybrid styles to spontaneous fermentation, so maybe this secret step brings out a hidden layer of flavour in the finished product. 

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10:05 – Malt is mashed in

When the mash reaches 52℃, Horia adds in the malted barley, bringing the total amount of grains up to 160 kg. Once mixed up nicely, it rests at 52℃ for about 10 minutes. 

10:30 – Mash rest at 64℃

Once the mash reaches 64℃, it has a short rest of around 15 minutes. At this temperature, a particular type of enzyme (Beta-amylase) is most active. It soon gets to work converting the starches within the grains to fermentable sugars. By resting the mash at this temperature, Horia is able to convert a good amount of starches to simple sugars that will ferment well. When he raises the temperature to the next step however, this enzyme will denature. 

10:45 – pH reading

After 15 minutes of starch conversion, Horia takes a sample to measure the pH. Getting the right mash pH is important, as it means a better rate of conversion and less chance of off-flavours. If the reading shows that the pH isn’t within the acceptable range for this type of beer, Horia can add more water treatments to either raise it or lower it. Fortunately, he got the water treatments right the first time, and it’s sitting pretty at 5.32.

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10:50 – Mash rest at 68℃

After 15 minutes rest at 62℃, the heating is switched back on to bring the mash up to the third and longest step. At 68℃, a second enzyme (Alpha-amylase) becomes more active in the grains. This also works to convert the starches into sugars, however it’s unable to break the sugars down into the most fermentable simple sugars. Instead, it creates more complex chains that the yeast cannot fully convert to alcohol. This has a direct impact on the body of the beer, and resting at 68℃ for 50 minutes should lend this beer a fairly full body.

11:55 – Mash rest at 72℃

The next step takes us up to 72℃, where the mash will rest for 5 minutes or so. This helps denature most of the enzymes and puts a stop to the starch conversion stage. It also helps thicken up the body a bit more.

12:20 – Mash out at 78℃

Finally, the mash is raised to a mash out temperature of 78℃. This makes the mixture less viscous and helps the lautering process run more smoothly. The high temperature also ensures that the wort will get to a boil quicker once it’s been transferred. Once this temperature is reached, Horia shuts off the heating, opens up the valves, and starts the pump, transferring the entire mash to the lauter tun. A blast with the hose helps the last, stubborn grains through the valve, leaving the mash tun/boil kettle empty and ready to rinse out.

Although there’s a lot going on in the background, the brew day so far is pretty chilled out, and most of it looks like this:

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Horia is a great storyteller, which turns him into a very amiable and engaging host. Putting on some Cardiacs tunes, he takes a trip down memory lane as he remembers the people who were his model when he started brewing, such as Andy Tveekrem, brewmaster for Market Garden, Matt Brynildson from Firestone Walker, and Jef Van Den Steen from De Glazen Toren. He has kept us enthralled with tales about how Jester King was his role model brewery, about how Peter Bouckaert and his book on wood and beer have sparked his interest for barrel aging, about the role Purpose Brewing and New Belgium played in the craft beer revolution, or how Teri Fahrendorft and her Pink Boots Society have been a role model for women in the US brewing industry. It’s very rare that we come across someone who’s as knowledgeable and eager to discuss beer quite like Horia. Hours and stories go by, and before we know it, it’s time to get on with the next step.

12:30 – Recirculate the wort

With all of the grains and wort in the lauter tun, Horia switches the valves around, starts the pump, and begins to recirculate the wort. The lauter tun consists of a metal filter that the grains sit on. The liquid wort passes through this filter, collecting in a section beneath, where it can be pumped back on top of the grains. Doing this will clarify the wort, and get rid of any husks or coarse flour that can cause off-flavours in the finished beer. 

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While the pump has just one speed, Horia is able to prevent the wort being sucked out and compressing the grain bed by using a grant – a middle vessel from which the wort is pulled into the pump from, preventing straining the grain bed. This is important, as if the liquid is pulled from the grains too fast, it will compact and block the filter, something that is known as a stuck sparge. 

While we wait for the wort to run clear, Horia cleans out the boil kettle, ready to transfer into and begin the boil.

12:40 – Transfer to kettle starts

After 10-minutes of recirculation, the wort is looking pretty clear in the sightglass, and Horia has thoroughly rinsed the kettle. He switches off the pump and opens the valve at the bottom of the kettle. The wort then transfers naturally to the kettle without splashing, avoiding hot-side aeration.

13:25 – Sparge starts

The transfer usually takes around 2 hours or so, and it’s a slow and steady process. This ensures the sparge water is able to rinse off as many sugars from the grain as possible. On this system, it’s not possible to transfer and sparge at the same time, so Horia collects pretty much all of the first runnings in the kettle, before shutting the valve and spraying hot sparge water over the grains in the lauter tun. After adding around 200 litres of sparge water, the transfer can start again.

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This process is repeated several times, with additional recirculation periods every now and then if the wort doesn’t run clear, until there are around 750 litres of wort in the kettle.

13:50 – Pie time

While the lengthy sparge and transfer take place, we contemplate lunch. Horia has arranged a special surprise for us: a pie called ‘Întorsură’, with cheese and potato. It’s a traditional pie from his grandparents’ village, in southeastern Bihor, and it was made with tender loving care by his wife. 

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It beats the brew day pizza any time, and we wolf if down instantly. 

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We also help ourselves to some of his exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon wild ale to wash it down, straight from the fermenting vessel. Out of the many craft beers released on the Romanian market this year, this one definitely takes the prize for the best beer of 2020 – for us, anyway.

14:05 – 500L in the kettle

Almost an hour and a half after starting the transfer, we have around 500 litres of wort in the kettle. There’s still another 250 litres to go, but at this point Horia starts heating the kettle to bring it as close to a boil as possible. He’ll shut it off again if it gets too hot before all of the wort is in the kettle.

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Like many respectable brewers, Horia uses a piece of equipment known as ‘the measuring stick’. Although it looks like a plain piece of wood with various markings, this one of a kind measuring utensil allows him to precisely determine the amount of liquid he has to work with, relying entirely on volume indicators drawn with a carbon black and polymer mixture, carefully placed phalanges, and photoreceptor signals. Replicating the accuracy of this tool is almost impossible, which is why no manufacturer has so far ventured into producing it on a commercial level.

15:10 – Transfer ends

It’s finally all in the kettle, so Horia cranks up the heating to get it to a boil. Before it reaches that stage though, he takes a sample in order to measure the pre-boil gravity. 

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15:20 – Boil starts

It doesn’t take long to reach a boil, so Horia tightens the kettle lid shut using his special modification, starts the extractor, and places the all-important camping coffee cup on the spray ball valve – without it, foam and steam would spew out. With this system, the burner is all or nothing, so soon we’re at a vigorous boil. The burner isn’t left on throughout the entire boil, but stays on for 5-minutes or so at a time, then off for 3-minutes or so. This stops it from going completely crazy… 

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… but not entirely, so you still get a bit of foam escaping through the coffee cup. Nothing a good hosing down can’t take care of, though.

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15:30 – Diggin’ out the mash tun

Horia is a lean, mean, brewing machine and insists that he does everything himself – including digging out the mash tun, which is a task commonly delegated to visitors. He has a fairly efficient system, with two large troughs that are filled with the spent grain and wheeled outside on a pallet, ready for the local farmer to feed to the cows. Horia uses the CIP system to clean the worst of the lauter tun, then gets up close and personal with the pressure washer. In only takes about 25 minutes or so before the job is done.

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This particular brew day has been quite odd for us so far, because we’re used with giving a hand. Instead, we seem to have been relegated to mere go-for’s, and our current task is taking a gravity reading while Horia takes care of the big boy part of the brewing. At 1055 before the boil, it’s a bit higher than expected, but Horia has a plan.

16:00 – Boil finish

After 40-minutes of boiling, Horia turns the heat off and lets the wort sit in the kettle. So far, no hops have been added to the wort. He’ll add them shortly to the kettle to gain just a little bitterness and plenty of aroma.

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16:25 – Hops added to kettle

The hops are finally introduced to the wort, which, by this time, has dropped slightly to around 97℃. They’re mixed in and allowed to steep for a 30-minute hop stand. This will impart some bitterness as well as aroma compounds. The final beer should have only a slight to moderate bitterness and a beautiful burst of aroma.

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16:40 – Sanitize FV and Heat exchange

While the hops do their thing, Horia takes care of the final acid rinse. He cleans both the fermenting vessel and the heat exchange, ensuring they’re both sanitized, removing any chance of infection. As soon as the temperature of the wort drops below pasteurization levels, it becomes extremely susceptible to bacteria. By recirculating an acid mix through the heat exchange, transfer hose, and the fermenter, there’s almost no chance that any bacteria can survive.

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Even though the boil has ended, the brewery is packing more steam than Dagobah. Normally, the open windows and doors would clear it, but this July afternoon is particularly sweltering, and all the steam is trapped inside. Luckily we have plenty of beer to keep us hydrated.

16:50 – Mixing the yeast

With the cleaning running in the background, Horia can focus on the yeast. Earlier, he cleaned and sanitized his fancy new stainless steel urn, originally designed for honey making, before filling it with boiling water. This was then cooled, allowing the temperature to drop to about 27℃. At this temperature, the yeasts can be safely added, ensuring they’re properly hydrated before being pitched into the wort. 

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He uses 3 types of yeast for this new brew. The first is US-05, an American ale yeast that is classically clean and inoffensive. Next up is S-04, a fruity, English yeast with a reputation for getting a little over-excited when it meets unfermented wort. Finally, WB-06 is a wheat beer yeast that should bring some interesting spicy notes.

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Horia likes to use yeast mixes rather than just one type, as he believes that each strain brings its own unique contribution to the mix. They work in different ways, gobbling up what they prefer most of all, leading to an interesting fusion. Kinda how like we each prefer different pizza toppings.

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16:55 – Transfer wort to whirlpool vessel

With the yeast happily locked away for now, Horia begins to transfer the wort from the boil kettle into a separate whirlpool vessel. The wort is pumped into the whirlpool, leaving around 20 litres of hops and trub in the kettle. It enters the whirlpool vessel at a slight angle, causing the whole mix to spin, creating a whirlpool effect. This allows any sediment that made it into the vessel to drop out of suspension and collect in the middle, where it’ll be left behind after the wort is transferred to the fermenting vessel. Before that though, it will rest for about an hour to encourage as many particles as possible to drop.

Now, we must admit, when we first saw the whirlpool vessel we were wondering how it could work, and whether it was upside down. Most whirlpool vessels that we’ve seen and worked with tend to have a domed bottom and at least 3 valves, one exit valve right at the bottom, one transfer valve, and one inlet/whirlpool valve. Once the wort is inside, it’s normally pumped to create a continuous whirlpool effect, spreading the hops continuously, and eventually dumping the solids in the centre.

However, this far more simple system seems to do the job just as well. We did wonder about the coned top, and can only assume that it’s designed to prevent volatile hop aromas from escaping.

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17:05 – Clean the kettle

While we wait, Horia springs into action and starts cleaning the boil kettle. A good blast with the pressure washer takes care of the worst, and within 30-minutes he’s pretty much done.

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17:35 – Reduce wort gravity

The pre-boil gravity was around 1055, which is slightly high for this recipe. Fortunately, it didn’t increase during the boil, and it’s easy enough to fix. Around 50-75 litres of filtered water are added to the whirlpool vessel, dropping the gravity closer to the target, at 1052.

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18:15 – Transfer to FV start

After the wort has rested for long enough, Horia begins the transfer. The hoses are all hooked up, the valves are open, and the mobile pump is switched on. 

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Cold water and glycol pass through one side of the heat exchange, quickly cooling the near boiling wort down to around 20℃ by the time it arrives in the fermenting vessel.

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18:30 – Yeast pitched

The transfer doesn’t take long, and within 15 minutes or so, all the wort is safely in the fermenting vessel at around 20℃. All that’s left to do is for Horia to climb the ladder and pitch his special blend of yeasts. Once done, we just have to give the brewery a final clean-up – and it looks like we’re actually allowed to give a hand this time.

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19:00 – Done

And that’s a wrap! It was a slightly different brew day today, with patience taking a front seat. But, packed full of anecdotes, tips and tricks from Horia, and no shortage of tastings, it was a great day and we learnt a lot.

Horia, it’s been a pleasure, as always. All that remains now is to see how this new and exciting beer will turn out to be.

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PS: don’t worry about the master brewer, he doesn’t bite.

Cheers!

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