I often hear people say: "anyone can throw a load of hops into a beer, it's balance that requires skill". Whilst I'm inclined to agree, I also think that achieving a bright, clean, pronounced hop flavour in a pale beer is far from easy. I know, I've tried and failed many times.
Increasing hop additions and delaying until the end of the boil hasn't made any real difference. I closely control fermentation temperature, use a clean, neutral strain and get beers without any yeast character; so it's not that the hop flavour is being masked.
The next variable is water. London water is hard. Almost as hard as understanding water chemistry for brewing. In simple terms, water contains minerals, the amount of these minerals in the water will depend on geographical location. London water is hard because it has lots of minerals in it. Two of the ions in these minerals are Chloride and Sulphate. I want to change the balance of ions such that there's a lot more Sulphate than there is Chloride. For reasons I won't go into*, a skew towards sulphate will accentuate hops, whereas the reverse will favour malt. To achieve this, I will add Calcium Sulphate (Gypsum) to my mash and Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salt) to my boil. Done.
When it comes to hop additions, large and late is the name of the game. Standard.
Here's my recipe:
Grain: Pale malt (61.6%) and pilsner malt (23.1%) for the base, carapils (7.7%) and flaked barley (3.8%) for body, pale crystal (3.8%) for some sweetness and complexity.
Hops: Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo (all pellets). 3g addition of each variety at 10, 7, 5, 3 and 1 minute from flame out.
Other: Batch size 7 litres, original gravity 1.059, mash temperature 68c.
I missed the original gravity by a point and got 1.058; happy with that. I did lose A LOT of wort to hop material though, only ended up with around 4 litres. Instead of throwing away the dirty wort, I racked it into a second vessel and pitched some yeast. What's the worst that could happen?
I've named this one 'Almost Tasty', on account of the inspiration I took from Mike McDole's 'Tasty APA' recipe.
* mainly because I don't understand them.