We were already working on a recipe for a new lower alcohol pale ale when we heard of David Bowie’s passing. Although I have never been a Bowie superfan, I respected him and his work. One of our assistant brewers, Nathan, suggested we make a Bowie tribute beer. I knew that the new pale ale I was making was going to exclusively use Simcoe hops, so I racked my brain for an appropriate tie in. Finally, I thought of Ziggy SimcoeDust, and the beer officially had a name.
Then I started thinking about it, and saw that Simcoe and Bowie have more in common that originally thought. Simcoe was released in 2000, but it wasn’t until about 2008 that you really started to see the hops gaining some traction. In fact, Washington state hop growers planted only 237 acres of Simcoe in 2010, as opposed to 2,889 in 2015. Bowie experienced a similar rise to fame, releasing his first single in 1964 but not having a true hit until 1969 with “Space Oddity”, which was released 5 days before the Apollo 11 mission that ultimately landed men on the moon. Even though “Space Oddity” is probably regarded as Bowie’s best known song, he didn’t experience successful album sales until 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. His highest selling album is 1983’s Let’s Dance, which has sold 7 million copies, which is remarkable to think that is was released almost 20 years after his debut.
Simcoe is extremely popular for good reason, as it is an extremely complex and aromatic hop. The main descriptor for it is piney, so it also has big passionfruit, orangey citrus, earth and berry flavors. As a beer with Simcoe warms up, the different aromas and flavors come out and it almost becomes a different beer. Bowie was able to be as successful as he was due to his constant reinvention. Listening to “Space Oddity”, then “Ziggy Stardust”, “Diamond Dogs”, “Fame”, “Under Pressure”, “Modern Love”, and finally “I’m Afraid of Americans”, you could almost think you’re listening to a different artist every time. What started out as a tribute beer with a clever pun became surprisingly fitting.
For me, one of the keys to brewing a lower alcohol pale like Ziggy is to have enough residual sugar to contribute to body at the end of fermentation. If you read our blog often, you probably know that I have an affinity for really dry beer. However, letting Ziggy dry out too much would leave it too watery and not nearly as intriguing. The goal is to make the beer taste like it’s 5-6% abv, instead of in the mid 4’s. To accomplish this, we used a higher mash temperature, as well as a percentage of CaraPils. The sugars extracted from CaraPils are unfermentable, which is important since our house ale strain will normally just eat and eat. The combination of the mash and malt worked, as the beer finished at 3.5° Plato, which is notable as our 6.5% Edgewater IPA normally finishes around 2° Plato.
The other key is that while the beer should be balanced, it should lean toward to hoppy side. Using such an aromatic hop like Simcoe made that easy, I just had to use enough of it. Like our other hoppy beers, Ziggy gets the majority of its hops in the whirlpool and dry hop (83.7% to be exact). I love this technique with hoppy beers as the temperature in the whirlpool is still hot enough to isomerize alpha acids, but without the rolling boil, the essential oils in the hops aren’t evaporated and stay in the beer. And since dry hops are added at about room temperature or lower, there’s no chance for isomerization and you’re extracting almost pure aroma.
Of course, the beer can’t just be hop juice, we need some malt to provide the counter-balance to the bitterness from the hops. For this beer, we thought it would be appropriate to use almost all English malt to tie into the Bowie theme even more. We used Golden Promise and lower lovibond Crystal malts, the aforementioned CaraPils, as well as oats to contribute a more luscious mouthfeel and thicker body. The color of the beer comes to 12 SRM, and is almost indistinguishable from our Cougar Pale Ale. The other stats are 4.4% abv and 55 IBU.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the end result of Ziggy. It is a sessionable American Pale Ale that is perfect for afternoon drinking. I’ve always loved the act of drinking more than the side-effects of alcohol, and a hoppy and tasty 4.4% abv beer fits with that thinking. As we’re having unseasonably warm weather recently, I think this will become a crowd favorite. But don’t take my word for it, come on down and share a pint with us. And if by chance a Bowie song comes on the radio, raise or tilt your glass with a smile and give a cheers to Mr. Ziggy himself. Rest in Peace good sir.