Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Lagers and Yeast Starters

It occurred to me soon after posting the previous article on lager brewing that I really didn't mention much about yeast starters. Not that the PROCESS involved in making a yeast starter for a lager is any different than it is for an ale - you still ferment the starter at roughly room temperatures - it's just that lagers require twice the amount of yeast, which can lead to a ridiculously-large starter requirement... easily past 4 L, depending on the size of your beer.

For example, using the yeast calculator at, if you enter that you're going to brew a 1.060 lager, the calculator tells you to make a 7 L starter (with intermittent shaking selected). Crazy, right? Who has a bottle large enough for a yeast starter of that size? Not to mention how expensive that much dry malt extract would be, if you don't happen to have starter wort frozen and on hand. One may immediately assume that if you made two 3.5 L starters, one right after the other, you'd end up with the same amount of yeast, but that isn't the case. It's kind of complicated, but basically the amount of wort you use changes the yeast inoculation rate. A 4 L starter would result in more yeast, for example, than a 2 L starter, but not proportionally-so (e.g. a 2 L starter, with intermittent shaking, would result in ~250 billion yeast cells; a 4 L starter, ~350 billion cells... not the 500 billion you may first assume).

Sometime last year I came across some steps that someone had thankfully posted online. Basically, it walks you through using the yeast calculator to make 2 smaller starters, to gradually build your yeast up until they're at the required number for the beer that you're going to brew. This way, you end up using less starter wort overall, and you won't need a 10 L carboy just for a starter. It works well, makes sense math-wise, and saves money. The only REAL catch to this process is that it takes time... you really have to prepare ahead.

Ok, let's do an example. Say we want to brew a 1.052-gravity Oktoberfest. We have a smackpack of Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager with a manufacture date of March 15th...

For the first starter...
1) In the yeast calculator, select "Lager" under Fermentation Type.
2) Enter the production date of the yeast - March 15th, 2012.
3) Select "Intermittent Shaking" in the tab that says Simple Starter (unless you have a stir plate, in which case, lucky you!).
4) Slide the Growth Factor bar all the way to the right.
5) Fiddle around with the numbers under O.G. so that "# Liters of starter required" reads 2 L, or as close to 2 L as you can get - 1.032 in this case, requires a 1.95 L starter.
6) Take note of the number under "# Yeast cells needed (in billions)" - 239. This means that with our currently-dated smackpack, making a 1.95 L starter (properly) should result in about 239 billion yeast cells.
7) Make a starter of this size. Shake/swirl it whenever you walk by, letting it ferment out over a couple of days. Then, place it in the fridge for a few days to let the yeast drop out of suspension. Pour out the majority of the liquid off the yeast cake, and leave the yeast at room temp for the day to warm up in preparation for your second starter.

For the second starter...
1) In the calculator, uncheck "Calculate Viability from Date". Enter the number of cells, in billions, that the first starter made - 239 (you're doing this because in theory, a completely fresh smackpack would have 100 billion cells, so viability is therefore 100%... we now have 239 billion cells, so viability is technically 239%).
2) Enter the target O.G. for the beer you're going to brew - 1.052.
3) Now it shows we need to make a 1.56 L starter... this is going to be with the yeast cake left from our FIRST starter.
4) So, make your 1.5 L of starter wort and pitch it on top of the first starter's yeast cake, and follow the same process as before: shake frequently, let it ferment out.
5) If you want to decant off that wort again, put the fermented-starter in the fridge once more to let the yeast drop out. Decant most of the wort, then keep the yeast at a temperature roughly around what you plan on pitching at (e.g. 45 F).

As you can see, if you're going to decant the liquid both times, you need to start this whole process a good 10 days before brew day if you want to be absolutely sure your yeast is ready to go. Most ales can be brewed at much shorter notice, but if you want a proper pitch of yeast for your beer (and you should), you need to prepare well in advance for lagers.

One final, important note; while making smaller starters ultimately saves you money and increases yeast numbers, keep in mind that the more steps you take, the more likely contamination will be. Keep EVERYTHING sanitary during the process; it's just as important when making yeast starters as when brewing.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Deschutes Black Butte Porter clone

Some brewdays are planned due to a current shortage of a favorite style or previous batch. Others are completed because you decide to take on a style that you've been wanting to brew for months, or even years. And some homebrews are made simply as a result of the one you brewed most recently - that is, you harvest some yeast from a recent beer that you want to use again, and you find a recipe that fits the yeast.

This is mostly the case here. After I bottled my recent Standard Bitter, I had a healthy yeast cake of Wyeast 1968 London ESB that I didn't want to waste. If I don't have a particular style in mind when deciding what to brew next, I always like to browse through the recipes on the database of Can You Brew It homebrews, located here. These guys have tackled a lot of tasty commercial beers over the last couple of years, and a lot of breweries use the 1968 as their "house yeast", so I knew I wouldn't have a problem finding something tasty to try to clone on my own.

Deschutes Brewery, located in Oregon, has always been one of my favorite West-Coast U.S. breweries. While their beers are not available in the East Coast, I've been lucky enough since getting into beer to have taken several trips in that area, and have got to try several of their offerings. One of these is their Black Butte Porter. A Robust Porter (BJCP classification), it's quite chocolatey and roasty, with a firm bitterness... very balanced overall. Some people find it difficult to get into "dark beers"; Black Butte is a great entry beer in this case, as it doesn't knock you out with any flavors in particular, or alcohol for that matter. Delicious!

It was a bit trickier than normal to extrapolate the recipe from the podcast/website to something that I could brew with the ingredients available to me. This was mostly due to the fact that the Deschutes brewer recommended using both American and English Chocolate malt, in equal quantities. Apparently American Chocolate is supposed to be a bit darker (350-400 L) compared to English (~300 L). I have access to "Chocolate Malt", which at ~350 L is probably American Chocolate. So, I went with this, and added a bit of Pale Chocolate malt (200 L) that I had on hand from a purchase in the U.S. a while back.  The only other significant difference was the last hop addition; the recipe calls for a small add of Mt. Hood or Tettnanger at 5 minutes; unfortunately, I had neither on hand, so went with Saaz, which was as close as I could get. Shouldn't make a huge difference, to be honest. Finally, the podcast actually called for a different mash schedule: a protein rest at 130 F for 10 minutes, saccharification rest at 156 for an hour, the mash-out. With today's grains, I keep reading that it's usually not neccesary for a protein rest, especially in a beer like this, so I decided to keep it simple by just going with a sacc rest at 154 F, and then mashing out.

This was also the first time I've ever really tried to alter my water profile, and the first time I've used a carbon filter. Fredericton water is treated with chlorine, like most cities. After you've brewed with chlorine-treated water for awhile, and you start to improve your tasting-abilities, however slightly, you can really start detecting the phenolic off-flavors that the chlorine leaves when it comes in contact with the grain - mediciney, band-aid.... it all actually does happen! I've been treating my water with campden tablets for the last 8 months or so, but haven't been overly happy with the results, so I finally decided to buy a countertop water filter, which should hopefully do a very competent job of removing the chlorine.

In addition, the recipe called for water with increased calcium to about 129 ppm. Fredericton water has about 40 ppm calcium... this is actually a bit low. Most sources recommend a minimum 50 ppm, and a lot of brewers add more, due to the positive effect calcium has on yeast health, among other things (stay tuned for a future blog post on water treatment, once I get my head sorted through the whole thing!). So, using the free program BreWater 3.0, I calculated a small addition of 6 g Gypsum and 5 g CaCl2 to bump my calcium (as well as the sulfate and chloride). If you start messing with your water profile without knowing what you're getting into, you'll more likely change your beer for the worse, but I've been wanting to try this for awhile, and I think I've done enough research to finally start to grasp the whole concept. We'll see!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency): OG 1.058, FG 1.012, IBU 38, SRM 26

1.82 kg Canadian 2-row
1.82 kg Maris Otter
500 g Wheat malt
318 g Chocolate malt (~350 L)
264 g Crystal 80 L
159 g Carapils
91 g Pale Chocolate malt

Nugget - 24 g (11.2% AA) @ 90 min
Cascade - 17 g (2.5% AA) @ 30 min
Saaz - 11.5 g (3% AA) @ 5 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB (cultured 18/3/12, ~1 cup yeast slurry)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; mash water treated with 8 g of 45/55 CaCl2/Gypsum mix

- Brewed March 25th/12, with Craig and Jill. 60 minute mash with 16.5 L of strike water, mashed in at 154 F (target). Mashed out with 7.25 L of 203 F water, resulting temp a bit low at 163 F, rest for 10 more minutes. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 170 F water for final volume of ~7.1 gallons in the kettle (low). SG 1.046 (target 1.044). 90 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 62 F with immersion chiller. Volume low at only slightly over 5 gallons, so OG high at 1.062. Pitched yeast slurry, woken up with a 500 mL starter, and aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after. Set in room with temp at mid 60s.

26/3 - 29/3 - Slow fermentation about 18 hours after pitching, gradually more active over the day until it was bubbling almost 2 times/second. Fairly active for a couple of days, temp as high as 70 F; activity then slowed fairly quickly, temp holding at 68 F (I kept the heat on in the small room; don't want the yeast pooping out to early, which would encourage a stuck fermentation and decreased diacetyl clean-up).             

1/4/12 - Took gravity reading of 1.020. Made a 250 mL starter to try to wake up the remaining 1968 slurry, then pitched about 12 hours later.

12/4/12 - FG of 1.018... I didn't really expect the FG to get down to 1.012 (that's pretty high attenuation for 1968). The 1.018 is a bit high for the style, but with the higher OG, the attenuation came out to be about 69%, about average for 1968 London ESB.

17/4/12 - Bottled with 121 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 with max temp of 70 F reached.

30/5/12 - Tasting notes.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

A Guide to Lager Brewing

With all of my recent lager recipes I've put up on this blog, I got to thinking about actually posting some tips on the whole process. If you read basic information on lagers vs. ales, you get the usual "bottom-fermenting vs. top-fermenting; cold vs. warm fermentation; clean vs. fruity flavors", etc. How to translate this to home-brewing, however, can get a bit overwhelming and confusing. Well, it did for me anyway!

Here are a few major topics in homebrewing lagers compared to ales:

Equipment - Most of your typical ale-brewday will be the same when brewing a lager. You do your mash, vorlauf, sparge, typical boil, wort-cooling, etc. It's when you get to the yeast and fermentation that things change and get trickier. Equipment-wise, you really just have to decide if you want to buy a fermentation chamber, which typically means a fridge or freezer bypassed by a temperature controller. This is quite essential for lager-brewing in general, especially during warmer months, and is really great to have for any brewing at all, as it allows pretty much complete temperature control by the user. If you have a cool area of the house to set a fermenter, you can do this as well, but there's no guarantee this way that you'll get the temps that you want. Sometimes temps will get too warm for brewing a proper lager, and other times they'll get too low. I once brewed a California Common (an ale-lager hybrid) during early spring, and set the fermenter in the garage to get temps close to 60 F. Unfortunately, the temperature dropped at night, the yeast flocced out, and I couldn't wake them up again, resulting in a stuck fermentation and one overly-sweet and low-ABV beer. You can also try to control temperatures using the water-bath/wet shirt/electric fan trick; I've talked to some who have had pretty good results with this approach, but it obviously involves a lot more attention. It'll really come down to what's affordable, what you have room for, etc.

Temperatures - Obviously the biggest difference in brewing lagers vs. ales. While ale fermentation temperatures can range anywhere from low-60s F to high 80s (depending on the style, of course), all lagers are typically fermented at somewhere between 48-55 F. CAN lager yeast actually ferment at ale temperatures? They sure can, but you're going to get a lot of fruity-ester development, and that's not usually a feature in aroma or flavor that you want to see in a lager. The lower temperatures allow the lager yeast to ferment clean, so that there's very little (if any) additional esters or phenols produced.

Fermentation speed - Because of these lower fermentation temperatures, primary fermentation will take longer in lagers than it does in ales. While a lot of ale styles can finish primary fermentation in as little as several days, lagers can take a week or longer, easily. Primary fermentation also typically takes longer to begin with lagers, depending on your approach; don't pitch yeast into a lager style and expect to see fermentation begin within hours. It can often take a good 24-48 hours before any visible signs are seen (e.g. airlock bubbling). You still generally see a krausen during fermentation, but it's usually not as large as what you can see for an ale, and fermentation itself doesn't appear to be as "violent" - the chances of having a blow-off while fermenting a lager are probably pretty low in your typical 6 - 6.5 gallon fermenter! You DO still want the ferementation to be quite active, however, as it increases the amount of sulfur that is blown off.

Amount of yeast needed - You really need to pitch twice as much yeast for lagers compared to ales. This is very important, and often ignored. It's also one of the major pains with brewing lagers - unless you want to buy several packs of yeast to pitch (and who can afford that?), you have to plan well ahead and build up a good yeast starter. For comparison, a 1.050 gravity ale would require a 1 L starter with intermittent shaking (if you follow the pitching calculator at - and you should!). With a similar-gravity lager, on the other hand, you would need to make a 4.5 L starter to get the recommended amount of yeast! Crazy, isn't it? I wouldn't even recommend making a first-lager bigger than that; if you were hell-bent on brewing a high-gravity lager like a Doppelbock, I'd suggest brewing a smaller lager with the same yeast, and then culturing the yeast cake to use for the Doppelbock. Otherwise you'll be spending a lot of money and time on building super-sized yeast starters.

To secondary or not to secondary - If you've done your research on brewing ales, you probably know by now that racking to a secondary fermenter just isn't necessary - unless you're dry-hopping, adding secondary ingredients, or aging the beer. In lagers, however, moving over to secondary is a must-do, simply because the actual "lagering" process (where you drop the temperature of the beer down to near-freezing) takes time - more time than the beer should be sitting on the yeast cake from primary fermentation. Depending on the beer, lagering can take anywhere from several weeks to many months, so it really has to be in secondary for this final step.

Results - So, aside from the yeast, process, etc. what is the difference b/w a lager and an ale as an end-product? Of course there's lots of lager-styles, and even more ale-styles, but I'd mainly say that lagers are typically CLEANER than ales. Of course there's exceptions to this rule, just like all the others in brewing, but it's generally true. Fruity esters and spicy phenolics, which are so often expected and welcome in many styles of ale, are considered flaws in lager beers. The slow, clean fermentation, and long lagering process should result in a beer where the malt and hops are allowed to really shine. As a result, other possible brewing flaws related to water, oxidation, stale ingredients, etc. are more easily noticed. This is another reason why lagers are more difficult to brew properly than ales - it's that much easier to pick out problems.

My approach to brewing lagers... your results (and opinions!) may vary...

I tried to do a fair amount of reading on this subject before I brewed my first lager. There's a lot of information out there, some of it conflicting (of course). The following procedure has worked well for me; I have a deep freezer with a digital temp-controller, which technically would be needed to follow this approach. But if you want to try using the trick with the water-bath mentioned above, you can certainly give that a shot and just add more ice when you want to gradually decrease the temperature.

There are two basic approaches to beginning lager fermentation. An older, more classic method is to pitch the yeast "warm" (say, mid 60s F) and wait for visible signs of fermentation to appear. When they do, you bring the temperature down to 50 F or so, and continue until fermentation is complete.

The newer approach, the Narziss method, is to pitch the yeast at around 45 F, a little lower than what you want the fermentation temperature to be. A lot of experts seem to agree this is the way to go. Why? It's argued that when you pitch at ale temps, and fermentation begins, the yeast will have increased diacetyl production. Also, if you then lower the temperature too quickly, the yeast may floc out and/or produce unwelcome byproducts. Just because they're lager yeast doesn't mean they like to go from 68 F to 50 F overnight... too-fast temperature drops are not healthy for ANY type of yeast. The Narziss method will result in slower fermentation, but less diacetyl and other byproducts should be produced. This is the method I've used each time.

When primary fermentation begins to visibly slow, it's usually time for a diacetyl rest. Even though less diacetyl should be produced, in theory, by pitching cold, it's still a good idea to do a rest (especially depending on the yeast - some are more well-known diacetyl producers than others). If you want to be sure exactly when you should begin this rest, you can take a gravity reading of your beer - when it's within 4-8 points of your target FG, that's a good time. I usually just take the fermenter out of the chamber and set it somewhere at room temperature. Once the temp on the fermometer reads anywhere over 60 F, I leave it for a couple of days to let the yeast clean up any residual diacetyl that may be around.

So, now what? At this point I lower the temp back to where it was before the diacetyl rest. But I try not to just drop it back in the freezer with the temp set at 50 F... that could be a quick drop of almost 20 degrees over a short period. Maybe I coddle my yeast too much, but I've had too many quick-drop temp issues at this point! So, while the beer was undergoing its diacetyl rest, I increase the temp of the chamber to a few degrees under what the beer is currently resting at. So, if the fermometer reads 65 F, I'd bring the chamber to about 62 F, and begin the temp drop there. I'll then decrease the temperature by 1-2 F every 12 hours or so, until it's back down to 50 F.

This is where I'll leave the beer until it's been about 3 weeks since pitching the yeast. Now it's time to rack to secondary to begin lagering. Once the beer is in the secondary fermenter, I leave it in the chamber and begin a gradual decrease in temperature. This time I go even slower than before; it's generally agreed that about 2 F each day should suffice, so I lower the temp by 1 F every 12 hours (roughly). I'm sure it's fine just to go by 2 F every 24 hours, but since I usually don't have trouble remembering, I go in shorter intervals. Most people lager as low as 32 F (the freezing mark), or a bit above. However, I've read in "Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation" that temps lower than 40 F generally don't involve a lot of yeast activity anyway. Not that they're really doing a lot at this stage anyway, but there should be some minor activity where they're doing a bit of further clean-up of the beer. So, I personally shoot for a lagering temp of about 38 F.

So, how long do you really need to lager for? This is definitely a personal preference. While the beer is lagering, the flavors are melding together more, and as more yeast drops out, the beer becomes even clearer. In general, the higher the OG of the beer, the longer it should be lagered. I've seen recommendations of 1 month for every 4 OG points over 1.050, but it's really up to you. Something smaller like an American Lite Lager would probably be fine after 3-4 weeks; a Doppelbock, on the other hand, should probably be given a good 3-6 months before bottling.

Speaking of bottling, when you've had a beer lagering for a while at low temps, it's not a bad idea to add a bit of dry yeast to the bottling bucket along with your priming sugar. I'll rehydrate about 1/5-1/4 pack of ale yeast (it's ok that it's ale yeast, you're just looking for carbonation - no flavor developments or anything), and add it after the beer has been racked on the priming sugar. This is just to make sure that you have enough yeast for carbonation; when a beer has been at cold temps for a long time, a lot of the yeast will be asleep at the bottom and not make it over to the bottling bucket. A lot of times it's probably not necessary, but it's good to be sure. You can then just leave the bottles in a warm room somewhere for a couple of weeks to carbonate, like you'd usually do with ales.

So, that's my method. With six lagers brewed, I'm far from being an expert, and it's not exactly the final word on the subject, but it's worked for me so far. Please don't hesitate to point out errors or make any helpful additions!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Tasting/Recipe : D'yer Mak'er

This recent bout of unseasonably warm weather has gotten me into a Hefeweizen mood. Unfortunately, I'm all out of homebrewed Hefeweizen! D'oh. When I brewed my last batch sometime last summer, I DID re-use the yeast, however, to brew a Dunkelweizen. Luckily enough, I still have several of these on hand. While Dunkelweizen, like Hefeweizen, is definitely better when consumed fresh, I find that it's still tasting pretty good, thanks to good storage conditions.

It's pretty obvious from the name that Dunkelweizen is very similar to Hefeweizen - both are German wheat beers that have a lot of banana and clove aromas and flavors, and very low bitterness. However, Dunkelweizens usually have an additional bready and caramel-type aroma and flavor, from the use of darker Munich or Vienna malts, and some specialty grain(s). Maybe not QUITE as refreshing as Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizens are still great on a warm day, and being relatively-low in alcohol are quite easy-drinking, when brewed correctly.

The recipe I used was, as has become fairly common for me, a mish-mash of a couple of the better-looking recipes I found. Like your typical Hefeweizen, about half of the grain bill is Wheat malt. There's also a hefty portion of Munich malt for the bready flavor/aroma, a bit of Pilsner malt to balance, and then some darker specialty grains for additional flavor, including just a touch of Carafa Special II, to add color without a roasted flavor (which is NOT appropriate for the style). I threw in a 1/2-lb of rice hulls as well, to help the wort flow better when vorlaufing (the huskless wheat malt can sometimes cause issues). Very straightforward in terms of hops - one small addition of Hallertau at the beginning to provide some balancing bitterness; this style of beer is NOT about the hops at all.

The re-cultured yeast was Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen, which is pretty much the hallmark for the style. It's fantastic at providing the banana and clove character, is low-flocculating (meaning the yeast don't settle out very quickly - Dunkelweizen is one of the few styles where cloudiness is a GOOD thing), and generally not too finicky with fermentation temperatures. One good thing to remember about this yeast is that the lower end of the temperature range (say, mid 60s) gives you more clove character, and the higher end (into the 70s) gives more banana. The best-brewed Dunkelweizens have a fairly equal balance between the two, so I aimed for the high-60s F during fermentation.

And the name of the beer? What can I say. It has nothing to do with Dunkelweizens that I know of. But I'm a huge Led Zeppelin fan, so why not?

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-large, off-white head that has very good lasting power. Very moussy. Body is brown, and cloudy from the roused yeast.

Aroma: Spicy, clove-like phenolics in the aroma (ok). Banana is present, but slightly less-so than the clove. A bit of breadiness and wheat aromas are also present. No hop aroma.

Taste: Like the aroma, the clove spiciness comes out ahead of the banana. The Munich provides some welcome bready flavors, with just a touch of tartness from the wheat. No hop flavor, no hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with medium-high carbonation.

Overall: Fairly refreshing, and still tasting pretty good for being bottled almost 8 months. Tastes closer to Weihenstephaner Dunkelweizen than the Erdinger Dunkel (which always tastes a bit chocolatey to me). If I brewed the style again, I'd probably try using a bit more Munich malt to up the breadiness, and maybe ferment a touch warmer to bring out a bit more banana.

Recipe: (5.5 gallons, 74% efficiency): OG 1.055, FG 1.013, IBU 13, SRM 15.5

2.61 kg Wheat malt
1.14 kg Munich malt
773 g Bohemian Pilsner
170 g Crystal 30 L
170 g Special B
57 g Carafa Special II
227 g rice hulls

Hallertau - 28 g (3.9% AA) @ 60 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen (~2/3 cup of slurry, harvested June 26th)

- Brewed July 4th, 2011, with Jill. 60 minute mash with 17 L of campden-treated strike water, mashed in at 153 F. Sparged with ~5.5 gallons of 180 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. 90 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 70 F with immersion chiller... about as cool as I could get it with the hot outdoor temps. Poured into Better Bottle. Set in ice bath to drop temp further... pitched yeast slurry about 5 hours later when temp hit 66 F. Aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after pitching.

- Active fermentation for ~5 days, temp reached as high as 72 F... this was with keeping the fermenter in an ice-bath the whole time. Bottled several weeks later with 162 g table sugar, aiming for 3 vol CO2 for 5 gallons.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Tasting/Recipe : Doomsday Pilsner

I seem to be on a bit of a lager-roll lately, what with the posting of several lagers I've brewed in the past, and the recent brewdays of both a Munich Dunkel and a Doppelbock. Despite all this, I actually have very little experience homebrewing lagers; however, having a fermentation chamber really opens up the door to a whole new section of brewing that is just downright difficult, if not impossible to do otherwise.

One of the last homebrewed lagers I have left to mention is a Bohemian Pilsner that I brewed last spring. Probably the most well-known and readily available of this style is Pilsner Urquell, originally brewed in Pilsen, Germany since the 19th century. Bohemian Pilsners are generally quite balanced between a complex malt-profile and a soft bitterness. Their FG is higher than German Pilsners, which generally feature a crisper bitterness. I've had several of this style of beer over the past couple of years, and I was interested in trying to homebrew one of the same. I find beers of this type much more difficult to brew compared to your IPAs and other hop-heavy beers; such a clean and refreshing style really doesn't have too much to hide behind if there are any flaws.

A fairly simple recipe, it featured a high majority of Bohemian Pilsner malt, with a touch of Carapils for added body. Several Czech Saaz hop additions provide the hop flavor and bitterness... Saaz is definitely the go-to hop for the majority of Pilsner recipes. I was able to special-order the Wyeast 2001 Urquell Lager, which is the house strain for Pilsner Urquell - well, at least as close as you can get without propogating a yeast culture from the actual beer yourself.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, white, dense head that lasts for awhie before fading to a thin film. Body is a light-golden color, with very-good clarity.

Aroma: Nice light, bready malt aroma, with a floral Saaz background. The Saaz isn’t as up-and-center as I’d like it to be, but it’s still noticeable and restrained. Clean, no diacetyl.

Taste: Grainy flavor from the Pils malt, with some light maltiness present. Could be richer and more complex. Clean, no diacetyl noted. Some light spicy/floral flavor from the hops, and a moderate-light bitterness in the finish. Could be a bit more bitter, but the bitterness that is there IS rounded, as the style calls for.

Mouthfeel: Body is medium-light, with medium carbonation.

Overall: A pretty-good representation of the style, I think. If I brewed it again I'd probably add a bit more Saaz in the late addition for some more hop aroma, and maybe even a bit more in the bittering addition as well. A beer like this would also probably benefit from the addition of some sort of fining agent, to get that crystal-clear clarity you expect to see.

Recipe: (5.5 gallons, 78% efficiency): OG 1.055, FG 1.013, IBU 44.3, SRM 3.7

4.43 kg Bohemian Pilsner
341 g Carapils

Saaz - 30 g (5.5% AA) @ 60 min
Saaz - 37 g @ 30 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 10 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 0 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2001 Urquell Lager (PD March 29/11) (with a 1.75 L and 2 L starter)

- Brewed May 3rd, 2011, by myself. 60 minute mash with 16.8 L of strike water, mashed in at 154 F. Sparged with ~5 gallons of 180 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. 90 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 50 F with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. Pitched decanted yeast starter, aerating by shaking for several minutes before and after. Set BB in fermentation chamber with temp set at 50 F. After 10 days or so of fermentation, took carboy out of freezer to raise temp for a diacetyl rest (got up to 68 F).

- Racked to secondary and began slowly decreasing fermentation chamber temperature to final lagering temp of 38 F. Lagered for two months before bottling with 119 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol C02 for 5 gallons.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Tasting/Recipe : Groundskeeper Marzen

To the beer-uneducated, lagers get a bad rap. The first thing that comes to mind is a pale yellow, fizzy, bland-tasting light beer... ok when you're looking for a lawnmower-beer, but otherwise nothing to usually get excited about. But once you do a little reading, you realize just how many different styles of lagers are available, bready and bitter Dortmunder Exports to malty, rich Bocks.

Out of all the lagers, Oktoberfests (aka Marzens) are my favorite. The best ones are brewed to have a rich, malty aroma and flavor, but finish dry with a moderate hop bitterness. While a lot of authentic German Oktoberfests are a dark golden color, a lot of the ones brewed in North America that you see taken on more of an orange-red/copper hue. Usually not overly high in alcohol (averages in the 5% region), Oktoberfests are easy-drinking beers that I could have several of, and not tire of them at all.

I still have a few bottles left of my first (and only) Oktoberfest that I brewed last May. The recipe is basically directly out of Brewing Classic Styles, and I was very happy with how it turned out. I feel that I hit all the important points of the style, and even after over 6 months bottled, it's still tasting really good. Definitely a beer that I will brew again, and I don't think there's anything in the recipe that I would change a bit.

Appearance: Poured with a moderate-sized, off-white, creamy-looking head that has great lasting power, finally fading to a full-finger. Body is dark amber/reddish-copper, and extremely clear.

Aroma: Strong malt aroma; slight toffee, very bready... the Munich and Vienna malt come through really well. No real hop aroma noticed. No flaws.

Taste: Starts off slightly sweet, but it's definitely not cloying. More bready than anything else. Nicely balanced by a medium bitterness in the finish. Fairly dry. No hop flavor detected. Very clean.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderate carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: Very easy-drinking Marzen. Probably one of my favorite beers that I've brewed so far.

Recipe: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency): OG 1.051, FG 1.013, IBU 24, SRM 9.8

1.75 kg Bohemian Pilsner
1.41 kg Munich malt
1.09 kg Vienna malt
454 g Caramunich II (45 L)

Hallertau - 42 g (3.9% AA) @ 60 min
Hallertau - 14 g @ 20 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2206 Bavarian Lager (PD Apr 19/11) (with a 1.75 L and 2 L starter)

- Brewed May 17th, 2011, by myself. 60 minute mash with 16.56 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F. Sparged with ~5.25 gallons of 175 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. 90 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 50 F with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. Pitched decanted yeast starter, aerating by shaking for several minutes before and after. Set BB in fermentation chamber with temp set at 50 F. After 10 days or so of fermentation, raised temp in chamber to high 50s for diacetyl rest for a couple of days.

- Racked to secondary and began slowly decreasing fermentation chamber temperature to final lagering temp of 38 F. Lagered for several months before bottling with 111 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol C02 for 5 gallons.

- 15/4/12 - Won a gold medal in the European Amber Lager category in the ALES Open. Next stop, the final round of the NHC in June!

- 7/8/12 - NHC Final Round results...

Friday, 2 March 2012

Standard/Ordinary Bitter

While I enjoy having "big" beers on hand - your Doppelbocks, Imperial IPAs, RISs, etc. - it's always nice to have an equal number of session (or near-session) beers available as well. Often, the low-alcohol beers are the ones that quickly get a bad rap, usually for being light and essentially flavorless (American Light Lagers being your typical example), but sometimes simply for not being "worth the money" when purchased at a beer bar. Unfortunately, most people, when given the choice, will sooner shell out 7 or 8 bucks for a 7.5% IPA then for a 3.5% Mild.

But, I digress. Low-alcohol beers do not have to be water-like beverages. There's quite a few beer styles that, while low in alcohol, are big on flavor, and are perfect to throw back a pint or two without having to worry about leading to a messy evening and a hangover the next day (yeah, these can be fun as well, but I'm not getting any younger). A Standard or Ordinary Bitter, one of the English Pale Ale styles, is such an example, and one I've wanted to tackle for awhile now.

A mid-3%-ABV-range ale, Standard Bitters, while usually fairly low in hop flavor and aroma, exhibit a very decent amount of bitterness along with a respectable malt and fruity-ester profile. Difficult to find around here (the only one I think I've had is the Greene King IPA), it's a style I'd really like to see more of... but what else is new? It wasn't too hard to throw together a recipe, based on a few reliable sources. A standard recipe (see what I did there? genius) usually contains some British Pale malt, often some Crystal malts for flavor/color, and some aggressive hopping at the beginning of the boil for bitterness. This is often where recipes diverge, as the amount of late hopping seems to vary quite a bit. With this recipe, I made several late additions, but nothing excessive, as I wasn't looking for a huge amount of aroma or flavor. As for the yeast, I've used the Wyeast 1968 London ESB (the Fuller's strain) many times in the past, and it provides a good amount of fruity esters, and also flocculates quickly, leaving a very clear beer even in the fermenter.

Despite the usually-quick turnaround for this type of beer, I plan on leaving it in primary for my usual 3 weeks... I'm in no hurry, and I always like giving the yeast time to clean up any by-products and such. If you've got the time, it's always better not to rush things! Quality beer (hopefully) is worth it.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 83% efficiency): OG 1.036, FG 1.011, IBU 36, SRM 8.2

2.45 kg Maris Otter
227 g Amber malt (36 L)
113 g Caramunich II (45 L)
113 g Crystal 80 L

U.S. Goldings - 56 g (3.15% AA) @ 60 min
U.S. Goldings - 14 g @ 30 min
East Kent Goldings - 28 g (4.5% AA) @ 10 min
East Kent Goldings - 14 g @ 5 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB (PD Jan 23/12, with a 1 L starter)

- Brewed Feb 27/12, by myself. 60 minute mash with 9.6 L of strike water, mashed in at 152 F (target was 153 F). Temp dropped quite a bit during this time (due to low amount of grains/water?), down to 146 F at end of rest. Mashed out with 4.25 L of 210 F water, resulting temp too low at 160 F, rest for 10 more minutes. Sparged with ~4.75 gallons of 170 F water for final volume of 6.75 gallons in the kettle. 60 minute boil.

- Chilled down to 62 F with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. Pitched decanted yeast starter, aerating by shaking for several minutes before and after. Set in room in mid-60s to start fermentation.

28/2/12 - In the morning the temp was still very low at 60 F, very little signs of activity. Turned the heat up in the room, by the next morning the fermometer read 70 F, lots of activity in the airlock. By that evening, temp was at 68 F, but all activity had visibly stopped, and the krausen had dropped already.

18/3/12 - FG 1.011. Bottled with 76 g table sugar, aiming for 1.9 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, with a max temp of 68 F reached.

30/4/12 - Tasting notes posted here.