Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Brewing a Vienna Lager

I just brewed a Rising Tide Daymark clone (a "Rye Pale Ale"), and I have plans to tackle a Hill Farmstead James (Black IPA) clone, and maybe a Maine Beer Co. Zoe or Peeper clone in the near future. Lots of hoppy beers in the works. Now, while I love hoppy beers, I still really enjoy having some more-balanced and maltier styles on hand. I also recently ordered a special release yeast from Wyeast, the 2352 Munich Lager II, so it was the perfect opportunity to brew a lager again, and a hopefully easy-drinking one at that.

Wyeast describes the 2352 as follows:

"From a famous brewery in Munich, this strain is a low diacetyl and low sulfur aroma producer. An excellent choice for malt driven lagers."

They list a lot of different beer styles that they recommend brewing with this yeast (one of which is simply "Lager"... a little vague). A lot of these styles caught my eye, especially Oktoberfest. After having good success with my last Oktoberfest, I was really tempted to do a re-brew of the recipe and try this new yeast. However, always a sucker for trying a new style, I decided to go with a style very similar to Oktoberfest, yet not mentioned specifically by Wyeast: Vienna Lager. 

If you look at the description of Vienna Lager vs. Oktoberfest on the BJCP website, it's really not easy to tell the two apart. Both beer styles are classified as European Amber Lagers (actually, they're the ONLY European Amber Lagers). Malt-forward beers that finish clean and fairly dry, both are brewed with the intention that if you wanted to drink several, you'd be able to... easily. Neither is usually brewed past 5.5-5.8% ABV, and while not exactly hopped weakly, the balance is definitely more towards the toasty/bready flavors of the malt. Keep in mind that neither style is supposed to have a caramel or roasted character in the flavor or aroma.

So what IS the difference between the two styles? It's actually pretty difficult to tell, even when you look at statistics for each beer (e.g. IBU, SRM, ABV, etc.), but apparently Vienna Lager is generally supposed to have a "lighter malt character" than Oktoberfest. Vienna Lagers are also typically a bit weaker in ABV, a bit darker in color, and finish a bit drier. Realistically, though, you could brew one and claim that it's the other, and you'd probably get away with it.

It's hard to find Vienna Lagers that are available commercially, especially in North America. While it seems like almost every brewery eventually brews an Oktoberfest, beers that are actually designated Vienna Lagers are few and far between. I'd say the most well-known (and possibly most-respected) Vienna Lagers is Eliot Ness, by Great Lakes Brewing Company in Clevelend, OH. A little unusual in that it clocks in at 6.2% ABV, but I've heard a lot of good things about this beer. Just another beer I've always wanted to try! One commercial Vienna Lager I've had is made by the brewery at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT... it's been awhile, but I remember it as being pretty tasty. I've also seen some sources claim that Sam Adams Boston Lager is a Vienna Lager, but opinions seem to differ.

Being new to Vienna Lagers, I turned to Brewing Classic Styles for a recipe, as I often do for my first crack at a beer style. When compared to my Oktoberfest (the recipe of which also basically came from this book), I was shocked at just how close the recipes are. In hindsight, I really shouldn't have been too surprised, considering the similarities between the two styles. Both grists call for a majority amount of both Vienna and Munich malt, with most of the difference made up with Pilsner malt. The Vienna Lager has more Vienna malt than Munich (I guess this makes sense!), while the opposite is true for the Oktoberfest recipe. The real difference is that the Oktoberfest recipe had a full pound (almost 10% of the grist) of Caramunich II (a Crystal-type specialty malt), while the Vienna Lager simply calls for a very small portion of Carafa Special II, likely just for coloring purposes. Even the hopping schedule for both beers is almost identical.

In terms of ideal water profiles for brewing a Vienna Lager, that's where the real fun comes in! The BJCP site calls for moderately-hard, high carbonate water, and a lot of sources, such as John Palmer, call for water profiles with high amounts of calcium, sulfate, and bicarbonate. An interesting discussion can be found here, where arguments are made about the first Vienna Lager, and whether it was brewed with Vienna groundwater or from water melting down from the Alps. Luckily, someone makes an excellent point by stating that many brewers back then "treated" their water by simply boiling it to drop the temporary hardness, and he gives some numbers for a "boiled Vienna profile" that are quite easy to hit using Fredericton water; just a small addition of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) is required.

Ok, sorry for that last paragraph. Water is very important, but it can be really hard to follow all the nuances of it when used in brewing beer! I'll ferment this beer in the fermentation chamber, of course, with the temp set at 52-54 F. The Wyeast 2352 is unusual compared to most lager yeasts; Wyeast lists its temperature range at 52-62 F, which is high compared to other lager yeasts, which ferment optimally in the range of 46-56 F. When fermentation starts to slow, I plan to raise the temp to the low-mid 60s for a diacetyl rest for a couple of days, before dropping back down to ~52 F. I'll then lager the beer in secondary for 1-2 months before bottling.

Not really sure what to expect here, but I'll be happy if I end up with a mostly-balanced, clean, easy-drinking beer that showcases a malt toastiness.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency) OG 1.050, FG 1.013, IBU 23, SRM 10.5, ABV 4.8%

Multi-layered... and not very appetizing-looking
1.98 kg (46.4%) Vienna malt
1.21 kg (28.2%) Pilsner malt
1.02 kg (24%) Munich malt
59 g (1.4%) Carafa Special II

Hallertau - 49 g (3.4% AA) @ 60 min
Hallertau - 14 g @ 10 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 2352-PC Munich Lager II (PD mid-Jan/13; with a 1.7 L starter, decanted and pitched into another 1.7 L starter... then decanted and pitched into 1 L starter again to wake up the yeast after a month in the fridge)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4.5 g Epsom salts added to the mash

- Brewed March 11th, 2013, by myself. 50-minute mash with 14 L of strike water, mashed in target temp of 152 F. Mashed out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water, resulting temp 165 F. Sparged with ~4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.5 gallons in the kettle. 

- SG 1.039 (target). 90-minute boil. Chilled to 50 F in about 45 minutes with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle, end volume low at about 5 gallons, not sure why. OG at target of 1.050. Pitched yeast slurry, aerated by shaking well for several minutes before and after pitching. Set in fermentation chamber with temp set at 52 F.

13/3/13 - 16/3/13 - With temp set at 52 F for this period, the airlock bubbled at a max of every 2 seconds or so, about the typical "activity" I see for fermenting lagers.

17/3/13 - 20/3/13 - Increased temp to 62 F in fermentation chamber... it took several days to reach this temp, and I'm not sure if this yeast really needed a diacetyl rest or not, but I figured it couldn't hurt. I then decreased the temp by 2 F every 12 hours or so until back to 52 F.

2/4/13 - Racked to secondary.

2/5/13 - Now that Schwarzbier has been racked to secondary, began decreasing the temp of the chamber by about 1 F every 12 hours or so, till settled at 38 F for lagering period.

20/7/13 - FG 1.014. Bottled with 110 g table sugar, aiming for 2.5 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, with max temp of 61 F reached.

27/11/13 - Got the tasting notes up... nice maltiness, with a balancing dryness in the finish.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Tasting : Nowhere Man (Extra Special Bitter)

While I brewed this beer in early December, I technically could have posted the tasting notes much earlier than now, three months later. ESBs aren't really beers that need to be aged; with a good amount of bitterness and some hop character, they really should be consumed sooner rather than much later, for the most part. I was quite happy with this beer when I first started drinking it, but I decided to wait a couple of weeks to be sure, and it was a good thing I did.

The main reason for this concerns the carbonation level. The beer spent 3 weeks in primary, but the gravity was still high at 1.019 before I bottled it. I've had this happen a few times with other beers in the past, but never had any problems as a result (aside from the beer tasting underattenuated). Well, I find that the flavor of this beer is actually pretty good - the malt character is quite pleasant, and the hop flavor has a really nice bite to it, thanks to the addition of salts to the brewing water. However, it is QUITE over-carbonated. Even after letting the beer settle for a few minutes after pouring (the head alone gives away how wrong the beer is for an ESB), I'd say the carbonation is closer to ~2.5-2.75 volumes of C02, as opposed to the 1.9 volumes that I aimed for. The difference compared to the carbonation level of my Southern English Brown (1.8 vol target) is staggering. As a result, the beer has a mouthfeel closer to an American Pale Ale than an ESB.

Ah, the life of homebrewing. This is my fourth English Bitter that I've brewed, and my fourth that I've been disappointed with. I really feel that I was close with this one, however, as I DID enjoy how the beer tasted and smelled; the other three Bitters had issues in terms of bitterness, possible-infection, etc. At least with this ESB, I have the option of letting the beer settle after pouring, so that some of the carbonation decreases. I'm not 100% sure what went wrong, but I assume it had something to do with the health of the yeast slurry I pitched. I'll likely try the recipe again sometime in the future, and maybe try a different yeast strain, such as the Wyeast 1968 London ESB (really more appropriate for an ESB than the 1028 London Ale, anyway).

Also, a note on the effect of first-wort hopping... obviously the only way to give an unbiased opinion would be to have brewed the exact same recipe without include the FWH addition. However, while the bitterness in this beer is quite high, it DID have a smoothness to it that was quite nice. I admit I'm not sure if this is due to the FWHing, the grist of the recipe, the higher-than-expected FG, or another reason. Either way, I'd be happy to try a FWH addition to a future beer, and would recommend it for others to try who haven't before.

Appearance: Poured with a very large, thick, light-tan head that has excellent retention... way too much head and retention for an ESB. The body is a light amber color, with ok, but not great, clarity.

Aroma: Pleasant aroma of low fruity esters, biscuity malt, and a touch of earthy hop character from the Fuggles.

Taste: The malt character really comes through in this beer... slightly bready and toasty. Some earthy/spicy hop flavor that is pleasantly sharp, likely due to the adjustments made to the water. Moderate-high bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with moderate carbonation.

Overall: I’m quite happy with the overall recipe for this beer, and it’s definitely the best-smelling and tasting English Bitter that I’ve brewed yet. I’m also pleased with how the water tweaking worked out. If the higher-carbonation could be fixed, I think it’d be a very decent ESB.