Double D

After the success of the step mash I used on my last brew (Vienna Lager), I decided to really go for it and do a double decoction this week. Brewing a Munich Dunkel, I wanted a very malty brew, with a rich creamy head and a full body, on the sweet side. Decoction mashing is probably the pinnacle of difficulty in the brewhouse, and the most time-consuming. Depending on how many steps you are willing to take, this brew could add an hour or two to your brew day. I opted for a double-decoction, the compromise between a single step and a complicated triple process.

A double decoction involves a low temperature protein rest, then removing and boiling a portion of the mash which, when put back in, raises the whole mash to  saccharification temperature; after a rest, another portion of the mash is pulled out, boiled, and returned, raising the mash to the point of dextrinization and stopping the enzymes. Or so I am told. I just follow directions!

l to r, Dortmund Export, Munich Hell, Munich Dunkel and Schwarzbier

Dunkel (“dark”) is one of the two main year-round styles of beer in Bavaria, the other being Hell (“light”). Both styles emphasize malt over hops, although a noble hop bitterness and some aroma are appropriate. The lager yeasts used in Bavaria generally ferment clean, leaving no real yeast profile, although many do produce a lot of sulfur during the initial stages of fermentation. I poured the Dunkel’s wort directly into the fermenter from which I had just racked the Vienna, thus using in effect a very large active slurry.

Double D Dunkel
5 gallons, all grain


  • 5 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 3 lbs. dark Munich malt
  • 1/2 lb. brown malt
  • 1/2 lb. dark (145°L) crystal malt
  • 1/4 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. black malt
  • 1 oz. chocolate malt
  • 1-1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (@4.5% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Hallertau hop pellets (@3% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 125°F. Mash in and hold 5 minutes at 115°F. Remove about 1/3 of the mash (6 quarts) and heat to 150°F (leave rest of mash in mash tun at 115°F). Hold kettle 20 minutes, then heat gradually to 200°F. Continue heating quickly to boiling, boil 15 minutes.
Add kettle contents back to main mash, mix in well. Mash temperature should be around 150°F. Hold 20 minutes.
Remove around 2/5 of the mash (7 quarts), heat to 150°F slowly, then quickly bring up to boiling. Boil 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat 15 quarts water to 170° ( for sparging). Return the kettle contents to main mash, mix in well. Mash temperature should be about 165°F. Hold 10 minutes, then begin runoff and sparge, collecting 24 quarts of sweet wort.
Bring to a boil, add 1 oz. Styrian Goldings pellets, boil 45 minutes. Add 1/2 oz. Styrian Goldings, boil 15 minutes. Add 1/2 Hallertau pellets, boil 15 minutes and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading, and pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate.
Pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (60 – 62°F) for three to four days, then move to a cooler spot (52 – 55°F) for four to six days. Rack to secondary, condition cold (35 – 38°F) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle, age warm for three days then move to cold storage for four to six weeks.

OG: 1058
IBU’s: 26.5

Notes on process: This was the first time I can remember where I had to wait for the mash water to COOL down – I left the kettle on the woodstove overnight, thinking I would get a head start. In fact, the water was at 150° and it took half an hour to cool to 125°F.

On Dancing In The Brewhouse – Juggling Pots and a Step Mash

Last winter, I got my house in order, both mentally and physically, enough to brew a series of real cold-conditioned lagers. Like many home brewers, I had mostly avoided lagers in general, unable to control the temperatures well enough in my brewing area to assure consistent cold. But rearranging rooms and furniture some enabled me to keep a back room right around 42 – 44°F during the winter (it gets up to nearly 60 in the summer).

I brewed a Pilsner, a Bock, a Rauchbier, a Munich Dunkel and a Helles, a Dortmund, a Schwartzbier… One brew I was not particularly happy with however was my Vienna. It was OK, drinkable, but had no character. Making it worse, as Spring came around, my friend Walter won big with his Vienna at a state-wide competition. I had to try again, but I had to wait for cold. Well, it’s mid-November and I have a room at 45°F. Time for another try.

Normally, for almost every brew, I use a simple infusion mash. One temperature, one mash-in, nice and simple. With modern malts, this is generally fine for all styles of beer. But since I wanted this Vienna to be a little special, I decided to try a (still simple) step mash. The first step is a combination protein and saccharification rest, the second is for dextrinization. In other words, the production of fermentable sugars is separate from the unfermentables (dextrines) that contribute to the body and mouthfeel. I wanted this brew to have a strong malty character, so this mash schedule (as well as the addition of melanoidin malt to the grain bill) should help. A long boil is essential also to caramelize and sweeten.

The biggest challenge? Timing and having enough pots. I had to heat three separate quantities of water, to different temps and all pretty much at the same time.

Vienna Lager
5 gallons, all grain


  • 9 lbs. Weyermann Vienna malt
  • 1/2 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1/2 lb. 150°L crystal malt
  • pinch black malt
  • 1/2 oz. Sterling hop pellets (@7% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8.3% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 12 quarts water to 142°F. Mash in grains, hold 15 minutes at 135°F. Heat another 2 quarts water to 172°F. Add to mash, add heat and raise temperature of whole mash to 160°F. Cover and hold at 160°F for 45 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 170°F. Transfer mash to mash/lauter tun. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting approximately 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boiling, add 1/4 oz. Sterling pellets. Boil 30 minutes, add 1/4 oz. Perle pellets. Boil another 30 minutes, add 1/4 oz. each Sterling and Perle. Boil 30 more minutes (90 total), remove from heat and chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast and seal. Ferment warm (65°F) for three  days, then move to a cooler spot (50°F) for a week. Rack to secondary, condition cold (38 – 42°F) for four to six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age warm for three days, then move bottles to cold for three weeks.

OG: 1060
IBU’s: 23

Notes on style: This is an old story to most beer geeks, of course, but the Vienna style is all but extinct in Austria. In fact, Walter, who is himself Austrian, had never heard of the style until moving to the States and beginning to brew at home. But, the story goes, when Mexico was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, brewers were brought from Austria to keep the Mexican Austrians supplied with beer. One of those breweries, established in the mid-1800’s, was Modelo, whose Negra Modelo is probably the best remaining example of the Vienna Lager style. (Dos Equis is another example, although a bit less authentic.) Deep amber to almost reddish brown, Vienna Lagers emphasize clean malty flavor with bitterness only serving as a contrast. They are somewhat similar to the Märzen/Oktoberfest style, although generally lower in gravity and a bit more bitter.

Notes on step mash: The recipe above probably doesn’t seem that much more complicated than a normal infusion mash. I am happy to say that, in the end, it probably only took me an extra 20 minutes and did seem to work. I won’t know for sure how the beer came out until January. Hmm… maybe I’ll do a decoction next time?

Notes on yeast and pitching: The yeast used here is one of White Labs’ Platinum Series, a rotation of seasonal yeasts. This one is recommended for dark lagers. I will probably re-pitch it in a Munich Dunkel next week, barring any weirdness in this batch.
I wanted to make sure it got a good start, so I did make a larger slurry (over the course of three days I fed the yeast small doses of weak wort); here again, timing was crucial, and when I pitched the yeast it was incredibly active in the jar.

The Constant Brewer

Life has been up and down these last couple weeks – failed hard drive in my computer, flooded cellar, thermostat and furnace issues, suspicious activity on my credit card, and my father facing serious surgery. So far, we have replaced the hard drive and recovered all the files and data, fixed the flood issue (but will have to deal with a holy mess on the back lawn where they dug a huge new trench to lay drain pipes), installed a new thermostat, and canceled the credit card (awaiting the new one in the mail). Dad’s surgery will hopefully be taken care of well before Thanksgiving, and each day is a new chance to move on.

One constant through it all has been brewing. Like clockwork, I have brewed, racked, bottled and tasted, and shared with friends. Like bread, beer is life. Or beer is bread, maybe, in liquid form…

Another recent constant has been the presence of mice in the brew house. A dead one in an empty fermenter a while back, another raiding my sack of pale malt, a third scurrying along a counter top among cases of bottles, and this morning, as I assembled my brewing set-up, there was a field mouse trying to jump out of the cooler I use as a mash tun. How it got in there, I have no idea – there was a lid on it with an empty fermenter on the lid… Anyway, I took the mouse out and dumped it in the woods, wished it godspeed, and went in and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized everything…

The weather has turned cold enough here in Vermont that my back room is down to a constant 50° or so – lager season has begun. This week’s beer is the first in a series of cold-fermented brews, slowly aged and conditioned. Hopefully, this will be ready about Opening Day in April (Go Sox!).

Wühlmaus (German for field mouse or vole) Pilsner is a classic German-style pilsner, lighter in color than the Czech/Bohemian equivalent and more bitter – the emphasis is on a crisp, clean taste, with low maltiness and medium to high hop flavor. Don’t worry, there will be a Bohemian Pils later in the year too!

Wühlmaus Pilsner
5 gallons, all grain


  • 7 lbs. Weyermann’s Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1/2 lb. carapils malt
  • 1/2 lb. Vienna malt
  • 1 oz. Mt. Hood hop pellets (4.6% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (10.6% aa)
  • 1 oz. Tettnang hop pellet (5.1% aa)
  • White Labs Pilsner Lager yeast (WLP800)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 150°F. Heat 15 more quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Mt. Hood hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Northern Brewer hops, boil another 15 minutes. Add Tettnang hops, boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment cool (60°F) until onset of active fermentation (a day or two), then move to a cooler location (50°F). Rack to secondary after two weeks, condition cold (40°F) for four to six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle. Let stand in a warmer area (65 – 70°F) for three days then move bottles to a cold location (35 – 40°F) and age at least a month.

IBU’s: 36.5

Notes on style: As noted above, the German or Continental Pilsner style differs from the Bohemian or Czech version in degree only – a bit lighter in color (Bohemians tend to be a deeper gold, Germans a pale straw color), balanced but leaning toward the bitter side (Bohemian varieties are a tad maltier), otherwise pretty similar. Best-known examples (not necessarily the best representatives, though) are Beck’s and St. Pauli from Germany, Grolsch and Heineken from the Netherlands. Dig deeper and you will discover a wealth of smaller German Pilsner breweries, well-known in their homeland but not major exporters, such as Warsteiner, Bitburger, Jever among others.

Notes on yeast: This Pilsner yeast is probably Czech in origin, perhaps even Urquell’s strain itself. It’s likely that some, if not most, of the German pilsners are also using a yeast strain that is originally from Bohemia, the birthplace of the light lager style.

Notes on lagering: “Lager”, of course, comes from the German verb “to store”. Lager yeasts generally function best in very cool to cold temperatures. I prefer to start mine warm, let the yeast get established, then gradually move the beer to a cold space. Part of the necessary process for any lager style (Munich, Vienna, Bock, Märzen, Schwarzbier, etc…) is time – allow several months before planning to drink this beer at its best. Consistency, however, is equally important – your beer will be better at a constant 50°F than if it “yo-yo’s” between 35 and 60°F.