An Ironic Brew – Dortmund Export Lager

Michael Jackson describes the Dortmund Export style, in his “Beer Companion”, as a working class beer for an industrial region. A light golden lager, fuller and less hoppy than a Pilsner but dryer and hoppier than a Munich Hell, the name is ironic because the remaining breweries in Dortmund, Westphalia, don’t really export the beer anymore. Apparently, prior to German unification in the 1870’s, Dortmund was an important trading crossroad between the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and thus the local beer was in fact exported with regularity. The city was heavily damaged in WWII and rebuilt quickly, and somehow the Export style fell out of fashion. In the US, Gordon Biersch and Stoudt’s Brewing make reasonable facsimiles of the style, but it is increasingly hard to find the real thing – Dortmunder Actien Brauerei (DAB), Dortmunder Kronen and Dortmunder Union Brauerei (DUB) are still in business, and Jackson holds up Kronen Export as the best of the lot. Good luck tracking one down!

So, it takes a beer geek (or a Home Brew Guru) to appreciate the style and to try to make one with very limited experience tasting the style. Here goes!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp water crystals
  • 8-3/4 lbs. lager malt
  • 1/2 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 1-1/2 oz. Hallertau hop pellets (@3.0% aa)
  • 1/2 oz. Perle hop pellets (@6% aa)
  • White Labs German Lager yeast (WLP830)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

The night before brewing, crush grain. On brew day, add water crystals to 13 quarts water, heat to 162°F. Mash in crushed grain, aiming for a strike temperature of 150 – 152°. Hold 75 minutes, begin runoff and sparge with 15 quarts water at 170°F, collecting approximately 6 gallons sweet wort. Bring wort to boiling, add 1/4 oz. Hallertau hops. Boil 15 minutes, add 1/2 oz. Perle hops. Boil another 15 minutes (30 so far), add 3/4 oz. Hallertau hops. Boil another 15 minutes (45 to this point), add 1/2 oz. Hallertau hops. Boil another 15 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill down to 80-85°F as quickly as possible, pour into primary fermenter. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch the German Lager yeast, seal up and ferment at 60 – 65°F for about ten days. Transfer to secondary, age cold (35 – 40° if possible) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and set at room temperature (65 – 70°F) for three days, then condition cold (35 – 38°F if possible) for four to five weeks.

OG: 1056
IBU’s: 22.5

Brewing notes:
Dortmund breweries use the local water, of course, from the Dort River watershed. This water is very high in Calcium Carbonate and Calcium Sulfate. Accordingly, it is wise to add these salts to your brewing water, unless you know that your water already contains them in abundance. The high mineral content actually brings out the malty flavor, as opposed to the water in, say, Plzen or Budejovice, whose softer water buoys up the hop flavor.
Typical Export lagers have a fuller body and richer mouthfeel than other light lagers, in part because of the mashing procedure. A shorter mash time, a slightly higher temperature of 150 – 152°F, and a thicker mash all enable the creation of dextrines, or unfermentable sugars.

Tasting Notes – New Lagers

So what does a home brew guru do in between brewing sessions? Well, there’s racking and bottling, cleaning and organizing, of course, but I also get to try out new beers. Since I brew more or less weekly, I get a new beer “on-line” almost as frequently. One of the things I like about home brewing, especially the way I do it, is that I always have a variety of brews to taste. Variety is my ideal, and if I have two or three beers in an evening, it’s always two or three different styles.

Last night I decided to compare my three latest brews. Since the weather turned cold, I have been brewing mostly lagers. I have a room at the back of the house which is shut off and not heated during the winter (Yankee frugality or Scottish cheapness? or home brew guru cleverness? You decide…). In the dead of winter, when the rest of the heated house is between 60 – 65°F, and it’s anywhere from 20° down to -10°F outside, my back room stays a pretty constant 40 – 45°F. Perfect for lagering the way I do it.

First, a note about tasting. I am a BJCP-certified National Beer Judge. You laugh, but there’s actually a fairly rigorous training and educational program, culminating in a 3-hour exam. You need to know a little micro-biology, a little physics, a little chemistry, some math, some history… and you have to train your taste buds to pick out certain flavors, aromas, etc. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. You can get more information on the program, or see the style guidelines we use to judge in competitions on the BJCP website.

There are basically four tangible components to tasting.

  • Aroma – does it smell right? do you smell malt, hops, yeast, something else?
  • Appearance – is it the right color? is the head the right color and consistency? is the clarity or lack of it appropriate?
  • Mouthfeel – can be thick, thin, anywhere in between, but this also refers to carbonation level and certain texture factors.
  • Taste – there are lots of different flavors potentially in any given beer – with the style guidelines in front of you, do you taste what’s supposed to be there, and are the off-flavors and inappropriate tastes not there? aftertaste? bitterness and sweetness?

Generally speaking, the method is:

  • Pour an appropriately-chilled beer into a clean, clear glass. Different beers are served at different temperatures for optimum flavor. A dirty or greasy (or soapy) glass will interfere with carbonation level, head retention as well as aroma and flavor.
  • Swirl the beer gently, place the beer under you nose and inhale.
  • Look at the beer, with a light source behind it. Note the color, clarity, head, carbonation in the beer itself.
  • Take a sip. Let the beer sit on the back of your tongue for a few seconds. Note carbonation, mouthfeel in general; allow the aroma to rise up into your sinus passage. Is the beer sweet/ bitter? Note all the flavors, good and bad, you notice. Now swallow. Is there an aftertaste? a different flavor or aroma after the liquid is gone?
  • Repeat the last step to confirm your impressions.If tasting another beer, cleanse your palate with a cracker or piece of bread.

So, in the order in which they were brewed, going back to November, here is what I thought of my three newest offerings.

Hellespont Munich Hell (brewed November 5 2009)
In the tradition of the original Munich golden lagers (“hell” in German means “light”, as opposed to “dunkel”, “dark”…) such as Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner and Löwenbräu.

Dark gold (possibly too dark for style), pale head, thinnish – not fully carbonated yet, perhaps. Aroma is malty, sweet, no obvious hop aroma, mildly alcoholic. Medium-to-full-bodied, slightly lacking in carbonation. Nice bitterness on the back of the tongue. Rich malty flavor, some alcohol. Will improve with age, more carbonation. B / B+

Innsbruck Vienna Lager (brewed November 12 2009)
This style is no longer really brewed in Austria, or if it is, it is not exported. Instead, the best known examples are from Mexico – Dos Equis and Negra Modelo. These breweries date back to when Mexico was part of the Austrian Empire.

Deep amber, vaguely reddish, crystal clear. Light beige head, well-developed and persistent. Caramel malty nose, slight toasted notes. Full bodied and smooth. Sweet malty finish, background bitterness in balance, mild hop flavor up-front. Very clean beer, no notable alcoholic flavor or aroma. no diacetyl. B+/A-

Black Bridge Schwarzbier (brewed November 24 2009)
Also known as a Schwarzpils, this style is dark (“Schwarz” is “black”), but more crisp and clean, like a good Czech Pilsner. Not many good examples known in the US. Ayinger makes one, Köstritzer is probably the most revered. Saranac’s Black Forest Lager is quite good.

Dark brown, not quite black. Slightly cloudy/muddy appearance. Beige head, full and thick. Much diacetyl in the nose – not appropriate for style, maybe, but yummy butterscotch and roasty notes. Flavor is roasty/malty, grain bitterness but also well-balanced hop bitterness and flavor. Alternating bitter / sweet / bitter flavors. A little out of style, too sweet, too much diacetyl, but a delicious beer. May dry out and be more in line after a few more weeks in the bottle. B / B+

2010 First Footer – Scottish Export 80 Shilling Ale

Being of Scottish heritage, I make it a tradition to brew a Scottish ale of some kind as my first brew of any new year. In Scotland, your luck and fate for the year are said to be determined by the first person who enters your home on New Year’s Day, and by how you treat them.

Many of my recipes, and my brewing in general, are inspired by my friend and mentor Greg Noonan. Greg wrote the book on Scotch Ale.  I worked with Greg, at the Seven Barrel Brewery, for several years, and kept in touch after I left there and he shifted his focus back to the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington. I saw Greg for the last time during the summer of 2009. We had a good laugh, he bought our beers at the VPB, and we parted as we always did, with a hearty handshake. I was shocked and very saddened to hear of Greg’s passing just a few months later. I find it very appropriate to dedicate this first brew of the new year to Greg, with thanks and affection.

Ingredients:

  • 8 lbs. pale malt
  • 2 oz. roasted barley
  • 2 oz. peated malt
  • 1.125 HBU’s East Kent Goldings hop pellets (.25 oz. @ 4.5% aa)
  • 4.6 HBU’s Fuggles hop pellets (1 oz. @ 4.6% aa)
  • White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast (WLP028)
  • 2/3 cup light dry malt extract (for priming)

The night before brewing, crush the grains. On brew day, heat 13 quarts of water to 164°F. Mash in the grains, hold at 150 – 152°F for 90 minutes. Heat 13 more quarts of water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge. Take the first half-gallon of wort and boil it for 20 minutes (to caramelize and increase the “butterscotch” flavors). Add this back into the rest of the wort. After runoff and sparging you should have about 5 gallons of sweet wort. Bring to a boil. Add EKG hops, boil 15 minutes. Add half the Fuggles hops, boil another 15 minutes. Add the rest of the Fuggles hops, boil another 30 minutes (total 60 minutes). Remove from heat, chill to 80 – 85°F. Pour into fermenter, splash and oxygenate as much as possible. Take hydrometer reading, pitch Edinburgh yeast, seal up and set aside to ferment at 65 – 70°F. After 10 -12 days, rack to secondary and age two to three weeks. Bottle with dry malt extract, condition at least two weeks.

Original Gravity: 1050
IBUs: 19

Style notes: This is not a strong beer, more of a session beer. Scottish ales are generally labeled by the old system, based on the tax per barrel. The stronger the beer, the higher the tax. This is an 80 shilling ale, about mid-way up the tax scale. The really strong Scotch Ales, also known as “wee heavies”, are often labeled as 140 shilling or more. Not also that the hops in this beer are restrained. We Scots are cheap, as many know, and hops are (or were, back in the day) expensive. Scottish ales are more malty, less bitter, less hoppy than English ales of similar strength.

Brewing notes: This ale would not normally have peated malt in it. I like the smoky flavor the peat imparts. Sue me.

I was assisted in brewing this ale by the immensely talented Rick Scully, webmaster, brewer, shepherd and friend. Who was also building this website and installing wireless internet in my house at the same time. I bow in his general direction.