Last call for lagers (maybe)…

My job has a few perks. A great working atmosphere, interesting people to talk to, a nice discount on my brewing supplies (and groceries and beer…), less than a 15-minute commute… and people give me beer. Frequently.

“Here, try this and tell me what you think,” or “Thanks for all your help, here’s a bottle for you…”

Last night, a woman handed me a couple bottles of a brew she and other members of a brewing club (all women, all law students) had made. I promised her that I would try it and put up a mention on the blog today – so here it is. Nicely done – she said it was a pilsner, I would have called it more of an amber lager, maybe a Vienna – too dark, too sweet, not hoppy or bitter enough to be a pilsner, but nevertheless a well-made and tasty brew. Let’s revisit that recipe some time soon, OK?

This morning I had arranged for a friend, Ben, to come over and observe the brew. He’s a regular customer at the store and has been brewing for a year or so. Ben is ready to make the leap to all-grain and wanted to see what my set-up looked like. He’s also well-skilled in plumbing, electrical, welding and mechanical stuff so I could see the wheels turning as he looked over my equipment. I expect that he will build his own world-class monster brewery out of spare parts and with his own hands…

So since the weather is turning warmer, with Spring being only 10 days away, it was time to brew one last lager. I am writing that with my fingers crossed, as I may still try to sneak in one or two more if we get a cold snap (heck, we may still get feet of snow…), but basically this is the last planned lager of the season. In the old German brewing tradition, the last brew of the year would be made in March (März) and lagered deep in a mountain cave until the fall, until the harvest. This brew was always called a Märzen, after the month of its creation. Then along came a German Crown Prince who decided to get married during the Munich Oktoberfest harvest celebration, and the beer style became indelibly associated with that name (even though it actually begins in September…). I make mine to be lagered in the cellar until our local equivalent of Oktoberfest, the Tunbridge World’s Fair, which takes place over four days in the middle of September. Today’s brew was a bit of a variation on the recipe I published in North American Clone Brews for the most excellent Hübsch Märzen, brewed in Davis, California by Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hübsch. I tweaked the grain bill a little and added more hops to suit my taste. This will be a smooth, malty amber beer with a mild but noticeable hop bite and a trace of noble hop aroma (if all goes well!).

Hübsch Märzen

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 5.5 lbs. pilsner malt
  • 3/4 lb. Vienna malt
  • 1 lb. cara-Munich malt
  • 1 lb. cara-wheat malt
  • 1 lb. cara-foam malt
  • 5.1 AAU’s Tettnang hop pellets (1 oz. @5.1% aa)
  • 2 AAU’s Saaz hop pellet (1/2 oz. @ 4.0% aa)
  • 3.2 AAU’s whole Saaz flowers (1 oz. @3.2% aa)
  • White Labs Oktoberfest yeast (WLP820)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 165°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152 – 154F° for 75 minutes. Sparge with 14 quarts water at 170°F. Collect 6 gallons sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Tettnang hops. Boil 30 minutes, add Saaz pellets. Boil another 30 minutes (60 total), turn off heat. Add Saaz flowers, steep 10 minutes and remove. Chill wort to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour the wort into your sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60 – 70°F for 7 – 10 days. Rack to secondary, age cold (35 – 40°F) for two months. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition at cellar temperatures (50 – 55°F) for four months.

OG: 1055

IBU’s: 28

Brewing notes: Although I enjoy having company while brewing, I realized this morning that I really have it down to a science, a routine, and I don’t need “help”… At the same time, I always feel like a bit of a fraud when a friend comes over. I share my beers with lots of folks and always play it a little cagey, making the whole process seem a little more mysterious and complicated than it is. Then someone comes over and watches the process and I know they are thinking to themselves, “That’s it? That’s the arcane, secret alchemy?” It does give me a chance to confront my own preconceived notions, though – why do I do it like that instead of this? Why do I use that piece of equipment, that ingredient (those rubber bands, right Ben?)… ? I learn something every time I brew.

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