Smokin’ with the Boys

The other day was my friend Rick’s birthday. His wife was out of town on business, so I thought it would be a nice way to keep him from getting lonely if I invited him to come up and brew with me. While I was at it, I also invited our friends Chris, who has some professional brewing experience, and Peter, who is about to move up to all-grain brewing. I wanted Chris’s input on improving my brewing system, and wanted Peter to see first-hand how relatively easy an all-grain brew can be. They all showed up at 8:30 and we brewed this semi-traditional German Rauchbier, while sipping a Hill Farmstead porter, “Twilight of the Idols”, that Chris had brought along (yes, a big Porter at 9:30 a.m. – surely a breakfast beer!). Peter had a lot of questions, the rest of us tried to answer them as best we could, and the Rauchbier got brewed.

The thing about this brew that makes it only “semi”-traditional is the fact that the smoked malt I used was my own. I was playing around last week with a way to smoke grains at home, over various local woods. Five pounds of the grain in this recipe was smoked on my grill over birch chips, giving it a wonderful sort of wintergreen aroma… The mash smelled really cool, and the wort in the kettle smelled even more amazing.

Rauch’n’Roll

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Pilsner malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Vienna malt
  • 1 lb. birch-smoked 30°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. honey malt
  • 1 oz. Sterling hop pellets (@5.7% aa)
  • 1 oz. Liberty hop pellets (@5.2% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar or 1 cup light DME (for priming)

Procedure: Crush malts. Heat 15 quarts water to 163°F. Dough in and hold mash at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet smoky wort. Bring to boiling, add Sterling hops. Boil 45 minutes, add Liberty hops. Boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat and chill to 75°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager cooler (45°F) for three weeks. Prime with corn sugar (or DME), bottle and age cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1058

IBU’s: 31

Note on smoked malt: Not everyone will be able to smoke their own malts, obviously. You can substitute 3 lbs. German Rauchmalt (beechwood-smoked) and 1 lb. each Vienna and 30°L crystal. The Rauchmalt is more intensely smoky than my own home-smoked malts, thus you need to use less for the smoke level of this brew. More smoked malt will mean more smoky flavor, and it is easy to overdo it.

Home-smoking grains:I built a 12” by 12” box, 3” deep, out of hardware cloth, then lined it with aluminum window screen. The hardware cloth is sturdy as a frame, the screen is a much finer mesh. My gas grill has a tray you can set in on top of the flames to use wood or charcoal for grilling.

Birch chunks on the left, pilsner malt on the right...

I built a small pile of wood chips at the far left end and placed my screen box on a grill at the far right. I placed 2 lbs. of grain, dry, in the screen box, sprayed it with water to moisten it, and lit the gas under the wood only. Because it was not actually touching the wood but only the metal tray, the wood never actually caught fire but smoldered, nice and smoky, for over an hour.The draft pulled the smoke from the wood across and through the grains, which I stirred and re-misted every 15 minutes. After an hour of smoke, I spread the grain out on a large cookie sheet to dry then packed it away in 1-lb. units in zip-lock bags. I did a total of about 20 lbs. in different combinations – some pilsner malt, some crystal, some Vienna, some wheat, etc… over birch and then oak and then maple. Four or five of my next several brews will include a smoked component.

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