Black & Light

Just as I credit Greg Noonan with the “invention” of the so-called Black IPA, I also owe to Greg my appreciation for the style known as Schwarzbier. I guess I was vaguely aware of dark beers as early as high school. In college, dark versions of some of the mainstream continental lagers were around, and our college pub actually had a pseudo-Belgian dark ale on tap from time to time… It was not until I started brewing myself, at the age of about 30, that I realized or wondered about the status of dark lagers – oh yeah, Heineken and St. Pauli and Löwenbraü Dark… they’re lagers! I got it!

As I got more into it, of course, I had to begin sorting and refining what I understood about styles. Writing the Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers’ Handbook with Greg brought it all into focus – there was a difference between a Munich Dunkel and a Continental Dark – a difference born of a focus on either malt or hops, but not really on both. Where a Bavarian Dunkel is malty, sweet, with the hops only there to balance, the Schwarzbier (basis for the northern German dark lagers) is more of a crisp hoppy beer that just happens to be quite dark. Greg referred to the style as a Schwarz-pils, suggesting that it had more in common, taste and bitterness-wise, with a Czech/Bohemian pilsner than with a Munich lager. So that’s how I approach the brewing of a Schwarzbier – it needs to be dark, of course, black, even, but it should also be somewhat light in body and crisp – hoppy like a good pilsner, dark like a porter, and, of course, supremely drinkable.

Triple S Schwarzbier

5 gallons, all grain

Ingredients:

  • 7.5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 3/4 lb. Cara-aroma malt
  • 2 oz. Carafa I malt
  • 2 oz. black malt
  • 4 oz Melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. Spalter hop pellets (@5.0% aa)
  • 1 oz. Saphir hop pellets (@5.6% aa)
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (@4.0% aa)
  • recultured yeast from Arcobraü Zwickel Lager
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 150°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add 1/2 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 30 minutes, add Saphir hops. Boil another 15 minutes, add Saaz hops. Boil another 10 minutes, add the other 1/2 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 5 more minutes, remove from heat and chill to 70°F. Take a hydrometer reading and pitch yeast. Seal and ferment at 65°F for two days then move to a cooler spot (50°F) for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, condition cold (40°F) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age warm for three days, then store cold for six weeks.

O.G.: 1050

IBU’s: 31

Notes on yeast: I had already brewed with this Arcobraü culture a couple weeks ago (a Bohemian Pilsner). When I racked that beer I scooped up a cup or so of the dregs from the bottom of the primary and stored it, refrigerated, in a sterilized glass milk bottle. A few days before brewing the Schwarzbier, I built the yeast dregs up to nearly a quart of slurry by feeding it about 1/2 cup of weak boiled wort (+/- 1020 OG) every other day… When I pitched it the yeast was very active and fermentation began in the primary with about three hours.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark

I often get into conversations with customers about their perceptions of different beers. One of the things I hear the most frequently is “I don’t like dark beers, they’re too heavy…” or words to that effect. That’s when I remind them that a) Guinness Stout has fewer calories, fewer carbs, and is lower in alcohol, than the standard American Light Lager… and b) dark lagers like Munich Dunkels and Schwarzbiers are on the light and refreshing side, perfect for warm weather drinking.

Warm-weather drinking means cold-weather brewing. This morning we got hit with the first real snow of the winter. My wife even had a snow day from school. The house is steamy and aromatic as I brew this winter’s Dunkel, deep reddish-brown, malty but with a nice piney spice note, smooth and clean and thirst-quenching… I will be using the yeast from this batch, leaving it right in the primary fermenter, to make a Munich Helles Lager next week, the light-colored counterpart to the Dunkel. That means I will have to get a couple of batches bottled and empty a carboy or two! Being snowbound, I am more motivated to get indoor stuff accomplished, so that should be doable.

Blizzard Dunkel

5 gallons, all grain

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 3 lb.s dark Munich malt
  • 1/2 lb. 120°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. brown malt
  • 2 oz. Carafa I malt
  • 1/2 lb. Melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. Mt. Hood hop pellets (@4.7% aa)
  • 1/4 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (@12% aa)
  • 1 oz. Hallertauer hop pellets (@3% aa)
  • White Labs Oktoberfest Lager yeast (WLP820)
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar for priming

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 15 quarts water to 168°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add 1/3 oz. Mt. Hood hops. Boil 15 minutes, add the Northern Brewer hops. Boil another 15 minutes, add the remaining 2/3 oz. Mt. Hood hops. Boil another 15 minutes add the Hallertauer hops. Remove from heat after another 15 minutes (60 total). Chill to 75°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast and seal. Ferment at 55 – 60°F for three days, then move fermenter to a colder spot (40 45°F). Ferment another eight to ten days. Rack to secondary and lager four to six weeks at 40°F. Prime with corn sugar and bottle, condition cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1058

IBU’s: 30

A Dark And Smoky beer…

Mysterious. Intense. Smooth. Three characteristics that I aspire to, in my personal life and in my beer. Well, in my beer, anyway. I fall in love with beers that exceed expectations, that take conventional and add another layer of complexity, a twist, an unexpected element.

One beer that is a bit hard to find these days, at least in my neck of the woods, is a true German Schwarzbier. There are dark lagers, but usually they are malty-sweet Munich Dunkels or just generic “dark lagers”… A Schwarzbier is the dark equivalent of a pilsner, crisp, hoppy, less full-bodied than the Munich style. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Munichs, both Hell and Dunkel, but sometimes the Schwarzbier is what I crave.

I also love the flavor of smoke in foods, and in beverages. I’ve been known to enjoy a peaty single malt Scotch from time to time – the peatier the better – and often brew with a little peat- or beechwood-smoked malt. I have made my own smoked malt a couple of times, using my own maple and apple wood. Smoked malts can be overwhelming, not for the faint of heart. Used in moderation, though, they add a nice touch, a nice twist, to a more conventional style.

As I was debating what to brew next, leaning towards a Schwarzbier, my son decided to brew a Rauchbier, shooting for a traditional heavily smoked amber lager. I talked him down from 50/50 smoked malt/Munich malt to a more moderate 20% rauchmalt and 80% pilsner and specialty grains. But of course that discussion led me to decide to add a little rauchmalt to my schwarzbier.

Dark brown to nearly black, with a strong but not overwhelming smoky flavor, this brew walks the fine line between a smooth stout and a Scotch ale. Since it’s fermented as a lager, it is very clean and crisp. The hops are mainly in the background, giving the beer a deep bitterness and not much hop aroma. At nearly 6% abv, this is a substantial brew.

Dark & Smoky Schwarz-Rauchbier

5 gallons, all grain

Ingredients:

  • 7 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 2 lbs. Weyermann Rauchmalt
  • 1/2 lb. Weyermann Carafa I malt
  • 1/2 lb. roasted barley
  • 1 oz. Stirling hop pellets
  • 1 oz. Tettnanger hop pellets
  • White Labs German Lager yeast (WLP830)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in and hold 90 minutes @ 150°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Stirling hops and 1/2 oz. of the Tettnanger hops. Boil 40 minutes, add 1/4 oz. Tettnanger hops. Boil 18 minutes, add remaining 1/4 oz. Tettnanger hops, boil 2 minutes (60 total) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 55 – 60° for 7 to 10 days. Rack to secondary, condition at 40°F for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age cold (35 – 38°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1060

IBU’s: 39

Notes on ingredients:

Grains:There are both domestic and imported versions of beechwood smoked malt – the imported, from Bamberg, Germany is almost always labeled “rauchmalt”. The domestic version (available from Brewcraft) seems less intensely smoky to me.

I have been using Carafa malts instead of chocolate and black, recently. I find that the Carafa malts (which are dehusked before roasting) are much less tannic/bitter. They come in at least three different color ranges, this brew used the lightest of the three (“only” 300° or so Lovibond).

Hops: Stirling is a North American-grown cross between Saaz and Hallertauer, it has a woody and pineapple-like aroma, and at 7% aa is a nice choice for bittering German-style lagers.

Yeast: The German Lager strain is among the most neutral lager yeasts available; this beer is already complex enough without the addition of a strong, distinctive yeast profile.

PS: Just realized that my last post seems to have never uploaded correctly – two weeks ago I brewed a Bohemian-style Pilsner, and apparently failed to publish the story, etc. SO here is the recipe, at least!

Riley’s Czech Pils

5 gallons, all grain

Ingredients:

  • 7 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 1 lb. Vienna malt
  • 3 oz. Saaz hop pellets
  • White Labs Budejovice Pilsner Lager yeast (WLP802)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 167°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 154°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add 1-1/2 oz. Saaz hops. Boil 45 minutes, add 1/2 oz. Saaz. Boil another 15 minutes, add another 1/2 oz. Saaz. Boil 30 minutes (90 total), add last 1/2 oz. Saaz, remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 58 – 60°F for 8 to 10 days. Rack to secondary, condition at 40°F for four to six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age cold (35°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1056

IBU’s: 41

With that, thank you for your support, your questions, your comments in 2010. It has been a fantastic year for me as the Home Brew Guru, and I look forward to 2011! Happy New Year!