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.

Brewing on the Dark Side

What’s your favorite beer style? My usual answer to that is – whatever I happen to have in my hand at the moment. Not entirely true, but true enough. I can honestly say that there is not one style I don’t like at all, if it’s well-made. Even light American lagers, generally looked down upon by home brewers, can be a refreshing beverage if they are well brewed.

When I look back over a year of brewing, however, there emerges one interesting trend. Almost 75% of what I have brewed in the last twelve months has been dark. Part of it is, I guess, that there are more dark beer styles in general – it is much harder to keep a beer light in color than it is to brew a dark beer. But I’m not talking about ambers and light browns, I’m talking about DARK beers. Stouts, porters, dark rye beers, black lagers, dark Belgian dubbels, etc. And here I am this morning continuing the trend, as I brew a Munich Dunkel. Dark reddish brown in color, malty and sweet, this is a nice style of lager for those who like a balanced beer. It’s not huge and alcoholic, it’s not overly hopped, not particularly aromatic, just a nice medium-bodied dark beer with enough bitterness to keep the malt in check and enough malt to support some hop flavor.

Münchner Dunkel
5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 4.75 lbs. lager malt
  • 3 lbs. dark Munich malt
  • .75 lbs. 120°L crystal malt
  • .75 lbs. toasted Victory malt
  • 1 oz. Carafa malt
  • 1 oz. black malt
  • 1 oz. roasted barley
  • 1.9 AAU’s Mt Hood hop pellets (1/2 oz. @3.8% aa)
  • 3 AAU’s Perle hop pellets (1/2 oz. @6% aa)
  • 3.8 AAU’s Mt. Hood pellets (1 oz.)
  • 1.5 AAU’s Hallertau hop pellets (1/2 oz. @3% aa)
  • White Labs Southern German Lager yeast (WLP838) recultured to 1-1/2 cups slurry (see previous post, “Save the Yeast”)

The night before brewing, toast the Victory malt on a cookie sheet, 15 minutes @375°F.
Grind all grains.

On Brew Day, heat 13 quarts water to 165°F. Mash in grains and hold 75 minutes at 154°F. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff. Sparge, collect 6 gallons of sweet wort. Heat to boiling. AT onset of boil, add 1st Mt. Hood pellets, boil 45 minutes. Add Perle hops, boil another 15 minutes. Add the rest of the Mt. Hood, boil a further 15 minutes. Add the Hallertau, boil 15 more minutes (90 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80 – 85°F, as quickly as possible. Take a hydrometer reading, pour with much splashing into your sanitized primary fermenter. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for ten days to two weeks. Rack to secondary, age cold (38 – 42°F) for four to six weeks. Prime with 3/4 cup of corn sugar, bottle and condition six weeks or more.

OG: 1058
IBU’s: 31.5 (a bit high for style, but I like it a little hoppier than the classic profile)

Brewing notes: While grinding the grains I had a potential setback – my mill stopped actually processing the grains, it was just spinning without drawing anything through. And it was making a horrible “fingernails-on-the-chalkboard” kind of noise. A rock. Sure enough, I removed all the grain from the hopper and round a piece of amber-colored quartz about the size of a kernel of barley which was jammed in between the rollers and preventing them from functioning. It took about ten minutes to pry it loose and remove it, but there were no further problems.