My friend Chris Fleisher writes a bi-weekly beer column (On Tap) in our local paper, the Valley News. I get quoted about every third article. This week’s article was about my late great friend Greg Noonan and the imminent release of Smuttynose Brewing’s “Noonan” Black IPA… Well done, Chris, and thanks!
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
- 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)
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.
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.
Got an email from a reader with a question about aeration and yeast. Any further reader input would be welcome…
Just found your blog, while searching for the origins of the dark IPA. I’m going to attribute it to Greg Noonan just like every Vermonter should. I’ve been trying to get better with homebrewing and have been a little concerned with aeration of the wort going into primary. I’m a PhD student in biobehavioral neuroscience so I get a bit anal about things, bear with me. As a scientist I want a specific value for dissolved oxygen necessary for a good fermentation, I find that nowhere. Some suggest a vigorous shaking of the wort, I’ve read of aeration systems (access to medical 95%02, 5%CO2 so I’m tempted), and I’ve also read many that like you suggested transferring the wort so that it is a bit splashy and aerates “enough” (the scariest option for me as a scientist, I need control!). Is a good pour typically enough to provide enough oxygen for a healthy ferment?
Enjoying the reading material you provide. Thanks!
Hey Brendan, thanks for checking out the blog! Glad you’re enjoying it.
As you probably can figure out from my posts, I am NOT much of a scientist – I have no idea what kind of dissolved oxygen ratio would be ideal for optimum start-up. I have, for my entire brewing career (20 years) observed that pouring the wort into the fermenter and allowing it to splash well has been more than adequate. For a short while I used a counterflow wort chiller, siphoning the wort through copper into the bucket, and I am absolutely certain that there was not enough aeration occurring then – I had several batches that took days to start, and ultimately had off-flavors that one would associate with lag spoilage bacteria… Using the “pour and splash method” I usually get active fermentation within 4 – 6 hours, even quicker if I have built up a starter slurry…I don’t have my copy handy right now but I’d bet if anyone has quantified the oxygen content question it would be found in Greg’s “New Brewing Lager Beers“…
best of luck,