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

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.