A Lager from Helles

It’s good to get a little reminder from the Brewing Gods once in a while. That’s what happened with this brew, which should have been relatively easy but which, in the end, turned out to be a very long and complicated session. I had planned to make this Munich Helles lager a couple weeks ago and pitch the wort directly on the yeast in the primary where I had fermented a Munich Dunkel the batch before. As brewday approached, I was pretty sure that the Dunkel wasn’t going to be ready to rack on the appointed day, so I brewed last week’s Schwarzbier instead and decided to allow the Dunkel two full weeks in primary. No problem, I could move it to a cooler location to keep it from getting ahead of itself…

This morning, however, I found myself over-sleeping and waking up in a weird place, mentally – what was I brewing? I couldn’t remember, which meant I couldn’t remember what yeast I was using, and in a panic I couldn’t find anything appropriate. Then I remembered, and had to rethink the order in which I set things up – I had to time racking the Dunkel to coincide as closely as possible with the Helles wort being ready, etc. but before I could rack the Dunkel I had to empty a carboy by bottling something else… which meant starting even later.

My brew day usually starts about 7:30 am and is over by lunchtime. Today it was nearly 9:00 when the first kettle went on the stove, and nearly 2:00 when the wort went into the primary. My ordinary machine-like system was thrown off schedule from the beginning, which also contributed to miscalculations – I ended up with nearly 7 gallons of wort which meant a prolonged boil to reduce the volume, except that it was a light beer and more boiling meant darker beer…. and a change in the hop schedule…

In the end, the color is pretty much right, and the OG was what I expected, so I guess all’s well that ends well – I’ll know more when I rack it in a week and a half or so. It may mean I don’t have time to clean the bathroom before dinner, though…:)

This recipe is loosely based on one found in Horst Dornbusch’s “Bavarian Helles“, a great resource.

Spalterbräu Helles Lager

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 7.5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1.5 lbs. Cara-pils malt
  • 8 oz. Melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. Spalter hop pellets (@5% aa)
  • White Labs Oktoberfest Lager yeast (WLP820)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)


Crush grains. Heat 12 quarts water to 151°F. Mash in grains and hold at 140°F for 30 minutes. Heat another 8 quarts water to 165°F, add to mash and stir gently. Hold at 152°F for another 30 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 27 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boiling. Boil 45 minutes, or until volume is down to 6 gallons. Add 1/4 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 30 minutes, add another 1/4 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 25 more minutes, add remaining 1/2 oz. Spalter hops, boil 5 minutes and remove from heat. Chill to 70°F, take a hydrometer reading and pitch yeast. Seal and ferment warm three to four days. Move to a cooler spot (50°F) and continue primary fermentation for six to eight days. Rack to secondary, condition cold (40*F) for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar and bottle, age warm three days then store cold for six weeks.

O.G.: 1052

IBU’s: 12

Note on yeast: As I described above, I pitched this wort directly on a large quantity of yeast slurry/dregs in a primary fermenter. Fermentation start-up was almost instantaneous. Your mileage may vary.

Brewing Light(ish)

The other day I brewed a light beer. Not a “lite” beer, but a bright golden lager, crisp and semi-sweet, refreshing and thirst-quenching, designed for warm summer evenings to go with whatever comes off the grill. One of a couple of styles I favor in the warmer months, a Munich Helles lager is, to me, what a light beer should look and taste like. Even this beer, though, has a kick to it. When finished, this lager should still be around 6% abv, and will be full-flavored and malty. It just looks light, and doesn’t taste as heavy as the Scotch ales and stouts I’m drinking now during the winter.

There is an excellent book on the subject, part of the AHA Style Series. Written by Horst Dornbusch, “Bavarian Helles”  is an excellent resource on the history, variety and process of brewing this style, which is not as well-known as it should be. If you like the golden lagers brewed by Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten, Wurzburger, Paulaner and Löwenbräu, and if you want to try your hand at making your own, you must read this book.


5 gallons, all grain


  • 9 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. cara-foam malt
  • 1/2 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 1 oz. Spalter hop pellets
  • 1 oz. Tettnanger hop pellets
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 167°F. Mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 154°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 15 minutes, add another 1/2 oz. Spalter hops. Boil 30 minutes, add 1/2 oz. Tettnanger hops. Boil another 10 minutes, add remaining 1/2 oz. Tettnanger hops. Boil 5 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading, pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate.  Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager at 38 – 40°F for six weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition cold (35 – 38°F) for at least six weeks.

OG: 1062

IBU’s: 24

I’m so proud…

Just got the news that my friend and colleague Walter Wallner won a couple blue ribbons and the Brewmaster’s Cup at the Greg Noonan Memorial Homebrewers’ Competition. Walter won a 1st place for his Munich Helles lager and for his Vienna lager, the Vienna also won the Brewmaster’s Cup, which means that he will get a chance to brew it on a larger scale at the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington. Seeing that Walter is from Austria, who better to win with a Vienna? I’d like to say that I had a lot to do with Walter’s success, but in reality all I did was make sure his entries got to the competition safely…  Nice going, mein freund!

Another of my friends and shop customers, Ben Linehan, won a 2nd place for his Dusseldorfer Altbier – again, well done!

See the complete results of the competition here.