Smokin’ with the Boys

The other day was my friend Rick’s birthday. His wife was out of town on business, so I thought it would be a nice way to keep him from getting lonely if I invited him to come up and brew with me. While I was at it, I also invited our friends Chris, who has some professional brewing experience, and Peter, who is about to move up to all-grain brewing. I wanted Chris’s input on improving my brewing system, and wanted Peter to see first-hand how relatively easy an all-grain brew can be. They all showed up at 8:30 and we brewed this semi-traditional German Rauchbier, while sipping a Hill Farmstead porter, “Twilight of the Idols”, that Chris had brought along (yes, a big Porter at 9:30 a.m. – surely a breakfast beer!). Peter had a lot of questions, the rest of us tried to answer them as best we could, and the Rauchbier got brewed.

The thing about this brew that makes it only “semi”-traditional is the fact that the smoked malt I used was my own. I was playing around last week with a way to smoke grains at home, over various local woods. Five pounds of the grain in this recipe was smoked on my grill over birch chips, giving it a wonderful sort of wintergreen aroma… The mash smelled really cool, and the wort in the kettle smelled even more amazing.


5 gallons, all-grain


  • 5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Pilsner malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Vienna malt
  • 1 lb. birch-smoked 30°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. honey malt
  • 1 oz. Sterling hop pellets (@5.7% aa)
  • 1 oz. Liberty hop pellets (@5.2% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar or 1 cup light DME (for priming)

Procedure: Crush malts. Heat 15 quarts water to 163°F. Dough in and hold mash at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet smoky wort. Bring to boiling, add Sterling hops. Boil 45 minutes, add Liberty hops. Boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat and chill to 75°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager cooler (45°F) for three weeks. Prime with corn sugar (or DME), bottle and age cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1058

IBU’s: 31

Note on smoked malt: Not everyone will be able to smoke their own malts, obviously. You can substitute 3 lbs. German Rauchmalt (beechwood-smoked) and 1 lb. each Vienna and 30°L crystal. The Rauchmalt is more intensely smoky than my own home-smoked malts, thus you need to use less for the smoke level of this brew. More smoked malt will mean more smoky flavor, and it is easy to overdo it.

Home-smoking grains:I built a 12” by 12” box, 3” deep, out of hardware cloth, then lined it with aluminum window screen. The hardware cloth is sturdy as a frame, the screen is a much finer mesh. My gas grill has a tray you can set in on top of the flames to use wood or charcoal for grilling.

Birch chunks on the left, pilsner malt on the right...

I built a small pile of wood chips at the far left end and placed my screen box on a grill at the far right. I placed 2 lbs. of grain, dry, in the screen box, sprayed it with water to moisten it, and lit the gas under the wood only. Because it was not actually touching the wood but only the metal tray, the wood never actually caught fire but smoldered, nice and smoky, for over an hour.The draft pulled the smoke from the wood across and through the grains, which I stirred and re-misted every 15 minutes. After an hour of smoke, I spread the grain out on a large cookie sheet to dry then packed it away in 1-lb. units in zip-lock bags. I did a total of about 20 lbs. in different combinations – some pilsner malt, some crystal, some Vienna, some wheat, etc… over birch and then oak and then maple. Four or five of my next several brews will include a smoked component.

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


  • 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)


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


  • 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)


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!