Black & Light

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.

O.G.: 1050

IBU’s: 31

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.

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!

Tasting Notes – New Lagers

So what does a home brew guru do in between brewing sessions? Well, there’s racking and bottling, cleaning and organizing, of course, but I also get to try out new beers. Since I brew more or less weekly, I get a new beer “on-line” almost as frequently. One of the things I like about home brewing, especially the way I do it, is that I always have a variety of brews to taste. Variety is my ideal, and if I have two or three beers in an evening, it’s always two or three different styles.

Last night I decided to compare my three latest brews. Since the weather turned cold, I have been brewing mostly lagers. I have a room at the back of the house which is shut off and not heated during the winter (Yankee frugality or Scottish cheapness? or home brew guru cleverness? You decide…). In the dead of winter, when the rest of the heated house is between 60 – 65°F, and it’s anywhere from 20° down to -10°F outside, my back room stays a pretty constant 40 – 45°F. Perfect for lagering the way I do it.

First, a note about tasting. I am a BJCP-certified National Beer Judge. You laugh, but there’s actually a fairly rigorous training and educational program, culminating in a 3-hour exam. You need to know a little micro-biology, a little physics, a little chemistry, some math, some history… and you have to train your taste buds to pick out certain flavors, aromas, etc. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. You can get more information on the program, or see the style guidelines we use to judge in competitions on the BJCP website.

There are basically four tangible components to tasting.

  • Aroma – does it smell right? do you smell malt, hops, yeast, something else?
  • Appearance – is it the right color? is the head the right color and consistency? is the clarity or lack of it appropriate?
  • Mouthfeel – can be thick, thin, anywhere in between, but this also refers to carbonation level and certain texture factors.
  • Taste – there are lots of different flavors potentially in any given beer – with the style guidelines in front of you, do you taste what’s supposed to be there, and are the off-flavors and inappropriate tastes not there? aftertaste? bitterness and sweetness?

Generally speaking, the method is:

  • Pour an appropriately-chilled beer into a clean, clear glass. Different beers are served at different temperatures for optimum flavor. A dirty or greasy (or soapy) glass will interfere with carbonation level, head retention as well as aroma and flavor.
  • Swirl the beer gently, place the beer under you nose and inhale.
  • Look at the beer, with a light source behind it. Note the color, clarity, head, carbonation in the beer itself.
  • Take a sip. Let the beer sit on the back of your tongue for a few seconds. Note carbonation, mouthfeel in general; allow the aroma to rise up into your sinus passage. Is the beer sweet/ bitter? Note all the flavors, good and bad, you notice. Now swallow. Is there an aftertaste? a different flavor or aroma after the liquid is gone?
  • Repeat the last step to confirm your impressions.If tasting another beer, cleanse your palate with a cracker or piece of bread.

So, in the order in which they were brewed, going back to November, here is what I thought of my three newest offerings.

Hellespont Munich Hell (brewed November 5 2009)
In the tradition of the original Munich golden lagers (“hell” in German means “light”, as opposed to “dunkel”, “dark”…) such as Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner and Löwenbräu.

Dark gold (possibly too dark for style), pale head, thinnish – not fully carbonated yet, perhaps. Aroma is malty, sweet, no obvious hop aroma, mildly alcoholic. Medium-to-full-bodied, slightly lacking in carbonation. Nice bitterness on the back of the tongue. Rich malty flavor, some alcohol. Will improve with age, more carbonation. B / B+

Innsbruck Vienna Lager (brewed November 12 2009)
This style is no longer really brewed in Austria, or if it is, it is not exported. Instead, the best known examples are from Mexico – Dos Equis and Negra Modelo. These breweries date back to when Mexico was part of the Austrian Empire.

Deep amber, vaguely reddish, crystal clear. Light beige head, well-developed and persistent. Caramel malty nose, slight toasted notes. Full bodied and smooth. Sweet malty finish, background bitterness in balance, mild hop flavor up-front. Very clean beer, no notable alcoholic flavor or aroma. no diacetyl. B+/A-

Black Bridge Schwarzbier (brewed November 24 2009)
Also known as a Schwarzpils, this style is dark (“Schwarz” is “black”), but more crisp and clean, like a good Czech Pilsner. Not many good examples known in the US. Ayinger makes one, Köstritzer is probably the most revered. Saranac’s Black Forest Lager is quite good.

Dark brown, not quite black. Slightly cloudy/muddy appearance. Beige head, full and thick. Much diacetyl in the nose – not appropriate for style, maybe, but yummy butterscotch and roasty notes. Flavor is roasty/malty, grain bitterness but also well-balanced hop bitterness and flavor. Alternating bitter / sweet / bitter flavors. A little out of style, too sweet, too much diacetyl, but a delicious beer. May dry out and be more in line after a few more weeks in the bottle. B / B+