Czech-Style Dark Lager

I am loving the challenge of brewing lagers, lagers, and more lagers! It seems like there is always a new style to make, and the process has opened me up to a spectrum of flavors I haven’t experienced in the abundant craft beers from my area.

glass of beer held by hand, with the beer having a brown color, quite lear, and a tan head

Most of my lagers to this point have sat at the pale end, with a few forays into amber. A few years back I did a schwarzbier, and I’ve done a Munich dunkel twice, and that’s been about it for dark lagers. Sounds like it’s time to get to work! I like to have a darker beer on hand most of the time, and that space is usually filled by a porter or stout. A Czech-style dark lager seemed like a good candidate for my next brew.

The recipe is based primarily off of that in Modern Homebrew Recipes, by Gordon Strong. I increased the amount of dark Munich malt slightly, partly to increase the maltiness and partly to use up ingredients on-hand. I adjusted the dark specialty malts a touch, to adjust for ingredient availability at my LHBS. I elected to do a step infusion mash, rather than decoction, just for simplicity.

Czech-Style Dark Lager

  • 6 lbs. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 lb. Munich malt (Bestmalz, 7.6 SRM)
  • 1.5 lb. Viking Munich Dark Malt (11.2 SRM)
  • 0.5 lb. Caramunich I (Weyermann), added at vorlauf
  • 5.5 oz. Carafa Special II (Weyermann), added at vorlauf
  • 2.5 oz. Carafa Special III (Weyermann), added at vorlauf
  • 3 oz. Saaz hop pellets (2.4% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (2.4% alpha), 5 minute whirlpool
  • German lager yeast (WLP830, White Labs), ~130 mL repitched from slurry harvested from Crystal Pilsner

Target Parameters

  • 75 minute infusion step mash, 15 minutes at 131°, 30 minutes at 147°, 30 minutes at 158°, batch sparge
  • 1.048 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 4.8% abv, 26 IBU, 21 SRM
  • 8.75 gallons of RO water with 3.4 g of CaCl, to hit 28 ppm Ca and 50 ppm Cl.

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 2 gallons of water at 149° and 3.25 mL of 88% lactic acid, stirring like crazy to drop down to a protein rest of 134°. This was a little above my target of 131°, but I figured this was okay.
  • After 15 minutes, I added 5 quarts of 180° water, to hit between 146° and 148°, depending on where I measured and how I stirred.
  • After 30 minutes, I added the remainder of the mash water (~6 quarts) at 185°, to bring the mash up to 154°. This was a touch lower than my goal of 158°, but I’m OK with it. I let this sit for 30 minutes, and in the last 5 minutes added the dark grains (CaraMunich, Carafa Special II and III).
  • I vorlaufed, drained the mash tun, and then added 3.58 gallons of water at 185°. I let this rest for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.15 gallons of water at a gravity of 1.040, for 73% efficiency. I brought the kettle to a boil, adding finings and hops per the schedule. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled.
  • After chilling down to 70°, I transferred the wort into the fermenter and continued the chill down to 52°. I oxygenated and pitched ~130 mL of harvested yeast slurry (from my Crystal Pils, around 1 week old).
  • Starting gravity was 1.048. I brewed this beer on 1 February 2020.
  • Fermentation temperatures were held between 52° and 54°. On 9 February, I moved the fermenter to ambient (~60°), to finish out fermentation.
  • I kegged the beer on 22 February 2020. Final gravity was 1.012, to reach 4.8% abv.

Tasting

reddish-brown beer in glass
  • Appearance
    • This beer pours with a creamy, persistent, tall tan head. In the glass, it has a very deep amber, almost reddish brown color, and is brilliantly clear. The reddish tinge makes for a really pretty beer.
  • Aroma
    • Amazing. Crisp, spice-infused aroma, with bready notes behind that. This beer smell delicious!
  • Flavor
    • Malty, crusty breadiness, with a slight roasted, coffee-like note behind that. The flavors combine to produce a slight, dark dry fruitiness on the tongue that doesn’t show up in the aroma. It’s not fruitiness in the same way as a warm fermentation or the wrong yeast strain; it’s like the fruitiness you get in some roasts of coffee. It’s unexpected…and apparently within style, according to the 2015 BJCP. The bitterness level is fairly low, but perceptible. The hopping comes across as a smooth, extended bitterness that persists after the malt fades away on the tongue, so the balance is very slightly tilted towards the hops (but not overly so).
  • Body
    • The body is a touch lighter than I expected; I expected something more towards the medium-body, but it’s medium-light at best. I think the beer is slightly overcarbonated, but that should hopefully subside with time.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes? This is a super interesting beer, and definitely a flavor space that I’ve not tasted before. It’s growing on me, and I think I’ll enjoy it plenty as I finish up the keg. However, there is a bit of a clash between the roastiness and fruitiness, which detracts slightly from enjoyability. So, it’s not a bad beer, just maybe not to my taste. If I brew this style again, I will choose a different recipe, maybe one with less roastiness to it. As I read about the style from the BJCP guidelines, apparently a pilsner malt base is more typical, so I might reformulate with a very different grist. All that said, this beer looks really great in a big pint mug!
  • Overall
    • 7/10
tall mug of dark lager with tan colored head
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