I’ve been trying to get out ahead of my lagering schedule, by having a few lagers in the pipeline at a time. A minor, but consistent, flaw in my lagers has been that they have a slight haze when first put on tap. I primarily suspect that’s because I just don’t give them enough lagering time. Typically, they might be only 4 or 5 weeks post-brewing, with perhaps only two weeks at most of cold conditioning (<35°) prior to tapping. That’s just not enough time. I’m also not (usually) inclined to rush things with gelatin, because it’s another potential point of oxidation on what are often fairly delicate beers. If I’m going to all the work of making a lager, I want it to taste just as great at the start of the keg as at the finish of the keg!
So, this summer I’ve been working to build up a backlog of beer to allow a bit more time for full conditioning. It’s not always successful–“Mow the Damn Lawn, Farke” was on tap only two weeks after kegging–but I’ve certainly gotten better.
For a recent lager brew, I decided to chase after the elusive Munich helles style. They have notoriously delicate malt character, and are seemingly the cause of endless jousting on brewing forums (particularly when the low oxygen brewers get involved). I made my first attempt three years back, and it was alright, but nothing to write home about. The malt character needed some work.
For this round, my base recipe followed Gordon Strong’s helles in Modern Homebrew Recipes, with some modifications for ingredients on-hand as well as process. I did a shorter step mash schedule, skipping the 131° rest in the original recipe and going straight to 148° for the first rest. I also used W34/70 instead of a bock yeast, with a repitch of the yeast cake from my Tremonia Lager. I didn’t have Belgian aromatic malt on hand, so I used Carahell instead. Also, I used Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets instead of US Vanguard, a rare case as of late in which I am using the German variety instead of American hop equivalents!
- 8.75 lb. Pilsner malt (Weyermann)
- 1 lb. Munich light malt (Chateau)
- 0.25 lb. Carahell malt (Weyermann)
- 2 oz. Carapils malt (Briess)
- 1.55 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets (3.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
- 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
- 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
- Saflager W34/70, repitch of yeast from previous batch
- 1.046 o.g., 1.008 f.g., 17 IBU, 4 SRM, 5.0% abv
- Full-volume infusion step mash, 40 minute rest at 148°, 15 minute rest at 158°, 15 minute rest at 168°
- Claremont tap water, alkalinity neutralized by 88% lactic acid
- For my 4 gallons of initial strike water, I added 3.6 mL of 88% lactic acid to neutralize alkalinity, along with a Campden tablet.
- I mashed in at 155°, to hit a 147.8° mash temperature. I added 2.5 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust pH. The mash was down to 145° after 25 minutes.
- 45 minutes after the initial infusion, I added 6.25 quarts of near-boiling water to raise the mash temperature to 157°. The water was added over a 5 minute period. After 15 minutes, the temperature was down to 154° or so.
- At this point (~60 minutes into the mash), I added the rest of my hot water (~3 gallons) to hit a final mash rest of 167°.
- After 10 minutes, I vorlaufed and collected the full volume of runnings in the kettle. I got 7.1 gallons at a gravity of 1.041, for 77% mash efficiency.
- I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and finings per the schedule.
- After a 90 minute boil, I turned off the heat and chilled down to ~75°, before transferring to the fermenter.
- I let the fermenter chill the rest of the way down to 50°, and gave it a 30 second burst of pure oxygen before pitching the yeast.
- I brewed the beer on 24 June 2020, with a starting gravity of 1.047.
- The first week of fermentation was at 50°, and I let the fermenter free-rise to 54° on July 1. I let it further rise to 58° (July 3) and 60° (July 4), before chilling to 55° (July 5), 50° (July 6), and then 45° and 40° over an 8 hour period (July 7). I chilled further to 35° (July 8) and 33° (July 9), and let it lager on the yeast at that temperature until kegging.
- I kegged the beer on July 24, using a closed transfer followed by force carbonation. The beer was pretty clear, but not perfectly clear at this point.
- Final gravity was 1.008, down from 1.047, for 5.2% abv.
- Pours with a beautiful, full white head, that is quite persistent. Pale gold in color and very clear, but just a touch off of brilliant. It’s a gorgeous beer!
- Malty and ever-so-slightly sweet, with a touch of hop spice.
- Full maltiness, with a really pleasant and rounded character. A clean but firm bitterness; I would say the bitterness tilts towards medium/medium-low, with a slight spice character. The bitterness could be notched back very slightly, but not by much.
- Moderate carbonation, with a smooth and slightly dry finish.
- Would I brew this again?
- Yes! This is a really enjoyable recipe, and I feel like it nails the malt character quite well. It’s a much better version of a Munich helles than my last one, and it definitely benefited from a longer lagering time than I often get. I might edge the bitterness back a tiny bit. Also, I will probably play around with malt brands and hop varieties in future version, but the proportions and balance are pretty much right where I want them. This is a refreshing late summer lager!