Alta California Lager 2021

One of the best beers I have ever made was the 2019 edition of Alta California Lager, a Mexican-style light lager. Although I can buy excellent commercial examples easily enough at the grocery store, it is a fun challenge to make this somewhat unforgiving style. The 2020 version was okay, but not quite as good. That round used flaked corn instead of cereal-mashed grits, and I also had to use tap water (because I brewed it near the start of the pandemic, and wasn’t going out much) instead of mineral-light water built from RO.

My main changes for the 2021 version were to modify slightly for my Foundry system parameters, build up from RO water, throw in some BruTanB for clarification/oxidation mitigation, and use gelatin at the time of kegging for fining. I also went back to a cereal mash instead of flaked corn, in order to up the corn flavor and also hopefully get slightly better clarity. It’s also just a bit fun to do a cereal mash (sometimes)!

Alta California Lager 2021

  • 6 lb. Pilsner Zero malt (Viking)
  • 2 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 lb. corn grits
  • 4 oz. rice hulls
  • 0.45 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 tsp. BruTanB, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 0.8 oz. Sterling hop pellets, 5 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Mexican Lager yeast (WLP940), prepared in 1.75L starter

Target Parameters

  • 1.046 s.g., 1.011 f.g., 4.6% abv, 21 IBU, 4 SRM
  • 6.5 gallons of RO water with 1.5 g CaCl to hit target parameter of 17 ppm Ca and 29 ppm Cl
  • 60 minute full volume infusion mash with cereal mash, 152°

Procedure

  • I made a 1.75L starter with 175g of DME, on March 4 (two days before brewing). I cold crashed the starter on the morning of the brew day (March 6), because fermentation had slowed greatly, but not quite stopped.
  • For the cereal mash, I used 2 pounds of corn grits plus 0.5 lb. pilsner malt. I had to add ~1 gallon of water to get the right consistency. I added another ~0.5 gallon due to absorption over the course of the cereal mash. I held the mash around 158° to 160° for 5 minutes before bringing it to a boil. It was closer to a 40 minute boil instead of the planned 30 minutes, to compensate for the fact that the boil stopped as I added cold RO water.
  • For the main mash, I added 6.5 gallons of RO water with 1.5 g CaCl in the main mash tun. This was heated to 150°. I added the hot cereal mash first, and then added the dry malts and stirred them. After adding the cereal mash, it hit around 146 to 148°; not bad! I let the mash settle for 10 minutes before recirculating at 152°. I did a 75 minute mash, just to be safe with full conversion. An iodine test showed full conversion after 65 minutes. Then, I raised the mash to 168° for 10 minutes, before removing the grains.
  • In total, I collected 6.75 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.039, for 70% mash efficiency.
  • I boiled for 15 minutes before adding the hops, to bring down the volume and bring up the gravity a touch. So, this meant a 75 minute boil total. Everything else followed the schedule in the recipe.
  • After the boil, I chilled the beer down to ~70°, transferred to the fermenter, and chilled down to 48°. I oxygenated for 40 seconds and then pitched the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on 6 March 2021.
  • Starting gravity was 1.045, and I fermented at 50°.
  • I raised the beer to 54° on 12 March 2021, and then to 60° on 15 March 2021. On 29 March 2021, I cold crashed and let it sit near freezing until kegging on 5 April 2021.
  • I did a closed transfer, and then briefly opened the lid to add 1 tsp. of gelatin in 1 cup of water, for fining.
  • Final gravity was 1.012, for 4.3% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Brilliantly clear, light yellow beer with a persistent and fine white head. Gorgeous!
  • Aroma
    • Very clean and crisp, with a subtle, slightly sweet note (probably from the corn) along with a grainy malt note.
  • Flavor
    • The flavor profile is pretty subtle and unobtrusive on this one, making it a very easy drinking beer. There is a very light corn (not DMS!) note, layered on top of the grainy malt character. Bitterness is pretty low and very clean.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium-light body, moderately high carbonation, smooth and light finish.
  • Would I Brew This Again?
    • Absolutely! This is a really delightful beer, and I’m so glad that I made it again. It drinks so easily, especially on a warm afternoon, and is just about a perfect beer. The extra work for the cereal mash was perhaps worth it? The gelatin certainly helped the clarity, and I think the fact that I used BruTanB, did a closed transfer, and then purged the keg before adding the gelatin, followed by additional purges, probably helped stave off early oxidation. I’m so impressed by this beer! I might try it next time with flaked corn, and gelatin. My only other very minor note is that I could mash a touch lower, to lighten up the body a bit more…perhaps a 90 minute mash at 145° or so? That’s the only reason I gave it a 9.5 instead of a perfect 10!
  • Overall
    • 9.5/10
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