Holiday Festbier

I have always stereotyped lagers–especially those that are lighter in color–as beers best suited for warm weather. Lawnmower beer. That kind of thing. As my palate has expanded, though, I’ve decided that lighter lagers aren’t just for the summer. A festbier–with its slightly more complex flavor profile–seems like a good option for cooler months. And who says it’s just for Oktoberfest?

My recipe was inspired by a festbier recipe I saw on Brulosophy, with pilsner and Vienna malts carrying the bulk of the grist alongside a splash of Munich malt. In the end, it worked out pretty well!

Holiday Festbier

  • 6 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 5.5 lb. Superior pilsen malt (Great Western)
  • 0.75 lb. Munich Malt (Best; 7.6 SRM)
  • 0.35 oz. Magnum hops (13.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Saaz whole hops (3.0% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Saflager lager yeast (W34/70)

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash, 149°, batch sparge.
  • 1.056 o.g., 1.011 f.g., 5.9% abv, 21 IBU, 5 SRM
  • Water built from RO, for target of 35 Ca, 3 Mg, 29 Na, 41 SO4, 40 Cl, 77 HCO3, 37 RA

Procedure

  • I built up 4.25 gallons of mash water by adding 1.7 g baking soda, 1.3 g CaCl, 0.8 g gypsum, and 0.5 g epsom salts. I aimed for a mash-in temperature of 160.5°, to hit 149.1° for the mash. Immediately after mashing in the grains, I added 9.5 mL of 88% lactic acid, to adjust the pH appropriately.
  • I built up the sparge water with 4.6 gallons of RO water supplemented with 1.9 g baking soda, 1.5 g CaCl, 0.9 g gypsum, and 0.6 g epsom salts.
  • I started the batch sparge with 1 gallon of water at 180°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected first runnings. I then added the remainder of the sparge water, vorlaufed, and collected the rest of the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.045, for 70% efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe. After 60 minutes, I turned off the flame and chilled down to 75° or so. After transferring to the fermenter, I chilled down to 50° in the fermentation chamber before oxygenating the wort and pitching the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on 7 December 2019. Starting gravity was 1.053, a touch below my target (1.056), but not too awfully low.
  • I started fermentation at 52°, and raised it to 56° after two weeks (21 December 2019). I raised the beer to 60° on 23 December 2019, before crashing to 33° on 26 December 2019.
  • I kegged the beer on 28 December 2019, by semi-closed transfer into a CO2 purged keg. Final gravity was 1.009, which works out to 5.9% abv.
  • After kegging, I lagered the beer at 33°. From the start, flavor was really nice. When I sampled the beer on 12 January 2020, after two weeks of lagering, flavor was still amazing, but the beer was still fairly hazy. By February 6, the beer had only a slight haze, and could be rated as relatively clear (but not yet bright). I expect it should be up to snuff within a week or two.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Gold, nearly clear (only a slight haze at the time of this tasting), with a nice and persistent white head.
  • Aroma
    • Malt, malt, malt. Aroma is a slightly sweet malty quality, and I don’t pick up much for hops.
  • Flavor
    • Smooth maltiness, with the malt character being a combination of pure maltiness and a bit of breadiness. (I’m using various forms of “malt” in my descriptions, but that’s really the best descriptor for this beer!) Hop level is moderate and has a beautiful smoothness, with the balance of the beer definitely tilted towards malt.
  • Mouthfeel
    • This beer is sooooo drinkable! Medium body, moderate carbonation, just a pure thing of beauty.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! This is a wonderful recipe. My only mild knock-down is for the slight haze in the beer, but if I were to lager this for months as a proper festbier I think it would be fine. The malt character and hopping level are perfect. On top of all of this, it really nails the high drinkability that a good festbier should have.
  • Overall
    • 9/10

Festbier Head-to-Head

I’ve been wanting to do a head-to-head comparison of my festbier versus commercial examples, and finally got the chance to do so tonight. My buddy Steve stopped by, and I poured out three sampler glasses for each of us. Steve didn’t know which was which, other than that one was homebrew and two were commercial beers.

For my commercial comparison, I chose Ayinger’s October Fest-Märzen and Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest. Both were available at local stores, and are reasonably well regarded. I sampled the beers before and after brewing, to give me a bit of an idea what to expect in a festbier.

festbiers

Three festbiers (from left): Ayinger’s October Fest-Märzen, my Festivus Simplex, and Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest.

Steve and I tasted simultaneously, but I tried to avoid giving him any leading comments or critiques that might sway his opinion. Our observations are below; I transcribed his comments, but wrote down my personal observations without telling him, so as to avoid that avenue of bias.

  • We noticed that my beer has an ever so slightly lighter color, as well as a taller and more persistent head. All of the beers are quite clear.
  • Steve noted that the Ayinger version had a more prominent malty aroma. We both perceived malty sweetness and a hint of ginger in the flavor (the latter likely from the hops). I think that the maltiness is potentially from mild oxidation, which wouldn’t be a huge surprise for a beer that might have sat on a store shelf for some time after import. The malty character had that slightly cloying aspect from oxidized beers, as I experienced in an excellent seminar at the 2017 Homebrew Con.
  • The Sierra Nevada version came across as a little less carbonated to me, and Steve remarked that the flavor was a little flatter on the tongue. We both noted that the taste was less complex, and its head was not very persistent relative to the other two beers.
  • Steve described my homebrew as having a more complex taste than the Sierra Nevada version, and he preferred that mine had a less distinct after taste than the other two beers. For me, the hop aroma on mine was a touch more pronounced than in the Sierra Nevada and maybe a shade more than in the Ayinger, which I liked.
  • When asked to guess which was the homebrew, Steve guessed mine, based on the slight color difference and some intangibles in flavor. When asked which he preferred, he ranked my homebrew and the Ayinger pretty closely, with the Sierra Nevada in third place. I am biased, but I preferred my homebrew by a slight margin (although perhaps a fresh example of Ayinger would perform better), and agreed that the Sierra Nevada came in third place.

Overall, I think my festbier is definitely a contender against the two commercial varieties I sampled. It captures the style quite well, and in some ways (especially appearance, via head and head retention) exceeds the commercial examples. As I noted in my earlier tasting, I could up the maltiness just a shade. But overall, I’m pretty thrilled with how my version of a fall favorite turned out! This exercise in comparison was really educational–I’ll be trying it again for selected beers.

Beer Tasting: Festivus Simplex

Tasting time! Tasting time! For this round, I’m evaluating my festbier.

  • 20171113_174304The Basics
    • 1.056 o.g., 1.014 f.g., 5.5% abv, 21 estimated IBU, 6 SRM
  •  Appearance
    • Burnished gold and quite clear, with a thick white head that is quite persistant. Very pretty!
  • Aroma
    • Modestly malty (characterized by bready and toasty note), with a slightly spicy hop aroma.
  • Flavor
    • Gorgeously malty character that is at the forefront, with bready aspects dominating, but still quite drinkable. The bitterness is clean, moderate, and well balanced against the malt; there’s not much in the way of hop flavor, other than a slight herbal and spicy character. I feel like I could up the malt character a bit (maybe even go completely with Munich and Vienna, cutting out the pilsner malt) and the beer would be even better.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderate body, with a moderately high (but not effervescent) carbonation. The finish is slightly dry, but not overly so, and doesn’t linger forever.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! This is a really nice festbier, and falls squarely into everything I’m looking for in a drinkable fall lager. I might up the maltiness just a touch.
  • Overall
    • 9/10

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Festivus Simplex

Time for another lager! I’ve been doing a decent number of fairly simple and light German and Bohemian style lagers; with the changing seasons, why not try something more fall-appropriate? I put together a “simple” recipe that is in the general vicinity of a festbier/Oktoberfest, with a focus on Munich malt. It doesn’t precisely fit the BJCP category, though. So, it gets a pseudo-Latin name of Festivus Simplex!

20170826_075936 (1)One goal of this recipe was to really highlight Munich malt–I had initially considered 100% Munich, but thought that might be a bit overboard. So, the grist was balanced out with pilsner and Vienna malt, along the lines of some festbier recipes I found.

For the hops, I used US Tettnang (sourced from YCH Hops)–they are absolutely delicious smelling! This is the first time I’ve sampled a hop purported to be “spicy” that really was what I think of as spicy…almost like a spice poundcake, or something. I’ll be using more of this in the future.

I was on the fence about whether or not to do a decoction, right up until the point of mash-in, but in the end I went for it! For simplicity, though, I did just a single 15 minute decoction at the end; the goal is to burnish up the color and add a bit of extra flavor character.

Festivus Simplex

  • 4.5 lbs. Château Pilsen malt (Castle Malting)
  • 4 lbs. Munich I malt (Weyermann Malting)
  • 2.25 lbs. Vienna malt (Great Western Malting)
  • 1.5 oz. U.S. Tettnang hop pellets (3.5% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. U.S. Tettnang hop pellets (3.5% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 0.5 tsp. Fermaid-K, 10 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Saflager lager dry yeast (W34/70)

Target Parameters

  • Infusion mash to hit target of 150°, 60 minutes, 15 minute thick decoction at mash-out, batch sparge
  • 1.056 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 5.9% abv, 21 IBU, 6 SRM
  • Water adjusted to hit target of 85 Ca, 10 Mg, 13 Na, 39 SO4, 105 Cl, 115 HCO3, RA 47 ppm.

Procedure

  • I built up the water, using RO with minerals for the mash and plain Claremont tap water (with Campden tablet) for the sparge. For the mash water, I used 3.75 gallons of RO water with 1 g Epsom salt and 6 g calcium chloride, along with 2.5 mL of 75% phosphoric acid (for pH balance).
  • I mashed in with the strike water at 160°, to hit my target of 150° nearly spot-on (it was about 0.4° high, but I didn’t worry because I figured it would drop over the course of the mash).
  • After 45 minutes, I pulled ~2 gallons of thick mash, raised it to 160°, and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then, I brought it to a boil and boiled for 15 minutes before adding it back to the mash. This raised the mash temperature to 161°.
  • I let the mash rest for a few more minutes before adding 1.25 gallons of sparge water at 165°. I let this sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and drained the mash tun.
  • Then, I added 3.4 gallons of water at 165°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and drained the mash tun again.
  • In total, I collected 6.6 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.051–this equates to 84% efficiency! A higher efficiency than usual is pretty typical of my decoction mashes.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, and added ingredients per the schedule in the recipe.
  • After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled down to 85°. I couldn’t get much cooler with the current tap water, and completed the rest of the chill in the fermentation chamber. Once I was down to to 52°, I pitched the yeast.
  • Starting gravity was 1.056. I will be fermenting at 53° for ~2 weeks before doing a diacetyl rest.
  • I brewed this beer on 26 August 2017.