Alta California Lager 2022

I brew this recipe nearly every year, with only minor variations–usually in yeast or corn form. The 2022 version is another winner! I rolled it out with Diamond Lager Yeast for something a shade different.

Alta California Lager 2022

  • 6.5 lb. Barke pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 lb. flaked corn
  • 1.75 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.25 lb. rice hulls
  • 0.5 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. BruTanB, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 0.75 oz. Saaz hop pellets (4.0% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient (WLN1000), 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Diamond Lager Yeast (Lallemand)

Target Parameters

  • 1.046 s.g., 1.010 f.g., 4.8% abv, 19 IBU, 3 SRM
  • 8.75 gallons of RO water with 1.7 g CaCl to hit target parameter of 14 ppm Ca and 25 ppm Cl
  • 75 minute full volume infusion mash, 149°

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 8.75 gallons of RO water and 1.7 g of CaCl, heated to 160°, to hit a mash temperature of 149°. I added 2.5 mL of 88% lactic acid, to adjust the pH.
  • I recirculated for 75 minutes, and then raised the mash temperature to 168° for 10 minutes, before pulling the grains.
  • In total, I collected 7.6 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.037, for 76% estimated mash efficiency.
  • I boiled the runnings for 30 minutes before adding hops, to bring up the gravity for a bit.
  • Once the Magnum hops were added, I boiled for 60 minutes total, adding aroma hops and finings per the recipe.
  • I did an initial chill with my coil, and then dropped it the rest of the way in the fermentation chamber to 48°, overnight.
  • I pitched the yeast on 24 April 2022, and fermented at 52°.
  • Starting gravity was 1.049.
  • I raised the temperature to 60°on May 6.
  • I cold crashed over a few days starting on May 10, dropping to 50°, 40°, and then 33°.
  • I kegged the beer on 15 May 2022. It had a final gravity of 1.010, for 5.1% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Light gold color, slight haze, creamy and persistent white head. The haze had dropped out, but when I moved the keg between houses, it must have kicked up a bunch of sediment, because even after a week it was still hazier than two weeks prior. Very annoying! The head is gorgeous, so that makes up a little bit for the haze. After another month of settling, the beer was back to its crystal clear original nature.
  • Aroma
    • Amazing! A sweet and light corn aroma comes through at the front, with a touch of malt behind that. I think I might get a whiff of the Saaz character, but that is highly variable.
  • Flavor
    • A moderate level of nuanced malty flavor through at first, with the sweet hint of corn sitting next to that. A clean bitterness balances out the malt, with a smooth and unobtrusive character. The malt really shines here, making it a highly drinkable beer that is a bit more flavorful than your typical Corona.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium-light body, moderate carbonation, smooth and a very slight bit of dryness to the finish.
  • Would I Brew This Again?
    • This is consistently one of my very favorite recipes…or rather recipe families. It is slightly different every time, in terms of the brand of malt, mode of corn, and yeast involved. The Diamond lager yeast worked exceptionally well here, and I will probably keep that going forward (unless I choose a bona fide Mexican lager yeast). I suspect the flaked corn contributed to the persistent haze; my original cereal-mashed version was crystal clear. Or maybe it just needs a little more time to settle. Either way, I love this beer–the slight haze is my only minor gripe, and it did drop out in the end.
  • Overall
    • 9.5/10

Alta California Lager 2020

Another go at my favorite beer of last year, Alta California Lager. I made a few minor adjustments for this iteration, to simplify brewing. Specifically, I used flaked corn (rather than a cereal mash with grits), and used the Imperial version of the Mexican lager yeast instead of White Labs’ version, due to availability at my local shop.

Alta California Lager 2020

  • 6.5 lb. Superior Pilsen Malt (Great Western)
  • 2 lb. flaked corn
  • 1.75 lb. Vienna Malt (Great Western)
  • 0.25 lb. rice hulls
  • 0.40 oz. Magnum hop pellets (13.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.50 oz. Sterling hop pellets (7.4% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax
  • 1 pkg. Que Bueno liquid yeast (Imperial Yeast L09)

Target Parameters

  • 1.046 o.g., 1.009 f.g., 4.9% abv, 20 IBU, 3 SRM
  • Infusion mash, 149° for 60 minutes, batch sparge
  • Blend of Claremont tap water and RO water, to achieve calculated water profile of 19 Ca, 7 Mg, 46 Na, 15 SO4, 53 Cl, 102 HCO3. RA=66 ppm, alkalinity=84 ppm, effective hardness 18 ppm.

Procedure

  • I spooled up a 1.5L starter on 2 April 2020, and cold crashed it on the morning of 4 April.
  • My water was a mix of tap water (4.25 gallons) and RO water (4.5 gallons), to get 8.75 gallons total. Given the stay-at-home orders, I didn’t want to run out for more RO water.
  • I mashed in with 3.75 gallons of tap water and 5 mL of 88% lactic acid, to hit my 149° mash temperature. The mash was down to 143 after 75 minutes, so I added 1.5 gallons of hot tap water/RO water blend to bring up the temperature and prepare for collection of the runnings.
  • I added rice hulls just before first runnings were collected. Once the first runnings were in the kettle, I added 4 gallons of RO water, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.25 gallons with a gravity of 1.042, for 80% efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe.
  • After 60 minutes, I chilled, and transferred the wort to the fermenter. I let it chill the rest of the way overnight, down to 50°. I brewed the beer on 5 April 2020.
  • On the morning of 6 April 2020, I oxygenated with 45 seconds of pure O2, and pitched the yeast. I am fermenting at 51°. Starting gravity was 1.050.
  • I let the beer free-rise to 62° on 18 April 2020. On 25 April, I lowered the temperature to 52°, and then to 42° on 26 April, and 33° on 27 April.
  • I kegged the beer on 10 May 2020, after purging the target keg with CO2.
  • Final gravity was 1.008, for 5.5% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Light yellow, slight chill haze for the first few weeks on tap, but otherwise clear. I finally achieved good clarity about a month after kegging–patience pays off! The beer pours with a nice dense head with excellent retention.
  • Aroma
    • Light spice hop note; malt has a slight graininess with a maize aroma too (not DMS!).
  • Flavor
    • Light grainy maltiness, slight maize character with that; distinct but not overpowering bitterness; this beer is definitely more tilted towards the bitter end than I expected, though. It’s not IPA levels, but I think I could notch the IBUs back about 10 percent. I wonder if I got higher utilization this time with the hops free floating rather than bagged. The finish tilts towards bitter.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Crisp, off-dry, moderately high carbonation.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • I’m going to tweak a bit more, and think I’ll go back to a cereal mash for the next version, and perhaps try the White Labs yeast again. I’ll also notch the hops back a touch, to reduce the bitterness for when I use free floating hops in the boil. It’s a pretty good beer, but the slight persistent haze was mildly disappointing, and the slight overbitterness could be fixed. That said, it’s pretty good with a lime slice!
  • Overall
    • 7.5/10

Alta California Lager

It’s late spring in California…theoretically, this should be a warm time of the year. A few months back, I wanted to have a clear, clean, tasty Mexican-style lager on hand for the anticipated afternoons out on the patio. It’s ended up being a cooler and rainier stretch than I expected, but that hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of this beer.

I’ve never brewed a Mexican-style lager in the vein of Corona or Modelo before, so this challenge started with some research. Corn is a key ingredient–but when I stopped by my local shop, they had just sold out of their last flaked corn (everyone else had the same recipe plans, I guess)! So, I took the suggestion to try a cereal mash with corn grits. This contingency plan apparently made all of the difference.

My recipe is based primarily on the Light Mexican Lager recipe in the May/June 2017 issue of Zymurgy (by Amahl Turczyn). The name for this recipe is an homage to the old provincial name for my part of California. It has little link with anything historical, because Alta California ceased to exist before German brewing techniques were widely adopted in Mexico…

This beer is going down as a legendary batch–I had fun brewing it with my dad (we rarely get to brew together because of the distance), and the beer tastes amazing. The cereal mash was a ton of work and substantially lengthened my brew day, but the results were worth it.

IMG_20190402_072248

White corn grits, ready to go into the cereal mash

Alta California Lager

  • 5.5 lbs. Barke pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 lbs. white corn grits
  • 1.5 lb. Vienna malt (Great Western)
  • 4 oz. rice hulls
  • 0.35 oz. Magnum hop pellets (13.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (3.5% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. WLP940 Mexican Lager yeast (White Labs), prepared in 1.75 L starter

Target Parameters

  • 60 minute infusion mash with cereal mash, 152°, batch sparge
  • 1.055 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 5.7% abv, 44 IBU, 8 SRM
  • “Mexican lager water”, built from ~8.5 gallons of RO water with 1.5 g of calcium chloride, to hit ~13 ppm Ca and 23 ppm Cl, -9 RA

Procedure

  • This was a complicated brew session! Lots of moving parts, all happening at roughly the same time.
  • A few days in advance, I made a 1.75L starter, letting it ferment out and then cold-crashing. The supernate was decanted off before pitching.
  • My cereal mash procedure followed recommendations from Milk The Funk. I combined 0.5 lb. of the pilsner malt with the 2 lb. of white corn grits, adding water until things were at the right consistency. This was around a gallon of RO water. I added water until the grains approximated a “thin gruel” consistency, and held it at 158° for 5 minutes. Then, I heated the cereal mash to a boil, stirring constantly for 30 minutes. We added water as needed to keep it from getting too thick.
  • As the cereal mash was nearing its end, we started the main mash, using 3 gallons of RO water with ~0.5 g of CaCl, heated to 138°. We hit a mash temperature (for just the barley, exclusive of the barley and corn in the cereal mash) of 133°. I added 6 mL of 88% lactic acid, and then added in the near-boiling cereal mash. This brought the temperature up to 145°. I added another 0.5 gallon of water at near boiling to hit around 148.5°.
  • After 75 minutes, the mash was down to 143°. I added 1 gallon of water at 200° to bring the mash up to 149°. I let this sit for 15 more minutes, and then used an iodine test to check for conversion. Success! The mash was converted completely.
  • I collected the first runnings, and then added 4.5 gallons of RO water with 1 g of CaCl, to raise the mash up to 160°. After 10 minutes, I vorlaufed and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, we collected 7.1 gallons of runnings, with a gravity of 1.037. This equates to 79% mash efficiency!
  • Because my gravity was a little low and my volume a little high, I boiled the runnings for 20 minutes before adding the hops. This was followed by a 60 minute boil, adding the various ingredients per the recipe. Towards the end of the boil, the gravity was up to 1.048, a little higher than I wanted. So, I added 0.25 gallon of RO water for adjustment.
  • After the full 80 minutes of boiling, I chilled the wort down to ~80° and transferred to the fermenter. I chilled it down further to 50° before oxygenating (30 seconds) and pitching the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on 2 April 2019, starting with a 50° fermentation temperature as mentioned above. On 3 April, I raised the temperature to 53°. On 9 April, I raised the temperature to 60°, because I wanted to kick this through quickly.
  • I raised the temperature to 62° on 12 April, and 67° on 14 April.
  • Final gravity was 1.010, which equates to 4.6% abv. I cold crashed to 33° on 16 April 2019.
  • I kegged the beer using a closed transfer on 24 April 2019. This was done to reduce oxygen pick-up and keep the beer fresher for longer.
  • I force-carbonated the beer,noted that it had dropped pretty clear within about 2 weeks, and crystal clear within about 3 weeks. By the time of my tasting (~4 weeks after kegging), this beer was brilliant!

IMG_20190514_161406

Tasting

  • Aroma
    • Clean, slight hint of corn, a little bit of hop spiciness
  • Appearance
    • Brilliantly clear, light gold in color. The tall white head settles down to a rim around the glass as the beer is consumed
  • Flavor
    • Crisp and clean; the grainy malt has a hint of corn behind it, and that is backed up by an assertive but not overwhelming hop bitterness. The finish is tilted towards the bitter end versus the malty end, but not overly so.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Off-dry, moderately high carbonation, smooth finish
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is (modestly speaking) an amazing beer! I’m incredibly impressed by how this one rounded out. It’s eminently drinkable, and ridiculously beautiful in appearance. When I brought it to my brew club meeting, several people thought that I had thrown a commercial ringer into the mix! I’ve never had a lager clear so completely and so quickly. I suspect it’s a combination of the yeast strain and cereal mash–next time I brew this recipe, I won’t be making any changes or taking any shortcuts!
  • Overall
    • 10/10