Summer Helles

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!

Summer Helles

  • 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

Target Parameters

  • 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

Procedure

  • 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.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • 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!
  • Aroma
    • Malty and ever-so-slightly sweet, with a touch of hop spice.
  • Flavor
    • 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.
  • Mouthfeel
    • 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!
  • Overall
    • 9/10

Tremonia Lager

Despite their sometimes bland reputation, pale lagers have a surprising breadth of variation. One type I’ve not yet explored is the Dortmunder Export, lumped into the German Helles Exportbier category under the BJCP 2015 guidelines. As described there, it’s a style that packs a fair bit of malt character (especially for a pale lager) and noticeable but not overwhelming hopping, against a relatively mineralized water profile. The latter aspect was particularly appealing for me, given the nature of our local tap water. Let’s just say I’m not going to be making a Bohemian pilsner straight out of the water faucet, but with a bit of tweaking I can get right into the appropriate water zone for a Dortmunder Export.

I did a fair bit of research for this brew, checking out the recipes available already (including this nice article) and trying to approximate something of my own. Compared with other lagers, there are surprisingly few example recipes. My first recipe draft was about 90% pilsner malt and 10% Vienna. After posting this to the Homebrewers Association Forum, common feedback was that some Munich would also be in character and even desirable. So, I adjusted the recipe to include approximately 70% pilsner, 15% Vienna, and 15% light Munich malt. In practice, my percentages were slightly off of this just because I was using up some of my malt stock (for instance, I had 2 ounces of extra Vienna malt, and it seemed silly to leave that behind). I also had a blend of two pilsner malts, because I used up one bag and opened another. Finally, I chose Magnum as the backbone for my bittering, with Mt. Hood as the flavor/aroma addition.

For this recipe, I decided to use my new Lamott water testing kit and some chemistry to adjust my tap water prior to the mash. My goal was to use acid to neutralize much of the carbonate load, and then adjust from there. Excluding the carbonate, my water is actually pretty good most of the time, and can be built up for many styles. It just takes some time and careful adjustment.

The name for this references a supposed archaic Latin name for the city of Dortmund. It sounded cool, so it stuck.

Tremonia Lager

  • 4 lb. 5 oz. Superior Pilsen Malt (Great Western)
  • 4 lb. Pilsner Malt (Weyermann)
  • 1 lb. 10 oz. Vienna Malt (Great Western)
  • 1 lb. 8 oz. Munich I Malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.5 oz. Magnum hop pellets (13.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Mt. Hood hop pellets (4.6% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Mt. Hood hop pellets (4.6% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. Saflager W34/70 dry yeast

Target Parameters

  • 1.052 o.g., 1.012 f.g., 5.3% abv, 27 IBU, 5 SRM
  • Infusion mash, 152° for 60 minutes, batch sparge
  • Claremont tap water adjusted with lactic acid and mineral additions, to achieve calculated water profile of 64 Ca, 8 Mg, 26 Na, 97 SO4, 91 Cl, 24 HCO3. RA=-31 ppm, alkalinity=20 ppm, effective hardness 51 ppm.

Procedure

  • The night before brewing, I started the water adjustment process. With 9 gallons of Claremont tap water, I added 7.5 mL of 88% lactic acid to bring down the alkalinity. I stirred the hot tap water sporadically over a 4 hour period, to let the CO2 get kicked out. This amount of lactic acid should be well below the flavor threshold. I tested the water chemistry after this, and confirmed that much of the bicarbonate was dropped out. To this water, I then added 2 g gypsum, 2 g epsom salt, and 0.8 g calcium chloride, along with half a Campden tablet (for chloramine removal), to hit the water properties listed above.
  • I mashed in with 4 gallons of water at 163°, to hit a mash temperature of 152.5°. I added 2.5 mL of 88% lactic acid to drop the pH slightly. The mash had dropped to 149.5° after 25 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 1.3 gallons of water at ~185°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected first runnings.
  • Next, I added 3.75 gallons of water at ~185°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.5 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.044, for 78% efficiency. I’m happy with that!
  • I boiled the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops and finings per the recipe above.
  • Once the boil was done, I chilled down to 52°, and sprinkled the dry yeast directly into the wort. I did not oxygenate this batch, beyond simple aeration when going into the kettle.
  • I brewed the beer on 16 May 2020, reaching a starting gravity of 1.050. Final gravity was 1.013, for 4.9% abv.
  • I kegged the beer into a CO2-purged keg on 6 June 2020. After a few days of carbonation at 33°, I added 0.75 tsp. of gelatin dissolved and pasteurized in 1/2 cup of water on 12 June 2020, in order to speed up the clarification processs. I noticed nice clarity within 48 hours, and nearly brilliant clarity within a week. Thank you, gelatin! I realize I risked adding some oxygen at this point, but want to see if there are any noticeable effects as I finish the keg.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • It has the color of burnished gold and is wonderfully clear, with a persistent and creamy white head that leaves slight lacing on the side of the glass.
  • Aroma
    • Moderate bready and slightly sweet malt aroma, with a hint of hop spice against that; very clean yeast character
  • Flavor
    • Moderately bitter, with a grainy/bready malt character that finishes with just a hint of malty sweetness and lingering bitterness; really nice!
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium body, medium carbonation, very slightly dry on the finish but not overly so
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! I really love this recipe, and love this style as a result. It’s a nice notch up from pilsner in terms of maltiness, without getting too heavy or too high in alcohol. I find the beer to drink really easily, too…maybe too easily. I see this as a recipe that I can play around with hop varieties and malt brands, but I really see no reason to make any substantial adjustments. The Pilsner/Vienna/Munich balance is pretty much spot-on!
  • Overall
    • 10/10

Crystal Pils

One of my current brewing goals is to try out American noble-type hops, to see how they stack up against German varieties. I theoretically should be able to get American varieties that are fresher and slightly cheaper than their German counterparts, although freshness is my main concern in the quantities I use.

For this batch, I’m making a German-style pils, with American malt and American hops. Crystal is my focus for this batch–it is often described as a substitute for Hallertauer Mittlefrueh, which made this American variety a logical choice.

Otherwise, the batch is a pretty straightforward pilsner. I upped the effort a bit with a double decoction, to improve mash efficiency as well as flavor. I also experimented with boiling the water prior to brewing to precipitate out carbonates. Finally, I made an additional water treatment of gypsum and calcium chloride. Our tap water here is a bit low in sulfate, and I also thought a bit more calcium and chloride wouldn’t hurt. I have had perpetual issues with minor haze, so it seemed worth a try. Similarly, I think that decoction may be helpful. This is all bad experimental science of course, because I’m changing way too many variable at once, but in any case I was feeling adventurous.

Crystal Pils

  • 9.5 lb. Superior Pilsen Malt (Great Western Malting)
  • 1 oz. Crystal hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Crystal hop pellets (4.5% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 2 oz. Crystal hop pellets (4.5% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. German lager yeast (WLP830), prepared in starter

Target Parameters

  • Double decoction, with 60 minute rest at 145°, 20 minute rest at 158°
  • 1.048 o.g., 1.006 f.g., 5.5% abv, 32 IBU, 3 SRM
  • Claremont tap water, boiled and cooled prior to brewing, with 2 g gypsum and 3 g CaCl added.

Procedure

  • Two days prior to brewing, I brought the tap water to a rolling boil and let it cool, in an attempt to precipitate out carbonate. I carefully decanted the water prior to brewing. I added 2 g of gypsum and 3 g of CaCl to increase the overall calcium and sulfate levels.
  • Also two days in advance, I made a 1.75L starter, let it run, and cold crashed for 12 hours prior to pitching.
  • I mashed in with 4 gallons of water at 156°, to hit 145°. I added 6.25 mL of 88% lactic acid to the mash, to adjust mash pH. Because I didn’t know the exact chemistry of my water, I did a few test scenarios and found that this amount would keep me in the acceptable pH range for most possible water chemistries.
  • After 30 minutes of mash rest, I decocted 6 quarts of thick mash, raised the temperature to 160°, and let it sit for 10 minutes. I boiled for 15 minutes, and added it back to the main mash, to hit 152°. This was a bit below my intended target of 158°, so for next time I’ll want to decoct a larger volume–perhaps twice what I needed?
  • After 20 minutes, I decocted two gallons of thick mash, boiled for 10 minutes, and added it back to the main mash. This hit a temperature of 166°, so I stirred and added 1 gallon of water at 160°. This brought the mash down to 162°.
  • I let the mash sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collecte the first runnings. I added the remaining 3.6 gallons of water, and collected second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.1 gallons of water with a gravity of 1.040, for 81% mash efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, boiling for 60 minutes and adding hops, nutrients, and finings per the schedule.
  • I chilled down to 85° and let the kettle sit for 4 hours. Trub settled out nicely–a long rest might be a good procedure for future beers where I care about clarity.
  • I transferred to the fermenter, chilled to 48°, oxygenated, pitched the yeast, and let the fermenter free rise to 52°.
  • I brewed the beer on 26 December 2019, and fermented at 52° for the first 11 days. The yeast threw off a ton of sulfur in the first few days of fermentation.
  • On January 6 (11 days post-brew), ambient temperature in my garage was 58°, so I moved the fermenter out of the fermentation chamber. Temperatures in the garage were between 55° and 62° for the next three weeks.
  • After 20 days at ambient, I kegged the beer on 26 January 2020. I transferred the beer semi-closed transfer into a CO2-purged keg. I conditioned at 33° for awhile, before moving it on-tap.
  • Final gravity was 1.010, down from 1.045, for 4.6% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Light yellow, clear (but not quite brilliant), with persistent, fine white head. Gorgeous! It’s a shame it’s not brilliant, but that would probably just take a bit more time and patience.
  • Aroma
    • Slightly spicy hop aroma, with a lightly sweet malt note. Very nicely balanced between the two.
  • Flavor
    • Slightly sweet, grainy malt character. Firm but not overpowering bitterness.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderately dry, smooth finish with a residual bitterness that pleasantly lingers. Moderate carbonation; a bit reduced because I have to do an extended pour thanks to the massive head!
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Yes! This is a delightful beer, which is a darned good approximation of the German pils style using American ingredients. I would be a bit happier if it was brilliant rather than just “vey clear,” but that’s about the only ding on this otherwise great brew. It seems that a decoction didn’t make much difference for clarity here. Even so, the thing I love about pilsners is that they are simplicity in recipe with maximum enjoyability in flavor!
  • Overall
    • 9.5/10

Bierstadt Pils Clone 1.1

I brewed this recipe nearly a year ago, and found the result to be super enjoyable. Why not give it another try? I made a few modifications for hopping rate, and ditched the whirlpool hops, which were apparently a mistake in the originally published recipe (now corrected at the link).

Bierstadt Pils Clone 1.1

  • 9.75 lbs. Barke Pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.5 lb. Acidulated malt (Bestmalz)
  • 1.25 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets (3.0% alpha), first wort hopping, 90 minute boil
  • 1.5 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 70 minute boil
  • 1.25 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hop pellets (3.0% alpha), 5 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

  • 1.048 s.g, 1.007 f.g., 5.4% abv, 34 IBU, 3.4 SRM
  • Infusion step mash with decoction
  • Water built from 8.75 gallons of RO water, with 4.3 g CaCl, 3.4 g gypsum, 2.7 g epsom salts, to achieve -47 RA, 59 ppm Ca, 8 ppm Mg, 89 ppm SO4, 63 ppm Cl

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 12 quarts of water at 140°, to hit 132°. After 10 minutes, I added 3.5 quarts of water just below boiling, to hit 145°. I let it rest here for 30 minutes. Finally, I added 5.5 quarts just below boiling, to hit 158°. After 40 minutes, I pulled 1.66 gallons of thin decoction and boiled it for 10 minutes. I added it back to the mash, which raised the temperature to 164°.
  • Next, I let the mash sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. I added the first hop charge to the kettle at this time.
  • Next, I added the remaining sparge water (3.5 gallons) at ~170°, to hit a 164° mash temperature. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7 gallons at a gravity of 1.041, for 77% mash efficiency. I added 0.25 gallons of RO water to raise the volume to 7.25 gallons.
  • I brought everything to a boil, adding hops and other ingredients per the schedule.
  • After a 90 minute boil, I chilled and transferred. Gravity at this point was 1.052, a bit above my target. So, I added 7 cups of water heated to near boiling to top up and hit a gravity of 1.049.
  • I chilled in the fermenter down to 48°, before oxygenating and pitching the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on 14 September 2019, fermenting at 50°.
  • I raised the beer to 60° on 30 September 2019. I cooled down to 50° on 4 October 2019, and down to 35° on 5 October 2019.
  • I kegged the beer on 11 October 2019, with a partially closed transfer. Gravity at this point was 1.010, for 5.2% abv.

Tasting

  • The Basics
    • 1.049 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 5.2% abv
  • Appearance
    • Clear, nearly brilliantly so, light yellow beer, with a fine, white, and persistent head.
  • Aroma
    • Clean, lightly malty aroma, with slight floral hop presence.
  • Flavor
    • Light, slightly sweet, and grainy malt character, with a crisp bitterness against that. The balance tilts slightly towards bitter, but not overly so.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Crisp and light-bodied, with moderate carbonation and a smooth finish.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is a great recipe. It’s a really smooth and drinkable beer, and was worth repeating from last time. I enjoy the grainy malt character, and the pleasant German hops alongside that. The head isn’t quite as firm and frothy as I might like (that honor belongs to the last German pils I did), but I’m not sure if that is a recipe flaw or something else. I think it will be worth playing with malts some more to see what happens when I switch those up. This recipe lacks some of what makes my other recent pils great, but in all it’s pretty decent.
  • Overall
    • 8/10