Beer Tasting: Holy Helles

20170423_150736Time for another beer tasting! This Munich helles–my first attempt for the style–has been an enjoyable brew. I entered it into the first round for the NHC…it didn’t place, but I’ll be interested to see how the score sheets pan out. I should get those later this week, but until then, here are my own thoughts!

  • The Basics
    • O.G. = 1.047; f.g. = 1.012; 4.6% abv; 4 SRM; 19 estimated IBU
  • Aroma
    • Mild spicy hop note, with a moderate degree of slightly sweet maltiness behind that.
  • Appearance
    • Brilliantly clear and light gold in color. The beer pours with a thick off-white head that settles to a nice even and persistent blanket across the top of the beer.
  • Flavor
    • Nice malt character, with a bit of graininess to it. The bitterness level is subdued and definitely in the background
  • Mouthfeel
    • Relatively light bodied, moderately carbonated, with a medium-dry finish. The bitterness hangs around on the finish for awhile, although it is not overpowering.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is a good beer, and quite drinkable, but I think it falls down a bit in the malt character. To bring this a touch more into the Munich helles style, I might up the malt profile just a bit–it seems like it swings to the hops end on aroma just a bit more than I would prefer. One fellow homebrewer suggested using a German pilsner malt rather than the Bohemian pilsner malt I’ve been using as of late–this might be a good first step.
  • Overall: 6/10

Holy Helles & First Amendment Blonde Ale Kegged

I did a whole mess of kegging tonight, to clear out fermenter space and move along some projects.

First up was my Holy Helles (a Munich Helles), which I split into two 2.5 gallon kegs. The reason behind this was that I plan to enter it in the National Homebrew Competition, and also to serve it at Easter. I didn’t want to dose the Easter beer with gelatin (in case some of our guests don’t do gelatin), but don’t much care for the NHC one.

A few notes on the helles fermentation…on 21 January 2017, the gravity was down to 1.014. At this point, I raised the temperature from 50° to 68° for a diacetyl rest. I left it at this temperature for about a week, and then dropped it down to 34° until kegging.

Final gravity was 1.012, a touch higher than predicted (1.010). With a starting gravity of 1.047, this equals 4.6% abv. That should make a nice, drinkable beer!

Next, I kegged the First Amendment Blonde Ale. Final gravity was 1.011, down from a starting gravity 1.051, for 5.2% abv. I hit my numbers perfectly on this batch–wow, what a nice treat!

I’m storing these beers at 34°, and force carbonating the blonde ale right away.

Holy Helles

After years of avoiding lagers, I’m diving into the deep end. In the past two months alone, I’ve done a German pils and a Vienna lager, and these were hard on the heels of a Bohemian pilsner and another Vienna lager. I’ve generally used a faster fermentation and lagering schedule for my lagers, but for this batch I wanted to A) take my time a bit; and B) try out a style I haven’t brewed previously. The idea of a Munich helles is appealing because it is supposed to be a very malt-forward style with minimal bitterness, so it’s likely to be of broad interest to more people than something more bitter. Also, by slowing down the process I also can clarify without gelatin, which also means strict vegetarian/vegan types can drink it without complaint. Overall, a Munich helles seemed like a nice change from my most recent batches, and I figured it would make a nice brew to serve with Easter dinner. So, I’m calling this batch “Holy Helles”. I’ll note I’m not the first brewer to think themselves so clever, but I’m sticking with it anyhow.

The recipe isn’t based on anything in particular; I read across a number of sources to come up with the combination of malt, yeast, and hops. This should hit the “sweet spot” for the particulars of the Munich helles style.


Holy Helles

  • 8.25 lb. floor-malted Bohemian pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 1.25 lb. Munich I malt (Weyermann)
  • 3 oz. BEST acidulated malt (BESTMALZ)
  • 2 oz. Carapils malt (Briess)
  • 1.5 oz. German Hallertau hop pellets (3.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz.German Hallertau hop pellets (3.2% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Southern German Lager yeast (WLP838, White Labs)

Target Parameters

  • Multiple infusion and single decoction mash, 20 minute rest at 130°, infusion to hit 45 minute rest at 148°, thick decoction to raise temperature to 168°. Batch sparge.
  • Water built from R.O., to hit 44 ppm Ca, 2 ppm Mg, 22 ppm SO4, 68 ppm Cl, and 5 ppm bicarbonate.
  • 1.046 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 4.8% abv, 19 IBU, 4 SRM, 5.5 gallons into fermenter


  • Several days in advance, I made a 2L starter, let it run for 2 days, and then cold-crashed.
  • I calculated that I would need 9.2 gallons of water, so weighed out 1 g of gypsum, 0.7 g of epsom salt, 5.4 g CaCl, and 0.3 g baking soda for my mineral additions. I split these into 2 parts. Half of the mass will go into the strike water and half into the sparge water.
  • I added 2.45 gallons of water at 148° to my mash tun, and let the mash tun warm up until it hit 143°. Then, I added my grains, and achieved my target acid rest temperature of 143°.
  • After 20 minutes, I added 1.5 gallons of water at 186°, to hit a mash temperature of 146°. It was down to 143° after 35 minutes, and at more or less the same temperature after 45 minutes total. I decocted 1.5 gallons of a medium-thick mash, brought it to a boil, boiled for 10 minutes, and added it back in to the mash to hit a mash-out temperature of 163°. I let this sit for 10 minutes before draining the mash tun to collect the first runnings.
  • I added 5.25 gallons of water at 180°, let the mash sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the second runnings.
  • In total, I collected 7.6 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.044–that’s 90% mash efficiency! I chalk it up to the decoction, and that’s awesome, but the end result would be too high in gravity. So, I added 1 gallon of RO water to dilute everything down to 1.040 and get 8.6 gallons.
  • I targeted a 90 minute boil time. Once I started the boil, I thus waited 30 minutes before adding the first round of hops. Other hops and additions were made per the schedule in my recipe.
  • Nine minutes before flame-out, I checked gravity again and saw that it was at 1.048, a touch higher than my target. So, I added another 0.5 gallon of RO water.
  • After flame-out, I chilled the wort down to 72°, and got ready for the transfer.
  • There was a lot of wort, so I drained the first gallon of trub off in order to keep the portion going into the fermenter fairly clean. Even with this, I ended up with just under 6 gallons of wort in the fermenter.
  • I popped the fermenter into my fermentation chamber, and set it for the final chill down to 45°. Once I hit this (about 6 hours later), I pitched the yeast and set the temperature to 50°.
  • I brewed this beer on 7 January 2017. It had a starting gravity of 1.047 (just a touch above target).
  • I had minor signs of fermentation within 24 hours and fairly good krausen within 48 hours. Three days into fermentation, we lost power for ~16 hours. The fermentation was thus unregulated for that stretch. I wasn’t able to check on the beer (being laid up in bed with a bad cold), but presumably the temperature went up just a touch (although the ambient temperature remained around 60°).
  • I did a check on the beer on 15 January 2017. There was a strong sulfur aroma coming from the fermenter. The gravity was 1.020, for 56% apparent attenuation. On this day, I raised the fermentation temperature to 52°. Fortunately, I didn’t detect any off (e.g., fruity) flavors in the beer, so I am satisfied that the brief power loss wasn’t too detrimental.
  • My planned fermentation schedule is 7 days at 50°, 7 days at 52°, 7 days at 54°, 4 days at 68°, and then a week or so at 32° before transferring to the keg for long-term lagering. This will allow me about 2 months of dedicated lagering before I serve this at Easter.