Last year, I made a Munich helles following a recipe in Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes, with pretty excellent results. Munich helles is such a great summer lager (among many great summer lager varieties!), but it was only on my 2021 batch that I felt I had finally gotten close to nailing the style.
This year’s version is along the same lines as last year’s, but I used different brands/variations of ingredients for what I had on hand or needed to use up. For instance, I used Weyermann’s Barke pilsner malt instead of their “regular” pilsner malt, and their Munich I malt instead of Chateau’s equivalent. I had Briess’s aromatic Munich 20L on-hand, so that went in as a substitute for Carahell, and I just flat-out skipped Carapils. I used Hallertau Tradition in place of Hallertauer Mittelfrueh, and finally went with Diamond Lager yeast instead of 34/70. I guess that’s a long way of saying it is a completely different recipe, but has largely the same proportions of ingredients and targets pretty similar numbers.
Because this was a really busy summer (filled with fieldwork, a house move, and COVID), the beer ended up conditioning in the keg for over two months. I rarely have a lager that sits for so long, and the end result was something that was crystal clear. As you’ll see in the tasting notes, I’m overall quite pleased with this iteration!
Summer Helles 2022
8.25 lb. Barke pilsner malt (Weyermann)
1.25 lb. Munich I malt (Weyermann)
0.25 lb. Aromatic Munich malt 20L (Briess)
0.75 oz. Hallertau Tradition hop pellets (6.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
1 tsp. BruTanB, 10 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
Repitch of Diamond Lager yeast (Lallemand)
1.044 o.g., 1.007 f.g., 17 IBU, 5 SRM, 4.9% abv
Full-volume infusion step mash, 45 minute rest at 144°, 45 minute rest at 160°, 10 minute rest at 168°
Water built from RO, to hit 23 Ca, 8 Mg, 32 SO4, 40 Cl, -21 RA
I added 2.5 g epsom salt and 2.5 g CaCl to 7 gallons of RO water, to hit my target water specifications.
I heated the strike water to 148°, and added the grains along with ~1.1 mL of 88% lactic acid in order to hit my target pH of 5.4. I held at 144° for 45 minutes while recirculating, and then raised the mash to 160° for another 45 minutes. Finally, I mashed out for 10 minutes at 168°.
After removing the grains, I had collected 6.4 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.041, for 72% mash efficiency.
I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe. After a 60 minute boil, I turned off the heat and chilled the wort to ~70° before transferring to the fermenter. I chilled overnight to 49°.
I brewed the beer on 15 May 2022, and pitched the yeast slurry from my Alta California Lager the next morning, 16 May 2022. At this time, I oxygenated with 30 seconds of pure O2.
I starting fermentation at 50°, holding it there until 23 May 2022, when I let it free-rise to 60°. Then, I cold crashed to 34° on 28 May 2022.
I kegged the beer on 8 June 2022. Starting gravity was 1.046, and final gravity was 1.012, for 4.5% abv. The beer cold conditioned at ~34° for over two months, before going on tap.
Brilliantly clear, gold beer. It pours with a white, medium head that subsides to a persistent white ring around the edge of the glass.
Malty aroma, at a modest level. Very clean fermentation, with no noticeable yeast character. No hop aroma apparent.
Moderately rich malt flavor, with a lingering sweet maltiness against a moderately low level of hop bitterness.
Medium-light body, moderate carbonation, very smooth finish.
Would I Brew This Again?
Yes! This is a great recipe. The low level of head on this is the only minor flaw. Otherwise, this is an incredibly gorgeous, tasty, and easy drinking beer. Next time, I’ll probably add the Carapils back in, and switch back to Carahell instead of Aromatic Munich.
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 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!
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
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
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.
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!
Malty and ever-so-slightly sweet, with a touch of hop spice.
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.
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!
Time 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!
Mild spicy hop note, with a moderate degree of slightly sweet maltiness behind that.
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.
Nice malt character, with a bit of graininess to it. The bitterness level is subdued and definitely in the background
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.
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.
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.
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.